Mule Mountain P1K
Little Chuckwalla Mountains HP P750
Paint Mountain P500

Fri, Jan 29, 2016

With: Karl Fieberling
Patrick O'Neill

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPXs: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2 3


It was the second day for the three of us wandering around the Mojave Desert. Not exactly wandering, but not exactly precision-peakbagging either. Karl and Patrick by now were used to my eclectic mix of summit objectives, culled from an almost infinite pool once you eliminate all the obvious choices such as found on the Sierra Club lists. Tom Becht had planned to join us as well, but his Jeep had recently been totaled while parked precariously in front of his house, in plain sight of his recently-licensed neighbor's daughter who used it for stopping her vehicle in lieu of brakes. He'd sent us a picture of the hapless encounter as his way of saying he probably wasn't going to be joining us today.

Mule Mountain

It's not officially named "Mule Mountain", but rather has a benchmark, "MULE MTN" placed by the Army Corp of Engineers at its summit. With more than 1,000ft of prominence, it's also the highest point in the Mule Mtns, a small desert range found south of Interstate 10, about 12mi SW of Blythe. The easiest approach is via Wiley Well Rd (excellent dirt, suitable for any vehicle) and Bradshaw Trail (decent dirt/gravel, high clearance recommended). The latter is not particularly good east of the junction with Wiley Well Rd, but Karl's Element was more than capable. In fact, we were able to utilize a spur OHV road leading north off Bradshaw, getting us within 1.3mi of the summit, almost due south. The roads in the area are not well-marked and somewhat hard to follow, making for much uncertainty each time we chose one fork or another. After starting out on foot we found another spur that we probably could have used to drive even further, but it mattered little. We parked at the edge of a wash where our road grew rougher and hoofed it from there. The peak is obvious from the start and not a difficult climb, taking us just under an hour. We climbed onto what might be termed the South Ridge or South Slopes and went fairly directly to the top, arriving by 8:30a. Once again, Barbara and Gordon had beaten us there, this time by more than three and half decades. Their 1979 register was a bit worn, the pages not holding together very well, its eight pages containing a collection of periodic visitors over the years, some well-known, others not.

Two thirds of a mile to the SE is the range's second highest and second most prominent summit, and normally I would have urged my compatriots to tag this bonus peak as well. But we still had two significant summits in mind, the highpoint of the Little Chuckwalla Mtns and the DPS Chuckwalla Mtn. We didn't make it to the last of these, at it turns out, and in hindsight I wish we'd done the nearby bonus to Mule Mtn, but as I often comment, that just leaves an excuse to come back here again in the future. We descended Mule Mtn nearly to the saddle between it and the bonus peak, aiming for a use trail we could see descending from the saddle down the gully to the south. This use trail looked to be an old mining trail (or maybe just an animal trail) that petered out within about 1/4mi, leaving us to wallow down the wash with some mild brush until it was wide enough to make for easy walking. Without too much trouble, we were back to the car before 10a.

Little Chuckwall Mtns HP

We spent the next hour driving back out to the Bradshaw Trail and then west for some 15mi. The road west of Wiley Well CG was better than the section to the east, but it was still slow going. We followed a spur road for another mile until an abrupt drop into a sandy wash stopped our progress. We might have made it with some grooming of the road, but we were only two miles from our summit at this point and decided not to put the Element through additional abuse.

The unnamed highpoint of this small range is found at the southwest end. It's not the most prominent or best looking peak (that honor goes to Chuckwalla BM) in the range, but it was the highest. On foot, we followed the remainder of the road for it's last mile where it peters out among some small prospects near the Wilderness boundary. Our mountain, looking black from a distance, is a volcanic rubble pile. Along the way we startled a ram with two ewes in tow. They were far enough away that we didn't get much of a look at them before they were out of sight. Half an hour later, I was the first to summit a few moments before the others. I was treated to a larger collection of bighorns, a lamb and four ewes, standing just below the summit on the opposite side, not 20ft away. They didn't stay put for long. In 15 seconds they were already 100yds away when Patrick got to see them, and halfway down the mountain before Karl arrived not 30sec later. In two minutes they descended almost 1,000ft and were already starting up the next mountain to the west - how we envied their ability to cover ground at such speeds.

A summit register had been placed by Wes Shelberg in 1978. Gordon and Barbara were a bit late in getting to this one in 1993, after several other parties had left entries. A flurry of further activity shows up the same decade before tailing off quickly with only three other parties since 2000. Our last peak of the day, Chuckwalla, could be seen 5mi to the west across Graham Pass. Our enthusiasm for this last peak began waning while we sat at the summit and would be severely diminished by the time we returned to the car an hour later.

Paint Mountain

Back at the car we mulled over the plan. Chuckwalla was another 8mi west along Bradshaw Trail. I had already climbed it years ago so I had little interest in repeating it, but I didn't want to discourage the others. That they were pretty wishy-washy about it made the decision to abandon the plan easier. It wasn't yet 2p so it seemed a shame to call it a day. Could we find something on the way back? Our first idea was Chuckwalla BM which Karl seemed keen on. After checking the GPSr and noting the distance (longer than the outing we just did), I suggested it would be better for another day when we have more time since there were interesting bonus peaks around it. I then found Paint Mountain, nothing special, but short and it had a name. Karl liked the sound of it. Patrick seemed game for anything Karl and I agreed to.

Paint Mtn is located off Wileys Well Rd, less than 2mi south of the junction with Bradshaw Trail. We were looking for spur roads while driving south on Wiley Well Rd, noting that a recent grading had left a tall berm on both sides of the road. On the east side of the road where Paint Mtn is located, the ground is unusually flat, made from leveled rocks of a deep brown hue, coated with desert varnish. We noted a sign indicating it was a long-term visitor area and just past this was a nice break in the berm. Apparently it is perfectly legal to drive cross-country almost at whim which is what we did, for almost a mile until we were at the base of the mountain, less than a mile and a half from the summit. Our starting point to the northwest was far from ideal however, though we didn't realize it at the time. The summit is located behind some foreground points with no easy way around them. Only when we were at the summit did we notice a much shorter route from the south via a jeep road that forks off from Wiley Well Rd near the Coon Hollow CG.

Our route proved no great inconvenience, taking us all of 45min to reach the summit going over a few bumps and along a connecting ridgeline. It was the nicest weather of the day and I was happy that we didn't miss out on the "magic hour" before sunset. We found no register, just the usual cairn that seems to mark most desert summits. In addition to the road only half a mile to the south, we noted some trailers and other structures where the Opal Hill Mine is shown on the topo map. We didn't see any activity but the place didn't look abandoned, either. Our return followed the last half of the ascent route before dropping down a gully to the west to avoid the bumps we'd gone over in the beginning. It probably didn't save any time, but gave us a chance to see a little different terrain before returning to the Element by 4:30p.

We returned to the Wiley Well Rest Stop to retrieve our vehicles before driving west on Interstate 10. We stopped again at Chiriaco Summit to eat dinner at the cafe there, learning a little bit about the history of this roadside stop that began around the start of the motor touring age in the 1940s. After dinner we continued east to the Cottonwood Pass Rd where we stopped to spend the night just outside the Joshua Tree park boundary. Our usual spot just west of the pavement was already occupied (how dare they take OUR spot!), but we found another flat area about a quarter mile further west. Our plan for the next day was to hike inside the park in the Eagle Mtns, but tonight would pass quietly under the stars for some needed rest...


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