Sheephole Valley Wilderness

The Mojave Trails National Monument is massive, 1.6 million acres of federal lands, multiple wilderness areas and many privately owned developments and homesteads make up one of the mojave deserts newest protected recreation areas. Not to say that anything out there is really new. This desert is made of ancient geologic formations whose existence spans a timeline much larger than most modern humans can grasp. Effectively connecting Joshua Tree National Park with Mojave National Preserve, Mojave Trails creates, at least on a map, an undeveloped wild open area that covers a large portion of the mojave desert. The Sheephole Valley Wilderness is on the southern edge, closest to my home in Twentynine Palms and was our destination this weekend on our constant search for beautifull and quiet spaces.

Sheephole pass

Sheephole pass is 28 miles from the intersection of Amboy and Adobe road in Twentynine Palms. Anybody traveling out here would do well to visit the gas station there as there is literally no services or gas or even reliable cell service in this part of the desert. I believe I saw a sign labeling this road as Ship Rock road or Ship Rock Mountain rd but it was pretty faded. It is really a gas line road that crosses the desert but serves as access to this part of Mojave Trails nowadays. The road is sandy but well maintained, four wheel drive is recommended but I never needed it.

Eschscholtzia glyptosperma

The sandy alluvial slope that the gas line road travels down is a great place for wildflower viewing this time of year. The desert gold poppies were particuarally abundant. This is prime Desert Tortoise habitat so please watch carefully, they dont take well to vehicle traffic and tend to not look both ways before crossing the road. To our dissapointment we did not see any on this trip.

Nama demissum

We did however come across these little beauties which I believe are called Purple Mat growing side by side with some Wallace Eriophyllum. These plants are considered miniatures as they are very small and low growing. Miniatures are pretty common plants in the desert, they are easy to miss if you are not looking for them but worth the effort. Many interesting desert creatures are very small, plants included.


Other desert plants are much harder to miss, like these beautifull purple flowers which I believe to be some sort of Lupine. I really am a novice when it comes to identifying desert flowers so if any of you out there could narrow it down for me feel free to comment.

Not long after the gas line road leaves amboy rd a well traveled road veers off to the east. Soon after the road is blocked by a gate which represents the boundary of the wilderness area. This road has been closed long before Mojave Trails was established as the Sheephole Valley Wilderness was designated years ago. Please respect the wilderness designation and do not attempt to drive around the boundary. At this point the road makes a turn to the south and if you have a high clearance four wheel drive vehicle you can make it up a canyon for a short ways into the edge of the Sheephole mountains. The canyon walls are steep and rugged, perfect terrain for their namesake the elusive bighorn sheep. Several informal campsites are along this short road before it dead ends at a beautifull and secluded turn around. It doesnt seem like a great place to camp however as there is no flat ground to be found. Someone has in the past decided to create some petroglyphs on the boulders at this spot. Not really recommended but I suppose it is better than spray paint. It seemed clear to me that they were made by modern man and not native americans.

One of several carvings at the turnaround

As far as I can tell the road up to this site is open to vehicle traffic but if you encounter any signage claiming the oppposite you should obey the rules and only travel on foot. It was well traveled at the time of my visit but the Land Managers have limited resources and often cannot replace signage as fast as the desert or visitors remove them. Always obey posted rules, take only pictures and leave our public lands as you found them. Bring lots of water and let someone know where you plan to travel before you head out, there is no reliable cell service or help of any kind, it is imperative that you are prepared for any emergencies, vehicular or medical. You are responsible for your own safety in the wild, no exceptions.

High Desert Wildflowers

As predicted the desert flowers are blooming in abundance due in part to the generous rainfall we had this winter here in the mojave desert. While I am doing my best to limit my excursions to only what is necessary, my short drive home from work can be done on little used dirt roads instead of the highway. This gives me the chance to stop and smell the flowers and since I know not everybody is that lucky, I took some photos of them today to share. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Salvia Columbariae

Chia as it is commonly known is a member of the Mint family and has a distinct aroma. Its seeds were reportedly valued by native americans as an important source of natural sugars. Supposedly a teaspoon of them could sustain a man for a day on forced marches or long distance traveling in a pinch. I have had some success gathering the seeds after the pods have dried up in the summer heat. Turn them upside down and shake above your hand and you should be able to transfer them to your own garden.

Rafinesquia neomexicana

Desert Chicory is pretty common in the Twentynine Palms area. A member of the sunflower family, it tends to use the protection of other desert plants and is usually found growing up through bushes of all kinds, here it is using a young smoke tree for shelter.

Oenothera deltoides

The Dune Primrose is an especially beautifull desert plant in my opinion. The blossoms supposedly last only a day each, opening in the morning and wilting by sundown. They are usually found in fine sandy soil like sand dunes. After the plant has dried in the summer heat they often form a birdcage like structure that can be used as a decoration for those so inclined.

Coreopsis Bigelovii

Coreopsis is a pretty common spring flower resembling a sunflower in my opinion. Seen here with a large amount of Desert Dandelions in the background. They are everywhere in the desert and one of the first flowers to appear in the spring.

Abronia villosa

Sand Verbena eventually covers large areas of the desert and grows pretty low to the ground. It still has not started blooming in abundance but if you look around they can be found this early. Certainly one of my favorites.

Phacelia crenulata

Phacelia is pretty common in my experience. They remind me of caterpillars, I guess because of the shape, not the color. Not really my favorite since they cause an irritating skin rash on me. I learned early in my life to wear pants when hiking around these plants as they always seem to be calf high and never fail to punish me for being careless.

Hesperocallis undulata

The Desert Lily is an especially beautifull plant in my opinion. Not just for its flowers but the entire plant. They tend to grow taller than most desert flowers. The bulb remains underground and the flowers reappear year after year. A true desert survivor, hibernating during harsh weather like a lot of desert creatures. I believe they were also used by Native Americans as a food source. They are not as common as a lot of other desert plants and I will often make special trips just to find these plants in the places I know they grow.

I am not a trained botanist or expert in desert plants other than having lived among them for most of my life so I apologize if any of the info above is incorrect. I have always used my well worn copy of Mockels desert flower notebook for identification and I recommend anybody who wants to explore the world of desert flowers acquire a copy. It is pretty much a classic desert companion in my opinion, part identification guide and part artist sketch book, you would do well to get a copy. I will try and get more photos as the season progresses and more desert plants appear.

Stay safe and healthy.

Joshua Tree gets a break

While the world of man shelters in place to avoid spreading some nasty new virus, the world of wild animals and plants and insects goes on as it has for all of time. Springtime continues to bless the desert here in Southern California with plentifull rain. I have no problems avoiding contact with humans, I am pretty socially distant to begin with, but not getting out to our public lands has been pretty much a bummer. I do hope the animals are taking advantage of the absence of humans in Joshua Tree National Park. They tend to be really shy and the hords of tourists and adventure seakers that crowd the park during our short season of reasonable temps and rainfall means animals often choose to stay hidden when they should be taking advantage of the food and water available right now.

So our loss is their gain and I can probably live with that. With the park officially closed, I have not been out for my usuall adventures and as a result I have no new photos to share with my fellow nature lovers. I have however searched my stash of photos from the past and chose a few to share with you today. A couple are scans from before I switched to digital so my apologies for the quality. I hope you enjoy and I hope all of you are staying safe and virus free.

Eagle Cliff Mine Cabin

I have used this one on this blog before but I cant help it, this place is really cool, the last time I visited the cabin it was still in great shape.

This is the fireplace inside the cabin at Eagle Cliff. Quite a few peices of historical junk were still here.

Not a great shot I know, but still impressive how well preserved it was just a few years back.

While not really inside the park boundaries, this miners cabin carved out of solid rock is within sight of one of the entrances and does not get a lot of visitors since it is not really well known to anybody but a few locals and requires 4 wheel drive and a high clearance vehicle to reach.

When I was a young man this alcove was lined with wood, vandals have since removed the lining for some reason. I believe it was used as a food storage device, water pipes entering the upper left and exiting the lower right seemed to bring water from a nearby dam built into the solid rock gully

This is the entrance to the mine near the above cabin, at one time there was a steel door and vent pipes leading from deep within. Again, somebody decided that the door didnt belong and it has been removed. The hillside where this mine is located has several shafts and tunnels.

While not much to look at, this deserted camp is located up Johny Lang canyon, I always imagined it is where old Johny spent his time exiled from Lost Horse mine after he was caught by his partners skimming some of the product on the night shift. Evidently his partners ran him off after they discovered he was a little less than honest. After the mine was abandoned he apparantly moved back to Lost horse and spent the rest of his days there.

This is a photo of Oh-bay-yo-yo from the late 90’s. The origin of this beautifull and remote campsite is a bit of a mystery to me. It has been used and maintained by locals from at least the 1930’s. The last time I was here it was still clearly being used and had supplies and a log book.

Another photo from about 1996, this one of Careys Castle, another remote campsite built most likely to provide shelter for workers of the nearby mine. During a recent government furlough, vandals reportedly carted off artifacts and the park service has “closed” this area. I am not sure really how you would do that however as it is a long ways from anywhere. It was in great shape when this photo was taken.

Hopefully soon we humans will return to life as usual and I will be back exploring and taking photos to share with all of you great people. Until then please stay safe and healthy.

CMC Art Tour

With the craziness that is our daily life here on planet earth lately, I have not been engaging my usual hobby of exploring the High Desert in my free time. However, my desire to share the wonderfull place I call home has not diminished. When an unexpected power outage at my place of work had me checking up on the various peices of equipment around campus, I took advantage of the situation and took some photos of my favorite art installations which we are blessed with at Copper Mountain College.

While I am in no way associated with the art department at CMC, I am a fan, having been raised in a community that takes pride in its role in nurturing artists and free thinking individuals. The desert tends to encourage creativity, introspection and soul searching. The college itself was founded and built with funds from residents of the Morongo Basin, some of those residents were artists and donated works are very prominent on campus. The following is just a sample of my favorites. Enjoy.

“Roadrunners” by Howard Pierce.

The original entrance sign, also by Howard Pierce
“Copper Mountain College GeoKinetic” by Steven L. Rieman
“Desert Flowers” by Terry Waite
“Desert Flowers” by Terry Waite
“Echinocactus Oxygonus” by Terry Waite
Sculpture by Simi Dabah
Simi Dabah
Simi Dabah
Sculpture Garden with many Simi Dabah works
Simi Dabah

Rattlesnake Canyon

It’s been raining this spring in the mojave desert, which means the begining of all kinds of great desert stuff, like wildflowers, tortoises and lizards. One of the real gems, this time of the year if you live in Twentynine Palms (in my opinion) is that Rattlesnake canyon in Indian Cove is flowing. If you time it right you will find cool clear water running down an amazing set of granite waterfalls just a short hike up the canyon from the parking lot. Add to that a warm sunny day and you get an amazing world class day hike about 10 minutes from town in an area of Joshua Tree National Park with no entry fee for day hikers and way less crowds than you would experience in the rest of the park.

This is a really special and peacefull place on days when the sun is shining and the water is slow and clear. When the water is running faster it can be very dangerous and powerful. Exercise caution and use good judgement whenever you are around moving water. Sometimes it is better to come back another day after the water slows. It can be hard to navigate the lower canyon after heavy rain days.

Sometimes the sandy wash turns into a muddy river

Most hikers find there way to the base of the waterfalls and enjoy the view of the slot canyon above before returning to the parking area. The lower falls are really fun and a great place for a photo.

If you want to reach the top of the falls you can scramble up either side, I prefer the right, as it is a little more straightforward with just a little bit of exposed scrambling. There is a really unique squeeze halfway up that sometimes has wild bees guarding the way, just keep going and the reward will be well worth the dangers.

Looking down towards the parking area from the top of the waterfalls
The waters just before dropping down the slot canyon

If you can manage to find your way to the top of the falls and are looking to explore more the upper canyon is very beautiful and worth the hike.

Views like this just keep coming in upper rattlesnake canyon.

If you do choose to explore this amazing desert canyon, please remember to keep it clean, dont leave any trash, and if you see something left behind consider bringing it back out yourself. Also hike with a buddy, let someone know where you are and stay safe.

Twin Tanks

I made a quick trip to Twin Tanks in JTNP the other day. It has been raining lately so I thought I might be able to catch some of the normally dry “Tanks” in Joshua Tree with some water in them. It turned out to be a really pleasant walk and I did find some water.

In the washes below the tanks there was a lot of what I believe to be Western Tent Caterpillars. They apparently use their “tent” for shelter during the first stages of their lives. They seemed to be doing quite well and the small local birds were having a good time thinning them out. Spring is here in Joshua Tree, rabbits and birds were all around and flowers were blooming everywhere you look.

Twin Tanks is fairly easy to get to but does not have an official trail that I know of. If you decide to go use a map and take a friend. Start at the Twin Tanks backcountry board and try to make as little impact on the fragile desert soil as possible.

The Car Wash

A rumor about a fleet of abandoned cars lined up like a traffic jam, half buried in a wash in a remote section of Joshua Tree National Park reached me lately. I was seriously interested. While abandoned cars are nothing new to me or the mojave desert, these were supposed to be very close to another site which I had visited years past so I felt like I might be missing something good.

Between the scoop passed on to me and Google Earth, I soon had a plan and 3 other hiking companions commited to the long drive for a chance at some sunshine and exploration.

The first of about a dozen abandoned vehicles

The rumors were true and we found about a dozen abandoned vehicles, the engines and axles/drivetrains were all gone. My best guess is that they were used for the nearby mill and well sites, which were fairly extensive.

The traffic jam
It is hard to imaging somebody driving a cadillac out here.
The nearby mill and well sites are quite interesting themselves.

While not as amazing as some of the sites we have been visiting lately in JT, the Car Wash was well worth the trip and a great way to see how some of the early miners made their living in the mojave desert.

Desert Queen and Eagle Cliff Mine

After a relatively cool fall the warm winter weather we are all used to here in the mojave desert is back, at least for a bit. I have been getting out hiking to some of my favorite spots in Joshua Tree and wanted to throw this one out there for anybody looking for a fun day hike with a good mix of history, geology and wildlife.

A view of Desert Queen Mine from the overlook along the trail

Out of the many mining encampments located within Joshua Tree National Park, the Desert Queen and Eagle Cliff sites are two of my favorite that are both accessible on a relatively short day hike. Their proximity to Jumbo Rocks campground makes them a great choice if staying there or entering the park for the day from Twentynine Palms.

Building remains along the trail to Desert Queen mine

A lot can be said of the history of the Desert Queen, too much for here so I will just say it is an interesting story if local history is your thing. Geology fans could spend a lot of time picking through the mine tailings or staring at all the weathered granite and tumbled formations, imagining how they slowly came to be as they now sit. The steep ravines and rocky hillsides are also a great place for wildlife, birds are especially abundant as well as reptiles and small mammals.

Getting to Desert Queen is pretty straightforward. Park at the Pine City backcountry board parking area and head eastward along the marked and signed trail. After checking out the overlook head down the road/trail to the canyon bottom. Pick up the trail angling up the opposite side of the canyon to explore the upper levels entrances or stay on the canyon floor to view from the sandy wash and shade of Pinyon pines.

Miners cabin near Eagle Cliff mine

If you make it to the top of Desert Queen and want to continue to Eagle Cliff, look for a small trail headed eastward from the very top of the ridge where the digging took place. As far as I know it is not an official trail and is not marked. It seemed to be well traveled the last time I was there. The mine and cabin are located in a notch on a ridge overlooking Split Rock day use area.

The cabin at Eagle Cliff was still well preserved on my last visit. It is an impressive example of a desert shelter. Please be very carefull and do not disturb historical artifacts if you choose to visit. Also take plenty of water and be safe!

Samuelsons rocks

Samuelsons has been on my list of places to revisit in Joshua Tree. It has been years  since the last time I was there and it came up in conversation recently somewhere. I took advantage of a classic sunny winter day recently and hiked out. Despite it being the busy season, at 8:45 a.m. there was plenty of parking at Quail Springs picnic area.

John Samuelson was apparently an interesting character, like a lot of early desert dwellers. His writings are sometimes hard to follow and contain a lot of misspellings but are impressive in their quality and extent. I counted 8 panels but wonder if I missed any.

Considering how crowded Joshua Tree can be these days, I was impressed that we spent pretty much the entire hike without seeing a single person on the main trail leaving from the picnic area. With multiple other places worth seeing in the area it probably deserves consideration next time you are planning a hike in JTNP.

Also if you do go please Leave no Trace, take only photos and avoid trampling or harming the fragile desert environment. Bring plenty of water and a map. Know where you are going and your own limits. Have Fun.

Catalina with the Live Free to Sail Fast crew

Tulum V in Catalina Harbour


A few weeks ago I received an unexpected but pleasant message from the sailing vessel Tulum V, berthed in Sand Diego Ca. My good friends of the Live Free to Sail Fast crew were making preparations for an offshore passage to Catalina island to celebrate Memorial Day at Cat harbour. There were a couple details that they thought we might be able to help them with. First, by some unexplainable error, they had purchased and stored way too much champagne for the trip. Second, they needed some experienced sailing crew to stand watch at night as they would be leaving San Diego in the afternoon and sailing overnight on the open Pacific ocean to arrive the next morning at Catalina island. Naturally, I volunteered the entire crew to help them with their predicament.

As I had prior obligations, I sent my first mate down to San Diego on Thursday to help with the first leg. She is a great sailor and I knew she would be an asset to the Crew of Tulum. After I got word they had arrived safely I drove down to Long Beach and caught a helicopter flight with Island Express to Avalon. After a short power boat ride to Two Harbours I caught up with the crew and had a refreshing beverage on the beach before we headed to Cat harbour to work on that Champagne supply.

After what seemed like way too short of a time we had to head back to San Diego. The captain wanted to get an early start so before dawn on Sunday Tulum slipped out of Cat Harbor and after clearing the southern part of the island she turned her bow south and started the sail back home. The wind blew, dolphins jumped and whales swam in the distance. The ocean was kind, she let us pass and arrive safely at port just before sunset.

Sailing on boats other than Blue Ayes is always a valuable learning experience for Christina and I. We get to see how other people adapt to the challenges the sea throws at them and use that experience to improve on the way we tackle those obstacles ourselves. On this trip we also were silently imagining how our boat would be handling the same conditions, in anticipation of her arriving this fall. Soon we will be doing the same trip with just the two of us aboard. How will we adapt to the changes from the east coast sailing we have been doing the last few years? I feel like we are up to the challenge and will have some fun as well.