Whitewater Preserve: Hike to Red Dome via the Pacific Crest Trail

On our last morning in California, the wind had finally died down and we had a little bit of time to go on one last adventure before heading home.

Laying in bed, I looked through my All Trails wish list to find something that sounded fun. A shorter hike nearby was preferable, so we could catch our flight out of Palm Springs early that afternoon.

As I scrolled through the list, the hike to Red Dome via Pacific Crest Trail caught my eye. It was only 4.3 miles – only a half-hour drive to get there – AND it would allow me to hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Something I’ve been yearning to do since about 2017.

That’s the year I watched Dixie from Homemade Wanderlust thru-hike the PCT, and was so inspired that I set my own goal to do the same in 2031 (the year my daughter will graduate high school).

I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to preview my future bucket list item, and Mike agreed. Even though he’d be forfeiting a chance to visit the Palm Springs Air Museum… and for an aerospace engineer, that is a BIG DEAL. What a guy. 🙂

Since time was tight, we quickly scooped up our belongings strewn about the yurt, tidied up for check out, and settled in for a 25 minute drive north of Palm Springs to the Whitewater Preserve.

All along highway 10, thousands of windmills waved as we drove past. They were spinning pretty swiftly – I’m betting because of the boost they received during the windstorm the night before.

Turning off the highway at the Whitewater exit, we meandered along a lonely dirt road through some pretty canyons before we reached the Preserve. We pulled into the parking lot at the ranger’s station so we could change shoes and get information on the trail conditions.

I stepped inside the station and found it eerily unmanned, though I heard a rustling in the back hallway. Cautiously approaching, I found the ranger cleaning the bathrooms.

She seemed friendly, so I chatted with her a bit about what to expect while we were hiking. She assured us that the 4 mile out and back trail to Red Dome was in good shape after some recent washout repairs – and that the 400 ft. elevation gain on the way up was so gradual, we probably wouldn’t notice it at all.

Sweet. I used one of the bathrooms and returned to the station lobby to find this goofball “hiking” up Mt. San Gorgonio. I tell you. The antics.

Peeling Mike away from his toys, we headed out to the trailhead and signed the register. As we set out on the path, I was really excited – but the sign warning us of rattle snakes and mountain lions definitely slowed my roll. I stepped gingerly and scanned the area for trouble.

The trail curved lazily through the pristine white sand dotted with the familiar cacti we’d become accustomed to in the days prior. And though I was still enthralled in their prickly cuteness, I was itching to get to the PCT.

Enveloped by the San Bernardino mountains, I at least I had a gorgeous view to distract me.

After what seemed like FOREVER, we finally reached the the long awaited intersection with the PCT – and I was formally introduced to a bucket list item of epic proportions.

A trail that is 2,653 miles from it’s southern to northern terminus. Can you even imagine??

We stopped to commemorate my moment, and as we continued on our hike toward Red Dome, I began to digest just how long and hard it would be to complete this massive trail. How grueling and lonely it would be – how scared I might be of the wildlife, river crossings, and unpredictable weather. How stressed out I might get while planning and managing food, water and of course, gear…

I thought about how tired and sore I have been the last few days on our short 3-4 mile hikes – how blistery and calloused my feet are…

The magnitude of my dream overwhelmed me as we completed our tiny ascent to Red Dome.

And then I remembered something.

2031 is eight years away.

That’s plenty of time to prepare. It’s okay that I am overwhelmed at the thought of tackling such a gigantic goal. I have plenty of time to work up to it, and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing on this trip. In fact, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the past 5 years.

I remember trying on a backpack in the Alpine Shop back in 2018. Even just dipping my toe in the possibility of being a backpacker both enthralled and terrified me. I remember thinking – wow, I don’t know if I could ever afford this, let alone actually do it.

But, here I am in 2023 with two backpacking trips under my belt and the hindsight of knowing that the money (and the nerve) was there when the time was right.

I know the same will be true for this.

As we finished our ascent to Red Dome, I sat down by the Whitewater River feeling both inspired and exhausted. The past 4 days of hiking were beautiful and fun, but my body was beginning to break down, and I was ready to go home.

After poking around the Red Dome (honestly, I was a little underwhelmed – I thought it would be bigger!) and scarfing down some snacks and water, we began the trek back.

My energy was plummeting, so I picked up our pace to get us back to the car as quickly as possible. We stopped only to pee and rehydrate.

We reached the parking lot and spent a few minutes changing clothes and rearranging our baggage for the plane.

On the way to the airport, we stopped for lunch and I was too exhausted to even walk in. I felt awful. I couldn’t understand why a little 4 mile hike would trash me so easily. Was it the elevation? Was I dehydrated and worn out from being away from home?

I really thought I was in better shape than this. So much for being a bad ass.

The next morning, I woke up feeling even worse than the day before. And that’s when it dawned on me..

I wonder if I have COVID?

I trudged to the kitchen to grab the at-home test kit, but I already knew what the result would be. After only a couple of minutes, the positive test line beamed a bright red, confirming my suspicion.

No wonder I felt like shit. I was still my bad ass self – my immune system was just in overdrive!

It was a major bummer to get so sick after such an epic adventure – and to spend a week on the couch by myself wondering if the coughing would ever stop. But it eventually did, and I am so thankful for a healthy body that was able to make a full recovery.

Southern California hiking was like nothing else I have ever experienced. Impossibly gorgeous – even the little bit I had time and gear to devour. We could’ve easily filled two more weeks exploring everything the area had to offer.

For now, though, I’m content to look at these beautiful pictures and reminisce… and start thinking about what’s next.

What is the next best thing I can do to get just one step closer to my PCT thru-hike dream?

I’m not quite sure yet, but I bet it will be quite an adventure.

Published by adventurewithkatie82

Newbie adventure writer! Learn more about me at www.adventurewithkatie.com.

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