Zombie Woof Hunt

Trek Date: February 23, 2015

In the dark of night, ‘round a campfire’s light, a story is told, from the days of old.

When the rocks were new and the spirits flew, from crag to peak, a home to seek.

Zombie Woof was one, his wandering done, leaving a trail of dread, the ancients said.

A path of fear, undead howls to hear, a bloody death if you felt Woof’s breath.

Those days are past, J Tree’s quiet at last, free from fear, no zombie woofs near.

But there are those who dare, to find Woof’s lair, in the desert gloom, to their eternal doom.

So take heed and hear, and the legend fear, let Zombie Woof slumber, lest he tear you asunder.
— Legend of the Zombie Woof: The True Story


This is a tale of danger and deceit, a story of riches found and fortunes lost; a trail that led to the brink of madness and beyond. Take heed, stranger, and read on at your risk. For I have met the Zombie Woof and have been...changed. You have been warned. 

I remember first hearing the stories about Zombie Woof back when I was a boy, while on camping trips at Joshua Tree. They were scary tales told around the campfire by parents or scout leaders; they seemed to grow more frightening with each telling. And when my friends and I would later ask a park ranger about the Zombie Woof, he would confirm the stories were true and add gruesome facts about the half-eaten remains of hikers who were foolish enough to search for the Woof. Apparently, Hidden Valley was home to the bloodthirsty creature, reportedly living in a cave filled with human bones. Bill Keys once tried to track the monster down and barely returned alive. He never spoke of what happened that dark winter day, and later used dynamite to try and block the opening of the valley. But the legend remained....

Ok, about 98% of that is fiction. I was just feeling a bit dramatic after returning home from my last visit to J Tree. It was a bit of a stormy day, with cool temperatures and dark, forbidden skies.  Hiking through the desert, the wind would sometimes howl and the truth is, it was a bit creepy. Because I actually was looking for the Zombie Woof. And I found it.

I parked at the Hidden Valley picnic area and after gathering my woof hunting gear, headed out into the desert. As you've probably guessed by now, the Zombie Woof is a rock formation. Once I heard its name, I knew I had to find it. The Woof apparently had some importance to the Native Americans who migrated through this area, as there are some very faded pictographs on portions of the rock. The Woof is off-limits to climbing or bouldering but is totally okay with people taking its picture. ZW is only a short hike from the parking area and is well worth a visit. There are also some very interesting things to see in the Woof's territory. Come along, and see.

Houser Buttress was one of the first formations to catch my eye. It's an eighty foot tall chunk of Quartz Monzonite and if you want to climb to the top, well, the Loose Lady can get you there. Of course, other routes such as California Girls, Puss 'N Boots or Ladyfingers will take you to the top as well.

There were some great views of Lost Horse Valley all along this hike, and the density of Joshua Trees is pretty amazing in this area. I'll bet the Zombie Woof has marked each and every one of them.

Kid raven said, "there's nothing to do out here. When can we go into town?"

Mom raven replied,"nevermore. nevermore! Quit asking! Wait til your father gets home!"

And there it was. Zombie Woof. It's a pretty impressive formation with a very distinctive look. The small alcove looks like it could provide a bit of shelter but there's not really much room under the overhang. I walked around the Woof a couple of times, searching for any pictographs, but only found one spot with some very faded red stripes. Time and the elements, and probably people, have taken their toll on the ancient paintings. Which is why it's so important to leave them alone if you happen to find any. Take a picture, but don't touch.

After hanging out with the Zombie Woof for a while, it was time to move on and see what else I could find. The intrepid explorer, Murbachi, had told me of several stone dams that were in the area and so I set off in search of evidence of ranchers. I was in an area where numerous washes came down from the southern portion of the rocky hills that enclose Hidden Valley and my dam senses were tingling.

(By the way, left click on any of the images for a larger view; right click to save any that you like)

I came across five or six places where ranchers built these stone and cement walls to catch any of the water run-off they could. The image directly above shows a dam approximately four feet tall. Look at all the sand that has backed up behind it since it was built. I wonder if whoever built these water catchers periodically visited  to shovel out the sand. There's a 30-gallon drum almost buried at the foot of this dam.

I met my quota of one mylar baloon per day in J Tree.

Ah, finally, an authentic piece of desert gold. I was somewhat surprised at the lack of desert gold out in this area, but that doesn't mean it's not out there. 

This interesting formation seems to have fingers pointing out in different direction. It's known as Miles of Piles. It has an East Face and a West Face for the climbing generation. Routes to the top include: Winds of Change, Cruelty to Animals and Cripple Crack.

You were probably wondering if I made it to Cockroach Crag. The answer is, yes. The climbers claim that the rock of Cockroach Crag is rotten, ie, it crumbles away when you try to climb it. Sounds kind of dangerous to me, but if I were going to climb it, I would definitely choose either the Roach Roof route, or the Climb of the Cockroaches.

Even though I had visited the Aiguille de Joshua Tree (the Finger of Hercules) recently, I decided to stop by and say hi once again. Afterall, I was in the neighborhood. It's one of the most photogenic formations in the area. Do a Google Search for this rock and you'll see many pictures of people standing on top, or hanging onto the point. 

Uncle Remus says "hi."

After saying hi to Uncle Remus, it was time to start heading back to Old Blue, but there were still a number of formations along the way. Hiking to Uncle Remus, I had been skirting the rocky hills that comprise the southern boundary of Hidden Valley. Now I would venture just a bit farther south to visit the nearby jumbles of boulders that lay on the outskirts of Lost Horse Valley. The above image is the famous Jimmy Cliff. There are some seventeen different ways to make it to the top. Friendly Hands, the Harder they Fall, Dick Van Dyke, Cliff Hanger, Fiendish Fist....take your pick.

There's Mount Grossvogel. Ranger Danger, Blinded Me with Science, Roboranger or Killer Bees are some of the favorite routes to the top. By the way, there are bees in J Tree. Be careful of where you're hiking. I've only had run-ins with them in and around campsites, but as they need water you can encounter them where you might least expect it as there are small seeps and springs throughout the park.

The Arid Piles is a relatively large formation of boulders and has a number of different faces. Its mood seems to change as you walk around it, friendly on one side, angry on another. Night Gallery can get you to the top of the northeast face; for the northwest, the popular routes include Nice and Steep and Elbow Deep, the Napkin of Shame, Mr. Bunny Quits, and the Edge of Doom. Routes to the top of the southwest face include Popeye and the Taming of the Shoe.

This cool formation is near the northwest edge of the Arid Piles. I see an elephant sitting down on a rock climber, what do you see?

The Zombie Woof trail was coming to an end. I really enjoy hearing about a spot in J Tree that I haven't been to yet and getting out to see what I can find. This was a great hike that took about two hours or so, following no real trails, just the contours of the rocks and washes. Traces of Native American history, stone dams built by early settlers in the area, lots of nooks and crannies to explore and of course, the amazing rock formations with their wacky names. 

A break in the clouds illuminated Turtle Rock; I knew I was almost back to Old Blue and the delicious snacks and cold drinks that awaited me. I hope you enjoyed this post and my slightly off-center style of writing. Please feel free to right click and download any of my photos to use however you will. Credit back to this site would be nice, but it's not necessary.