Whipple Needles to Parker
Stagecoach Road

November 9, 2011

High thin clouds had appeared and a moderate wind was blowing. It was the end of my second backpacking day. As I advanced up a steep, rough and rocky slope night was falling fast. I came to a small, narrow area protected by a vertical ledge. After briefly looking a bit further but finding nothing better. I was able see just well enough to get back to the ledge. I spent some time digging out rocks and leveling a sleeping area and set up camp. 

As I relaxed I was greeted by a fuzzy view of the Moon and Venus as they appeared through the thin clouds. The gusts of wind settled down about the same time that I did. All went well during a comfortable night.


Before starting this trip I had gone to Needles to talk to the BLM Volunteer Coordinator. To begin exploration of the Whipple Mountain Wilderness I decided to evaluate the access roads into the Wilderness and try to locate and describe a collection of Saguaro Cactus in the middle of the Wilderness. 

Across the highway from the BLM I walked around a WWII tank trap that I had seen several times previously. This was part of the Desert Training Center of General George Patton who trained his troops in the Mojave for the coming North African Campaign.

I drove on several of the roads that access the wilderness from the south. Then I went on the longest and most difficult road to see how close I could get to the grove of Saguaros with the car. The road was very rough in spots but passable. I drove to the American Eagle Mine and then came back to the D & W Mine where I parked the car. A short distance from the road I came across mine caves and pits as well as claim markers. I saw backlit Chollas that looked like fuzzy halos of light. Up close they became an intimidating abundance of needles. 

A weather front was on the way with high winds on the ridges. As daylight faded I found a narrow wash with short vertical walls. I set up my camp and cooked in the open end of my tarp. This went well except for an unexpected development that could have been much worse. I was sitting on the left side of the open end of the tarp. There was a Platypus water bag standing up toward the right side of the tarp; next to it there was an empty pot on the stove; next to that stood my soup in a tall cup. A big gust of wind that came down the canyon popped the tarp wall just enough to tip over the water bag which pushed over the pot which pushed over my tall soup cup. The soup was thick; I was quick and only a bit was spilled.

As I started out the next morning a jack rabbit with the sun shining through its glowing pink ears raced across the wash ahead of me. There were fields of Cholla Cacti. Then I came across a golf ball sized Fishhook Cactus with three large and prominent bright red flower buds. The lengths of the closed buds were half of the width of the cactus. There were Agaves with pups and some with light green leaves with distinct broad bands of darker green. Young plants had distinctive spines with dramatic imprints of the spines on the leaves. I found later that these are Desert Agaves

While crossing through several fields of low ridges there were no major landmarks for guides. There were multiple forks and junctions in these ridges. To check navigation carefully many stops were required using map, compass, GPS and visible topography. As I came to the last mile to my destination, the drainage I was in forked. By map I had selected the right fork. However, I tried the left fork because it looked less steep. I shortly came to a dry fall about 40 feet high. The lower 20 feet section was a reasonable rock scramble but the middle 10 feet appeared to be nearly vertical and fairly unbroken. In addition, the top section was moderately steep smooth rock that could have been difficult. I went up part way to look for a safe route. I might have been able to do this but backed off thinking about my advise to others regarding taking less risk of injury when far from help.

The ravine on the right was steep and just wide enough to get through in some sections but not difficult. On a wide area near the entrance there was an unusual sharp angled and sharp edged, shining golden boulder with a vertical split. After a climb up the next narrow section of this potential watercourse there was a series of pools of water. I did not resolve whether these were rain-collecting pools, a spring or a series of seeps. The largest of these had grass growing in the downhill edge where some soil had collected and where there was more exposure to sunlight. There were about 100 dead bees floating in the largest pool. but very few bees in flight near the water. On other trips I have seen sheets of live bees on wet walls at desert springs. I later found that there are commercial beekeepers near this wilderness. If they move the hives to a job when there are bees out of the hive the outside bees are lost. In addition, however, I've found this reference. “On leaving our last camp I filled my canteens using water that had been boiled to prevent ill effects from dead bees.” from California Desert Trails by Joseph Smeaton Chase in 1919. I also saw a single Pallid-winged Grasshopper, the most common insect in North American Deserts.

After my night on the steep rocky slope I came across several level cleared areas on the crest of a pass on a low ridge that look something like Sleeping Circles, which are remnants of prehistoric camping areas. Where were these Sleeping Circles when I needed one?

The likely Saguaro area that looked like a plateau on the map was a confluence of several round top ridges with steep slopes down in all directions. An east-facing small cirque had an estimated 1000 Barrel Cactus. I thought I had found a single Saguaro but on further evaluation it is a much older Barrel. I suspected that the grove of Saguaro was in the rough country a quarter mile to the east. I could not reasonably explore further as I was at my water limit considering that I might need another night out to get to the car. I returned by the same route since I did not want to risk finding obstructions on my way out.

On the way back after passing the pools of water I saw a thin long snake with alternating rings of black and white. As I slowly crept closer I could see it was not a Coral Snake or any other poisonous snake. It was beautiful with a cream base color with small red spots and large black saddle-like patches with small cream spots. It was a Western Long Nosed Snake.

At two major direction changes in my return, one at about four miles and another about a half a mile from the road, there were huge flat rocks stacked in tall cairns. The first marked the best place to leave a wash that turned away from my route. When I reached the wash where I had spent the first night, I was running out of daylight. I realized I could probably get to the road before dark if I could go straight to the road. I did this by finding what appeared to be break in the obstructing ridge. Seeing the second big cairn of the day convinced me to give it a try. I reached the road with reasonable daylight and from there easily found my way to the car.

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