Needles BLM Survey
Whipple Two Caves

April 13- 15, 2012

Ramona Daniels is the Outdoor Recreation Planner for the Needles Bureau of Land Management. Under her direction I monitor wilderness areas that the Needles office manages. The purpose of this trip was to locate and evaluate two caves near Whipple Wash.

Nate Stewart from Minnesota is one of four new interns at the Needles BLM. As backcountry monitor he was eager to get into the remote wilderness. Pov and I were looking for a reason to get back to Whipple Wash to continue the search for a cave near Whipple Palm Tree. Nate, Pov and I were available for the same five days. Plans for a Whipple Wilderness exploration developed.

The temperature in the Needles area had been dry and hot for several weeks before our trip with highs in the 80’s and 90’s. Pov and I left the Bay Area just as a cold front passed over going southeast. We drove in rain all the way to Bakersfield with a few heavy downpours. The cold front reached the Mojave about the same time we did cooling the air and providing a few light sprinkles and a windy evening.

We planned a three-day backpack trip that would let us locate and explore Palm Tree Cave on the first day and hike through Whipple Wash and North Bowmans Wash to reach cave that I knew about from a previous trip on the second day. The middle third of the course I had not explored and even though it appeared to be reasonable on the USGS topo map, we were prepared for a third night should it be needed. In order to lighten our packs Nate cached water using a trailhead that was two miles from our halfway point.

We had seen what we thought was Palm Tree cave from the access road looking though a notch made by the first narrows in Whipple Wash. We knew from a previous trip that the cave was not in Whipple Wash. So it had to be in the far wall of the first big drainage coming into Whipple Wash.

We hiked past Whipple Palm, a 50 foot California fan palm. The seep that supports this tree had more water that last month. After turning into the wide side canyon and going past an island plateau we were excited to see the cave about halfway up the canyon wall and 1000 feet above us.

We found a route from the wash to the cave up a moderately steep slope. Palm Tree cave is in an intermittent watercourse so that when there is enough rainfall the cave would be behind a waterfall. There is a small gravel and rock wash that starts from below the base of the cave where there were many small charcoal pellets. Charcoal tells use there were fires here some where in the water path above this site. This could be evidence of previous human activity. Inside the cave we found an empty corroded 22-shell casing with rim intact. We found no other archaeologically interesting artifacts at this site.

This is a big cave with a hemi- circle entrance about sixty feet in diameter and one hundred feet deep. The floor of the cave is very steep in the front half of the cave. In the back half there are two moderately steep terraces. In the front and center of each of these there are four foot diameter rock formations that appear to have been made by dripping mineral laden water, similar to stalagmites in limestone caves.

The first of these consisted of a low dome of cream-colored rock covered with wavelet shapes. The second was a high dome of tiny multi-branched fingers of light grey stone. In the back of the cave there were linear columns and much of the upper terrace floor is encased in a layer of similar rock. Nothing that we saw here suggested to us a history of human occupation.

Our attempt to return down the cave ravine failed when we encountered a high pour off with no apparent way around. We returned to the route we came up and retraced our steps to Whipple Wash.

Since finding the cave and getting into it were easier than expected this exploration was accomplished in much less time than was scheduled. We pushed on toward or second cave objective.

We passed by the Whipple Pools, the lone Whipple Saguaro and through the many rock labyrinths that are the signature geology of this part of the wash. There were stands of tamarisk and several different yuccas. After leaving Whipple Wash we followed North Bowman Wash in the one of the unknown sections of this trip. We found walking in this wash fairly easy encountering a single rock fall labyrinth.

We arrived at the cave near North Bowman Wash sooner than expected. This cave had a level floor of grey sand and was littered with dry yucca leaves and fiber. There were old dry tree branches and abundant burro tracks and droppings.

As evening came a strong wind blew down the canyon. We found a shelter area out of most of the wind for camp, had dinner, a few stories and then to a long winter’s night sleep. Early the next morning we resupplied our water from the cache that was easily found. We and had a quick breakfast then decamped and started on our return trip.

Since we were well ahead of schedule we decided to take an alternate route back to Whipple Wash that went on the other site of the ridge that we pass on our way through North Bowman Wash. This route goes up a gentle ravine to a low pass, along a ridge, and down a ravine to Whipple Wash west of where we had been the day before.

On our way out we looked at a rock layer where a rock drill bit is locked in the rock. There appears to be a previously exposed rock face that has a seam of dark brown rock that blend into rusty red then to yellow. This seam is enclosed in rock that is light green with a few thin layers of dark green. This could be mineral bearing rock, possibly copper, but not in sufficient quantity to be valuable. It appears that a prospector had blasted a layer of rock from this ledge then when drilling to plant another dynamite charge the drill bit stuck in the rock and was left there.

Near the trailhead we found mesquite trees where sections of the tree trunks had been removed recently. The remaining cut surfaces were very smooth. These cut surfaces were quite beautiful. It appears that this was done because these mesquite logs might be considered to be valuable.

Because each segment of this trip was done in less time than allocated we arrived at the trailhead a day early with some daylight remaining and decided to do a day hike to Mopah Spring the next day.