TR: Laws Camp and Caramba June 2019

General Palm Springs area.

TR: Laws Camp and Caramba June 2019

Postby jfr » Sun Jun 30, 2019 4:23 pm

We hiked in from the Palm Springs Tram to Laws Camp, then continued down to Caramba Camp. We wanted to see what happened in the six years since the Mountain Fire of 2013.

The last time we'd been there was in 2012, when we'd hiked in from Idyllwild. But when I was planning this trip, climbing the Devil's Slide Trail proved to be a deal breaker. Vicki insisted that we start at the Tram, instead. And I was glad we did.

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Vicki and I at the Palm Springs Tram Station, ready to hike


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Heading south toward the Hidden Divide Preserve


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Hidden Divide Natural Preserve sign - No mention whatsoever of [Secret Area], its main attraction!

And there was no sign on the main trail directing visitors toward the newly constructed trail. I wonder why. After they spent all that money, don't they want people to visit? I don't get it.


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Welcome to [Secret Area] sign - it's actually a Vernal Pool. But I've never seen it this full!


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[Secret Area] in the Hidden Divide Natural Preserve, San Jacinto State Park

Question for Grandmaster Perry: I know that it is a longstanding tradition on the forum to not-quite-refer to this place using [Secret Area] but do we really have to do that any more, now that they've opened it back up to the public? Just wondering...

And I would strongly advise all of the forum members to check it out this year before it dries up. 2018-2019 was a great Winter for rain, with the possible exception of the Valentine's Day Flash Flood.


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Looking east from Desert View in the Hidden Divide Natural Preserve


We ate some snack at the preserve then continued south, over the divide and down into Tahquitz Valley on the Willow Creek Trail.

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The view toward Red Tahquitz and Tahquitz Peak from Hidden Divide


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Burned trees in Tahquitz Valley due to the Mountain Fire, from high on the Willow Creek Trail


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This section of open forest only burned partially during the fire


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Burnt pine tree stump with a central pole remaining down low


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Yet another downed tree across the trail - these were tough to climb up and around

We reached the saddle where the Laws Trail joined the Willow Creek Trail, and turned left. I got out my GPS, which had the correct track loaded that I had made back in 2012. The USFS Topo Map showed a trail in a slightly different location, so if you want to try this hike yourself, please export a GPX file from my CalTopo Page and add it to your own GPS.

Disclaimer: I don't advise hiking on this trail unless you are an experienced cross-country hiker with map, compass, and GPS skills. Proceed at your own risk.

And wear long pants! :)


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The Laws Trail is currently unmaintained, and it sure looks it - that's buckthorn growing everywhere


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Vicki heading east at the top of the trail - it was very faint through low buckthorn bushes - ouch!


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The trail follows a ridge and gave us some good views


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Laws Trail Pre- and Post- Mountain Fire Comparison - 2012 vs. 2019

We tried our best to follow the old trail, and we mostly stayed on course, but the buckthorn was everywhere and Vicki's bare legs were getting scratched up. It was about one foot tall on this slope, which wasn't impassable and was perfectly stomp-able, but some of the thorns still got us. Eventually, we reached a point where we could see the flat area of Laws Camp directly below us, and we gave up on following the original shallow and lame switchbacks. We headed straight down the steeper slope, avoiding the buckthorn and downed trees. Standard cross-country bushwhacking, in other words. And it worked great!


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Green grass along Willow Creek where the Laws Trail reaches Laws Camp


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We took a well-deserved break at Laws Camp under the tall pines

We were happy to see that a significant portion of Laws Camp had escaped the fire. There were many tall trees and a pine-needle-covered forest floor. Very lovely. According to the USFS website, camping is currently allowed in Laws Camp, BTW...

Having made it to Laws Camp, we decided to continue onward to check out Caramba Camp. We knew that the Caramba Trail was also unmaintained, just like the Laws Trail, so we were a bit worried that it was going to be tough, but our fears proved to be largely unfounded. There were a few spots where it was difficult to make out the trail, and there were plenty of fallen trees across the path, but all in all, the trail was in surprisingly good shape. It had been well-built, and it showed it by its durability.


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You can still see where the unmaintained Caramba Trail heads out of Laws Camp - but it's filled with pinecones!


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The unmaintained trail almost disappears as it descends to the first of several creek crossings. Yep, more buckthorn.


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Easy hiking on the unmaintained Caramba Trail


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Panorama shot as we continued east

We were thrilled to see the lupines blooming everywhere, just like they were blooming the last time we were here. There also wasn't much buckthorn in this part of the valley, which was a huge relief. The forest hadn't burned as badly, either. Much of the lower growth was gone, but the crowns of the tallest pines had largely survived, so it didn't appear to be such a desolate wasteland as the other areas did.


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Lupines blooming in June


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We found a great spot to stop and take a break. We stopped here last time, too.


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There were plenty of places where downed trees blocked the trail


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Caramba Camp was down below us, and we could hear the creek flowing


We took a long break and ate our lunch at Caramba Camp. We were overjoyed to see that this area hadn't been greatly impacted by the Mountain Fire. There were a few random spots that showed signs of scorching, but none of the wholesale carnage. This would still be a great spot to camp even now. If you could get here, that is.

We cooled our feet in the water, and also wandered down Tahquitz Creek to check out the first small waterfall. We had already read stories of people continuing down this creek to their own destruction, because it gets waaayyy too steep and you can get trapped by the terrain if you aren't careful.


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Caramba Camp itself - Tahquitz Creek is down to the right


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Vicki sat on the shore of Tahquitz Creek and got ready to soak her feet


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Vicki hugging a huge old Cedar Tree near the creekbed


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She really loves Cedar Trees, as you can see


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View upstream


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Vicki climbing on the granite slabs with the creek down below. Caramba overlook is up above her.


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We spent some time enjoying the sound of the creek as it raced down into a pool


Eventually, of course, we had to leave. And it was quite sunny and warm. So we filtered some extra water from the creek and headed upward once more.


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Vicki soaked her shirt to cool off in preparation for our climb out of Caramba Camp


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As usual, the unmaintained trail was filled with pinecones. Not many people hike it now.


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Blooming Lupines and Flowering Manzanita were everywhere


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It was hot, so Vicki took a nap on a granite boulder in the shade while I read my book


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Panorama shot looking south toward Tahquitz Peak and Laws Camp in the burned zone


We made it back to Laws Camp and took a long break in the shade. Soon enough it would be time to climb uphill through the buckthorn.


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Many of these trees in Laws Camp show scorched bark on their trunks from the fire, but it didn't burn their crowns


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Willow Creek flowing in a channel through sandy sediment at Laws Camp. The flash flood ripped through here, too.


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We learned our lesson and decided to head directly up the ridge rather than trying to find the old Laws Trail


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The views opened up as we climbed the ridge, with Hidden Divide on the right


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Panorama view south toward Red Tahquitz and Tahquitz Peak


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We made it back to the traverse section of the Laws Trail - the Willow Creek Trail junction is ahead at that saddle


Once we regained the Willow Creek Trail we knew that everything would be easy again. Except for climbing over and around all the fallen tree trunks, of course.


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Panorama view south toward Red Tahquitz (left of center)


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View southeast toward Caramba, with Toro Peak in the distance


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Vicki took yet another nap at Hidden Divide - the long climb was over

The only thing left to do was hike downhill into Long Valley, and it felt good to be back in an area that hadn't been burned by the fire.


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Vicki played with a small stream, floating an impromptu wooden boat


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Me, posing on the big wooden bridge over Long Valley Creek


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View south from the balcony at the Upper Tram Station in Long Valley


All in all, it had been a fun visit to the wilderness. We got to see what happened to parts of Tahquitz Valley after the Mountain Fire, and our curiosity was more than satisfied. I'm expecting that this trip report will satisfy some of the forum reader's curiosity, as well. Like most of us, I would love to be able to turn back time and prevent the Mountain Fire before it happened, but we all know what a pipe dream that is. The best we can do is realize that the forest will recover, given sufficient time, because life, like hope, springs eternal.



My photos and videos from this 2019 Trip can be found on this Flickr Album Page

The ones from the 2012 Trip (pre-Mountain Fire) can be found on this Flickr Page


The Topo Map from 2012 is here and the 2019 map is on this CalTopo Page


I searched the forum for my own posts, and it appears that somehow I didn't create a Trip Report for the original hike back in 2012, which is almost unheard of. Please accept my apologies, forum peeps! My only excuse is that I must have been too busy with other trips that Summer, and simply ran out of time. I have since written one, but it is on my website/blog page, if you care to read it.


Happy Hiking! And have a great Summer of 2019!


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My (collected) trip reports: http://hikingtales.com/
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Re: TR: Laws Camp and Caramba June 2019

Postby Ed » Mon Jul 01, 2019 8:59 am

Thanks for the trip report, jfr. Beautiful and complete set of photos, and people now know what to expect hiking around there. Seems to be much better than what some people, myself included, had feared.

The Tom Harrison San Jacinto Wilderness map is now available for smartphones, both iPhones and Androids. A little cheaper than the paper map. Works with the Avenza app, which is free. For people who don't have the time, interest or skills to master CalTopo, much more convenient. No excuse for getting lost anymore!

https://tomharrisonmaps.com/product-category/southern-ca-maps/
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Re: TR: Laws Camp and Caramba June 2019

Postby zippetydude » Mon Jul 01, 2019 6:11 pm

Awesome pics, especially of H i d d e n L a k e! I didn't even realize they had opened it up for viewing! I'll definitely have to check it out with water in it! Thanks for the post. :D

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Re: TR: Laws Camp and Caramba June 2019

Postby arocknoid » Mon Jul 01, 2019 9:52 pm

Thank you very much for the wonderful trail report, photos, and update on conditions and recovery of one of the favorite areas in the San Jacinto wonderland.
Stay safe out there,

kind regards,
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Re: TR: Laws Camp and Caramba June 2019

Postby Perry » Tue Jul 02, 2019 11:12 am

zippetydude wrote:Awesome pics, especially of H i d d e n L a k e!

Such a rebel. I changed the forum settings to allow everyone to override the word censor feature and talk about hidden lake. It looks like removing the word censor entirely involves editing a file which I'll have to do later.

There are photos being shared everywhere on the Internet now. I hope whatever the park is doing is protecting that area and the blue curls. I haven't been there in years.
I like microtones in microdoses.
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Re: TR: Laws Camp and Caramba June 2019

Postby HikeUp » Tue Jul 02, 2019 3:08 pm

jfr wrote:I searched the forum for my own posts, and it appears that somehow I didn't create a Trip Report for the original hike back in 2012, which is almost unheard of. Please accept my apologies, forum peeps! My only excuse is that I must have been too busy with other trips that Summer, and simply ran out of time. I have since written one, but it is on my website/blog page, if you care to read it.


Thanks for the TR - well done!
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Re: TR: Laws Camp and Caramba June 2019

Postby zippetydude » Tue Jul 02, 2019 6:54 pm

Hah! I was hoping you would see that Perry! I figured since they have a walkway to it now that keeping it off the website was no longer a goal. Truth be told, I had wondered years ago how sophisticated the censor was and if it would be possible to defeat it with spaces or dots between the letters, but I didn't want to post it to test it out. Now I know! BTW, what are blue curls?

Nevermind, I found some good news: https://idyllwildtowncrier.com/2017/01/ ... endurance/

I'm glad their numbers are increasing...I was having trouble finding them there for a while and they are delicious in salads! (just kidding on that, please don't anyone go out and harvest them! :wink: )

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Re: TR: Laws Camp and Caramba June 2019

Postby Wildhorse » Wed Jul 03, 2019 2:17 pm

At Hidden Lake the blue curl grows along the receding edge of the water. If my memory is right, it was only considered endangered because people and horses left footprints that affected its growth. I think that the park was required to protect it or face penalties or funding loss. It tried to do that by prohibiting access and removing it from maps to hide it. I think the construction of the new path was intended to show compliance and avoid a financial loss. High country politics.

I will never forget seeing an armed ranger become antagonistic and bully a woman who merely asked a question about the lake while it was a “secret.” Her question, “Is it legal to go to Hidden Lake?”
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Re: TR: Laws Camp and Caramba June 2019

Postby guest » Sun Jul 07, 2019 9:52 am

Thanks for this great report jfr.
Interesting how the fire moved through there, (I hike from tram to Divide & Landell's & look down on this area.
Bummer how fast the buckthorn returns with the new sunlight.
I've headed down a drainage before the Willow Creek Jct. which is probably a lot tougher now, if there's more dead-fall.

Love that photo of Vicki on the giant ledge of granite, and nice to see that much water.

Re. Hidden Lake, I've heard the rangers at Long Valley issue about 25-30 per. day, (and that's total people, not 15 / permit), but I'd imagine many may go w/out.
I believe a spotted toad?, (a small frog similar to the granite frogs from lower elev.) also shared the protection the Blue curl did
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Re: TR: Laws Camp and Caramba June 2019

Postby CatB » Mon Jul 08, 2019 7:15 am

Just a heads up rangers are on patrol in the vicinity of the Hidden Lake trail, as I found out on Friday when as an afterthought I decided to head over there coming down from the peak. I did not realize you needed a permit to visit the lake & they will deny access if you don't have one.
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