Etymology Story

This was the start of a 16 day desert roadtrip centered around my birthday in early December. The weather in California had turned rainy, so a good time to be heading to drier areas. I had to drive through quite a bit of rain going over Pecheco Pass and Tehachapi Pass, but by the time I got to the Mojave Desert the rain was done for the time being. There were still lots of clouds over the desert areas and temperatures were quite chilly. My last gas and food stop was in Barstow, then I was off to do some peakbagging.

Mineral Hill

I hadn't left San Jose until noon, so it was quite dark as I was leaving Barstow - not really any time for peakbagging as usual. I drove up Interstate 15 towards Vegas, getting off on Bailey Rd at the top of Mountain Pass. I decided to spend the night atop Mineral Hill, a drive-up, about 5mi of mostly good dirt roads that become rougher for the last several miles. The open summit had a fine view of Primm, NV and the lights of I-15 to the northeast, the winds outside howling fiercely. It was probably blowing 40-50mph, not quite strong enough to knock me over when I went outside to pee, but staying upright was quite a challenge. The noise was ferocious through most of the night with the jeep rocking in step, but I managed to sleep quite well (perhaps smug in knowing I didn't have to worry about my tent blowing away) and it had diminished significantly by morning. When I awoke sometime after 6a I found myself enveloped in clouds with nary a view. Oh well, the nighttime one was pretty good.

Coyote Peak

Though little more than a mile east of Mineral Hill, the easiest way to reach Coyote Peak is not from Mineral Hill, given the 800ft+ drop between them. I drove back down to I-15, got off at the Nipton exit, and got myself to within 1.5mi of the summit on the north side using a powerline road. My ascent route was a bit out of the way because I made the mistake of navigating towards Mineral Hill on my GPSr, and I was some distance up the wrong drainage before realizing my mistake. Sigh. Even with a GPSr I can get myself lost. And I couldn't even blame the weather because there were no clouds on Coyote Peak. It made for a nice climb with views overlooking the immense Ivanpah Valley, including the array of solar farms on the north side of I-15. My return was more direct, no GPSr needed.

Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness HP

Back at the jeep, I continued east through Nipton, an interesting little town masquerading as an historic site but really just a kitchy tourist stop. Ten miles futher, one goes through a pass separating the McCullough Range from the New York Mtns. On the east side of the pass is Piute Valley and the Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness. Its highpoint is a very short hike off the approach drive to Highland Mtns, less than a quarter mile. One has to weave through the Joshua Tree forest (there are a LOT of Joshua Trees here!) to reach the small rounded bump that forms the highpoint. It's not very high, so views aren't appreciably better than one can get from the road. John Vitz left a register in 2012 with only a few pages of entries. Of course Laura Newman HAD tovbe the last one to visit before I arrived. Curses!

Highland Mountain

Piute Valley separates the McCullough Range to the west from the Highland Range to the east. The latter is a rather diminutive range compared to McCullough and only half as long, but it does sport some rugged-looking peaks with lots of interesting objectives. Unfortunately, the range highpoint isn't really one of them. The trickiest part was the drive in, intially following a powerline road that almost any car could drive, but then the last two miles get rougher as it follows up a wash with some large rocks and encroaching brush as it makes its way to a spring and an old corral. I parked just before the corral as the road seemed to get no better and I could do just as well by walking. I did get far enough up the road that my roundtrip was less than 2mi with less than 700ft of gain. There is lots of rusting trash littering the area and old rubber irrigation hoses strewn about the drainages. The SE Ridge I followed had some modest class 3 scrambling and the summit held a Barbara/Gordon register from 1993. This one was fairly busy with 12 pages of entries, most recently by Ron Moe back in February. I descended back down an alternate route via the Southwest Face, a somewhat loose bit of rubble before I eventually reached the wash and an easy walk back down to the jeep.

Talus Mound/Salt & Pepper Mountain

Back to the pavement, I continued east through Searchlight, NV and into the Lake Mead NRA, nearly to the Colorado River. I was after a P1K, Salt & Pepper, one of a number of peaks in the area found in Purcell's Rambles & Scrambles. The peaks are almost all of the rugged variety, particularly nearby Copper Mtn (both east and west summits) and Salt & Pepper. Signs in the area recommend 4x4 vehicles only off the pavement, but the dirt/gravel roads were in excellent condition and I probably could have driven the van on them. I parked less than a mile south of Salt & Pepper, southwest from its neighbor, Talus Mound. This latter is really a misleading name - it's not so much talus as volcanic boulders, not loose and plentiful enough to be annoying, but enough that one needs to go slower. I went to Talus Mound's summit first, taking in the nice scenery that includes a long stretch of the Colorado River to the east, emptying into Lake Mohave far to the southeast. Once at the summit, I turned northwest and made my way up to the much higher Salt & Pepper (one would guess the name comes from a collection of white and black rocks, but I didn't really notice such, mostly dark brown desert varnished volcanic rock). This had some class 3 scrambling, though it could easily have been avoided by moving to the right off the ridgeline. Vitz had left a register at this summit as well, this time in 2007. There were only a few pages of entries over the past 11yrs, almost all of the names from the usual suspects with one large party from the LVMC. I descended to the southwest down steep, rubbly slopes, moving carefully as I dropped through the prominent red rock band on that side of the mountain.

I finished up around 3:30p with almost an hour of daylight remaining. I considered climbing one of the other nearby summits before calling it a day, but decided I'd rather have my lukewarm shower while the sun was out rather than wait for it to become a cold shower in the dark. I've got quite a few more days to go on this road trip, so no need to pack it all in on the first day...


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