Turtle Mountains
 Mopah Spring Castle Rock
May 19, 2011

We came to Turtle Mountain on this trip because of the hot weather elsewhere in the deserts. Because of the recent storm we expected cooler temperatures with maximums in the low 80s and fair breezes. Friday early afternoon temperatures over 90º caused us to use more water than expected and to shorten our hike that day. Saturday was cooler with some cloud cover and a light breeze.

Thursday we drove to the central Mojave, briefly stopped in Needles to talk to the BLM ranger to see what they would like us to look for while exploring in the Turtle Mountains. We arrived at our trailhead late in the afternoon then hiked in a few miles to our campsite near Mopah Spring.

On the way in we came to the historic airstrip from one of General Patton's tank training areas. There is a dramatic rock wall at the airstrip. I have found pictures of rock structures in the Desert Training Center that were similar to this one that were used for religious altars. On further exploration of the nearby area, we found clearings that suggest that they could be WWII tent bivouac sites.

Swarms of bees came for water at the spring each evening. There were also many bees in the several desert willows that were in bloom. Many ocotillo, barrel and cholla were in bloom. A milkweed was in early bloom.

The goal for the day was to find an easy route to a huge plateau that is central to this area. The plateau that is called Turtle Mountain Mesa is nearly completely surrounded by vertical cliffs. I had found partly hidden series of ridges and ramps on maps that might lead to the top. The route was easy to walk but hard to avoid getting off course. We found many cacti in bloom on the way and were rewarded by a grand view to the south before we turned back due to the heat and our water consumption.

The next day we walked around Castle Rock in the middle of Vidal Valley look for evidence of vehicle intrusion. We followed the old road that goes from the edges of Vidal Wash toward, then along the east and south side of the rock and returns to the wash. There was no evidence of recent tracks in the roads. There were several old fire rings along the road on the west side of the rock with many rusted welded steel cans and a few pop-top beer cans. There waas nothing more recent. The cans are from the 1940's and 1950's. The pop-tops are from the 1960's and 1970's.

We found a rusted large animal spring trap near the road southeast of the rock. The amount of rust suggests that this could date to the early 1940's and might have been related to the WWII military effort to eradicate the coyote. The only other large animals in this area at that time would have been Bobcats, Mountain Lions, Bighorn Sheep and Mule Deer.

In a side canyon of Vidal Wash east of Castle we found a stand of yucca, bear grass in early bloom. This was the only grove like this that I have seen. We looked for surface water in that canyon and found none.

We saw many very fast small dark lizards. We took photos of a desert iguana. We saw desert cottontails and black-tailed jackrabbits. There were several coveys of quail. We carefully followed a tarantula hawk as it raced from one hole to the next searching for spiders.

Pov has an interest in edible plants and demonstrated how to peal and eat a prickly pear fruit, but when she tried to do the same with a small beavertail cactus fruit she got tiny glochid spines in her arm, hand and tongue requiring some intense tweezing before we could continue.

The water in the spring was low when we arrived there on Thursday evening. The water level was higher on Friday morning. On Saturday there was less water than the day before. We walked out that evening instead of the next morning to avoid using water from the spring.