Sheephole Mountains, Old Woman Mountains, Turtle Mountains, Big Maria Mountains
By: Wynne Benti
Thanksgiving morning, we met our group at the road turnoff to the microwave relay station on the Amboy Road as described in the DPS guide driving instructions for Sheephole. An old rusted-out Honda, blasted full of bullet holes and somewhat reminiscent of dark Swiss cheese. was the intersection's memorable landmark. Our little group consisted of Pete Doggett, Dinesh and Joy Desai (from Los Altos - wintering in Indian Wells), Alan Hill. Julie, Andy Z, and myself.
Following brief introductions, our caravan of 4WDs reconvened at the trailhead where everyone hiked the bouldery route to the Sheephole summit. Just below the summit, we were greeted by big boulders which presented an immediate need for picking a comfortable route to the slanted-slab summit. A nice break atop the summit was followed by a steadily paced descent to the cars. Back at the cars, Alan Hill. who was low on gas. decided to head for Joshua Tree since he did not care for the predictions of approaching storms. The rest of us drove to Amboy (which was closed for Thanksgiving).
We continued on old Route 66 undeterred by signs warning of a road closure ahead. Just before the visible road blockade, we turned right at Chambless, then left again at Cadiz, following a dirt road which paralleled the train tracks. We followed the dirt road to Danby, playing chicken with a freight train for a little while. We turned right on a sandy dirt road which we followed to its end at the Florence Mine. actually stopping at a nice camp spot just below the last 4WD section of the road. The sunset was spectacular and we began setting camp up at dusk. We had a great campfire with a terrific dinner of ham, green beans with slivered almonds, corn, tossed gourmet salad, baked potatoes. three bean soup. wine, pecan and pumpkin pies. As we sat around the fire, we watched distant headlights slowly approaching our camp. As the headlights finally came out of the darkness, expected trip participant Dave Hammond pulled up in an unexpected Nissan Pulsar (we'd advertised the trip as 4WD only) and joined the campfire. Next day, a beautiful hike to Old Woman, a classic Mojave peak with gentle. open terrain above the first gully. Once past the first saddle. we left a lot of ducks in our wake. Atop the summit, Dinesh (the retired owner of a money management firm in the bay area) gave us some helpful tips about stocks, mutual funds and money. The descent was quick and around 3pm we were heading out to a dirt road this side of Danby, en route to Skeleton Pass. Then we remembered Dave in his Pulsar. We stopped and explained to Dave that our route was 4WD almost all the way to Turtle. We realized that as a member of the Grand Canyon Chapter. he had never seen the write-up in the Angeles Chapter Schedule which required 4WD. only the date and trip listing in the Sage. When we had talked on the phone, I assumed he had a 4WD and he assumed he didn't need one - but we never verbalized our assumptions. So, being a good sport (he only needed Old Woman - the third to last peak required for his list finish), Dave bid us farewell. The drive to Turtle via Skeleton Pass and Ward Valley (site of the proposed Ward Valley low level nuclear waste depository) to Route 62 was beautiful and highly recommended to the paved alternatives. The mountains and creosote cast their long shadows across the desert in the late afternoon sun. Along the way. we passed the ruins of old time train depots. By the time we reached the road to Turtle, the sun had set. We followed the road to the wash, as described in the guide, hut could not find the road out of the wash in the total darkness of night. We turned around and camped in a spot which would make it easier for Scot Jamison. who was joining us for Turtle, to find us. We had dinner, made a small fire. ran out of wood and went to bed at 7:30. Before retiring we decided that Scot had better he coming with wood, wine, money or no-load mutual funds if he wanted to keep this group happy!
At dawns first light, we were surprised to see that Scot made it. He said he was surprised to see we had all gone to bed. We were happy to discover that he had wood, wine. hut were disappointed when he revealed that he had no mutual funds to give us. He had also lost his wallet! He even brought his Pomeranian "Sadie" - and she was in heat! In fact, Mr. Ruskie had spent the night crouched next to Scot's car, in whimpering expectation of the pretty Ms. Sadie. Finding the road on the other side of the wash was not the easiest feat, as it had been washed away. Andy had to scout for it on foot. When we finally found the road, it was easy enough to follow. When we finally started the hike to Turtle the weather was warm and sunny. By the time we were midway up the main ridge to Turtle, all hell had broken loose around us. Ominous dark clouds. Freezing winds. Rain in the not so far distance. Scot, Andy and I had left our rain gear in the car, so we were in a big hurry to sign the summit register and get the h--- out of Dodge. On the return, we were pelted with a little snow, then a lot of hail. But the worst of the storm seemed to he in the big country all around us.
From Turtle, we drove to Vidal Junction for lunch. I called over to Joshua Tree and was old that the winds were 6~-7Omph with zero visibility due to blowing sand. Though Dinesh and Joy had decided not to continue with us, Dinesh treated us all to lunch at the cafe. Lengthy debate ensued over whether or not to do Spectre or to go for the safer option of Big Maria. By the time I thought I had convinced Mr. Jamison that a cheap hotel and the high ground of Blythe would he a more prudent decision for the evening, Dinesh & Joy were long gone. We left the little cafe and went south to Blythe.
Next morning was beautiful - no wind, no clouds; cold, brisk. With the exception of the assistant, who was still asleep following a night of pool- sharking, we all ate breakfast. We were in the cars, reads' to go, when Julie came out of the hotel room, bee-lining directly to the java joint. About twenty minutes later, Scot was on his way back to Claremont, nursing a cold; Julie had her coffee (and breakfast to go) and the four of us, Andy, Julie, Pete and myself (oh yes, and Mr. Ruskie were off to Big Maria.
Gorgeous climb to Big Maria. Spectacular views from the precipitous summit. After the climb, we stopped at Chiriaco Summit for date shakes, bought by Pete. The holiday traffic was terrible - dead-stopped at Cabazon: accidents all the way home. Andy and I took the scenic route home - 62 to Yucca Valley; west on 247 to Victorville; 138 to Hwy 14. No traffic and very scenic, even in the dark. This was a wonderful holiday weekend spent in the desert. Thanks to Julie for her assistance and to all of the people who joined us for this wonderful holiday trip to the Mojave.
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