Monitoring Reports for BLM

Whipple Mountain Wilderness 12/8-10/2011

Central Saguaro Grove

    The prime objective of this trip was to locate and photograph a grove of Saguaro Cactus in the remote center of the Whipple Wilderness. The last time they were documented was 15 years ago by helicopter. I tried to find them last month by a shorter but more difficult route and came within a quarter mile but did not have enough location information, time or water to search further. This time we came from the south. The distance is longer than from the south but the routes are easier because there are washes that lead to the central mountains.

    The two most likely starting points were the end of the road that passes by the site of the Riverview Mine and end of road 794. The first route is shorter but the second goes to the mine site with leaching tanks and a well. There was thought to be a wildlife guzzler near that mine site. We wanted to explore that site so we started from the end of road 794. We camped at that trailhead and started up the wash early in the morning.

    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.

    From there we went over the pass to the west then continued north in the next wash. There were two route choices from there, either the most direct ravine that by map appeared more rugged or the longer route which continued in the wash for much of the way. We chose the first. There were several small water pools in a rock ravine, one with mosquito larva.

    As sunset approached we were on steep rocky terrain and 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 found to be a huge Saguaro Cactus, the most western we would find. We whooped and hugged in celebration. By the time we arrived at the cactus it 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 spine clusters nipped off and the top eaten. From there we could confirm that we had found the Saguaro Grove. As we were losing daylight we found a ridge with several flat smooth areas where we settled in for the night.

    In the morning, we counted 26 Saguaros, 22 in the grove and 4 outliers. They are located very close to the locations given by the BLM map. Photos were taken of all. We found a few more than were found by the helicopter survey. A few of these were small ones without branches. The Saguaro photos are numbered in the order taken to keep track of multiple photos of the same cactus. The outliers are 1, 12, 22 and 26.

    I started by making a photo survey to get a photo of every Saguaro we had seen. When that was done, I could not remain and explore further to make GPS coordinates or measurements because I needed to get my group off of this rocky steep slope. Once we reached the less steep crest we decided that we would return by the longer alternative route to avoid the steep section that we has just come up. To be safe we needed to start back at that time.

    There were several coveys of quail. As we watched one of them scurry around while trying to hike in the thin brush coverage we saw a bighorn ram leaving the wash ahead of us. When it reached a place to watch it stopped and stayed there as we continued on our way.

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

    Photos at

Bighorn Ram in Whipple Mountain Wilderness

 Turtle Mountain Wilderness   12/10-12/2011

Mopah Spring Plateaus

    We had finished the Whipple Mountain Wilderness trip with time remaining so we went to nearby Mopah Springs in Turtle Mountain Wilderness to explored routes to the top of two huge nearby plateaus. We found Mopah Spring half full of water. We removed the many palm frond stalks in the pool.  There were no mosquito larva in the spring.

    In Vidal Wash we saw a flycatcher and several small lizards. The sand and the light favored good tracks. There were tracks of many small birds, a large bird, many different insects, small mammals and lizards.

    The plateau to the south we call Kettle Plateau from the name of the peak on the USGS map. I had looked at the cliffs on the other side on a previous trip and thought that side was beyond rock scrambling in difficulty. On the west side at the south end there appears to be the only break in the top cliffs. There are two reasonable ways to approach this break, one straight to it from the southwest and another from the next ravine north making a transition into the first ravine near the cliffs.

    We attempted the north ravine. Boulders and steep rocks made the going slow. We ran out of time before we could see that we could get to the top before dark. We retreated to the wash and camped.

    The next day we attempted to ascend the north plateau. Rain showers started early and lasted all day. The break in the cliff rim from the west proved to be an easy access. We reach the top of the cliffs at the south rim. From there we could see the Whipple Mountains in the distance, the top of Kettle Plateau and the Mopah Peaks.

    On our return Mopah Spring had more water. We camped at the trailhead, were treated to a grand sunrise the next morning, then drove to the town of Joshua Tree for breakfast at the Cross Roads Café.