Chemehuevi Wilderness Backpack

BLM Monitoring

January 25, 2013


“Oh no, that is a huge dryfall. We will have to find a way around it.” A persistent series of shower from falling mist to downpours followed us for the two days of this trip. There was a single brief episode of sunshine each day. Rain beat out various tympanic rhythms on tent and tarp starting just as our shelters were erected. We cooked inside and stayed in our shelters for the night. That morning the rain continued. We were warm and dry and continued on our way until we came to an impassible dryfall and a thick fog.

Lara Kobelt, a BLM biologist, and I were on a backpack trip to begin the evaluation of six sites of exposed low-angle slip-faults that were scheduled for geology field studies. In addition we intended to evaluate the status of eight springs that had not been reported upon in many years. In order to get to all of these sites in short backpack trips, two loop hikes were proposed from map information, first in the west and central sections, and second in the north.

The Chemehuevi Mountains are adjacent to the Colorado River, south of Needles and north of the Clipper Mountains. The mountain crest forms a semi-circle that faces the river.

The plan was go into the first area by going over the crest to get to the larger group of sites and second to find a way to come in from the north to get to the smaller group.

On approaching the mountain we saw many weathered, old vehicle tracks that did not look like truck tracks and could be tank tracks from the Desert Training Centers that were very active in this area in preparation for the US entry in to WWII.

Then a humming bird flew by close enough to hear it’s buzzing wings. A few ocotillos were starting to bloom and several were beginning to grow leaves. Several brittle bushes were blooming. At one of the geological sites we found exposed rock layers. The rock ravine to the crest was slow going because of several small dryfalls and sections of steep rock. There were several stands of nolina lining the ravine associated with spring seeps.

A short way above the spring we found a metal artifact that was rusted to a degree compatible with 70 years of desert exposure. It appeared to be a crude hinge with two cylinders inline on one side and one cylinder on the other side. One of the two that were inline was smaller that the other two. We thought of a military source from the time the Desert Training Centers. Later this artifact was determined to be a machinegun belt link. How it came to be in a ravine high on a steep slope remains a mystery.

We found a large parasitic wasp that is red with black stripes on the wings, has a large red head, and a long black ovipositor. There was an occasional mosquito, bees on the wet soil at the spring, and big horn tracks and droppings in the washes. We slowly search and scrambled over and around several low dryfalls on our way to the crest. We camped in the rain at suitable campsite over the ridge.

The next day soon after we started working our way down a ravine in a steep area we came to an impassable dryfall. The rain continued and clouds like a thick marine fog settled around us limiting visibility to 100 feet. We went over a ridge to look at the next likely ravine. We could not see far enough to effectively search for a reasonable course. Traction was poor on the wet rocks, made more difficult by wet sand sticking to the soles of our shoes. We reluctantly decided to back off and attempt a different route on a better day.

On retracing our path out there was continuing light rain, the sand was soaked, and there were many small pools of water in the rock ravine, some overflowing and trickling down to the next pool. Many large areas were covered with very small bright green plants. The barrel cactus were swollen with water and there were patches of lichen that were bright green and looked like swollen polyps, some with open tops. Near the trailhead we saw more track that we though were compatible with tank tracks.

The next day I went to the north side of the wilderness to see if there would be an access from there. The PG&A Topock Gas Compressor Station occupies most of the area between I-40 and the wilderness boundary. A road that goes south near the river has a locked gate. The river shoreline is too steep for walking. There could be a ridge route if there is a way to get to it.

The first opening on the west side of the station is Bat Cave Wash. A short walk into the wash leads to a low dryfall that required only moderately skilled rock scrambling skill to get over. A short distance further the wash narrows to a twisting slot and an impassable dryfall. Further west of the station there is a good gravel road going to a quarry and to Bat Cave Wash. It has a private, no trespassing sign. I was not going to be able to find a way in from the north on this trip.

I visited the nearby Topock Maze, a geoglyph, which cover 15 acres is thought to be 600 years old. The Indian myth is that this maze receives the souls of the departed serving as the spiritual pathway to the afterlife.

That evening, on the way home, near sundown there was an unusual large reflection of sun light on the bottom of a dense cloud layer. Later there was a beautiful red sunset.