2007 Trip Report - Chuckwalla Mountains
November 16-18, 2007
By Allan Schoenherr and Alan Romspert
Nearly everyone arrived by Friday evening and staked out campsites in the scenic locale off Interstate 10 and Hayfield Road, a site marked by huge granitic boulders and a spectacular arch. Allan and Alan arrived about 4:00 p.m. after pre-running the route for the next day¹s activities. Soon we found out that Ron Ross was having trouble with 4-wheel drive on his vehicle, an absolute necessity for this trip. After much poking, prodding, and arm-waiving he decided to run into Indio first thing in the morning to see if he could get it repaired. As it turned out, probably because of positive thoughts from this hearty group, his test run the following morning proved that the problem had fixed itself. Good news. After dark, the stars were spectacular, and with the help of a giant pair of binoculars, brought along by Marilyn Martin¹s son Kevin, we were able to observe the Comet Holmes. A fine campfire finished off the evening. The surprise appearance of nocturnal mosquitoes caught those of us off guard who had decided to sleep out and enjoy the stars.
On Saturday, while we waited for some folks that arrived in the morning, AlanR. did a "show-and-tell" on the great variety of plants that were found in the area. This part of the desert had received a significant amount of rainfall this year so we were fortunate to find many species of plants "greened up" and/or in bloom. Of particular interest were all the species of annual (ephemeral) wildflowers that graced the landscape. After the plant show-and-tell session, Allan S. laid out a series of books that were relevant to the plants of the Colorado Desert. Included here were a couple of old Water Supply Papers from the 1920¹s which described the springs and wells that could be located along the route from the Salton Sea to Blythe.
Also of interest was the Guide to the Bradshaw Trail: Gold Road to La Paz by Delmer Ross with maps by our very own Bob Martin. About 9:00 a.m. we pulled out of the campsite, forming a car caravan 14 vehicles long. Before we reached the freeway we picked up two more cars and had time to stop and do some more botanizing, taking this time to view desert wash plants such as Blue Palo Verde, Smoke Tree, Desert Lavender, Paper Bag Bush, and Wait-A-Minute Bush
(Catclaw Acacia). Mud-cased twigs in this area were evidence of subterranean termites who come up from underground after it rains and pack mud around the wood in order to eat it, leaving the empty mud casings behind.
By this time our entourage included the following adventurers: Allan and Ding Wicker, Marilyn Martin and son Kevin, Malcolm and Jean Roode, Leonard, Rebecca and Hannah Friedman, George and Anne Stoll, Sherry Schmidt and Jeanne Hartman, Ron Ross and Nancy MacClean, Dave McFarland and Vicki Hill, Jon and Syndi Carlson, Joan McGovern-White, Reda Anderson, Bob Younger, Debbie Miller, Ken Sears, plus the fearless leaders Alan Romspert and Allan Schoenherr with his wife Kenna.
We traveled eastward on Interstate 10 and left the freeway at the Corn Springs
exit. We traveled 8 more miles on Chuckwalla Road, then turned south on Dupont
Road toward the Chuckwalla Mountains. Of course Allan S., who was in the lead,
overshot Dupont Road and was saved by our alert "Tail-end Charlie"
Alan R. We stopped along the wilderness boundary and walked into a former
scenic campsite that is now off limits, just inside the wilderness boundary.
Allan S. lead a discussion on the implication of closing well-used areas in the
name of "untrammeled" wilderness.
A bit farther up the hill we left the main road and traveled up a sandy wash
and took a side trip to a well maintained guzzler. Here we noted that there was
a concrete set of stairs that led down to an enclosure that contained a significant
amount of water. Deer footprints were abundant in the area and Alan R. came up
with an antler that had been shed by a 3-point buck. Allan S. pointed out that
antlers, which are shed after mating each fall, are seldom found intact because
rodents tend to chew them out of existence as a calcium source.
As we progressed southward we passed through scenic examples of Desert Wash
Woodland (Microphyll Woodland) and along the upper bajada we traversed Desert
Pavement, and rocky slopes marked by large stands of Teddy Bear Cholla, Barrel
Cactus, and Ocotillos. We did some real 4-wheeling in a long region of wash
marked by sections with deep sand and numerous boulders, finally arriving at
the asymptote of this traverse, at a long steep grade we call "Ball-bearing
Hill². It gets this name from numerous loose rocks that cause vehicles to slip
and slide as they ascend the hill. Every vehicle but one made the climb in fine
shape. This vehicle, a Honda CRV, whose owner shall remain nameless to protect
the innocent, couldn¹t seem to get traction. Ken aSears came to the rescue, and
with his "big guy" Toyota pickup, towed the Honda up the hill.
Applause!! That¹s where we ate a late alunch. Shortly after, potential new
members Jon and Syndi Carlson, who live in Yucca Valley, decided to leave us
and head for home.
After lunch we went down to the Bradshaw Trail and then to the east where we
turned northward on Augustine aPass Road. This part of the trip was more of a
challenge which required folks on numerous occasions to climb out of their
vehicles and inspect the road ahead in order to find the best route over
boulders and down small dry waterfalls. Most people were pretty intent on
finding a route that minimized pin-striping and bouncing over boulders.
Bob Younger in his big-guy Ford 350 had some minor body work done on his
running board. And Joan McGovern-White developed a loud noise in her right rear
wheel which fixed itself when she backed up for a short run. It probably was a
stone caught in her brake. It appears that most folks concentrated on driving,
but still were able to appreciate the interesting geology, marked by narrow
canyons, colorful volcanic rocks, and a whole lot of schist. By the time
everyone negotiated the challenging part of the route we were ready for cocktails.
We circled the wagons in a broad scenic wash among Desert Ironwoods and Blue
Palo Verdes. Out came the food and drinks for happy hour, and we had a fine
potluck as darkness descended upon us.
Another cheery campfire followed.
On Sunday amorning we got packed up and left the campsite about 8:00 a.m.,
heading back toward Chuckwalla Road via Chuckwalla Springs Road and Graham Pass
Road. Dave and Vicki stayed in camp as they were ultimately headed for Arizona.
Some folks, namely the Martins, Roodes, Ken Sears, and Bob Younger, headed on
back home when we reached Interstate 10. We exited the freeway at Eagle
Mountain Road, our entourage reduced by this time to 10 vehicles. We headed
toward the Eagle Mountains and then westward along the well-graded road that
parallels the Colorado Aqueduct. Using braille and blind intuition we found the
petroglyph site about a mile east of the Hayfield pump station. At this point
we once again found a significant wildflower bloom, featuring Lupines and
Evening Primroses. After walking up and down the wash, observing a Chuckwalla
sunning itself on a ledge, and eyeballing the interesting petroglyphs, we
listened to Anne Stoll explain the significance of the area. We stopped for an
early lunch after which the group split up. Some folks went off to inspect
interesting campsites, others went to Palm Springs for Margaritas, while the
rest of us returned to the freeway at Red Cloud Road and headed home.
All in all, it was an excellent weekend. Flowers were blooming, and the weather
was exquisite, with warm days and clear nights. It appears a good time was had
by all, including the fine-spirited driver of the Honda.
Malcolm Roode has developed a website relevant to this trip. You can go to
November 18, 2007 By Leonard Friedman
Sometimes you're just not ready for a great weekend to end! We had a great time on Allan & Alan¹s Chuckawalla Mountains trip, but we wanted more. So, after viewing the petroglyphs and live chuckawalla lizard with the group, a few of us intrepid desert explorers decided to add a hike in Ladder Canyon in the Mecca Hills Wilderness on the way home. But first, Debbie Miller, Reda Anderson, Hannah, Rebecca and Leonard Friedman headed back to check out the camp site pointed out earlier by Allan, and what a site it was! Large enough to hold a group of 50, it had an outdoor shower "stall" with a concrete floor and soap tray. It even had a bbq grill, lots of great rocks to climb on, and even ocotillos in full bloom. On the way back to Interstate 10, we came across a desert tortoise in the middle of the dirt road. (Coincidently, Hannah is now studying about desert tortoises in her first grade class.) We stopped for a closer but respectful inspection, and found a very deep burrow just on the side of the road. We took our photographs and gave the tortoise plenty of time to get home, but he wasn't budging. Finally, we drove slowly around him and eventually got on I-10. After a quick stop at Chiriaco Summit, we drove down the old road towards Box Canyon. The map said we were near the site of Shaver's well, and we searched for it for a couple of minutes, but only found an entrance into the Mecca Hills Wilder-ness. Back on Box Canyon Rd., we soon passed a concrete monument on the side of the road that may have marked what we had been searching for, but we drove on by in order to leave time for our hike. We continued down the multi-colored canyon, and just as we left the Mecca HIlls behind us, made on right on the dirt Painted Canyon Rd. The beautiful scenery on our right was the many hues of the Mecca Hills, and very reminiscent of some of the famous sites in Death Valley. Eventually, the road turns into a canyon in the Mecca Hills, and we were surrounded with spectacular sights and lots of birds (vultures?) circling above us. At the end of the road, the hike begins up the wide Painted Canyon. Less than a mile later, a sign indicates the entrance to Ladder Canyon. At first the way appears impassible, with lots of large fallen rocks. A little exploring, however, indicates a pathway up and between the rocks on the right side leading shortly to the first of our ladders. The ladder was placed there to enable us to descend the other side of the rock fall to the floor of the very narrow slot canyon. In places, the canyon walls were over 100 feet high, but even little Hannah could touch both sides of the canyon simultaneously without effort. The next ladder, up a dry waterfall, was more challenging. It was at about 20 feet high, consisting of a couple of aluminum ladders that had been welded together, and became a bit wobbly as you got to the top. Most of us made it to the top, and continued exploring up the canyon, encountering three more easy ladders en route. After a while, the canyon opened up a bit and I took the opportunity to climb up to the ridge top to see how much further we had to go. Let's just say that the ridge was a lot higher and steeper than it looked, and I felt those sore muscles in my legs for days after this climb. From the top, I could see that those down below were close to the top of the canyon. I walked out to canyon overlooks a couple times to shout greetings at them, and eventually we rendezvoused at a giant cairn marking the trail entrance at top of the canyon. From there we had a great overview of the Mecca Hills, and could see as far as the Salton Sea. My book said that it was possible to do a loop, returning via Painted Canyon, which I had in fact done 7 years earlier. But this time, without a map and with no signs to tell us which way to go, we decided to return the way we came and to get a different perspective of Ladder Canyon. We returned to our cars just as it was getting dark. After fueling up in the small town of Mecca (very cheap gas), we took 89S north to I-10, made the obligatory stop at Hadleys in Cabazon, and then finally headed for home.