Whipple Mountain Saguaros
December 8-12, 2011

“What’s that over that distant ridge ahead of us?”

“Don’t know yet, looks big.”
“Might be a Saguaro.”
“It is! It is! A giant Saguaro!” We danced and hugged in celebration.

I had tried to find a remote grove of Saguaro Cactus the previous month
from the west by the shortest route. I came within a quarter mile but did not have enough time to search further. From the south the distance is longer but the routes are easier because there are washes that lead into the central mountains. These Saguaro were documented 15 years ago by helicopter. This grove is the western limit of these cacti in the US.

On a previous exploration I had found that the Los Angeles aqueduct and associated graded gravel roads run along the south of wilderness border. From the aqueduct road several roads lead to washes at vthe border of the wilderness. We chose the wash that would take us to a copper leaching site where there was thought to be an wildlife guzzler.

At the mine site there was an oval dry pond with a fine-grained surface, probably a catchment pond. We found no evidence of a well or a guzzler near this site. There were several cement structures. One building was divided into five long narrow spaces. The outer two spaces were filled with rusted scrap iron. Later I found that scrap iron was used to plate out copper at ore processing sites. We did not find a guzzler.

From there we had two alternatives routes either the most direct ravine that by map appeared more rugged or the longer route that continued in the wash for much of the way. We chose the first. We saw several small water pools in the rocks, one with mosquito larva. We saw quail and a few fast lizards.

As sunset approached we were on increasingly steep rocky terrain looking for a campsite. We would be unlikely to reach the less steep summit area before dark. In the distance in our direction of travel and still in sunlight we saw what we were searching for, a huge Saguaro Cactus, the most western in the US. We whooped and hugged in celebration. By the time we arrived at the cactus the sun was setting and the cactus was shaded by the nearby hill. Near the top on the next steep ravine we found a barrel cactus that appeared to have had the top eaten with the spine clusters nipped off. We guessed that a very hunger burro might have done this. From there we could see several Saguaros and confirm that we had found the Saguaro grove. As we lost daylight we found a ridge with several flat smooth areas where we settled in for the night.

We found twenty-two saguaros on a treacherous slope and four nearby outliers. Photos were taken off all of them. More were found than were seen previously, including small ones. We needed to start back. Because of the steepness of slope we had just come up we decided to take out chances that the alternate and somewhat longer route back would be less intimidating.

In a wide bend in a wash we were watching a large covey of quail scurry back and forth seeking a place to hide when we saw a bighorn ram rapidly leaving the wash 50 feet ahead of us. When it reached a high ledge it stopped and monitored us as we continued on our way.

In the washes there were several small dark lizards that move too fast for identification. There were burro tracks and dropping. We also saw coyote tracks and small cat tracks. There were black tailed jackrabbits and desert cottontails. The route we took back proved to be the easier the route in. We arrived back at the trailhead before dark.