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It was the fourth day of a marathon driving trip to Utah to finish off the DPS list. I had planned to spend the day driving back from Zion in Utah, but had done some hours of driving the night before - to give me some time today to climb something. I had thought of a variety of options the night before while driving back through Las Vegas, including Wildrose in Death Valley and Pinyon in the Southern Sierra, but these seemed unviable when I started driving again in the morning. I had no maps with me for any peaks in California, save those on my GPS. I recalled Cave Mtn near Baker as a very prominent peak that I'd eyed for years and figured it was as good a time as any to give it a try. Having my copy of Zdon's book would have been a huge help as I struggled to recall anything about how to access the peak. I got off at Basin Rd northeast of the peak (so far so good, according to Zdon), but then tried to drive along the north side of the Interstate along Cronese Lake Rd. This poorly paved road appears to have been washed out some years ago not far from the freeway exit, making it impossible to follow the roads indicated on my GPS. Rats. I got back on the freeway and looked for the next exit south on the Interstate, but it was far past Cave Mtn. Double rats. I gave up on that idea and continued on to Barstow. The correct approach is to drive south on Basin Mtn and then find a side road heading west towards the SW Ridge of Cave Mtn.
In Barstow I stopped at the Starbucks across the street from Barstow Station, the premier McDonald's of Southern California. I hopped online and started looking for other options. I was interested in Saddleback Butte, one of a few LPC peaks I had left to do, but it wasn't exactly along either I-15 or SR58 which would be the logical way to head home. I discovered another road, West Main Street that leaves Barstow to become Shadow Mtn Rd, which eventually heads west towards Saddleback Butte. In addition it goes through the Shadown Mtns and within a short distance of this small desert range's highpoint. Evan had visited the peak and provided a short write up that was more than sufficient to find my way there. My plan was hatched and I packed up and headed out after about 30 minutes.
I drove I-15 to the SR58 junction, taking the latter only until the first exit which was West Main St. I didn't know that this was also old Route 66, so it added an historical flavor to the picturesque drive through faded desert communities left behind years before. At Silver Lakes, a marina-based community out of place in the desert expanse, it was necessary to cross the Mojave River, drive through the small town and pick up Shadow Mtn Rd. West of US395, Shadow Mtn Rd becomes dirt, but quite wide and excellently graded. I could drive nearly 40mph in a low clearance vehicle. There is a very small community in the heart of the Shadow Mtns along this road that has only a handful of current residents. More than half of the homes that once stood here have been abandoned and left to decay, stripped inside and out and looking like something from the apocalypse. I found the side road described by Evan leading towards the highpoint, following this for about a mile (not so good a road, but driveable by 2WD). A 4WD vehicle could probably continue to the summit on a deteriorating roadbed, but I would have to hike the last half mile from where I parked.
Several miles east of the unnamed highpoint is the slightly lower Silver Peak, so I decided to visit both summits when I started off shortly after 9a. It took all of 11 minutes to hike the road to the highpoint where an abandoned communications building occupies the bulldozed summit. The insides have been stripped, the floor littered with debris from vandals. I climbed a ladder on the outside to the flat roof for a better view. One can see the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mtns to the south, but thin haze over the desert limited the clarity of the views. To the east rose Silver Peak behind an intermediate bump on which an active communications tower was situated. It looked like a better peak than the highpoint which I soon left to begin the traverse along the crest.
I did not follow the crest immediately, but returned via the road to near the van, then took another road up towards the tower. An old side road off of this led to the crest where the road faded and a use trail took over. Portions of the area are open to ATVs and motorcycles and I suspected the use trail may have initially been created by cyclists riding along the ridgeline. In any event, it was a welcome find and made the traverse easier and more pleasant. There was a better, unobstructed view of Silver Peak from the ridge before dropping down to the lowest saddle between the two main summits. Here the use trail merged with signed BLM trails. Nearby stood a few lonely joshua trees to enhance the landscape. I found an old mineshaft just east of the saddle, though it was dug only about ten feet deep before it had been abandoned. Silver Peak's summit was only about fifteen minutes from the saddle and by 10a I was atop the second peak. There was clear evidence of more extensive mining operations on the east side of Silver Peak, though I couldn't tell if the operations were still active. All was quiet at the moment.
In addition to a 1933 benchmark, there was a register in a glass jar that dated back only a year. Evan had visited it earlier, so his signature was not to be found. A colony of ants appeared to have released a batch of winged males into the jar where they collected, died and were desiccated. It was first necessary to empty these from the jar before the contents could be perused. In leaving the summit I dropped off the south side down a steep but short ridge to intercept a BLM trail. I used a series of these trails on the south side of the main crest to make my way back to the car in about half an hour.
Returning to Shadow Mtn Road, I drove west, dropping down about 500ft as I made my into the Antelope Valley at the west end of the Mojave Desert. The towns of Lancaster and Palmdale in the northeast corner of Los Angeles County were laid out more than fifty years ago in anticipation of the growing needs of the Southern California population. In a very simple scheme, the roads going east-west are labeled Avenues A through T and the shorter north-south roads are numbered up to 260th Street East at the county boundary and 300th Street West where the valley butts up against the Tehachapi Mountains. Though the towns are sizeable, most of the population growth spread elsewhere to Apple Valley, Santa Clarita, Orange County and elsewhere leaving much of the long roads across Antelope Valley looking vacant and something from a post-nuclear war Mad Max movie. One can drive for miles across the horizon seeing only a few abandoned homes and the occasional desert residents.
Shadow Mtn Road eventually becomes Ave G as one crosses the county line into Los Angeles, continuing as a dirt road initially. Around 240th St E this becomes paved, but with no real town or civilization apparent on the horizon. I drove Ave G until I came to the first paved road heading south at 200th St E, taking this to Ave J and Saddleback Butte State Park. The park was created in 1960 to preserve this granite mountaintop which rises nearly 1,000ft above the desert floor. It is one of a number of such formations in the area, but appears to be the largest. There is a campground at the southwest end of the park and a day-use picnic area in the northwest corner and it was to this that I was driving as I headed west on Ave J. Checking my GPS, I found it listed a second peak within the park, Little Butte, roughly halfway between the picnic area and the highpoint of Saddleback Butte. When I was almost due north of Little Butte I saw an opening in the fence around the park's perimeter and pulled over to make use of it. This would be closer than using the picnic area and the cross-country seemed (and proved to be) trivial.
It was 11:15a when I started out, following the GPS south towards Little Butte. This minor summit is so insignificant that one can't actually make out any sort of summit at all until one is nearly upon it - score another success for the GPS in leading me to it directly. It has maybe 15 feet of prominence, but does sport a rocky summit area with a modest view overlooking the desert around it, and a good vantage point from which to spot Saddleback Butte and the prominent saddle for which the park is named.
I walked to the top, took a picture and started off towards the highpoint to the southeast. I found a trail leading up to Little Butte from the south side which I hadn't known about beforehand. This trail joins the main trail leading to Saddleback Butte (which has one fork leading from the campground and another from the picnic area). The trail was very sandy and somewhat tedious. All of the surrounding terrain was in fact primarily sand, but off-trail it was more compacted and easier to travel. Much use had tilled the ground under the trail making for a sandy trough 3-5 inches thick with loose sand. The trail was periodically marked with wooden 4"x4" stakes painted yellow at the top. I followed it up to the saddle between the highpoint to the north and a lower summit to the south. A small cairn with one of these wooden stakes marked the saddle. Use trails led up to both summits. I followed the one to the highpoint where I arrived at noon, taking all of 45 minutes at a leisurely pace.
I found a 1929 USGS benchmark at the summit but no register. This summit appears to be too popular to support one without the added vandalism. The views (N - E - S - W) were of the western Mojave desert, not particularly outstanding given the relatively low elevation of the peak. It is the only LPC peak in the High Desert region, giving it some uniqueness, though I can't see how the Sierra Club members would find this a worthwhile drive for such a modest summit. A nice little peak if one is in the area however, perhaps on a drive to or from the Eastern Sierra or Death Valley from the Los Angeles area. I headed north off the summit, deciding to head down a cross-country route that was close to a beeline return to the car. As I was descending the slopes towards the desert floor I could see another vehicle, looking like the Highway Patrol, had stopped by my van parked along Ave J. It was gone by the time I returned shortly after 12:30p, no sticker or other note left on the car. Perhaps they were just checking to see that it wasn't abandoned, something that seems might happen somewhat regularly out here in the open desert.
It took something like six hours to finish the drive back to San Jose, getting me home just after sunset. It had been a most enjoyable four days on the road despite the high number of highway miles driven. There may be more of these in the future if I continue to seek out county highpoints in the neighboring states of Arizona, Utah, and Oregon. Good thing I enjoy driving so much...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Shadow Mountains HP - Silver Peak - Saddleback Butte
This page last updated: Tue Nov 1 18:07:13 2011
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