Sunday, June 24, 2018

Button Mountain

I hiked Button Mountain in the Mojave National Preserve.  It's a cinder cone on the eastern edge of the lava fields.  This cone has the highest elevation of all those I've hiked (1409 m or 4623 ft) and is the only one with a name.  Here's a google map centered on Button Mountain.


This is an easy hike.  Although it's one of the more difficult cinder cone hikes I've done in the area.  I chose to walk up the old mining road.  The last section of that road, up to the summit, is steep and covered in loose rocks so each footstep can result in slipping and falling.  Still, it only took 20 minutes to reach the summit.


The next shot looks at Button Mountain from the saddle, halfway up the mining road.


Here's the last stretch up to the summit.


Looking from the summit down toward my car.


The view north shows Clark Mountain in the distance.


This might be the actual summit marker.


It was a great day for a hike.  The weather was nice: calm and clear with temps around 80F.  I didn't notice any rattlesnakes this time.  Yay!  I did, however, experience some muscle cramps and my knee collapsed once.  It did that many times during the next few days, causing me to see the doctor who told me that I have MCL and LCL injuries.  So I haven't been hiking lately.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Black Tank Wash Petroglyphs

I recently drove some 4wd trails across part of the Mojave National Preserve just to reach the Black Tank Wash Petroglyph site.  The weather was nice with calm winds and temps of about 75F.  The screencap from Google Earth below shows the route I drove.  I started at the Cima Road exit of I-15 (about 25 miles north of Baker, CA) and headed in a southwesterly direction.  I marked the location of the petroglyphs with a tacky green star.



After turning off Cima Road, I stopped briefly and noticed that one of the locals was watching me.



At least it was the furry kind of local, and not the fangy kind.

I've driven almost all these roads many times.  The trails were in good condition and the sand wasn't deep at all.  Any car with 8 inches of clearance could have easily driven it.  Sometimes that same road is very sandy.



I turned west onto Aiken Mine Road.  That intersection is roughly the location of the once-famous Mojave Desert Phone Booth.  Google that if you're curious.  It no longer exists.  Roman Mars released a 99% Invisible podcast about it a few years ago.  When I started driving these roads, only the concrete pad remained.  Now, even that is gone.


Heading west, I was already close to the petroglyph site.  I just needed to take a side trail in order to stay down in the wash.  My GPS receiver didn't accurately record the actual route.  It showed me staying on the bigger road, then it jumps over to the smaller road.  I parked where the road exits the wash up onto the ancient lava flow (yellow square on map below).  The petroglyph site is only a quarter mile walk from there (green circle on map below).




First I visited the arch.  That site has some colorful glyphs that I was looking forward to seeing.



These are on the left outside of the arch formation.



The rest of photos here are of glyphs I found on the dark boulders walking eastward from the arch.










There a lot of glyphs.  I'm sure I didn't find them all, and I'm not posting all the photos I took.

After returning to the car, I continued to drive southwest.  This was the only section of trail that was new to me.  It was also the only section where I used low range - up the rocky hill exiting the wash.


Instead of returning quickly to Aiken Mine Road, I decided to continue on the smaller trail.  Just because.


This trail passes right by the Lava Tube site.  I visited the Lava Tube back in 2009.  I think they've improved the safety of the ladder since then.  On my visit, the ladder was so sketchy, I simply climbed up the lava walls to get out.  On this day that trail was almost entirely blocked by a handful of KTM bikes parked in the road.  Their riders were obviously visiting the lava tube.

Aiken Mine Road from the Lava Tube parking area to Kelbaker Road is currently washboarded and unpleasant in my truck unless I drive over 35 mph.  I've seen people camping along this short stretch of road on 3 recent weekends.  There are much nicer places to camp in the area.

If you plan to take this same route, then you might also stop off and visit the Cow Cove Petroglyph site along the way.  It's a longer hike, but there are many more glyphs.  I've visited that site many times.  Here's my post from 2009 that includes a map.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Sometimes Rattlesnakes Don't Bite

I was very stupid.  I was very lucky.

During my recent hike of a couple cinder cones in the Mojave Desert I had a surprising encounter with a local. 

This was entirely my fault.  I failed to follow the first rule of hiking in rattlesnake country.  Anyplace you sit down to rest can have snakes under the boulder/log you choose to sit on.  And they can also be under all the other boulders/logs nearby.  This is why people get bit on the hand and ankles when they sit down.

I was almost to the top of the second cinder cone and decided to rest and drink some water.  I was happy to see a large boulder with a flat top, providing a perfect place for me to sit.  So I sat down stretching my legs out in front of me and setting my poles down to my left.  I was enjoying the view while drinking from my hydration pack.


After about 4 minutes (yes, I keep an eye on my watch when I sit down), I caught a glance of something under a nearby rock.  Holy *&$%!  I have never jumped so fast in my life.  Apparently, I had sat down a few feet from one of the locals.  





I was very lucky that this snake decided to just stay calm and watch me.  It sat there quietly, less than 18 inches from my feet and ankles.

My GPS log recorded my rapid jump away from the site.


For the remainder of the hike, I was very paranoid.  I avoided all boulders.  I avoided sitting.  

After consulting my rattlesnake book (Rattlesnakes of the United States and Canada by Manny Rubio) and the California herpetology website, I think this was a Panamint rattlesnake (crotalus stephensi).  Or maybe a Southwestern Speckled rattlesnake (crotalus mitchelli pyrrhus).  This is largely because the snake was missing the facial mask (or it was very subdued) and had no white lines on the side of the head.  Also, the color and pattern matches well with some photos on the website I mentioned.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Another Cinder Cone Hike

I hiked two more of the cinder cones in the Mojave Desert lava field south of Baker in southern California.  I found a US government web page about these cinder cones.  The USGS says these cones began erupting about 7.6 million years ago and continued until at least 10,000 years ago.


I combined two cones into one hike because it required me to drive the 4wd trails in that area and I don't enjoy driving on the lava-rock trails.  It's only a matter of time before I get a blowout and have to change a tire on that uneven terrain.  

I'm actually surprised that I haven't yet had a flat tire there.  I'm currently running Cooper Tire Discoverer AT3s.  They show very little damage from all the lava miles I've put on them.  I'm impressed.

To be fair, the three 4wd trails entering/exiting the area only have lava over short distances.  As the photos show, the interior area is all sandy and the roads are sandy with the occasional embedded lava boulder and plenty of creosote brush.

I first hiked the shorter one on the right in the image above.


I decided to just walk up the old mining roads.  The sides of these cones are at the edge of stability.  They're very steep and stepping on them causes a lot of stuff to start sliding downhill.


Here's a photo of the 2nd (taller) cone taken from the top of the smaller one.


The next shot looks south toward my car.  I hiked the large cone on the left last month (here's the post).


The summit basin is more convoluted on this cone.


For anyone interested in hiking these extinct volcanos, they're seen on the USGS 7.5 Quad for California named Indian Spring.  Here's a cropped portion of that topo map.


On this day I hiked peaks 1056, 1095, and 1103 on the first cone and 1143 on the second cone.  I didn't continue on to the true summit of the second cone (1147) because I was running out of water and needed to turn back.  I realized after examining the route in Google Earth that continuing would have been the shorter route.  Did I mention that I was almost out of water?  That, and another thing, was impacting my ability to think clearly.

I was hoping to drive the old 4wd trail between the two cones and hike from some mid-point.  Unfortunately, that road has been closed off by the park service so I had to park on the main 4wd trail in the broad sandy wash.  You can see from my GPS log that I hiked up and down that old 4wd trail.  That made crossing the open desert much easier and safer.  You can see the road in the next photo as I approached the second cone.


The weather conditions were good.  It was about 98F with a breeze strong enough that I needed to cinch down my hat.  The entire hike took less than 3 hours.  When my 3 liter hydration pack went dry, I was over a mile from my car.  That's one of two mistakes I made on this hike.  I should have worn my backpack (instead of a small Camelbak) so I could carry 5+ liters of water.  The other mistake will be explained in the next post.

The ramps up the side of the cone are narrow on this cone.


The top is a catch basin for blowing sand.


Here's a shot from the top looking southwest.  I hiked the cinder cone on the left last October and the cone on the right last September.  Old Dad Mountain is visible in the distance, as is Cowhole Mountain.  I've hiked both of those (Old Dad Hike and Cowhole Mountain Hike).


The long ramp traversing the south face got narrow in places with the occasional fallen boulder.


Leaving the area, I decided to exit to the south, along a 4wd trail I've previously described.  It's an easy trail, except for a 10 meter section near the end.  



It's obviously been improved by other 4wd enthusiasts.  Several of the smaller boulders have been moved around.  I still decided to take the alternate around that mess.


Here's a Google Earth screencap showing my 4wd route for this adventure.  I entered the area from the west and exited to the south.  I've driven all sections of this route in the past.  You see the little blip in the route at the edge of the lava flow where I took the alternate.