Calico Mountains and Calico Early Man Site
Saturday, January 17
By: Danny Siler and Nelson Miller
Thank you to Ted Kalil and Gary Preston for pre-running this trip with me! Special thanks also to Danny Siler for writing most of the trip report! Also, a big thank you to Pat Schoffstall and Barb Midlikoski for opening the museum and providing coffee!
Eleven vehicles with 24 people joined us including: Nelson Miller; Mal Roode; Barb and Ron Midlikoski; Leonard, Rebecca and Hannah Friedman; Allan and Ding Wicker; Bob Peltzman; Bob Jacoby; Nan Savage Healy; Danny and Norma Siler; Craig Baker; BB Odenthal and his daughter; De Angelo Fernandez, his wife and three children; and new members Bill and Julie Smith, who came all the way from Flagstaff, AZ. Allan and Ding Wicker faithfully did tail all day. First stop was the “desert tortoise” intaglio along old US Highway 91, from Bill Mann’s book. Is it a tortoise or a tarantula, it has too many legs to be a tortoise? We followed old US 91 to the paved road and then around to Mule Canyon Road (#CM 7630), passing the town of Calico, with the big “Calico” on the side of the mountain spelled out in white rocks. The Calico Mountains are aptly named, as we saw colors of vermillion, copper green, shades of orange, brown, saffron yellow, grey, maroon, and violet. This was a busy weekend with lots of folks out camping, 4-wheeling, hiking, dirt bikes, RVs, quads, and shooting – generally just enjoying the desert. We also passed the Sheriff’s Department Desert Search and Rescue Squad on a half dozen quads.
We climbed up Phillips Canyon Road to Kramer Arch, which many of the quads drive through, but we took a photo stop and stretch break to explore the arch and a few “ad-its” nearby. A short-cut across to the east branch of Phillips Canyon Road took us to the easiest of the four routes Nelson explored for this trip. However, it was still a bit tough with a steep ridge to climb with proper wheel placement, and 4WD was definitely a requirement. Bob Peltzman graciously towed Craig Baker’s 2WD Jeep Cherokee up the hill, with equipment and advice from BB Odenthal. People were all over the hills taking photos and videos of this. Further up was another tough hill and most vehicles were attempting this with two wheels on the ground and two wheels spinning. Once again, Craig needed another tow. No more 2-wheel drive allowed on my trips!
Just short of Odessa Silver mine, we stopped for a break at a mine shaft with lots of connecting shafts like catacombs and several of us, and especially the kids, explored these for a while. Finally, one last steep hill to the overlook over Doran Scenic Loop and the Odessa Silver mine. On the CB radio Craig asked “How many more hills do have like this?” Nelson answered “That’s the last one!” Everybody took turns laughing over the CBs. This was lunch stop with views also over Calico Dry Lake and Calico ghost town below, with snow-capped Mount Baldy and Mount San Gorgonio in the distance. The rest was easy roads back to Mule Canyon and out to the Early Man site.
We did make a pit stop just short of “Tin Can Alley”. On Sunday, while perusing the archives of American Desert Magazine, Nelson discovered that this was the site of the Town of Borate. The information for this article and a number of others researched, came from the archives of the Barstow Mojave River Valley Museum. Borax was discovered here in 1882, by Bill Neel (relation to the Bill Neel, we know?). The site was eventually acquired by Francis Marion “Borax” Smith who consolidated this with his Death Valley borax properties and founded the Pacific Coast Borax Company in 1890. The borax was transported by 20-mule teams to tow specially built heavy wagons carrying 10-11 tons of ore, similar to his Death Valley borax properties, hence the name Mule Canyon. Each trip required a day and a half to cover the 12 miles to the rail siding at Dagget. In 1894, Smith built a 110 horsepower, coal-fired steam tractor to replace the mules and in 1898 constructed the Borate and Dagget (B&D) Railroad, a narrow 3-foot gauge. The railroad reduced the haul trip to 3 hours. The mines closed in 1907 and most of the equipment moved to Death Valley. In 1900, Dagget was bigger than Barstow or Victorville and for a time was the heaviest shipping station on the Santa Fe railroad between Albuquerque, NM and Mojave, CA
After this was the visit at the Early man site and tour. Chris Christensen, the site manager gave us a presentation and also showed his copy of Blackburn’s Map and very detailed map of the Southern CA roads. This was the map to have for exploring in the first half of the 20th Century! We concluded with dinner at Peggy Sue’s.