Whipple Palm Backpack
Whipple Mountain Wilderness
February 26-27/2012

“There it is; there it is!” Pov shouted exuberantly while grabbing my arm and jumping up and down. She had found the only saguaro in Whipple Wash that we were going to find. We were on our way out after two days looking for these cacti with no success till then.

Our objective of this trip was to make observations for the Needles BLM. We were to evaluate plants, animals and water sources in Whipple Wash and look for a cave. We knew that a single palm tree was near the trailhead and there was a single saguaro further on with rumors of a few more of these cacti in the more distant Wash.


We drove to the Whipple Wash Trailhead from the north by taking the road that provided access to the transmission lines that runs along the eastern border of the Wilderness. From paved Havashu Lake Road to the trailhead is about 30 miles on this winding, single lane, recently graded, rough rock, road that goes through an area of rolling hills. Driving this road is slow but well worth the effort. The landscape presents a geological kaleidoscope view of eroded volcanic layers, sedimentary rock of many different colors, and occasional remnants of multi-colored sandy Moenkopi deposits.


On arriving at the trailhead, we did a cave survey from the car with binoculars. An interesting cave was seen from the road one mile south of the trailhead at a distance of a mile or more. We could not see an access route to this cave form this location.


After our backpack of Whipple Wash we searched from the road again and found a different view of what we think may be same cave. We did not have time to go back into the Wash to look for it on this trip but will return and search for it another time.


We saw another cave outside the wilderness near Whipple Wash. We search for it briefly without out success. After a later map review this cave can likely be found on another attempt.


The geological structure of Whipple Wash is amazing. There were stones, boulders, and rock walls of many colors and consistencies including sedimentary, aggregate and volcanic formations. There were successive layers of rock of contrasting shades and colors; cream, light green, light blue, dark brown, red-brown, grey and black. There were many reflecting crystal facets.


In the central part of our trip where there were high canyon walls, the width of the wash alternated from wide fields of soft sand to narrows with rock ramps and mazes of car to house size boulders. Each maze had a reasonable passage requiring only occasional searches for the best route and some moderate rock scramble.


There were many fast moving lizards. Several coveys of quail were seen moving ahead of us.
There was evidence of a well-established burro population. There were numerous burro tracks in the Wash and on the nearby ridges and benches. There were extensive burro hoof prints with burro dropping throughout the length of the part of the Wash that we traveled. The age of the dung extended over many years. Near some of the water holes there was fresh dung and urine deposits to the degree that the area has the smell of a crowded equine barnyard. There were several places where the burros had dug holes to get to water. Some of these had water, some were wet, and others were dry.

We thought several time from tracks and fresh dung that burros were moving ahead of us. On our way out we saw group of four slowly leaving the Wash. There were two mares and two colts. We followed them a short way up a ridge onto the bench where we saw them continuing to slowly move away. On the bench near the wash there was a burro wallow.


We found a single palm tree in Whipple Wash near the trailhead and where the Wash has 1000-foot canyon walls. There is trickling spring with a tiny pool behind the base of the palm. There were many bees there on a vertical seep.


A short distance up the Wash there was a rock drill bit lodged in a solid rock bench. The face of this bench appears to be disrupted. This could be a prospector’s site where the drill bit became stuck in the rock.


Further up the canyon there were four pools. Some were a few inches deep. One was narrow and long while another was an 8 by 15 feet oval. There were patches of algae, a few dry cattails, clumps of reeds, and patches of grass.


The lone saguaro that we found in the Wash was 100 feet above the larger pool on a ledge adjacent to a small spring.
A few miles up the Wash there was a seep with a very small pool that had a floating raft of recently dead bees.

The watermarks on the walls of these springs suggest that they are well below their recent past water levels. There are several other locations that appeared to be dried water holes. There were sections of rusted steel pipe and broken stems of pipe mounted in drill holes to two places where there were dry falls with narrow solid rock sidewalls suggesting that fences had been built, perhaps to construct water catchment pools.


Near the trailhead along the north side of the Wash extending over several hundred yards there were disintegrating pieces of a 1930’s flatbed truck with big bulbus fenders. These truck parts and many other sign give evidence of episodes of high water flow in this canyon in recent times.


We drove out by going south for a short drive on the single lane transmission line road. At the crest on one of the many hills there was a new, clean, shiny, full size, diesel pickup stopped in the center of the single lane road. As we approached we saw a lone man in the truck talking on a cell phone. He was surprised to see us and immediately signaled that he would back up to a wide place to let us get by.


When we were window to window I stopped to talk. He was a federal eagle observer on a field trip. We found several area of similar interest. Then he suddenly reached for his binoculars while saying, “There are two eagles!” I grabbed my binoculars; we both got out of our vehicles and watches the pair of eagles that were soaring in gusty turbulent winds.
These birds were remarkably stable for these wind conditions.

When hit by a strong gust of wind they would fold their wings as if to dive while continuing to gain altitude. They rapidly move up and away from us. Then Pov saw a pair red tail hawks provided a comparison of the shapes and flight patterns of these two magnificent birds.

As we drove along the improved Trail End Camp Road we saw a big saguaro. Since we had been searing for these cacti for days we stopped and photographed it from several angles. A short drive later there was one more that we stepped out of the car to photograph, then another that we photographed through the car window. As more were found we started counting instead of photographing. We reached twenty-two.


Then to complete the irony of our remote backcountry plant search, as we were approaching the end of Trail End Camp Road in canyon a few hundred feet below us there was a valley filled with hundreds of palm trees.


Then on to Parker Dam Road where we need to go slow to avoid a herd of wild burros on the side of the road. And on through Earp, Vidal Junction and Needles toward Tehachapi and a gathering snowstorm. Over the pass visibility was marginal and accumulating slush on the road added to the growing concern when we came upon a snowplow that we followed to the other side on the pass. In gradually diminishing rain we relaxed and started making plans for a return trip to Whipple Wash.


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