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2004 Trip Report - Orocopia Mountains

Orocopia Mountains

January 16 -18, 2004
Trip leaders: Allan Schoenherr & Alan Romspert
Trip report by Allan Wicker
Superb digital images by Allan Schoenherr's new camera!

The one-l Alan,
He ain’t shavin’
The two-l Allan’s
Long hair’s a-wavin’
And I will bet
A gold medallion
There ain’t no
Three-l Alllan.*

*The author’s attention has been called to Woody-- th’ real Alllen. Pooh.

(With apologies to Ogden Nash)

  This trip was advertised as featuring two Allans, scenic campsites, a historic mine, a railroad with a picturesque wooden trestle, as well as rare plants and animals. The meeting place was listed as 2.3 miles west of the Hayfield Road exit off I-10. In reality, the trip sometimes delivered more, and less, than advertised. To illustrate, there were three, not two, Allans on the trip but the trestle was iron, not wooden.

And as the Rudyard Kipling poem goes, “east is west and west is east; the twain are one in the same”—or did I get his refrain mixed up? Besides, what is a 4.6 mile discrepancy among friends, especially when drivers don’t notice signs put up for their benefit?

After leaving the freeway at Hayfield Road, Ding and I took an unplanned westerly loop drive at eventide. Back at the Hayfield exit a second time, we followed the DE signs east to the meeting place. We arrived after dark to find Desert Explorers sitting in the usual campfire circle, their shadows dancing on surrounding huge boulders. The two advertised Allans were there: Schoenherr (which, incidentally, roughly means “handsome fellow”) and Romspert (which means “computer memory specialist”). Remarkably, John Page was there, seemingly recovered from his recent surgery. Nan Savage came in her can-do Subaru. Bill Ott, Lorene Crawford, and George Gilster also greeted us.  

Saturday morning, new Desert Explorer member Kathy Taylor joined the group, as did a caravan of Betty and Bob Oliver, Myrtie and Don Putnam, and Willie Walker. The latter group had just driven through Joshua Tree National Park, where a ranger in an approaching car judged that one of their vehicles had strayed to the left of the centerline. In her haste to accost the transgressor, the ranger allegedly made a sudden U-turn on a blind curve, and nearly took out one of the West’s most venerated relics: Don Putnam. After examining the group’s documents, the ranger passed a paper to one driver, setting the stage for further discussions at another venue.

Before we started out, Allan distributed a handout describing the history of the Bradshaw trail, mines in the areas we would visit, and a unique railroad that would parallel part of our route. The weather was perfect and the group congenial. A side wind even kept us from eating dust for much of the trip.

On the way to the Red Cloud Mine site, Allan pointed out the remains of a smelter that the mine’s promoters had built to help sell their stock. The smelter was never fired up. At the mine, we explored by foot several roads connecting different mine shafts, then headed back east to connect with the Bradshaw Trail.

Alongside part of the Bradshaw Trail lies a railroad that was completed in 1948 to carry iron ore from the Eagle Mountain Mine to the Kaiser Steel plant in Fontana. More recently it has been used in several movies. Allan told of once being on the road and coming upon a bunch of abandoned police cars near the rail line. They baffled him until he realized they were being used for filming a movie. Depending on the outcome of pending litigation, Kaiser’s rail line may carry several trains a day, hauling Los Angeles’ trash to be deposited in the belly of the earth at the Eagle Mountain mine. Recent flooding has eroded the dirt under both rails on some sections of the line, however, so a major reconstruction will have to be done first.

On our way to see the train trestle, we encountered a sizable group of shooters scattered along one side of the road. They seemed an unruly group. Well fortified with ammunition, they were shooting at propane tanks they had scattered on the other side of the road. Some of our group observed a Big Daddy in charge of the group. I didn’t see him. I kept my head down and my eyes straight ahead as we showered the group with our dust.

When we had stopped to view the train trestle crossing Salt Creek Wash, three military trucks with guns mounted on the back approached in a cloud of dust.   Before reaching us, they turned into the Chocolate Mountain Gunnery Range that borders the road we had been following.

Our next stop was the wash below Canyon Spring. On the walk to the spring Allan and Alan shared their knowledge of the geology and biology of the area. The sediments in this area are of considerable scientific interest, evidenced by holes where core samples had been taken.   The spring is a watering hole for Desert Bighorn Sheep; we saw their tracks.

After a brief discussion of whether to camp in the Canyon Spring wash, we moved on to Red Canyon wash, which was a more comfortable distance from the shooters.

Red Canyon provided the tranquility we sought,  and Fiermeister Ott’s campfire gave welcome warmth during happy hour and dinner in the evening. Conversation topics included the morning’s encounter with the NPS ranger, travel by sojourner Lorene Crawford to China (just back) and Antarctica (about to go), frequent flier miles, and many other topics. Most of us turned in before 9; Alan held out until 10.    

On Sunday morning, the Olivers and Willie Walker headed home after breakfast. The rest of us assembled at 10 to explore Red Canyon and an offshoot, Pinnacle Canyon, in our vehicles.   Allan described the processes that had created various geologic formations and sedimentary layers that we saw. Both Allan and Alan pointed out various plant species. Several times we enjoyed the verbal sparring between the two of them about the name and characteristics of one or another plant.

Having viewed the wash, we headed up a road that took us along the ridges above. This was a stimulating drive, with several drop-offs where some drivers, including me, chose to stop and get out to check the direction of the road ahead, and to gain reassurance that there was, indeed, a road ahead. This road narrowed into an ATV track. Allan, in the lead, suggested that we not follow him but take a side road back down to the wash. We understand that turning around on the ATV track atop a ridge was a challenge, even for Allan’s keen sense of location.

After lunch in the wash, we drove north on the beautiful and occasionally challenging ridge road that bisects the Orocopia Mountains Wilderness. At one stop we learned why some rocks are red on one side, black on the other and white in the middle: actions of different bacteria, some that do and some that don’t require oxygen. After a couple of hours we were back to the frontage road with I-10.

This was a stimulating, informative trip—better than advertised. Watch for future trips by this pair—they are an awesome combination. Thanks, guys, however you spell your names.