Today was a grab bag of various summits in Imperial County, including Wilderness highpoints and below sea level summits at the edge of the Salton Sea. Some were rather short, others of medium length, none very difficult, but the collection kept me busy from sunrise to sunset.

Algodones Dunes Wilderness HP

These are some of the flatest dunes in the state, found along SR78 east of the Salton Sea. The north side of the highway is Wilderness, but the south side is designated as the Imperial Dunes Recreation Area and appears to be a popular OHV area. Walking about a mile through dunes is usually enough for me, but the highpoint was more than 2.5mi from the highway and I would tire of the sand well before I ever reached the highpoint. I was amused by one TR on PB that described tagging all three contour points shown on the topo that could be the highpoint. In reality, the dunes don't match the topo very well as they shift from year to year with the winds and weather. I think the best one can do is hike out to the highpoint coordinate, climb the biggest dune and look for others around. This worked nicely and I seemed to find myself on the highest dune of those I could see for at least a mile around me. Good enough. The most interesting find were some type of mushroom/fungus growing in the sand, some 1-3" across with stems going down six inches or more into the sand. How these manage to grow here with so little water is a bit of a mystery, but they were fairly common as I came across dozens of specimens on my walk to the highpoint and back.

Salton Sea - Red Hill/Red Island/Rock Hill/Obsidian Butte

After having climbed the below sea level summits in Death Valley earlier in the season, I wanted to complete the collection with those at the edge of the Salton Sea. Google Maps does a good job of getting one to the three different starting points. Red Hill/Red Island are two bumps at the same location. Though part of the Red Hill Marina County Park, both are signed for No Trespassing, though it's not clear why. This sad little park looks to be dying as the water's edge has moved away from the "marina" with the shrinking sea. Red Hill has a small rock outcrop just outside a fenced water tank. Red Island (this probably WAS an island years ago, but no longer) overlooks the beach and several geothermal plants operating in the area. Lots of debris and crap around, which makes for a pretty sad set of summits.

Rock Hill is the nicest of the collection. You have to park at the Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge and walk about a mile to the summit. No fees, and there are trail signs directing you to the way along the outskirts of the bird sanctuary. The trail goes almost to the summit, though the highpoint is signed for Area Closed. A use trail leading from the wooden fence suggests it is regularly disregarded. Nice views looking up and down the shoreline as well as east to the bird sanctuary.

Obsidian Butte is virtually a drive-up, in fact would be with a beefy 4WD. I parked just below and walked the short distance up to the top. It looks to have been quarried in the past and the place looks rather sad. I didn't see much obsidian here (Mark McCormick says you can find it on the north side), but I did see quite a bit at Rock Hill earlier.

Sunrise Butte

This was a freebie on the north side of SR98 on my way to the next summit. Someone once had an eclectic homestead on the south side of the summit, now mostly demolished. Fences surround the place including the summit, but they are easy to breach and have been done so by many a visitor. The summit has a platform erected atop it with steel stairs leading up and a large cross in the center with Christmas lights on it that used to be powered by a battery. The platform overlooks the badlands of the Yuha Desert to the north as well as SR98.

Jacumba Wilderness Prominence Point

Some old paved BLM roads lead off SR98 to get you within 1.5mi of the summit which lies in the southeast corner of the Wilderness less than half a mile from the Mexican border. White Border Patrol trucks are a common sight on the roads all along the border, as one might imagine. I drove in and started hiking across the desert towards the mountain without having seen anyone since I left the highway. After about 15min I happen to look back and see a white truck. Ah - there's one now. I looked some more and spotted the border agent in his dark green uniform hiking towards me, waving. I could have just kept going as there was no way he was going to catch up, but I decided to help the poor fellow out and walked back to meet him. Officer Alvarez was a bit portly and sweating pretty good. I suspect someone spied me from a distance and he was the nearest grunt sent to investigate. He asked if I was out hiking and for how long, though really he just wanted to make sure I wasn't a foreign national or a good samartan helping out the aliens. Satisfied that I was neither, we parted and I continued on my way. I climbed the East Ridge more or less directly to the summit, taking an hour for the 1,300-foot climb, a standard class 2 desert ascent. The view south is almost entirely within Mexico, with some impressively high summits in the background - does anyone climb those? Mark Adrian of the San Diego's Monday Maniacs had left a register here in 1998 and most of the 10 pages were return trips by the Maniacs, most often led by John Strauch. I dropped off the next minor ridge to the north of my ascent line, eventually ending up in a colorful wash with some modestly fun scrambling. Judging by the discarded trash and a fresh cache of water, it seems the wash is at least periodically used by folks crossing into the US. While crossing back over the desert flats to the van, I noted the fresh tracks from the truck that came to visit me cutting through the Wilderness boundary. It doesn't seem the Border Patrol cares too much for Wilderness regulations. All in the name of keeping us free from those criminals and drug cartels my President keeps telling me about.

Coyote Mountains Wilderness HP

The highpoint of the Coyote Mtns is Carrizo Mtn, a peak I climbed some years before. The Wilderness area carves out Carrizo Mtn, leaving two other points of interest, the Wilderness HP and the Wilderness PP (prominence point) which I was after. It was almost 4:45p by the time I'd driven through Ocotillo to the south side of the range and I wasn't sure if I'd be able to get to both of them in one go. I found the BLM road leading into Fossil Canyon to be pretty decent and got the van within a few miles of the Wilderness HP. Rather than hike the road further into Fossil Canyon which would be a bit circuitous, I headed directly up from the van. This started off looking pretty iffy and I thought I was going to get lost in the convoluted twists of ridges and gullies in the badlands at the base of the mountain. But once I came upon a decent use trail, I was able to follow it up to the first prominent ridge seen from below, avoiding unnecessary ups ands downs. At this first ridge, one can finally view the highpoint 4/5mi further north across a wide drainage. Fortunately, this drainage isn't very deep and I only had to lose about 100ft of elevation before starting up the SW Ridge to the highpoint. All class 2 once I left the use trail, nothing difficult but no good scrambling, either. It had taken a bit over an hour and the sun was getting noticeably lower in the sky. John Vitz had left a register here in 2013 with three other pages of entries, most of the names from the usual suspects. The Wilderness PP was another 2mi to the west and it was clear I'd get back well after dark if I went after it. I decided to save it for the first thing next morning when I was fresh. It wasn't the nighttime I was worried about really, mostly I was just too tired by now. Time to head down.

My return went pretty much along the same lines as the ascent, getting me back just before sunset around 6:45p. I moved the van only a short distance up Fossil Canyon Rd to a wide, flat clearing where I could spend the night. Shower, beer, dinner, in that order - roughly corresponding to their order of desireability after a long, warm day...


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