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2019 East Mojave Heritage Trail

Trip Report: East Mojave Heritage Trail Parts of Segments 3 & 4 - Kelso to Needles

October 25-27, 2019 • Trip Leader: Nelson Miller

We met Friday morning at Kelso Depot, including Dave Burdick, Bruce Barnett, Larry & Annette Green, Ken lltrich, and the fearful leader, Nelson Miller.

First stop was Vulcan Mine, where we found a nice stone building that someone had set up pretty nicely for a campsite, with chairs tables and everything, including a view of Kelso Dunes. Vulcan Mine was active from 1942 – 1956, shipping iron ore to the Kaiser Plant in Fontana, for which it was the only source of ore for Fontana until 1948.  Kaiser Steel made it into “ship plate” and sent it to the port.  The iron ore here is magnetite, which is naturally magnetic and weighs 312 pounds per cubic foot.



We proceeded east through Forshay Pass, taking the “high route”, which gave us some spectacular views of the surrounding desert.  Father Garces, the Spanish missionary, came through this pass in 1776, where he met four Mojave Indians, probably at Forshay Spring.  He recorded in his journal that the Mojaves had traveled from the coast in four days (a distance of over 180 miles)! 

The group decided to visit Providence and the Bonanza King Mine so we took the side trip up to the mine.  We had some fun route-finding following Casebier’s route to the Bonanza King. Larry was having trouble getting his big truck into 4-wheel drive so he and I backtracked a bit while the rest of the group went up to the mine. We camped at one of the mine buildings, Once again, it was well prepared with a nice shelter, a table and chairs.  We had a great sunrise Saturday morning, where we stopped at the largest remaining building in Providence, which is much deteriorated from the 1947 photo in Casebier’s book.

Next stop was the rest area just west of Fenner, where we observed the Historical Monument that discussed the Desert Training Center and Camp Clipper, which is about twelve miles east by Goffs.  Camp Essex is just south of the rest stop, but we were not able to discern any remains, although you can see the faint roads on Google Earth.  Camp Essex was a temporary camp for incoming and outgoing troops adjacent to the rail line. From here we set to find Camp Essex Airfield which is south of Camp Essex.  This airfield is unique among the airfields associated with the other Desert Training Center airstrips. It has two parallel runways, one of which still shows pavement and six dispersal pads that would accommodate large bombers like the B-17 and B-24.  It may have been used for actual Army Air Corps training, rather than mere support like the other airstrips associated with Desert Training Center camps.

After leaving the airfield we headed for the Piute Mountains where we followed a “cherry stem” between two wilderness areas.  The Piute Mountains and the other parallel ranges that we passed through contain Precambrian rocks, some of the oldest rocks on earth. We made camp Saturday evening in a large wash almost in the shadow of the Old Woman Mountains (“No-mop’-wits”, which is old woman in Chemehuevi) and had a good look at the rock formation that gave the range its name.  Sunflower Springs and the ranch house are now in wilderness areas, which require a hike to see them, so we bypassed these.

Sunday morning we headed for Painted Rock, a shaman site with significant painting in a cleft in the rocks.  It is now fenced so there is a short walk across a wash to the rock pile where “painted rock” is located.  This area is a part of the Old Woman Mountains, which is managed by a Native American group.  We skirted the preserve and the wilderness area and headed east toward the Turtle Mountains. However, the Turtles are also a wilderness area, so when we reached the powerline road, we decided to head for home.

However, we had one more adventure. At this stop, as we were discussing alternatives, a large tarantula crawled under the tire of Bruce’s vehicle. While we were watching the tarantula, we also discovered two large desert tortoises.  So, we were able to observe some wildlife on our trip as well.   ~ Nelson