EL PASO MOUNTAINS CALIFORNIA
The Return Trip May 2008
We enjoyed the El Paso Mountains so much that we decided to return here after only a month’s time. During our last visit we hardly scratched the surface of old historic sites that litter the mountain ranges. In this area almost every tattered trail, every natural spring and prospecting hole overflows with rich stories and history. On this excursion I was joined by my wife and daughter who were very excited to cruise the trails in my wife’s new Kawasaki Teyrx RUV. Joining us as usual was Vic, and new to our group was Jerry from southern California. Our five hour drive to our staging camp at Red Rock Canyon was mostly uneventful. We arrived at camp after dark. Unloaded our tow vehicle and blissfully fell in to slumber. The following morning we set up our camp, cooked a nice breakfast and readied our rides while Vic and Jerry explored the Josie Bishop grave site nearby. A thunderstorm rolled in to the area near the time of their return. Fortunately the rain over our camp was light. We later learned from the care takers at Bickel Camp of thundershowers and hale that pounded the area of our explorations. The rain turned out to be a blessing. The trails had become wet enough to virtually eliminate the dust that usually accompanies our travels.
While navigating our way to our first stop I discovered a desert tortoise in our path. We shut off our machines at a safe distance and approached on foot for some photos. Afterwards we gently moved Mr. Slowsky in to the brush off the path and continued on. We arrived at the Dutch Cleanser Mine one and a half hours after departing camp. The Dutch Cleanser was an old pumicite mine that was actively worked in to the 1940’s. The mine resembles something out of the twilight zone, with several connecting tunnels of white soft clay pumice. Snake tracks left along the soft floor residue deterred us from venturing deeper down the dark shafts. The next leg of our journey was led by Jerry, who in previous ventures developed an extensive knowledge of the area. Pointing out the location of a little known historic camp just outside of Last Chance Canyon, he led us the additional 5 miles to the location of Lee Camp. Amazingly, Lee Camp still had three intact buildings and the remains of a stone building. Only a few yards from the crumbling stone structure was a single mine shaft. The trail out was a familiar one that we had traveled twice before on our last trip here. We made a brief stop at Bickel to visit with the caretakers before heading out. Riding behind the new Kawasaki Teryx was an amazing experience in itself. Watching the double wishbone suspension twist and rock the machine over obstacles and portions of washed out trail left me speechless. Proceeding through Nightmare Gulch and its several miniature washes took us the two hours back to base camp.
The following morning we arose early enough to cook pancakes and scrambled eggs before heading out. This excursion took us back in to Nightmare Gulch on a different path that proved somewhat harsh. We gathered and rested at Cudahy Camp, a camp we explored on our last trip. After a bathroom break we continued south past some of the most beautiful and colorful rock formations I had ever seen. We climbed out a narrow winding side canyon and eventually arrived at a mountain top that sported an amazing view of the area. I led us to the Schmidt tunnel before Jerry took over and brought us to the location of Colorado Camp. We didn’t linger long. Being 4hrs in to our journey we made a group decision to explore a couple of lesser known sites in the basic direction back towards camp. We followed Jerry on some seldom used trails to the historic sites of Owens Camp and Mesa Spring, a unique former mining camp located in a dry gulch at the site of a rich flowing water spring. The day grew darker than usual because of rain clouds that had blown in overhead. Unfortunately the trail beyond the camp had long since been washed away, so we followed Jerry’s lead and back-tracked our way out and eventually arrived in Bonanza Gulch and Hatfield’s Camp. Hatfield, a prospector from the early 1900’s had the idea of damming up the hillside below several mines in order to divert surface gold in to his claim. Foundations of his camp and the dam wall still remain in the canyon as well as a large amount of separate, unrelated diggings and vertical mine shafts. Bonanza Gulch was the location of a mining boom that brought several hundred persons in to the area in the early 1900’s. And again during the depression era. Six and a half hours after our departure from camp, we had begun our journey back. Attempting an unknown route, Jerry led us out of the El Paso Mountains. We arrived back in camp at 6:00pm. Just in time for a quick dinner before a presentation on snakes being held at the Red Rock Ranger Station.
Sunday morning after breakfast we decided on a short ride back to the area of the Holy Ash Mine. A ride we thought would return us after only three or so hours. We met up with a couple camping nearby who opted to join us on our days journey. Boarding their Bombardier 2 passenger quad, we trucked across the desert towards our destination. The Holy Ash was a mine similar to that of the Dutch Cleanser. Pumicite and Talc were extracted here but much later than that of the Dutch Cleanser. After an hour or so we took a less direct route back through Last Chance Canyon and out Nightmare Gulch, arriving back at camp 5hrs after our departure. Another wonderful day of exploring! Back at camp we cleaned up a bit. I spent some time preparing the machines for the journey home on the trailer and packing all the riding gear. Later that afternoon we accompanied Vic on a short drive around the southern side of the El Paso Mountains to scout out new camp and staging areas for our next meeting. Jerry had departed for home immediately after returning for the days ride. Later that evening we loaded the machines on the trailer and packed up. At 6am Monday we started the 5hr drive back to the Bay Area. We very much enjoyed our trip back to the El Paso Mountains. This area is quickly becoming another of our favorite places to explore.
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