Hiking in the Calico Mountains
Odessa Canyon and the Doran Scenic Loop
Text & photos by Danny Siler
I n January 2015 Nelson Miller led a four-wheel drive trip to the Calico Mountains. At our lunch stop atop the rim of a canyon, he pointed down and announced “that’s Odessa Canyon down there!” It was deep and narrow - my kind of place. Ever since then I’ve wanted to hike through there. It was easy to find on a topo map and finally I got my wish.
The Calico Mountains are well known for all the colors, shades of colors and blends of colors; vermilion, copper green, orange, brown, saffron yellow, maroon, and violet. And much geologic fascination from fault lines, folding, slate and schist.
After mining ceased, Odessa Canyon was joined with the former Bismarck Canyon and renamed Doran Scenic Loop after a county supervisor in the 1930s. The massive Bismarck site is located on this route. This is home to at least a hundred adits, mine shafts and glory holes. With rappelling gear one could go all the way down into the bottom of a shaft.
Wildlife I encountered along the trail were lizards, a hawk, jack rabbit, a couple of desert rats, and one dead tarantula; but no snakes. Occasionally I saw some animal tracks and I believe they were coyote.
Being out there in the desert with no other humans provides solitude and the ability to imagine how the early miners, explorers, and settlers would have endured living and working in this environment. I enjoyed being out of the car and traveling on foot - close to nature, the dirt, all the sizes and shapes of colorful rocks, and the sound of the crunch underfoot.
ATV tracks abound at the bottom of the canyon but I don’t understand how they do it. This was definitely the most rugged canyon floor I’ve ever seen. But no foot steps. I was here mid-week and had the mountains to myself. On a weekend I could envision more folks coming to Calico for camping, off-road driving, and target shooting for the gun enthusiasts.
On foot, once I left the car, I hiked the loop, stopped at many mines, explored side canyons, and was back to my car in about four hours.
Odessa Canyon begins at Calico Road about halfway between the Ghost Town and Mule Canyon Rd. Drive the car about a half-mile in, park, and get out and start walking.
I think a topo map is helpful. About three years ago the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) made all their topo maps available free on the internet. I like caltopo.com. I can zoom in-or-out; create a pdf with latitude and longitude, and print on 8 1/2” by 11” paper. Carrying a hand-held GPS device is nice also.
For an encore I returned late in the afternoon, drove my car uphill on an ATV track as far as I could and hiked to the top of a hill. From this vantage point I had 180 degree view of all the Calico Mountains. The sun set behind me which turns everything golden and cast long shadows for what my wife Norma calls “magic hour.”
I stayed overnight at the Oak Tree Inn in Yermo and enjoyed dinner at Peggie Sue’s diner. ~ Danny