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2021 - Trip Reports - Sheephole Mountains

Sheephole Mountains

by Steve Reyes

 My wife and I grew up loving the desert and wide open spaces. After a year visiting Wonder Valley we bought a five acre parcel with a little cabin. Like generations of people before us we worked on our little place and started building a relationship with Wonder Valley. Often times we would sit outside our cabin and look east and watch the mountains change colors as the sun started to drop. The Sheephole Mountains drew most of our attention. The lowering sun created copper, light purple and golden brown hues. The changing light allowed us to see deep canyons cutting into the mountains. As we spent more time in the area we were gifted with the ability to explore the base of the mountains. Bit by bit and hike after hike we were able to piece together a tiny piece of the mountains history. Tin cans, animal detritus and evidence of early man.

According to wikipedia The Sheep Hole Mountains are a mountain range in the Mojave Desert, to the north of Joshua Tree 

National Park, in San Bernardino County. The mountains were once Chemehuevi hunting grounds. Hunting grounds for the Chemehuevi indians? Now it would make sense! During one of my hikes in the mountains I discovered petroglyphs. The petroglyphs were surrounding an area that could be used as a hunting blind. The hunting blind was a large rock that faced up into a canyon that overlooked a wash. That wash led to some seasonal water which we also discovered.

The mountain range lies between the Bullion Mountains to the west, and the Coxcomb Mountains to the east. The mountains reach an elevation of 4,613 feet (1,406 meters) above sea level just east of Amboy Road, which the range crosses. As we continued to hike the mountains we also discovered the existence of a vast array of wildlife. Coyotes, bobcats, hawks and kit foxes call the Sheephole Mountains home.

During one of our hikes we discovered the remnants of several mining operations. These operations have long since been combed over and abandoned but according to the mines had such names as the Sheep Hole Mine, Wagner Gold Mine, and the Boney Gold Occurrence. It is hard to imagine how hard the labor must have been. There was no Desert Hardware Store or Home Depot to retreat to for mining supplies.

While hiking within earshot of Amboy Road my wife and I discovered a medium 

scale mining operation with abandoned mines and homemade above ground water cisterns. What was most amazing was the discovery of an arrastra. According to “an arrastra, also known as a Mexican Rastra, was a primitive method used by early miners to process gold and silver ores. It was introduced to the new world by the Spanish in the 1500’s. They were used throughout the world, often at remote locations where other processing methods were not feasible.”

These gold mining operations created their own wild stories of lost mines and miners. In 1941, Desert Magazine printed an article about an old miner by the name of “Hermit John” who emerged from the dry lake bed northest of the Sante Fe Station at Amboy. The story goes “Hermit John” approached a small group of men at the train depot and wanted to ship six sacks of ore. One of the bags was damaged and the men discovered it contained ore that was a light gray iron and plastered with bright yellow gold.

The men were amazed at the haul and asked him where he found the ore. The old miner was secretive and refused to tell anyone the whereabouts of his mine. Another local would later say the miner told him he had found a century old Spanish mine. This mysterious miner disappeared into the desert and the legend of the Lost Ledge of the Sheep Hole Mountains was born. 

The Sheep Hole Mountains look down on Wonder Valley and are the valleys keeper of its history, natural wonders and hidden secrets. In the later afternoon it shows itself to Wonder Valley. Often my wife and I comment how the mountain peaks look razor sharp as they cut into the sky. The Sheephole Mountains welcome visitors to the valley below and wish them well as they travel on. The best part is travelers overlook this pristine wilderness area on their way to Joshua Tree National Park or Las Vegas. The Sheephole Mountains are my backyard.   ~ Steve