Domelands is all about possibilities. For those who want a well-defined day hike to nature’s sandstone sculptures as described on many web pages, that possibility is there. For others who want to use their navigational skills and explore any number of paths to the great variety the desert has to offer, there are infinite possibilities.
I started my solo overnight hike & backpack trip on a recent Friday afternoon after splitting a sandwich with a friend for lunch and then driving out just northwest of the windmills on S2 in Ocotillo. There is a kiosk and marker for BLM road “093” that marks the beginning of the 2-mile dirt road to the parking lot.
My Crosstrek made it just fine, as would any vehicle with high clearance and some care.
The official parking lot is slightly hidden in some hills at the end of the road where a small maze has been carved by people not sticking to the path. Just keep going straight ahead near the obvious end.
I carefully chose a weather window when high 70s were expected in May- very lucky for this time of year.
I brought 2 gallons of water- quite a load but not so bad considering I didn’t need any cold weather gear other than a windbreaker for the early morning.
One way to navigate this hike is to simply follow the well-trodden trail north out of the parking lot, and make a sharp right at the biggest dry wash (marked by stone arrows when I was there), then follow the trail east up to the Domelands. This trail is marked on Caltopo.com.
I chose to print the google earth image provided by borregohiking.com. I also input the 6 key waypoints that I plotted on Caltopo onto a handheld GPS to use as a backup. Plus I had a compass as always. I followed my waypoints in the order 1,2,6,5,4,3,2,1, more or less the “clockwise route”. The longer loop route goes past the Domelands northeast to some of the most interesting experiences. If you are doing anything more than the simple out-and-back to the Domelands, you must be prepared for real land navigation as the other trail sections disappear in washes and sometimes make unexpected bends around obstacles. There are also multiple trails in some locations. Always have a good idea of where you are headed as there are multiple decision points, but this is a big part of the fun!
My hike started mid-afternoon as I knew I’d be camping so had plenty of time. The initial climb up out of the parking lot on dry mud is steep, but short. It soon levels out with views west to the windmills and Laguna Mountains. Even here one can already see a great variety of mud hills, washes, and rocky light and dark terrain. As you come to a confluence of a few washes, the first small wash to the right is the one that takes you on the counterclockwise loop. I went a few hundred feet further to a bigger wash and the sharp right marked by stone arrows on the sand.
(These won’t survive the next storm, whenever that might be). From here the hike is gradually uphill with nice views south through ocotillo country. It’s also a good idea to look out over where your return trip will be as you head back west. Eventually a short, steep climb will take you to the first of the domelands (waypoint 6) where you can explore all around as much as you feel like.
I enjoyed the scenery, solitude, and some snacks while checking out the multiple domes, then got my bearings and descended to the northeast down an amazing outcropping consisting of a more fossils than you can imagine! There were sand dollars and shells everywhere, plus what appeared to be fossilized coral.
As I descended, a hawk expressed his or her frustration with me as I probably passed a nest built in one of the many tiny caves all about. The views out to Split Mountain, Elephant Knees, the Lagunas, Salton Sea, and Painted Mountain were spectacular, but I was also watching for the beginning of the slot canyon to the right, which is not hard to miss. I camped here at the top of the slot and enjoyed the magic hour of photography before turning in.
This slot is unique in that the surrounding strata are inclined and the water (when wet) follows that incline of the rock at the bottom of the slot- it’s short but still very impressive. Upon exiting (around waypoint 5), everything changes again, completely. With the badlands ahead to the north, I turned east on the mostly clear trail to get to the spectacular and steep descent point into the canyon (waypoint 4) to return south.
This is probably the most geologically varied canyon I’ve ever experienced, with regions of mud, solid fossilized shell boulders, sand, granite, sandstone, olivine, and a change literally around every corner. There was even a Jawa crawler coming out of the cliff!
I made various stops to enjoy the peace and was visited by a cactus wren and a hummingbird, but still hadn’t seen a single other person! After an easy hike following the main wash and enjoying the scenery for quite a while, I approached the top of the wash where looking down from the other side of the loop the day before was very helpful.
Just keep an eye out for the most well-trodden path and follow that to the steep ascent up the mud hills and out of the wash to another spectacular viewpoint. For scale, the photo shows the only people I saw the whole day descending where I came up. From here it’s a matter of land navigation and keeping your eyes peeled for the completion of the loop and then back south. At the close of the loop, I had only used one of my two gallons of water in this cool weather. With so much variety and points of interest along the way, I could barely believe I had done 6 hours of hiking and covered over 10 miles. There was never a slog as on so many other hikes. I highly recommend the Domelands to anyone who appreciates the variety of the desert- just enjoy it like I did when it’s in the 70s if you can!