Oh-bay-yo-yo (Joshua Tree National Park)

As a prelude, I’d like to offer a word of warning. The hike to Oh-bay-yo-yo is a class four hike. A class four hike is defined by Utah Outside as, “Hikes on steep terrain and generally require roped belays for safety. A belay is a system used by mountaineers to protect one another from serious falls. Yes, a Class 4 fall would be serious; you’ve got a very good chance of becoming a “recovery” operation for Search and Rescue teams if you take a tumble on one of these treks. This level of hiking is actually closer to mountaineering/rock climbing.” So there you have it, don’t attempt this hike unless you are sure you are capable, any doubt and the consequences  could be deadly.

Oh-bay-yo-yo, it sounds like some weird Kamasutra position, but it’s not, at least not that I’m aware of. You see, deep in the Wonderland of Rocks in Joshua Tree National Park, there is a cave fortress. The fortress is rumored to have been built by teenagers from Twentynine Palms in the 1930’s. They would store supplies in it for their regular treks up to Barker Dam to go swimming. This sounds a little far-fetched to me, however that is the “popular” story. The exact location of Oh-bay-yo-yo has been a well guarded secret among locals, and the more adventurous park visitors.

I first heard about this site sometime in the last couple of years, and I filed it away in the “when I have time” filing cabinet. Recently I found myself thinking about “that place with the stupid name,” and how I should get out there to see it. Going over my notes I had a pretty good idea of where it was located, and then there were the warnings of how difficult of a trek it was to reach. I didn’t take the warnings all that serious, as I’m pretty use to difficult terrain.

 

Along the Willow Hole trail.

Along the Willow Hole trail.

 

Along the Willow Hole trail.

Along the Willow Hole trail.

 

Along the Willow Hole trail.

Along the Willow Hole trail.

 

The day began at 7:30am at the Boy Scout Trail trailhead. This first part of the hike would take me over familiar terrain, going over the first 1.25 miles of this well maintained trail, then cutting over to the Willow Hole trail for a little over two-mile trek through a well carved canyon of oddly shaped granite boulders and spires. Easy peasy, I knocked out this section of the hike in just over an hour, it was what lied ahead that I was unfamiliar with.

Once arriving at Willow Hole, I searched around for a trail through the dense vegetation. Once finding it, I was again well on my way. This next segment is just a little over a quart of mile, and for the most part was trailess, but followed a small wash with some minimal boulder hopping. Again, nothing out of the ordinary in regard to the terrain, easily navigable. Eventually this wash reaches a “Y”, here I turned left and followed a small spring for roughly one tenth of a mile.

 

Got to stop and smell the Datura stramonium

Got to stop and smell the Datura stramonium

 

Willow Hole

Willow Hole

 

Willow Hole

Willow Hole

 

Along this short section I encountered a speckled rattlesnake that was coiled up next to the spring. He blended well into his surrounding, thankfully I noticed him well in advance, and as I approached him he let off a rattle warning me that he was there, then took off for the nearest brush. This my friends is how rattlesnakes act, they don’t become assholes until you become an asshole, poking them with sticks, throwing things at them, or stepping on them. Respect them, and they will respect you, at least every rattlesnake that I have encountered has.

So far I was thinking, this isn’t so bad, those reports of this being a difficult trek are highly exaggerated. Sure there are some route finding skills involved, but overall your typical Joshua Tree hike. Right as I’m gloating to myself about how easy this is, I turned the corner and entered what I will call the “death segment.”  The “death segment” measures out to be a quarter of a mile the way the crow flies, but I ain’t no damn crow, and I also can’t fly. Up to this point I had covered four and a half miles in about two and a half hours. My day was about to get much longer.

 

Once past Willow Hole, the terrain because a little bit more questionable, but still navigable.

Once past Willow Hole, the terrain because a little bit more questionable, but still navigable.

 

Good amount of water in natural pools throughout the area.

Good amount of water in natural pools throughout the area.

 

A spring flows below a giant granite boulder.

A spring flows below a giant granite boulder.

 

My rattlesnake friend opts to leave in peace.

My rattlesnake friend opts to leave in peace.

 

The “death segment,” a quarter of a mile of boulders the size of small houses, and entire apartments strung through a gorgeous canyon surrounded by granite domes and spheres. If I was out for just a hike with no designated destination this is where I would have turned around. But I had a destination, and I had already come this far. Hopping from boulder to boulder, sliding, twisting, turning, jumping, and climbing, I began the quest. Nowhere was there ground to walk on, this was 100% bouldering, the few places where the ground was visible, it was twenty, thirty feet below. The mental image of falling into one of these crevices raced through me head.  It would have been a death trap, there would have been no getting a satellite signal, and there probably wouldn’t be a single person coming by for days or weeks.

Then it happened, nearing the half way point my ankle gave out and down I went! Thankfully not into one of those crevices. I let off a scream, then a considerable amount of whimpers. I lied there for a good 5-10 minutes. My knees were covered with blood, and my left hand was missing skin. Once I collected myself, I got up, and continued what I had started, only now every step, every jump, and every climb came with the feeling that someone was stabbing my ankle.

With Oh-bay-yo-yo in site, the drops got bigger, the boulders got bigger, and with my sprained ankle I wasn’t sure how the hell I was going to get back up and over some of the obstacles. I actually considered turning back at this point, but I knew that I’d be pissed at myself, I could already see the dang thing! I continued dropping down into the small valley. That quarter of a mile had turned into one and a half miles, and an additional two and a half hours.

 

Once past this dryfall, you have entered the "death segment".

Once past this dryfall, you have entered the “death segment”.

 

"Death segment" - Unfortunately photographs do this no justice.

“Death segment” – Unfortunately photographs do this no justice.

 

"Death segment" - Unfortunately photographs do this no justice.

“Death segment” – Unfortunately photographs do this no justice.

 

"Death segment" - Unfortunately photographs do this no justice.

“Death segment” – Unfortunately photographs do this no justice.

 

Did I really sign up for this?

Did I really sign up for this?

 

The valley was beautiful, a pond with thousands of tadpoles and hundreds of frogs greeted me as my feet finally touched actual ground again. All around me were giant domes, and vegetation. I maneuvered my way over to the fort, tossed my backpack to the side, and immediately began photographing this desert anomaly. The outside of the fort was constructed of both stone and wood, and tucked into a natural recession in a boulder. Part of me has to wonder how a wood fort has managed to survive for 85 years, I can only assume, but would venture to guess that visitors continue to contribute to it’s construction.

Inside of the fort was a fire pit, a selection of cookware, a shovel, and a couple of dusty sleeping bags and pads. Rummaging around I managed to locate a guest book, I sat for fifteen minutes reading what others had written. I signed the book, then gathered my items, and headed back out the same way in which I had come. I would have loved to have rested longer, but I knew that I was in for one hell of a hike back.

 

A pond in Oh-bay-yo-yo Valley.

A pond in Oh-bay-yo-yo Valley.

 

The backside of the Oh-bay-yo-yo fort.

The backside of the Oh-bay-yo-yo fort.

 

What I had come all of this way to see, Oh-bay-yo-yo.

What I had come all of this way to see, Oh-bay-yo-yo.

 

From the outside looking in.

From the outside looking in.

 

To me the trek to Oh-bay-yo-yo wasn’t worth it, but that may be my ankle talking, after all, I’m sitting here typing this with a splint on my ankle. Others seem to really enjoy the place, and feel the need to keep it hush-hush. It was cool, but I’ve seen better, and would much rather put myself through hell for petroglyphs or pictographs, than a kid’s fort. But to each their own.

Regarding the return hike, six and a half hours of nothing but excruciating pain.

 

The inside of the fort contains a few sleeping bags, and sleeping pads. It is actually quite clean.

The inside of the fort contains a few sleeping bags, and sleeping pads. It is actually quite clean.

 

A few handy tools left behind by previous visitors.

A few handy tools left behind by previous visitors.

 

Nice little fire pit inside of the fort.

Nice little fire pit inside of the fort.

 

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.

5 Comments

  • Thanks yet again. I can’t tell you how many times this has been my motivator!: I actually considered turning back at this point, but I knew that I’d be pissed at myself,

  • Amazing rock trail and so happy you got there and back safely.

    Tadpoles in the desert. Go figure. What lovely little pools.

    Marvelous pics.

    But my ankle hurts just looking at your ankle.

  • oh man i loved this story by far one of your best , even it you didnt enjoy the trip which i cant say i dont blame you with your ankle and all ( hope it didnt hurt to long). i think its a awesome place and really cool how there is so much respect for this place..great pictures and always a great story thank you Jim ..

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