After Christmas Trip
Saturday, December 28
By: Marian Johns
We had eight vehicles turn up at Chiriaco Summit on Sunday, December 28. Participants were Nelson Miller and his sister, Ellen, Charles & Mary Hughes, Debbie & Steve, Marian & Neal, Dolly and Jerry Dupree, Bruce Barnett, Jim Watson and Joe Preiss. When we were planning this trip, we tried to decide if we should go to the Death Valley area or the Blythe area and picked Blythe because we figured it would be warmer. Turns out it was cold everywhere that week. Can’t believe Steve and Debbie – riding around in that open Jeep – burrrrr!
Chiriaco Summit was a zoo! So many people stopping there! We had to wait in line to top off our gas tanks. After spending an hour or so eating lunch and touring the General Patton Museum, we headed east on I-10. By the way, there is a replica of the Vietnam Wall there at the museum.
Our first stop was a natural arch not far from the freeway. We also did a little exploring there – followed the two-track up into a maze of trails in a “play area” where Neal unknowingly dropped his GPS. We soon discovered it missing and went back to look for it - found it lying on the ground right where he had gotten out of the truck at one point. Next we followed Steve and Debbie up the Red Cloud Mine road in the Chuckwalla Mts. and camped a few miles shy of the mine in a nice spot overlooking a pretty wash. We built a nice campfire in a pre-existing fire ring, but it didn’t give off much heat because the ring of rocks was built too high.
Monday morning we continued on up to the mine, explored the remains of the mine and old rock-lined dugouts and then returned to I-10 and turned east again. At Desert Center, we exited and took a parallel frontage road a few miles east to “Zion.” This place was once inhabited about 50 years ago by hippies back in the ‘60’s and 70’s – so we’ve been told. All that remains are some concrete slabs, some small concrete and rock dams, some biblical quotes painted on boulders and a rock tub among the boulders overlooking the site. Continuing east on I-10, we took the Corn Springs turn-off and drove nine miles to the campground. Then we followed the road on up to Aztec Well where we found several places that are still occupied – with No Trespassing signs. We only proceeded a short way beyond Aztec Well because daylight was running out and we needed to get back and set up camp at the campground. We had a nice warm campfire with just a single, low row of surrounding rocks. Plenty of building scrap wood for campfires has been brought in by some kind soul.
The next day (Tuesday) we checked out the petroglyphs at Corn Springs and then returned to I-10. A few miles farther on I-10 we took the Graham Pass Road south, inspected the ruins of a mining operation near Chuckwalla Springs and then branched off on the Augustine Pass Road - a very scenic 4x4 trail through a narrow canyon with some tricky spots that definitely required 4 wheel drive. A stop at Augustine’s place up a little side road overlooking the canyon revealed only remnants of his abode; his cabin is long gone. We continued on to the Bradshaw Trail, turned east and camped a short time later near Chuckwalla Well where we spent a chilly, breezy night.
Wednesday morning we drove east on the B.T. following Steve and Debbie and spent most of the day in the area of the Hauser Geode Beds and the Opal Hill Fire Agate Mine. The geode beds are a free-for-all now as is the Fire Agate mine, although, in the past, it was a private claim and visitors were charged to dig. It was abandoned a few years ago, but an old bus and several trailers still remain. That evening, we headed into Blythe for gas – which we actually got across the AZ border at the Flying J because it was about 60¢/gallon cheaper there than on the CA side in Blythe. Then we all met for dinner at the Steaks and Cakes Café on the east side of town before heading for camp which was a few miles west of town and about half a mile south of the freeway.
Our first destination Thursday was the so-called Dance Circles near the Mule Mts. Not much is known about these geoglyphs, but clearly, they are man-made. We also visited the Mule Mt. petroglyphs which are in the same general area. Later in the afternoon, we drove north out of Blythe on Highway 95 up to the site of the Blythe Intaglios which are huge geoglyphs representing of a couple of human figures and a cougar. It’s difficult to photograph these because they are so large. Next we headed over to the Inca Mine just off the Midland Road northwest of Blythe. A big hopper still stands but not much else remains here. On toward Midland, we were greeted at the outskirts of “town” by several No Trespassing signs. Since it was getting late, we turned around and picked a nearby spot to camp. That evening Nelson and Ellen were entertained by a couple of curious kit foxes that ventured near their camp spot.
Friday a.m. we tried to find the Brown and Victor Mines but found our way blocked by the Standard Mine, an operating gypsum mine. So we turned west for the Arlington Mine, an old World War II era operation which produced manganese. A sizable pit and small bits of manganese ore remain. From there, we took a side trip around the head of the McCoy Mts. and then south to two old cabins where we poked around and ate lunch. On the way back to the main road north, we made another side trip west on a bitchy track to the so-called “Patton’s Cabin” which looks more like a bunker. It’s an odd concrete structure with only three walls and strange windows/doors that only a midget could use. So, I’m guessing that these were openings through which weapons could be fired. It was getting late, so we headed for the Palen-McCoy Road which is a corridor through the Palen-McCoy Wilderness and found a spot to camp a short way off the main road on the trail to Packard Well.
The next day, Saturday, we returned to the Palen Pass road and continued west until we encountered a washed out spot that was too difficult for most of us. So we backtracked and found tracks of other vehicles down the main wash where they had also detoured around this bad spot; it was an easy bypass. We came to a multi room ruin which may or may not have been Patton's Cabin. Farther west we came to a structure with rock and concrete walls but no roof. We don’t know for sure if this was built for the World War II desert training or what, but the road signage indicated it was Patton's Cabin. From there on the trail continued on in a westerly direction and eventually came to Highway 177. This is where the trip ended; after good-byes, we all scattered and headed for home. Thanks to everyone for a great trip – especially to those who brought firewood for our cheery nightly campfires and to Debbie & Steve who were our very capable co-leaders.
POSTSCRIPT – by Nelson Miller
A little more info: I stopped by the General Patton Museum on the way back home. The guy I talked to there said that it is his understanding that the multi-room structure that we saw on west side of Palen Pass was a stage stop built in the 1880’s, even though it is labeled as Patton’s Cabin in pictures on Google Earth. Patton’s Cabin was the concrete bunker we saw on the east side of Palen Mountains. He said the structure was built in the 1920’s as a shelter for the survey crews and their equipment, while they were working on a route for the aquaduct and that Patton took it over. It overlooks Camp Granite which was in the valley between Palen and McCoy Mountains. That is consistant with the section of road which lead toward that structure and was labeled Patton’s Cabin Road. The brown paint and barbed wire around the structure are also consistant with that.