Thu, Dec 13, 2012
Red Buttes West
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I awoke in the night to the unexpected sounds of raindrops hitting the roof of the van. It was unexpected because I was in the Mojave Desert and it just isn't supposed to rain here. Not while I'm visiting, anyway. I went back to sleep for a few hours but when the alarm went off in the early morning hour I looked out to see the Granite Mountains near Apple Valley enveloped in clouds. It was drizzling lightly, and while I could have climbed the planned summit without too much trouble, there would have been no views at all and this seemed reason enough to leave it for another day. I was on the last day of a nine day desert trip and figured I might as well just head home. As I was heading back across the desert on US395 towards SR58, the weather improved some - the rain it seems had come up from the south out of the LA Basin and had not yet reached the northwest corner of the Mojave. I started looking for some named summits on my GPS and found a handful that could be reached along the two highways I was traveling.
This small collection of peaklets, named for the orange-reddish rock found on some of its slopes, is located about 12 miles south of Kramer Junction, a few miles west of US395. A decent dirt road off the highway leads to the southeast side of Red Buttes. A side road requiring high clearance leads even closer, up to an old home located at the base of the highpoint on the east side. Vandals have destroyed much of what remains of the abandoned home, the interior walls punched, kicked and blasted into oblivion. The battered remains of a pool table are found just outside the main entryway. A fiberglass hot tub spa has been rolled down the hill, grafitti adorning the outside walls. Shotgun shells and other casings litter the surrounding area. Testosterone, youth, alcohol and firearms are a dangerous cocktail.
From where I parked it took only 30 minutes to reach the volcanic summit. Gordon and Barbara had left a register in 2006, oddly enough. They apparently have no more pride in their selection of summits than myself. Shane Smith had visited as well, but at least he had the excuse that it was on the AAA map he was pursuing (an unusual source for a peak list to be sure, but an amusing one). Though not high by any standards, the summit does offer views in all directions across the desert floor, as was the case for all these small peaks I visited today. The weather did nothing to enhance the views and I didn't bother trying to capture much of the panorama.
I was able to drive to the base of Brown Butte's North Face, making the hike to the summit less than ten minutes in length. There was yet another MacLeod/Lilley register found at the summit, this one placed in 2010. The 80-something year-olds are still managing to get out to new peaks, it would seem. I then drove west to De Stazo Hill via more back roads for another short stroll to the summit. Barbara and Gordon had left a register here the day before they placed the one on Brown Butte. Before returning to the car I paid a visit to a class 3-ish looking peaklet to the southeast. It didn't prove to be as difficult as it had looked, but it provided good views of De Stazo Hill and Brown Butte.
I next drove southwest towards Lookout Peak passing by some dilapidated homesteads, not getting as close as I'd expected, but still only a fifteen minute hike. Among the other scattered trash items were a stuffed bear I came across on the way to Lookout Hill and a stuffed hippo on the way back. No register atop Lookout Hill. A short distance to the north is Sanborn Hill, just across the railroad tracks that blocked nearer access by car. I spent about half an hour hiking to the summit and back, watching a train go by not long after I had crossed back over the tracks. There was no register on the summit here either.
Signs at the edge of the townsite warn of open pits and other dangers for trespassers. I did indeed come across several large pits on my way up the northeast side, but I managed to keep from falling in. The slopes are steep and tiring, gaining altitude in a hurry above the desert floor. At a saddle I found an old mining road that I followed up and around the south and southeast sides of the summit, spiraling higher as I went. I could see a bank of rain clouds nearing from behind me to the southeast as I ascended, wondering if I'd be able to get up and back before the rain reached Soledad Mountain. Not reaching to the summit, I left the road amidst piles of colorful rock tailings that had been dug from the mountain and scrambled up more steep slopes for the last several hundred feet to the top. The summit is home to a couple of old and probably no longer functioning antennae. A more modern cell tower is located at a lower point to the southwest. A 1932 benchmark is found at the highest point. The views take in much of the western Mojave Desert. A large windmill farm is located to the northwest. The Tehachapi and Southern Sierra mountains stretch out from the southwest to the northwest, but low clouds obscured these almost entirely today. The decent down the steep slopes went swiftly, partly incentized by the approaching rain (it seemed to fizzle out before reaching me, so I stayed dry except for a few sprinkles as I started driving home) and the whole 2.5 mile with 1,400ft of gain took but an hour. I was done before 3p and after a quick shower I headed back over Tehachapi Pass and the Central Valley to San Jose. It was a nice, easy end to an enjoyable 9-day desert trip, a fine way to spend my birthday...
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