Fried Liver Wash could be one of the most boring hikes I've ever done in Joshua Tree. The canyon really is non-descript. It is just another desert canyon. And to make matters worse, it is a lengthy hike. I do like lengthy hikes, but they need to have something of interest - something to hike to. This is a corridor. Having said that, you will be alone out here, and there is a mill ruin near the start.
I did this hike because it's Fried Liver Wash. Fried Liver Wash! The name itself is great. Why is it named that? What happened here? What could be found in its depths? Mining artifacts? Rock art? History? Livers? Spoiler alert - Not much. But I did find a reason for the name.
My photos are from 2015.
- Road: 6.9 miles, High clearance dirt.
- Hike: Moderate hike, 15.4 miles Shuttle, 50 ft gain one way. 6 hours.
This is a one-way shuttle hike. You will need a car (or be picked up) at the Turkey Flat (Pinto Basin) Backcountry Board on Pinto Basin Road. It's not really a hard hike. I rate it as moderate because it is so long. Be prepared. Go in the winter or spring. The hike cuts through the remote Hexie Mountains and drops into Pinto Basin. This is lonely country. It's unlikely you will see anyone else.
The trailhead is at the Pleasant Valley Backcountry Board. To get there, go south on Geology Tour Road off Park Blvd. (It is 1.6 miles west of Jumbo Rocks Campground or 6.5 miles west of Hidden Valley.) Drive down the graded dirt Geology Tour road 6.9 miles to the Pleasant Valley Backcountry board and park there. The road is marked one-way past Paac Kü̱vü̱hü̱’k (formerly known as Squaw Tank. Which means "place of temporary water" in Serrano) and can be rough around the loop to exit. Also at the trailhead are the ruins of the Gold Coin Mine. The Pleasant Valley playa is off to the south.
The trail isn’t obvious from the trailhead; walk east past the backcountry board across the sandy flat. You should pick up the old road to the Hexahedron Mine that lies at the foot of the Hexie Mountains and along the northern edge of the dry lake. If you don’t find it immediately, don’t worry, just continue east across the flats. You should come across it if you stay close to the hills. It is a flat 2.7 miles out to the site of an old mine camp at the foot of the mountain.
In June 2023, the 1,080-acre Geology Fire burned parts of the Pleasant Valley floor. The fire is suspected to be human-caused.
As you get close to the old mine camp, you will notice a small hill detached (by the Blue Cut Fault) from the mountains directly ahead. Stay in the wash to the right of this hill. This is actually the beginnings of Fried Liver Wash.
At around 3.2 miles from the trailhead and along the wash, you will come to an old cabin ruin and millsite. I suspect these were both associated with the Hexahedron Mine. On the hillside is what appears to be a flat area and tailings from a mill. This was likely the location of the Hexie Mill for the mine. The stone cabin could have been a little bunkhouse for mill workers. A tin can dump is just upstream from the cabin (see my notes on Dating Historical Sites).
After you've poked around the ruins, follow the wash downstream. In about a mile, it enters the hills and becomes a canyon. So far, the vegetation has been typical of the Mojave Desert. As you go through the canyon, it slowly changes to that more typical of the Colorado Desert.
There's not much chance of getting lost once you are in the canyon. The wash cuts a serpentine path through the ancient geologic heart of the Hexie Mountains. Mesozoic granite and Precambrian metamorphic gneiss rock layers form the walls of the canyon. With each turn, you'll think (hope?) the view is going to open up to the vast Pinto Basin. Find a good spot under a rare mesquite or smoke tree and have some lunch. While you are taking a break and debating why you are out here, I'll mention that through my research, I discovered that Fried Liver Wash was named by old-timers who thought the flat, dark metamorphic rocks here looked like fried livers.
After you've been hiking for twelve miles, it finally happens: the canyon opens up, and the wide expanse of the Pinto Basin comes into view. It is a three-mile-long cross-country hike across alluvial cobble, dodging smoke trees and cacti to the Turkey Flat Backcountry Board parking lot.
If you plan to backpack this hike, you will need a Backpacking Permit. I would camp somewhere just before you enter the canyon or in the canyon itself. I would caution you by saying there are only one or two decent spots in the canyon to camp that are not in the wash itself.
To download waypoints and routes, open the Map in CalTopo, click Export (in the top left corner), and change the format to KML or GPX.
- Pleasant Valley Trailhead: 33.92355°, -116.05418°
- Old Millsite: 33.9138°, -116.00348°
- Stone ruin: 33.91246°, -116.00402°
- Turkey Flat Trailhead: 33.90174°, -115.83493°