2018 Rondy Outbound - Red Rock Canyon & El Paso Mountains
Words by Jay Lawrence, photos from Julie Smith, Allan Wicker and Jay Lawrence
How to spend a great Sunday getting from Ridgecrest to somewhere closer to home? First gather a congenial group: In this case Allan and Ding Wicker, Dave Rehrer, Bill and Julie Smith, Bill Powell, Leonard and Rebecca Friedman and fearful leader Jay "Wait, this isn't Mexico!" Lawrence. Next, throw in an unexpected challenge: This morning started with an interesting twist. Dave's truck shell refused to open and every bit of important gear and food he owned was stuck inside with no way to get in. The sliding window was waaaaay too small for any adult human to crawl through and there were no stray children to draft into service... The back window wouldn't budge for a tool to slide in... After much head scratching, Bill Powell approached the brand new Tacoma and shell with a long-handled ax. Onlookers gasped! Bill Casually reached through the tiny forward window and unlatched the shell side window by hooking the ax head over the latch and pulling. Like he does this for a living. Anyway, Bill and Dave prevailed, the shell was open and we were ready for travel.
With some gorgeous brilliant blue skies and spectacular clouds overhead, our intrepid crew headed south from the Rondy site in Ridgecrest on 395 to the Garlock - Redrocks - Randsburg Road. We traveled west to the southern end of Red Rock Canyon State Park, where we enjoyed a scenic loop on the east side of Highway 14 into a seldom visited southeeast backroad corner of the park. We were rewarded with views of beautiful uplifted and eroded cliffs in colors from pale green to gray to tan to coral pink then teased by signs that kept us from visiting a protected area for raptors that is only open during the hottest part of the year, right when you should really be at the beach with a fruity drink in your hand, not in the Mojave desert.
We headed out and west to the park information center and had lunch at one of the shaded benches and talked about the area. Red Rocks is a big place, with some monumental rock formations, camping areas and off-road zones dotting the side west of Highway 14.
Bill Powell said his goodbyes and headed north to Oregon, Ding and Allan headed out to do some photography and get an early start south and the rest of us saddled up for a loop around the northeast part of Red Rocks through the El Paso Mountains.
Our first stop was the Old Dutch Cleanser Mine, an extensive series of large tunnels carved out of a large, slanted deposit of seismotite (also known as pumicite). The Cudahy Packing Company mined this deposit from 1923 until 1947. The 25 foot tall veins are riddled with corridors supported by huge columns of material and run deep through the mountain with openings at the top and side for transport by 1-1/2 ton ore carts along the
clifftop to be dumped into tram cars and trucked to the Cudahy Camp in the valley 700 feet below. Foundations and iron hardware from the tram and ore cart cables are still visible today. The 288 acre claim is privately owned and available for the princely sum of $1,150,000 in case you would like to get into the pumicite business. For now, it's an unique landmark that offers some interesting history and otherworldly photos.
We moseyed east along the southern border of the Black Mountain Wilderness to the Old Post Office in Bonanza Gulch, a site where gold was discovered in 1893 and has been mined ever since. Several cabins dot the area, including the Sears, the Lundquist and Tait-Johnson Cabins. We met Tom, a 4WD enthusiast happily occupying the Sears cabin waiting for his group to arrive. The story goes that it got its name because it was built with crates from a Sears department store.
A mile south and a bit east we hit Bickel Camp, a real open-air museum of old mining gear, early tractors and trucks, rocks, cable, drilling equipment and odds and ends. Walt Bickel was a miner and heavy equipment mechanic who lived and worked there until his death in 1996. Today the camp is looked after by volunteers and is sometimes staffed by a caretaker, Joel Nalley. It's an amazing place, worthy of an afternoon of exploration.
Our final stop on the Bonanza Gulch / Last Chance Canyon loop was Burro Schmidt's tunnel, a half-mile hole through granite bedrock that exits overlooking Koehn Dry
Lake. Burro had grand plans for the tunnel, to haul ore through the ridge rather than down the "dangerous back trail." Even though a road down Last Chance Canyon to Mojave was completed in 1920, Burro dug on, using a pick and shovel and a burro to move almost 6,000 tons of rock. The vandalized remains of his house are just around the corner from the tunnel entrance and serve as a sad testament to human behavior.
We headed northeast to join Mesquite Canyon Road, then southeast down canyon to join the Redrock Randsburg Road near the Garlock townsite. We said our goodbyes, and aired up our tires. Dave headed east to 395, the Friedmans, Smiths and I headed west toward Mojave. It was a fine, fine day. ~ Jay