Fry BM P500
Fry Mountain
Peak 4,137ft P300
Peak 4,041ft P300
Negro Butte
Pickaninny Buttes
Strawberry Peak
Peterman Hill P300

Dec 9, 2014
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 GPXs: 1 2 3 4 5 Profiles: 1 2


Fry Mountains

I was disappointed that we were unable to drive into Upper Johnson Valley for the pair of range highpoints Bob Sumner and I had planned for the day. It seems somewhere around 2011 the Marine base was extended west into Upper Johnson Valley, heavily signed for Keep Out at the new border about 4.5mi north of Soggy Lake (dry). We didn't find this out until we drove in the previous afternoon. Bob had gotten up early today, sometime before 5a, to drive homewards, leaving me alone when I awoke before sunrise. I decided since I'd put my van through the pain of driving into the area I'd check out some of the summits in a cluster of hills north of Soggy Lake. I had little at all on them, but they looked to have some prominence (though I knew less than 900ft) and would be a nice way to spend the morning. Using headlights, I drove the van across Soggy Lake and then some, about 2mi total to put me about 2.5mi SSE of the highpoint in this group of hills. It was about as far as I could safely drive given recent rains and somewhat soft conditions I found on the unmaintained road north and west of Soggy Lake. Water puddles added to my nervousness and I was happy to find a solid clearing to turn around, park, and start hiking. I made a 7.5mi loop around this southern extension of the Fry Mountains. My GPS identified a point northeast of the highpoint as Fry Mountain, so it seems at least one of several summits had a name. Oddly, it wasn't the highest point in the area. That claim belonged to Fry BM, about 400ft higher, and it was to this that I headed first (the highpoint of the range is some 9mi further north with much shorter access off Camp Rock Rd and slightly less prominence).

Having driven across the lake in the dark, it was still 30min before sunrise when I started hiking across the desert with just enough light to forgo a headlamp. I followed the gently rising floor of Fry Valley on the south side of the range for about a mile and a half before starting up the mountain proper. Sunrise painted the desert a very pleasant orange overlooking Cougar Buttes and Lucerne Valley further west. Fry BM was painted in similar color with vivid constrast when it came into view as I crested a rise. 20min later, about an hour after starting out, I reached the highpoint on the west end of the range. A battered and broken benchmark from 1955 was found at the top along with a register with very brittle pages from a notebook, most of which had fallen loose from the binding. These went back as far as 1981, the oldest entry from a Caltrans surveyor. Looking east into the sun, I could trace out the ridgeline I thought I would follow back across the range with one or possibly two other points exceeding 300ft of prominence. Oddly, the point marked "Fry Mountain" on the GPS (and also on the 7.5' topo map) is but a bump along the ESE Ridge extending down from Fry BM, with hardly 50ft of prominence. I have to believe the label was mislocated on the maps and in the USGS database (the USGS/GNIS database also has it at this odd location). In any event, it was an enjoyable traverse across the connecting ridgeline over the Fry Mountain location and then continuing to the two unnamed points further east. The first of these was the more interesting. It has a slabby summit that is class 3 from the northwest (the ascent route) and easier class 2 from the SE (descent route). The second unnamed summit is lower and easier but has a nice view overlooking Soggy Lake to the south. Neither of these had registers.

It had rained more than a few drops in this area a week earlier, the wettest part of the desert I had visited on this six-day trip. Karl Fieberling, joining me on day 2, had commented that we might be in time to see the desert start to bloom. I laughed it off as a bit too premature, but Karl was of the mind that it happens fairly quickly. We saw nothing over the next few days and forgot about it. As I was descending from Peak 4,041ft back down towards the desert, my eye caught the tiny green sparks of new desert life amongst the rocky soil. They were very tiny but unmistakeable, and once noticed it was apparent that the new sprouts were coming up all over. Another week and the ground might have a colorful new tint to it. I got back to the desert floor and my car around 9:30a, finishing up a surprisingly fun little jaunt. I drove back across Soggy Lake and then out to SR247. The rest of the day was taken up with a handful of named summits, all easy, off to one side of SR247 or the other.

Negro Butte

I was surprised to see this one still in the USGS database. All of the placenames with "Nigger" were changed to "Negro" many years ago, and most of these in turn were changed to "Black" or some altogether different name 40-50yrs ago. This is one of 12 such placenames still remaining in California. It stands out in this part of the desert because of it's blackish color, contrasting with the lighter brown colors of its surroundings. It is found along with Cougar Buttes north of SR247 between Lucerne and Fry Valleys. Santa Fe Fire Rd is a good dirt/sand road heading due north from the highway to service scattered homesites here. I parked at the northern terminus of this road (high clearance can drive further) just over a mile from the summit. The hiking is easy across open desert flats. Those areas that aren't private homesteads are part of the BLM Open Area. The summit rises less than 300ft above the desert floor. The most interesting part of this hike is a compound of sorts found on the SW side of Negro Butte. This large encampment of trailers, shacks and a few buildings looks like the perfect home for a fanatical cult. It has a shooting range set up on the flanks of Negro Butte and an entrance road lined with hundreds of empty champagne bottles. While it looks like it could provide quarters for 15-20 families, I didn't see a single person moving about when I walked by both coming and going. There were several serviceable vehicles about the place and other signs to suggest it's still occupied, but I suspect most of the trailers are empty and only a few residents could be found if one went looking for them.

Pickaninny Buttes

This term is also considered derogatory these days, referring to children of color (not necessarily black, but usually so). It was given to a pair of tiny desert bumps rising above the flats of Lucerne Valley, about 2mi NW of the junction of SR247 and Camp Rock Rd. Paved Rabbit Springs Rd off Camp Rock Rd can be used to get within a third of a mile. Homes between the peak and road are only a mild hindrance - a vacant lot to the west can be used to reach the buttes without crossing fences or violating No Trespassing signs. The views are rather inconsquential and hardly worth the effort - they have but 80ft of prominence.

Strawberry Peak

This small peak lies at the southern tip of the Granite Mtns which divide Apple and Lucerne Valleys. It can easily be reached from Rabbit Springs Rd just north of SR18. A homeowner living at the base of the peak on the south side has installed a 20-foot "tree" made of aluminum poles strung with Christmas lights. An extension cord runs almost 300 vertical feet from the summit down to his home. I climbed from the north side through an empty stretch of property off Rabbit Springs Rd. An ignorant but well-intentioned visitor used a spray can to paint entirely unnecessary red arrows to direct folks up and down this class 2 summit. Such are the hazards of being too accessible.

Peterman Hill

This small hill is located just north of dry Lucerne Lake and west of SR247 after it turns north from Lucerne Valley heading to Barstow. I used a buried gasline road on the south side to access it from that direction, but it is easy to climb directy from SR247 as well. The summit features two crosses - the larger white one is located on an adjacent, lower summit. It appears to have come from a defunct church. Equipped with lights behind translucent panels, it is no longer illuminated as it has no power source. This would require a really long extension cord to reach the nearest house. A second, smaller wooden cross is found at the highpoint, a memorial left by a grieving friend or relative. The summit has a good view overlooking Lucerne Lake and Valley. It was almost 1p by the time I finished with the last of these minor peaks. I had a seven hour drive to return home to San Jose and thought it a good time to close the book on this roadtrip. Until next time...

comments on 12/18/14:
Bob, I'm surprised after all this time, you still drive that van. So many times, like this day, you comment that you have to stop sooner rather than later due to road conditions. I would think a guy like you would have a 4wd vehicle that is still comfy to sleep in and watch your movies....
Yeah, I wonder that myself. I'll run the van into the ground then upgrade on the next go-around.
Anonymous comments on 12/18/14:
then again, 4WD simply increases the distance from a decent road that you get stuck...
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