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Exploring the Bradshaw Trail

by Linda Castro, Assistant Policy Director


Adventure title:  Exploring the Bradshaw Trail National Back Country Byway and Eagle Mountain Railroad Trestle

Name of area/general location:  The western portion of the Bradshaw Trail National Back Country Byway, along the southern boundary of the Orocopia Mountains Wilderness Area

Land acknowledgment: This off-highway vehicle (OHV) trail is primarily located on the ancestral homelands and tradition territories of the Iviatim, Nüwü, Pipa Aha Macav, Kwatsáan and Maara’yam Peoples (Cahuilla, Chemehuevi, Mojave, Quechan, and Serrano Nations).  This trail began as an Indigenous route.

Trail/river/climb/ etc. rating and why (easy, moderate, hard):  This is a scenic driving tour, which requires a high clearance and preferably 4×4 vehicle.  We do not recommend driving the Bradshaw Trail without a high clearance 4×4 vehicle.  While the terrain is not necessarily challenging in all locations, it is rocky much of the way, especially between the end of the fencing for the Coachella Canal and this Adventure’s destination.  West of the rocky portion of the trail, you will encounter patches of soft, deep sand, which are also best navigated with a high clearance 4×4 vehicle.

Trail/river/ etc. mileage (different options if available):  Approximately 13.5 miles between the beginning of the dirt road at Desert Aire Drive and Eagle Mountain Railroad Trestle.  Once you reach the trestle, you can backtrack the way that you came in, or continue past the trestle (heading east) on the Bradshaw Trail until you reach a fork in the road at which point you can take a left on Summit Road (north) and travel that about 17 miles to I-10 near the Red Cloud Mine exit/entrance.

Permissible trail uses (dogs, horses, mountain bikes, others):  Street legal as well as green-sticker vehicles (OHV) are allowed on the Bradshaw Trail.  Please adhere to all rules and prohibitions that are posted, including the signs that instruct you to remain outside of the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range, due to the potential of unexploded ordnance.  Please also only drive on BLM-designated routes, which are routes that have signs with either BLM logos on them together with the name of the route or those with route numbers on them.  Dogs are allowed (as they are generally allowed on all BLM-managed lands), but it would be wise to keep them on a leash due to the likelihood that you will encounter other vehicles, including some that may be driving at fairly high rates of speed.

Description of area, sights, wildlife and any key markers on the trail/river/climb etc.:  The Bradshaw Trail began as an important Indigenous route and later a stagecoach route that brought prospectors to gold fields in Arizona from places such as San Bernardino and Los Angeles.  This article provides a more detailed historical backgrounder on the Bradshaw Trail:

The Adventure’s destination, the Eagle Mountain Railroad Trestle Bridge, was constructed in 1946 as part of a 52-mile railway that ran from the Eagle Mountain Mine near what is now Joshua Tree National Park and Ferrum, on the shore of the Salton Sea about eight miles south of North Shore.   It was built to carry iron ore from the Eagle Mountain Mine to Ferrum, where the Eagle Mountain Railroad connected with the Southern Pacific Railroad.  The ore was then transported by means of the Southern Pacific Railroad to the Kaiser Steel Mill in Fontana.  As you travel north on Summit Road toward I-10, you will see remnants of the railroad bed.  Unfortunately, the railroad ties and other railroad artifacts that had been there up to just a handful of years ago, appear to have all been removed except for a few  culverts where the railroad had crossed over washes.

While the emphasis of this article is on the Eagle Mountain Railroad Trestle Bridge, it bears mentioning that the entirety of the Bradshaw Trail is located within habitat for a relatively high number of rare and imperiled species, including the Mojave desert tortoise and desert bighorn sheep.  In addition, the drive along this portion of the Bradshaw Trail will provide you with spectacular views of the Salton Sea, Santa Rosa Mountains, Orocopia Mountains, and many of the desert dry washes that run through the area.  The hills adjacent to the road are often cloaked with multicolored wildflowers in the spring.  If you visit in spring, you may encounter a number of rare plants including the Mecca aster (a shrub in the sunflower family with large purple-blue flowers), Orocopia sage (an aromatic shrub in the mint family with clusters of small lavender colored flowers, protected by spine-tipped leaves), Munz’s cholla (a towering cactus with dense spines and branching stems that can reach heights of over 10 feet), and others.

How to get there:  For this  adventure, we provided instructions that begin from the Bradshaw Trail’s western end.  However, you can create your own Bradshaw Trail adventure by beginning it on the eastern end, near Highway 78 and Palo Verde and Ripley, too.

From Indio, take Highway 111 (Grapefruit Boulevard) south (or Highway 86 south from I-10) which then merges with Highway 111, until you reach North Shore.  You’ll know you’re on the right path when you see a sign for the Salton Sea State Recreation Area on your right.  Then, make a left on Parkside Drive.  Drive about 1.8 miles until you reach a T intersection with Desert Aire Drive (a dirt road) and make a left.  After 1,000 feet, follow the road to the right.  There are a number of overlapping and confusing user-created trails but continue to drive right (N/NW) and follow the trail that goes along the sides of the small “hills” rather than those that go over or through them, until you arrive at Dos Palmas Spring Road/Coachella Canal Road (about 0.8 miles).  Then make a right onto Dos Palmas Spring Road/Coachella Cana Road.  At this point, you will be driving on the southern side of the Coachella Canal; the canal will be to your left.  Travel approximately 1.5 miles, at which point you will cross the canal (the only path you can follow) and begin driving on the north side of the canal (with the canal now on your right).   Continue driving along the side of the canal until the canal and its fencing start to turn to the right.  You will then see a BLM kiosk to your left that shows you are entering public lands.  That is where you will officially begin your adventure on the Bradshaw Trail.  Make a left onto the Bradshaw Trail and travel for approximately 5.3 miles until you arrive at your destination — the Eagle Mountain Railroad Trestle Bridge. The bridge is 60 feet tall and 500 feet long and crosses over the Bradshaw Trail in Salt Creek Wash, so you definitely won’t be able to miss it!

Areas to camp nearby:  Dispersed camping is available on BLM-managed lands on the northern side of the Bradshaw Trail.  There are no developed campgrounds within close proximity of this Adventure and its various locations.  Be careful that you do not camp on the southern side of the Bradshaw Trail; the Chocolate Mountains Aerial Gunnery Range, a military installation abuts the southern edge of the Bradshaw Trail.  A California Campfire Permit is required to have a campfire outside of a developed campground.  If you do not already have one, they are available on-line at no cost:

More information (AllTrails link, etc.):