OverviewThe Orocopia Mountains are situated on the San Andreas Rift Zone in the deserts of south-central Riverside County, overlooking the Salton Sea on the sea's northeast. The highest point of the range is just 3,815 feet, but the range does have over 2,000 feet of clean prominence. From the Salton Sea, there is over 4,000 feet of vertical differential between shoreline and summit (keeping in mind the Salton Sea is at -230 feet elevation). When viewed from the north side along Interstate-10, the range seems low, probably because it is surrounded by higher ranges such as the Eagles to the north and Chuckwallas to the east, and of course, the giant Toro and San Jacinto peaks to the west.
The Orocopia Mountains are enclosed within the Orocopia Wilderness, established in 1994 and managed by the BLM. The wilderness covers just under 46,000 acres and has good dirt-road access both from Interstate-10 from the north, and from various roads from the south. The Mecca Hills Wilderness adjoins the Orocopia Wilderness to the west, separated by the Box Canyon Road Secnic Drive.
The peak literally sits astride the famous San Andreas fault, separating the Pacific and North American plates as they slide along one another in separate directions. It is possible a major quake could occur here; if so, just hold on and enjoy the shaking. A 7.1 quake occured here in 1940 (see link). A mid-6 quake also hit the area in 1979, as I recall.
Getting ThereThese are the directions for the northern approach. Thanks to Charlie Winger who provided me some basic info from the Sierra Club DPS information bank for getting me on the right road, literally.
Exit Interstate-10 at the Joshua Tree/Mecca exit, which is about 23 miles east of Indio and 5 miles west of the Chiriaco Summit exit. Go south for 0.3 miles, and turn left (east) onto old paved Pinto Road for another 0.6 miles. Turn right (south) onto a good dirt road. Pass under powerlines at 0.9 miles, then stay left at a Y-junction a few yards past the power lines. Stay on this main road for another 2.8-2.9 miles. It trends mostly east and south. Toward the end, stay left at a pair of Y-junctions, even if it appears the better road is to the right. At this point you come to another Y-junction: the right ends at some rock barriers just a few feet ahead, while the left fork goes up steeply and eroded section to gain a slightly elevated bench. The road "ends" at the wilderness boundary another 0.4 miles further.
The road is pretty good and slightly sandy. High clearance is recommended, while the last 0.4 miles will need 4-wheel drive. Otherwise, park at the last Y-junction.
Pay attention to other side roads that meet this road to avoid confusion on the way out. The lands north of the wilderness boundary are open to off-road vehicles, so keep an eye out for them, too.
Red TapeThere are no fees or permits required. Once inside the wilderness you must abide by the wilderness rules. Outside the wilderness you are on BLM land. The end of the road would make for a nice camping area.
CampingThere are plenty of good ad-hoc camping areas on the BLM lands surrounding the wilderness, on both sides of I-10. Developed camping can be found at the Cottonwood CG inside Joshua Tree National Park, 8 miles north of I-10 at the JT/Mecca exit.
External LinksOrocopia Mountains Wilderness
Cottonwood Springs CG, Joshua Tree National Park
Sierra Club Desert Peaks Section List (Riverside County) Includes some old trip reports.
Gas & GrubIndio & Coachella: full services, including hotels, groceries, everything. I've always used the truck stops at the Dillon Road exit for my needs when heading east.
Chiriaco Summit: there is a Chevron there and a small cafe. The George S. Patton Museum is located here. Chiriaco Summit was the entrance to old Camp Young, the Desert Training Center used during WWII.
There are no services at the JT/Mecca exit.