How time flies, its been a year since Seldom, Cactus, Dusty and I reached the southern base of the Kelso Dunes on last year's backpack trip. We started in Jacumba, on the Mexican border in 2002. Now its 2006 and the goal is to continue from Kelso Dunes to Halloran Summit via Hole in the Wall Campground.
Late on Thursday, January 26, Pete "Cactus" Campbell, Don "Dusty" Brown and I met at Halloran Summit along I-15 and quickly set up our car camp just to the south. Dusty made our traditional dinner that night of pasta with spicy sausage and tomato sauce. It was especially savored knowing that we would be eating canned and dehydrated meals for the next week or so.
Friday morning we left my vehicle at Halloran to the vagaries of humanity and headed to Kelso Dunes with our two vehicles, setting up three caches along the way near Cima, Cedar Canyon Road and Hayden. We made good time and began the hike atKelso Dunes before noon on Friday, January 27. Of course, the dunes are a spectacular sight from the road, but somehow dunes are all the more impressive when you're among them, looking out. They seem bigger and the sweeping, steep angles and interior sand pits, seen up close with mountain ranges in the background, are quite a sight. Our route went up and over the dunes and straight into the beautifully restored Kelso Depot. I remember when it was badly dilapidated and shuttered, but it has now been completely restored to its original Spanish design when built in 1924. Several freight trains came and went during the day, and the sound of the huge air horns can be heard up and down the valley and well into the canyons.
After 16 miles of hiking the first day, we reached our Hayden cache along the rail line and decided to hike up Globe Mine Road a little way to escape the deafening sound of the trains.
Saturday morning January 28, we headed up the old 4x4 road toward Summit Wash and into the Providence Mountains. We caught the wash after a few miles and followed it up, twisting and tightening as it gained elevation. At about 4000' elevation, a small seep was flowing down the middle of the wash. Beyond, more water was flowing, and for the next mile or more we teased with the small stream while winding our way up the wash. We pulled out of the wash in a more easterly direction to Summit Spring, and made our way "across the grain" to Beecher Canyon, arriving there before dark on Saturday. The area leading into this canyon (and much of the area beyond to Cedar Canyon Road) was badly burned in a lightening induced forest fire that occurred in June of 2005 and burned over 70,000 acres. We made camp at Beecher Canyon, at the base of Wild Horse Mesa, our next destination.
We awoke on Sunday, January 29 at 6:00 am to calm air and 34 degree temperatures. The mesa rin was 1280' above us. We knew the route would be steep and we wanted an early start, not knowing the difficulty of the climb. We started by going east, straight up the lower side of the mesa, then turning north and northeast "wrapping" around and up the side. Looking ahead however, Cactus sighted what appeared to be some extremely steep areas of exposure ahead. Dusty started scouting a more easterly route straight up the mesa side and yelled down to suggest routing us more in that direction. Although steep, the footing was secure and the large boulders actually helped in working our way up. By 8:45 am, only 1.5 hours after leaving Beecher Canyon, we were sitting on the rim of Wild Horse Mesa at 5610' elevation with spectacular views in all directions. We followed the edge of the mesa rim in a clockwise direction, eventually falling off the lower back side of the mesa in a southeast direction.
We arrived at Hole in the Wall Campground by midday Sunday. We re-supplied our water and enjoyed lunch in the sun and cool 58 degree air. We were quite an anomaly walking through the campground and visitor center, prompting questions of where we started, wher we were going, etc. Early Sunday afternoon we headed out again pulling out of the campground in a notherly direction toward Cedar Canyon Road. We camped south of Mid Hills in an area that was badly burned with nearly all the vegetation scared by fire. It gave the area an eerie, surreal look.
We made good time from Mid Hills and reached out Cedar Canyon Road cache at noon on Monday, January 30. We reloaded food and water and continued north toward Cima. The long train was soon back into view and its' powerful airhorns filled the valley with sound. We made camp just north of Cima on Monday night, not far off the road. This area of the Mojave Preserve has one of the largest stands of Joshua trees in the world, and many of them are quite large with trunks the size of traditional trees.
Tuesday morning, January 31, we reached our final cache along the dirt road north of Cima. Now only 33 miles lay between us and the Jeep at Halloran Summit. Not exactly a direct route, but more of a westerly direction to the Lava Beds, then north to the summit at I-15. Leaving our cache, we wnt up and over Cima Dome, a large mass of molten rock now eroded to a gentle, symmetrical top, apparent only from a distant view. The backside of Cima Dome is easy hiking and we reached our next camp near the lava beds by early evening.
We awoke on Wednesday, February 1 to our coldest morning at 26 degrees and ice clinking in our water bottles. A small weather front was threatening in the distance, but quickly faded away as the day wore on. We were now in the lava beds, beautiful dark lava rock, heavily punctuated with mature Joshua trees. The dark rock against the light green blades of the Joshue trees made a beautiful contrast. There are also numerous petroglyphs in the rocks with many images and designs left for our imagination and interpretation. Heading north, the terrain became tedious as we stumbled mile after mile over smaller lava rock and stones, many hidden by grass and other plants. Soon, we found ourselves hiking along the edge of a high mesa, looking to the west down steeply eroded banks. This gave us our first long views to the west, with sights to Soda Lake and beyond. Our route continued north, and the steep banks and eroison were becoming more dramatic and impressive. We made camp on Wednesday evening at the north end of the mesa rim on a soft ridgeling withing distant sight of I-15 and an endless stream of blurred headlights coming from Las Vegas.
We woke up on Thursday, February 2 on the ridgeline, now just a few miles from our vehicle at Halloran Summit. This was our seventh day on the trail, and 91 hiking miles since Kelso Dunes. With mixed emotins we worked our way down the last few landscape contours, arriving at the vehicle by late Thursday morning. We recovered our caches and ended the day with a big dinner at "the Greek" in Baker. We were soon to be part of those headlights on I-15, Cactus heading back to Phoenix, Dusty back to Tahoe, and myself, on a paved route back to the Bay Area.
By George "Grubstake" Huxtable, San Mateo, CA.
Sunset at Hayden. Our first campsite at the base of the Providence Mountains.