Bighorn Mountains HPS / DS
Meeks Mountain P500 HPS / DS
Black Mountain P300 HPS / DS

Sun, Dec 20, 2009

With: Tom Becht

Bighorn Mountains
Meeks Mountain
Black Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2


On our third day of chasing minor HPS peaks in the San Bernardino Mtns, Tom and I had our sights set on the east side of the range and a handful of unassuming summits. The area is desert, having more resemblance to Joshua Tree and the Mojave than to the more forested parts of the range - little vegetation, hilly and rocky terrain.

Leaving my van in Beaumont, we drove in Tom's car around the south and east sides of the range to the New Dixie Mine Rd off SR247. This dirt road was a tedious, sandy affair that went on for some ten miles but seemed to be much longer. We followed the directions in the HPS guide which were more than sufficient to get us there. Though we had planned to start hiking around sunrise, we underestimated the effort to reach the TH, and it wasn't until well after 7a that we got moving.

First up was Bighorn Mtn at the far northeast corner of the range. Tom managed to drive his Element about a half mile further than the TH described on the HPS site. We found a place to turn the car around and park off the road, in the unlikely event that someone would attempt to drive further up while we were out hiking.

We followed the road that continues northwest in a very straightfoward manner to the summit. At a false summit to the south we turned off the road and investigated the flat, rocky area for a few minutes before realizing we hadn't gone far enough. Returning to the road, we dropped to a shallow saddle and then north to the true highpoint overlooking the Mojave Desert. The summit is a long, flattish ridge without much peak-like resemblence. In all it took just under an hour to cover the 2.5mi at an easy pace. A register found there dated back some years with Frank Goodykoontz's signature among those of a Sierra Club party found on the first page. On the last page could be found Kathy Wing, Evan Rasmussen, and Phil Doggett, among other recognizeable names.

Returning to the car, we drove back out a few miles before taking a fork to the TH for Meeks. This summit is a rounded bump visible to the west, perhaps a mile distant. We had managed to drive about a mile further than the HPS guide which lists this hike at four miles round trip. We followed a jeep road not shown on the topo map until we were at the northeast flank of Meeks, and from there we followed up easy gullies and slopes to the summit, taking half an hour in all. There was a benchmark and register (looking more like a geocache) found when we arrived there at 10a. A small bottle of Yukon Jack was among the treasures found, and we used it to make a toast to the hills while we took in the views.

Looking south, we spotted what we guessed was Black Mtn, next up on our list. It looked to be only a mile to the southeast, easily reached in about an hour's time. This would be significantly faster than driving another two hours to follow the HPS directions for the approach from the south. The HPS guide warns of private property owners that do not want hikers crossing their land and we could see an obvious trailer tucked in a small valley between the two peaks. It looked like we could skirt around this without being seen or otherwise disturbing the residents, but in the end we decided against it. Good thing too, because it was Pt. 6,245ft that we were looking at, not Black Mtn which was another 1.5mi further, with two intervening canyons.

We returned to the car via the same route and then did the two hours of driving we dreaded, back out the New Dixie Mine Rd, south on SR247, then west on Pipes Canyon Rd. The small town of Rimrock is located out at the end of this road, a tiny community that makes Yucca Valley look cosmopolitan. The road leading northwest out of Rimrock is private according to the numerous signs, leaving one with the feeling that the permission to pass is highly tenuous and might possibly be revoked at any moment given the slightest of offenses. Remote homesteads dot the road periodically. Fire had burned over this entire area back in 2006. It is so dry and barren that the fire scars look like they happened only months ago. Very little has grown back in the interrim. Ironically, the feature we were driving up is called Burns Canyon. 4-5 miles NW of Rimrock we turned off the main road and headed north past a few residential outposts, trailers for the most part, old junk cars, dilapidated shacks, lots of refuse piled in the yards. This place was remote and looking quite god-forsaken.

We drove a bit too far and after we turned around and parked to consult our directions more thoroughly, we saw a couple of large white dogs approaching. Oh great, rabid junkyard dogs, I thought to myself. "Hey, you're the dog owner," I offered, "you get out. They won't kill you. You're one of them." A bit afraid, I stayed in the car until Tom had ascertained their complete friendliness - they just wanted someone to play with. After reorienting ourselves, we got back in the car and drove back along the road. The dogs continued following the car as we turned to drive up a steep jeep track and another quarter mile before having to park. They came lumbering up the hill as we got out our gear and made ready to head out.

And so we found ourselves with two additional companions, loving every minute of it. I got the strong impression this wasn't the first time they had tagged along on such an outing. They seemed well versed in hiking with people, staying out from underfoot, half leading, half following, enjoying friendly pats from Tom and I. We did our best to follow the HPS directions to a saddle halfway along the route over generally confusing ground. As the summit is not visible until the saddle is reached, the undulations make disorientation easy. We missed the ducks leading to the saddle (finding them on our way back), but it mattered little. As long as one knows the general direction to head (east), there are many ways this peak could be climbed. There was some snow in the gully we descended east of the saddle, and the dogs lapped at this with their tongues to get a quick sip of refreshment before running off to catch up.

We spent an hour hiking the two miles to the peak, arriving at the broad summit with our new friends in tow. The register dated to 1989, showing evidence of fire that must have swept over the summit some time in the past. From the look of the surrounding terrain, the fire did not appear to have been recent, as the vegetation had mostly regrown. After a short stay, we headed back. By the time we had returned to our car it was almost 2:30p. Our canine companions were reluctant to see us leave, following the car for half a mile before falling back and returning to their domicile.

The last of the four HPS peaks in this region was Chaparrosa, just southwest of Rimrock. The peak was listed as "Suspended" and the road was marked closed due to the fire from 2006. We would leave that one for another day. We drove back out to the highway and back to Beaumont where we'd left my van. Tom said goodbye to me there and drove home to Palos Verde. I found a somewhat secluded location to take a shower before heading west myself. I stopped for dinner and an online connection to send a note to the family. I had planned to hike Buck Point and San Sevine the next day, but the weather report was calling for one day of decent weather before some snow was due to fall. I decided to do Mt. Baldy and others instead, which I had originally planned for the following day. I then headed up Mt. Baldy Rd looking for a place to sleep for the night. I found a wide turnout on the left side of the road just before the firestation at the bottom of the road, and slept there undisturbed for the night.


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