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Desert Survivors
Kingston Peak Backpack
October 25, 2013
BLM monitoring

This trip was to determine the feasibility of doing a scientific evaluation of a threatened stand of white fir trees on Kingston Mountain. This peak is between Tecopa and Pahrump. In California these trees grow in the mountains of north, the Sierras, and the mountain peaks of southwest Southern California. They are rare in southeast Southern California. Since the mountain is in a wilderness area at 7,323 feet and 3000 feet above its base a reasonable hiking route would be required to allow several trips with the necessary equipment to do this study.

On a previous trip two possible routes were found, one from Horsethief Spring and another from a trailhead on the west. Both were found to be too difficult for day hikes. Both would be strenuous backpack trips. The western approached was favored since there is a reliable water source at a spring and guzzler.

On the drive on Excelsor Mine Road between Kingston Range and Mesquite Mountains there is an extensive grove of Joshua Trees that were in full bloom on the previous trip here in March. Now they were laden with huge nut-like seedpods that decorated the ends of their branches with clusters the size of beach balls.

The group met the night before the trip at BLM Horsethief Campsite. On the hike in to our campsite we found the adjacent hills had abundant stands of nolina. The next day while working our way up the side of the mountain we were surrounded by nolina, several giants with large black trunks, and a few with tall seed pod stalks. There were several mounds of hedgehog cactus, large pancake prickly pears, and fields of wine colored amaranth blooms.

We found the climb up the mountainside was taking too long to leave any time at the top to evaluate the grove of trees and decided to retreat to our campsite and at later time consider an alternative to this approach.

On the walk down there was a strange cream-colored multi-lobed spherical object on the ground. We considered its identity: not a rock, a plant then, could it be a mushroom, probably a puff ball, then our botanist, Lara gave it an expert squeeze and it exploded distributing its dark brown spores far and wide.

We camped that night and returned to our cars the next day. On the way out there was a big brown hairy tarantula that was searching the ground. In the fall the males search for females that stay in burrows most of the time. This spider stopped about four body lengths from a hole and raised the back of it abdomen. It then slowly moved half way to the edge of the hole, stopped again, and laid flat for a while before moving forward and entering part way into the hole. It then backed out and resumed its search.

With the group on their way home I stayed near the trailhead to monitor an area where there are thought be old buildings. The area is south of the trailhead near a small mountain that looks like the back of a humpback whale in mid-dive.

I found the direct route there has a closely spaced series of ravines some with steep sides greatly slowing walking speed. On this bajada there were barrel cactus, beavertail, and silver cholla. A well-camouflaged tree lizard paused just long enough for a photograph. A coyote gourd grew over a wash bank enclosing what appeared to be a large rodent midden.

I turn back about two thirds of the way to Whaleback Mountain resolved to find a way to get around these ravines to explore this site at another time.