One of Palm Desert's most popular hiking trails just got a little bit shorter. This week, after several months of public notice, the California Department of Fish and Game announced that in order to protect the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep, it is permanently closing the top half mile of the popular Mirage Trail, generally known by locals as the "Bump And Grind." The rest of the trail, which will remain open, connects with the Hopalong Cassidy, Herb Jeffries and Mike Schuler trails to form a three-mile loop.
The Bump and Grind is so named for its relative steepness, with more than 500 feet of elevation gain in a mile. Its aerobic workout potential and its close proximity to the city of Palm Desert mean that hundreds of people hike it each day. That level of activity can spook the bighorn, especially during the parts of the year when bighorn lambs are vulnerable. The San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains are one of the last strongholds of the Peninsular bighorn, and many local trails are closed during lambing season, which runs from January through June. Studies have shown that the bighorn will abandon areas frequented by people. The land on which the upper Bump And Grind trail sits was set aside as bighorn habitat as part of the Magnesia Spring Ecological Reserve.
Within the next few weeks, Fish and Game will be putting up a permanent gate across the Bump And Grind at its junction with the Herb Jeffries trail, where the trail enters sensitive bighorn habitat in the Magnesia Spring Preserve. Previous gates have been vandalized here: the trail closure is unpopular with many local hikers. Fish and Game will be working to try to educate local hikers on the importance of protecting the bighorn, but in the meantime, hikers who prefer to comply with the Fish and Game's bighorn sheep policies can still enjoy the loop described above. You can also follow the lead of more jaded Coachella Valley hikers and stick to other, significantly less crowded trails in the Santa Rosas. If you do encounter a bighorn sheep, stop walking and keep your distance, so that the sheep can escape without undue stress.
The Bump And Grind's trailhead, which will connect you to the loop described above, is reachable from the parking lot of the Target store on Painters Path in Palm Desert. Other nearby trails can be discovered at the Hiking in Palm Springs website.