20140214Turtle Mountain

Desert Survivors
Turtle Mountain Wilderness Backpack
February 14-16, 2014

The plan for this trip was to monitor the Mopah Springs area and explore the big plateau north of Mopah Spring.

Esperanza, Andy, Peter and I first followed the trail from the Mopah trailhead then walked the full length of General George Patton’s airstrip to the stone structure at the west end of the strip and explored the area between this structure and base of the mountain. With a little imagination the stone structure becomes a stage and the area around it a military camp that was a part of the Desert Training Center where troops were prepared for the North Africa Campaign of WWII.

We found a low level of water in the spring. There were ten mature palm trees in the drainage at the spring. Evaporation from these palms probably accounts for the low water level.

We saw several Phainopepla birds and identified their favorite perches by the mistletoe seeds attached below their perches. Twice later that day a falcon was seen cruising low over the bush and disappearing quickly. Several desert checkerspot butterflies were seen.

There were many brittlebushes in bloom. And there were innumerable tiny flowers in many colors blooming in the sand of the washes. Globmallow were in bloom.

The Turtle Mountains are famous for multicolored mountains and semiprecious stones. A wide array of colors was evident in the mountains, the boulders, and in the abundant gravel in the washes. Fantastic samples of the Mopah Rose were evident in abundance. These are translucent white chalcedony rock that weathers out of spaces between layers of volcanic rock. They are found loose on the ground and, rarely, still attached to the parent rock.

On the first evening in Vidal Wash there was a beautiful red cloud sunset. After we settled in and headlights were off, we were serenaded by a chorus of coyotes. Well before dawn a group of pups contributed their sharp voices to the still night air.

The shelters on this trip were a shaped tarp, a single layer tent, the inside of a double layer tent, and a double layer tent. Everyone had a different solution suggesting that the question of the best shelter has not been resolved.

We followed a ramp from Vidal Wash to North Mesa, then walked the south and east rims. From there we saw Mopah Peaks, Castle Rock and other peaks that reminded us of Monument Valley. Across Vidal Valley to the west Old Woman Mountains stretched along the horizon. Toward the east Whipple Mountains and mountains in Arizona provided the backdrop to a Turtle Mountain scene.

After a second comfortable night in Vidal Wash we returned over Mopah Pass, passed by Mopah Spring, then down the wash, beside the airstrip and back to the trailhead already planning another trip to this amazing wilderness.