Eagle Mountains #1, Pinto Mountain


By: Walton Kabler


Nineteen chilly climbers met at eight o'clock Saturday in front of the Cottonwood Springs Visitor Center to carpool two-and-half miles north on the paved highway to a tiny parking area (six cars) west of Eagle. We began hiking shortly before nine o'clock, strolled across the desert floor, and cruised up to the summit via a ridge chosen from many likely looking routes. Earlier that morning, George Toby, a DPS newcomer, had spotted some birds in the campground that he thought were bobwhites (they weren't), and his friends were quick to point out that these birds were actually miniature desert quail, whose behavior is quite sparrow-like in small flocks, but which become ferocious when the flocks reach a certain size, a kind of critical mass, as it were. Big flocks of the mini-quail, known to some ornithologists as the desert piranha, will become frenzied and emboldened enough to attack and eat rattlesnakes. On our way up Eagle, we had discovered the hollow carapace of a desert tortoise, and some of our lunchtime discussion centered on the speculation that the poor creature had fallen victim to these ravenous little birds. By evening, George had become quite an authority on the miniature desert quail, and was telling stories with the best of us.

Saturday night was cold, and in lieu of the traditional campfire, half the group crowded into the McCoskers' camper for a delicious dinner prepared by Betty, while the others went off to the cafe and disco at Chiriaco Summit. On Superbowl Sunday, we carpooled about sixteen miles up the highway and parked in an exhibit area. Eighteen of us crossed the desert to a ridge, many of us falling into the countless animal burrows in that part of Joshua Tree (underground hideouts of the mini-quail?), and were on the summit of Pinto in time for an early lunch. Most of the group was back at the care by two-o'clock; two slower climbers and I explored a different ridge down and drifted out at three forty-five. (W.K.)

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