Turtle Mountain Backpack
Coffin Spring and Geary Wash
January 27-29, 2012


Our group of ten had an even mix of men and women from Northern and Southern California and Nevada. No two had the same background while all shared a love of natural wilderness and a spirit of adventurous exploration. We met south of Needles on a desert pavement area across Turtle Mountain Road from the BLM information kiosk and where we camped. In the morning we were treated to a glowing sunrise as we were rolling out and getting organized. We drove to Lisa Dawn trailhead leaving two cars behind when the road developed some high centers. For cars with good clearance the road was adequate all the way.

As we headed west on the trail there was a red tailed hawk that progressed from steady flapping near ground level to graceful soaring as it rose in the early morning thermals.
We searched for Mohawk Spring and could not find it. There was a dug out cave at ground level near the location of the spring but no water.

We walked in the Ward Valley wash that borders the mountain. We saw a big lizard that was regenerating its tail. By reviewing photographs later it was seen to be a female greater earless lizard. In the photograph it has the pineal eye spot that occurs in these lizards.

At the head of the wash we worked our way up to the pass that goes to Coffin Spring Wash traveling between vertical multilayered spires. We scrambled through tunnels formed by a maze of huge boulders, over the pass and down on steep slabs of cream-colored rock, then through a ravine approaching the bottom that had multiple small dry falls.


We camped near where this ravine entered the wash. The group had a large array of different shelters - two kinds of light tarps, two different kinds of bivi bags, a tube tent, and four different tents, evidence that the ideal shelter remains elusive.
The spring is about twenty minutes up the ravine on the other side of the canyon. It is hidden behind one of several huge boulders lodged in the ravine. This boulder is disguised by over hanging foliage. The water was clear with some organic debris. The water level was lower that expected but refilled between our visits.

The next day we day-hiked a rectangular path over three passes. We went south from Coffin Spring Wash over a recently found course which scrambles up a steep rocky ravine, over a pass, and down a series of ridges and flat to Gary Wash. From the pass we could see down Coffin Spring Canyon, across Chemehuevi Valley, and the distant Sacramento Mountains. To the south the Turtle Mountains appeared to stretch to the horizon. There was grove of cholla and barrel at the top of the pass and a grove of ocotillo and barrel on the way down.


In Gary Wash we saw western blue birds, phainopeplas, a second red tailed hawk, a few quail and flocks of small brown birds.


After a short hike west in the wash we turned north over the pass that leads back to the head of our Ward Valley wash and then back over the pass to camp. To the south from the pass we could see the huge plateau that is north of Mopah Spring. To the north we could see our course down the ravine and the Ward Valley wash that we came in on the day before.


Much of hike required careful negotiation of steep rocky ravines with loose rocks, some boulder hopping and avoiding obstructing catclaw bushes. The group represented a large range of experience and skill in rough cross-country travel. No one appeared to be inhibited by the challenge of this route but instead were enthused by the prospect of each difficult segment and then energized by the accomplishment.


That night the temperature fell, freezing a wet bandana. This presented no problem since all knew that capricious desert temperatures can go from a warm day time high to freezing in the very early morning hours and were prepared.


We walked out through Coffin Spring Canyon to the Lost Arch Mine and arrived at Lisa Dawn Trailhead before noon. After retracing our drive on Turtle Mountain road we said our goodbyes to each other and to the wilderness and started the trip back to modern civilization already thinking about returning to the Mojave.