Enjoy hiking? About a quarter mile west of the entrance to Jumbo Rocks campground, on the south side of Park Blvd., there are several large rocks blocking the entrance into what looks like an old jeep road that heads off into the desert. What more of an invitation do you need? There’s plenty of room to park nearby, so pull over, take a day pack with plenty of water and some snacks, and hit the trail. Plan on about four miles roundtrip, roughly 50 feet of elevation change and a wonderful time.
I’ve hiked this trail several times over the last couple of years and find something new to see every time. The general destination is known as the Crown Prince Lookout, which for a short time during World War II was an aircraft warning station operated by the U.S. Army. There was reportedly a lookout tower perched atop one of the rocky hills, however, nothing remains of it today except for a 3’x3’ cement block (which I have yet to find, but I'm pretty sure I know where it is) and some anchor points. And as no hike in J Tree would seem complete (to me) without running across some kind of past mining activity, there are a couple of tailing piles and tunnels nearby to explore as well.
The old jeep road is not a maintained park trail, so there are no signs to guide you along the way. That being said, it’s an easy trail to follow. I always park on the north side of Park Blvd., just a bit east of the boulders that block the road. The turnout is ample and plenty safe to park in. After making sure my snacks, gps and other hiking essentials are in my camelbak, I cross the pavement and hit the desert road.
These are the rocks that protect the old jeep road from people driving on it today. It starts off heading southwest, but after about 125 yards, it takes a hard left and swings southeast for most of the remainder of the hike.
The Desert Horned Lizard certainly blends in with its surroundings. I met this guy, or his brother, both coming and going. I guess they don't really have much else to do but hang out and eat ants.
It doesn't take long before I catch a glimpse of a few rocky hills in the distance. The road seems to be heading in the right direction.
As I'm walking, I'm wondering. Which of those two piles of rock did the Crown Prince Lookout station sit on? They both overlook the plains south of them, either one seems likely. There's not an awful lot of specific documentation about the destination, nor coordinates of the lookout site. Just vague hiking directions. Take the right fork, skirt the hill, quick scramble up. But from what I had been able to uncover, I'm 95% sure my goal is the rocky hill on the right.
There are a lot of photogenic spots along this trail. It would be easy to spend an entire day out here and not come close to seeing all there is to see. That's what I enjoy about this area, lots to choose from.
At about the 9/10 of a mile mark along the jeep road, there's a fork. There are several rocks crossing the path (in the shade of the Joshua Tree); choose the right to continue to Crown Prince. Choose the left to explore some old mines, spectacular scenery and great views.
The road is now heading directly to Crown Prince. I've studied the satellite images and read the trail reports, so I know that there is a way to get to the top of that hill. The route is supposedly on the east side and I think I know where to go.
This rock asked me to stop and take its picture.
I'm still following the old road, but it soon peters out and a vague trail with a few rock cairns mark the path. I'm heading up and past that rocky point in the center of the picture, by veering around to its right side.
Once around the small hill, this pretty view opens up where the vague trail finally gives out. I see many possibilities for future exploration. Off in the distance are some rugged places: the Coxcomb Mountains, Pinto Valley, the Hexie Mountains and hidden from view, Blyth.
But now it's time to try to get to the top of the hill to my right.
I'm still 95% sure that atop what I'm looking at is where I will find the 3'x3' cement block that marks the site of the Crown Prince Lookout. All signs point to yes. I commence scrambling up the side of that hill, heading to a spot that I think I can access the next level.
I made it up to the general area shown in the red circle above and I'm fairly certain that had I wanted to do some serious scrambling, I could have made it up what is described as "ten feet of scrambling," to a spot where a trail once again appears, which leads to the top. Maybe next time I'll give it a try. I'm generally a bit more conservative in my exploring exploits when I'm solo hiking.
While still hanging onto the side of the hill, I looked eastward across the valley to the next rocky hill. "Hmmm, what if the Crown Prince Lookout is actually atop that hill over there?" It's not usually a good sign when I start talking to myself while hiking in the desert. But since I was in the area and had the time, why not go and take a look, who knows what else I might find.
But first, I wanted to walk around the hill I was on, just to make sure there was no other way to the top. While doing so, this pretty shot of the road leading back to Park Blvd opened up. On a side note, it you enjoy desert solitude, this is the hike for you. I've only seen other folks out here on one trip.
There doesn't appear to be any other possible routes to the top, unless perhaps you are an experienced climber. There are, however, numerous caves and rocky overhangs that quite possibly served as shelters or habitation sites for the Native Americans who migrated through this area while following the seasons. The cave in the side of this hill is fairly large, but is rather difficult to get to.
After reaching the southern tip of the hill without spotting a possible route to the top, I decided to head back to reconnect with the old road and take the fork to the left. Time to check out the other hill and see if I could find a way to its top.
Returning to the fork in the road, I saw a new friend atop the boulders in front of me.
How did a hippo get up there? And what is it doing in the desert?
There's my next objective, the hill on the right.
It appears that the road out this way must have seen a lot of use at some time, as it's still quite visible.
On a previous trip to this area, I had spotted what appeared to be two rather large piles of tailings on the side of this hill. A brief mention of the "Jumbo Rocks Tunnels" in Linda Greene's Historical Resource Study had me wondering if these two tailing piles might be the Jumbo Rocks Tunnels.
Looking at the first pile of tailings.
Standing above the tailings and looking back.
The tailings pile is quite substantial. But where did the debris come from? There were no obvious drifts, tunnels or shafts that I could see. A bit of searching was in order. And a bit of searching I did. The tunnel is actually in amongst the rocks in the picture above. I found a narrow passage way that twisted through the massive rocks and finally lead to the tunnel. To quote one of my favorite comic strip characters, "Good Grief!"
Just getting to this spot is an exercise in itself, with narrow passages between large boulders. This must have been back-breaking labor to create this tunnel and then cart off the tailings. It doesn't go very far into the hillside. Here's the view looking in.
And here's the view looking out. Although I enjoy finding spots like this and mining history, I'm certainly glad I never had to make my living as a miner.
The only piece of Desert Gold I encountered on this trip. After investigating the first tunnel, I decided to continue hiking down the canyon to see if there was an accessible approach to the top of this hill. There was still that nagging little voice saying, "What if the lookout is on top of this hill? You better check it out."
While walking down the canyon, I spotted the second tailings pile. I would check that one out on my way back.
From this vantage point, it looked like the top of the hill might be accessible by following the base along to the point, and then heading up. There's a very interesting formation of rocks, looking like a mini, jagged mountain range visible above.
It's amazing how many times I've hiked around rocks, hills, valleys and mountains looking for a way to the top, or a path to the other side. As I circled the southern tip of this hill, I had climbed quite a bit and had a great view out over the plain, but I wasn't at the top. And from here, it didn't look possible. However, I had spotted a ravine heading up the side of this hill just a little ways back and decided to give it a try.
After quite a bit of scrambling and several rest stops, I reached the top of the southern end of the false Crown Prince Lookout. There was no cement block, no anchor bolts, no trace of anything other than wind-swept rocks and Mojave yucca. But the view was pretty awesome.
Looking across the valley at what I am now 100% positive is the real Crown Prince Lookout, I believe I heard it laughing at me, mocking me. Perhaps it was just the wind. I started the steep climb down. It was time to find the other Jumbo Rocks Tunnel.
That's where I was.
See the gray pile of tailings? How in the world to get up there? As it turns out, I hiked back to the first tailings pile and found faint traces of a trail that headed in the right direction. Unfortunately, the narrow passages between the huge boulders were chock full of brush, mainly big, healthy plants with stickers and sharp things. Some serious bouldering was involved to make it up, over and through. Skin was lost. I eventually arrived at the much larger tailings pile and once again wondered, "where did all this come from?"
Well, I believe it came from somewhere in there but I was unable to actually find the tunnel. Perhaps some boulders have tumbled down since the mine was worked. In any case, it's a good reason to return and try again someday.
Standing atop the tailings pile, another grand view presents itself. I wondered if the men who worked out here had a camp somewhere nearby. I hadn't spotted any evidence of one, but I'm guessing that they did.
This is the view from the near the first tailings pile. Those rock piles on the right side of the image look inviting. I anticipate another visit to this area in the near future. Perhaps somewhere off to the right, where there is some nice flat ground, I might find where the mine workers camped while working out here.
The fork in the road, starting the trek back to Old Blue.
A final look back at the Crown Prince Lookout and its evil sibling, Crown Prince Fakeout. I will be back.
I'm always happy to see my car after a long hike. Glad that it's still there and glad for the refreshing items waiting for me in the ice chest. Those rock piles behind Old Blue are another great place to explore and scramble.
Even though I hadn't found the exact spot of the Crown Prince Lookout, I still had a great hike in the park and had seen some things I hadn't seen before. Definitely give this hike a try if you have a few hours to spare. It's a fairly level trail, interesting rock formations, lots of wildflowers during the right season and who knows, you just might find the lookout yourself.
My desert brother.