Bell Mountain P750
Little Bell Mountain P500
Catholic Hill P500
Pioneer Mountain
Bass Hill
Dead 2 BM P750
Peak 3,808ft P500
Chimney Rock
White Horse Mountain P750
Means BM P750

Jan 26, 2016
Chimney Rock
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 5 GPXs: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Profiles: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7


Alone for a second day of a desert road trip, I found myself camped at a shallow saddle on the SE side of Bell Mtn, a few miles NE of the town of Apple Valley. Today's selection of peaks were somewhat more substantial than the previous day's and consequently the count would be lower, but they were still far easier than the standard fare as none of them had summits that were more than a mile and a half from where I started. All but one of the peaks were in Apple Valley or nearby Lucerne Valley, not far from the paved highways (SR18 & SR247) that connect Victorville with Yucca Valley along the north side of the San Bernardino Mtns.

Bell Mtn / Little Bell Mtn

Located west of the Apple Valley airport and NE of town, a good dirt OHV road leads west from paved Dale Evans Pkwy over a saddle between the two isolated peaks. Camped here for the night, I was surprised to find a motorcyclist driving by around 11pm, headlamp ablaze. Cold and dark appear to be no deterrent for the hardier enthusiasts. I climbed Bell first, directly from where I'd spent the night at the saddle SW of the summit. Upon reach the South Ridge near the top, I discovered an informal trail that has seen some modest efforts to maintain it. I followed this on the way down, finding it starts at the end of a spur road on the south side - it probably offers the easiest way to the summit. The summit features an iron memorial cross and American flag that can be seen from the roadways below. The lower Little Bell Mtn is found about 1.4mi SW of Bell Mtn. After descending the trail from Bell Mtn, I simply headed cross-country over the desert floor to the second summit, climbing it from the NE. The summit offers a fine view to the south of the Apple Valley sprawl framed by the snowy San Bernardino Mtns in the background. Roundtrip for the two summits was about an hour and a half.

Catholic Hill

It is found just over a mile south of Little Bell Mtn with paved Corwin Rd runing over the saddle between the two. I found parking on the road's south shoulder and climbed up the hill's NW side. A tattered flag and a Pray for America sign were found at the top. The sprawl is slowly enveloping this small summit, already abutting it on the southeast side and eventually to the west as well.

Pioneer Mountain / Bass Hill

These two closely-spaced hills are found in the heart of Apple Valley, immediately south of the exciting Apple Valley Mall and Civic Center at the junction of SR18 and Dale Evans Pkwy. Shop at Walmart, get married in a civil ceremony and file a police report all in the same trip. The hills appear to be a favorite local hike despite being on private property - nobody seems to be minding the foot traffic to both hills. Starting point is off the frontage road on the south side of SR18, just south of the Apple Valley Inn. Once owned by Roy Rogers (married to Dale Evans, incidently) and visited by numerous celebrities in its heydey during the 1950s and 60s, it has since fallen on hard times (more info here). Recent efforts to convert it to retail space appear to be having very limited success. Parking appears to be informal off the frontage road. Pioneer is the easier and lower of the two summits. Two water tanks sit atop it, the highpoint found just beind the tanks in a jumble of granite boulders. The APPLE benchmark can be found here along with low-level views overlooking the city. To the northwest is the more interesting Bass Hill. Newt Bass was the original developer of Apple Valley who stayed with the community as it grew. The Apple Valley Inn was his creation back in 1948, eventually selling it to Roy Rogers in 1964. Newt also built an impressive, modernistic mansion atop Bass Hill called Hilltop House. The summit rocks were actually incorporated into the living space and the home included an indoor/outdoor pool with much glass for viewing the surrounding desert landscape and dazzling nighttime stars (read more about it here). The home has fallen into serious disrepair, having been virtually gutted of everything of value except for the view. The economic boom and bust cycles of desert roll on. A handful of others were walking about the property when I visited - again, it seems to be common practice to trespass on the property for one's morning workout. It took but 30min to visit both summits.

Dead 2 BM

The Granite Mtns can be found bordering the east side of Apple Valley. Dead 2 BM is the highpoint of a standalone peak separated from the main body of the range. It is found just north of SR18 and can be accessed from several directions. I had planned to use paved Yucca Loma Rd on the north side which leads to a gated dump yard (same road I used for the higher Feldspar BM a few years earlier), but upon the approach along SR18 I decided to climb it from the west, starting off dirt Mustang Ave. It took 30min to climb to the summit up steep, rocky slopes. A badly battered benchmark is found at the top. Granite boulders in the gully I descended offered some easy, fun class 3 scrambling.

Peak 3,808ft / Chimney Rock

Located in the SE corner of the Granite Mtns, north of SR18 and east of dry Rabbit Lake, Chimney Rock is by far the most interesting of the day's peaks. The massive granite outcrop is located on public lands, but getting to it is not obvious. I used an access road leading to a shooting range run but the Lucerne Valley Lions Club, but that requires trespassing as I came to find. The range abutts the west side of Peak 3,808ft and the slopes I climbed to the unnamed peak are part of the shooting range. The range is open to the public on weekends, members-only during the week. There were some shots being fired when I parked and started up, but all shooting stopped soon thereafter. I should have been suspicious of the big, blue, fiberglass bear located halfway up the draw I ascended - a target for cannon fire, it turns out. I had bypassed it without a close inspection and had just assumed it was some sort of trash that had been discarded on the hillside. After reaching the nondescript summit of Peak 3,808ft, I followed the ridgeline to the northwest towards Chimney Rock about a mile away.

Chimney Rock is impressive, even from the backside by which I approached it, having no easy way up. A rock-lined trail has been constructed coming up from the road below to the west along Rabbit Lake. From the saddle on the backside where the trail ends, there are at least two ways to reach the summit. On the ascent I followed a ledge system around the south side to climb it up from the easier west side. The more interesting route goes directly up from the saddle to the summit, a fun bit of class 3-4 scrambling that I used on the descent. There are undoubtedly other scrambling routes as well - directly up from the west looked promising as did variations on the south side. I followed the trail down past several ridiculously large cairns to a dirt road which I then followed around the base of Peak 3,808ft at the edge of the shooting range. Here I met an older couple working the range. The woman was sitting in a chair watching her husband move rock and dirt around with a small bobcat. She called me over when she spotted me and the three of us had a nice conversation. They explained the extent of the shooting range's property and why I shouldn't have gone the way I did. The correct way to access Chimney Rock is via the dirt road that leads from the west around the north side of Rabbit Lake. It can be accessed from SR18 where some transmission lines run over the highway, a place called Fifteenmile Point on the topo map. I handed them a large lead ball I had picked up going around the shooting range, the size of a small orange. The gentleman was excited to see this. They occasionally do Civil War reenactments and shoot off live cannon rounds into the hills. The cannon bores have been narrowed to allow shooting of smaller projectiles, one of which I had found. Try as he might, he said he'd never been able to recover one of the cannonballs after shooting them, as they blend in too easily with the rocky terrain. I left them with my souvenier as we parted on the best of terms.

White Horse Mtn

White Horse Mtn is found on the east side of the Granite Mtns, just west of SR247 and northwest of dry Lucerne Lake. Almost separated from the main body of the range, it is connected on the west side by a saddle nearly 900ft below its summit (prominence of 888ft). I found a dirt road on its east side off SR247 leading to an old gravel pit that I used to get within about a mile and a quarter of the summit. I climbed some 1,500ft directly up the east side to reach the top in something under an hour. The LUCERNE benchmark from 1928 is found at the summit, but little else. Nice views looking into the Granite Mtns and east over Lucerne Valley.

Means BM

25mi to the east is Johnson Valley and Means dry lake, a large OHV area on BLM lands. Means Lake is home each winter to the King of the Hammers off-road racing extravaganza. In fact, the week-long racing venue was scheduled to start in a few days and already the lakebed was starting to fill with RVs, OHVs and trucks bringing in everything needed for a small city. It's the OHVers' equivalent of the drug crowd's Burning Man. The main event features incredibly expensive, super-charged OHVs capable of combining fearsome rock-crawling skills with 100mph sprints across the desert flats. This video gives you some idea of what goes on here. I came to climb to the top of Means BM, just west of Means Lake. It took about 30min up the south side from where I parked off the main road into Means Lake, Boone Rd. On my way down from the summit I followed one of the more difficult OHV routes in the area, a horrendous gully with huge boulders that I would have guessed was impossible for any vehicle. Tire tracks told another story. Not the sort of place for desert tortoises to call home. Sunset came as I was on the summit overlooking Johnson Valley, some jogging got me back in half an hour by the more circuitous return route as darkness was starting to envelope the landscape. The earlier breezes had subsided to a dead calm which made my evening shower quite pleasant. Eventually I got back to the highway continuing southeast to find a place to spend the night...


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