Mon, Feb 9, 2015
|Story||Photos / Slideshow||Maps: 1 2 3||GPXs: 1 2 3||Profiles: 1 2 3|
A dirt road, the continuation of Cinder Rd, goes straight for 3.5mi over mostly flat ground to the base of Sugarloaf before skirting around the south side to the geothermal sites. There was at least one set of tire tracks since it had last rained here perhaps two weeks earlier, suggesting the road is not as abandoned as I had expected (or rather, hoped). This would have me nervous to some degree the whole time I walked the road though in my head I knew the odds of a vehicle coming by were remote. Because the road heads straight for Sugarloaf, there is little doubt from the start just where the peak is, making route-finding trivial. A few worn road signs found about 3mi inside the gate suggest the base size has grown over the years. Where the road makes a bend to the right I simply followed up a steep draw on a fairly direct route towards the summit. I could have followed various forks in the road to reach the summit from the south, but that might have left me more open to detection and would have taken longer, too. Off to the south I spied what looked like the dust cloud of an approaching vehicle. I was high enough up the slope of Sugarloaf to not be too concerned, but I thought I should stay put until it passes. The cloud didn't dissipate nor did it seem to move, and it was only then that I realized this area had some active geothermal plants. The dust cloud was just steam rising from one of the sites. Higher up I found some surprisingly green areas with tufts of grass that would have kept a burro happy for a long time. It was a welcome change to the more drab browns of the desert and I was happy to see the season progressing nicely. A bit more rain and we might have a good year for wildflowers.
Around 8:15a I had reached the summit, home to a some solar-powered gear housed in a shipping container. The summit has been bulldozed flat to about an acre in size with views looking off all sides. All was pretty quiet about the base - I saw no vehicles nor any other activity aside from the geothermal plants. My route back was nearly identical with only a minor deviation in descending from Sugarloaf. I noted the area immediately west of Sugarloaf has a large amount of obsidian, some in larger chunks but most in smaller sizes. One could make a lot of arrowheads out of all this stuff and undoubtedly a lot of Indians have, in days gone by. As I hiked back on the road I would periodically look over my shoulder to make sure no one was coming up on my heels. I'm pretty sure if I'd spotted a vehicle I'd have resigned myself to getting caught - there really isn't much room to hide behind a creosote bush. The return to the fence ended without incidence and I was happy to find myself once again on BLM land outside the gate. It wasn't yet 10a, plenty of time yet left in the day.
Most of the area around Sugarloaf and Cactus shows evidence of extensive volcanism, in fact both peaks are large, remnant cinder cones among a host of smaller, nearby ones. I planned my route to and from Cactus to pass over a small handful of these bonus peaks as they were not much out of the way. I headed north from the gate station then northeast as I made my way generally towards Cactus but first passing over Peak 5,379ft. I wasn't exactly sure where this was as I didn't have it identified on the GPS, but after climbing to Pt. 5,002ft I realized it must be the next higher summit about 3/4mi further to the NE. I went up and over Peak 5,379ft, dropping down the NE side to an old road between it and Peak 5,310ft. This old, sandy road led east directly towards cactus, blocked by the base boundary fenceline that I soon encountered. From the summit of Peak 5,379ft I had seen a silver trailer parked just west of Cactus Peak at a saddle with what looked like some base activity further to the north of Cactus. All of this turned out to be old, abandoned equipment but at the time I didn't realize this and skirted south to avoid the silver trailer.
The highpoint of Cactus is not so obvious as it is on Sugarloaf, with four points having a closed 5,400-foot contour. I headed first to the southernmost one where I knew there were the remnants of a building. Little remained other than the foundation, some pipes and a benchmark. Lower was the rusting hull of a trailer with a small observatory-like structure on an adjacent, lower point. The extent of the geothermal development to the south was more evident from Cactus than it had been from Sugarloaf. It must be an interesting arrangement that allows commercial development on military property. How does the government determine the value to US taxpayers of such an enterprise? Somehow I doubt the taxpayers get much out of it. Turning north, I made my way down and through the rock jumble that defines the summit crater area, a tedious mess that is mercifully short, taking about 15min. The two closely-spaced north summits proved to be about equal in height and 10-15ft higher than the south summit. No register was found at any of the locations.
From the north summits I could see that what I had been concerned about to the north was just an old storage site where decades-old equipment has been parked away and forgotten. Not seeing any vehicle near the shiny silver trailer to the west, I guessed it was abandoned, too, or at least not currently occupied. I dropped directly down the west side of Cactus in order to pay it a visit. The finding was pretty mundane. The trailer appears to have been used as a two-man office back in the 1960s or 70s. The most interesting find was a stash of old Ray-O-Vac batteries left in one of the drawers. I was kinda hoping for something a little more exciting, like a Cold War relic, live rounds, or something. Not today.
I continued west from the trailer, climbing to the summit of the second bonus, Peak 5,310ft. There was nothing of much interest found at the top but upon descending its west side I found a fun bit of class 3 scrambling down a collection of large granite boulders that featured a neat little tunnel crawl (entirely unnecessary, btw). Somewhere down the west side of this bonus peak I should have encountered the base boundary again, but there was no such fenceline in sight. This was the first time I'd found a gap in what I thought was a continuous fence on the west side of the base. Evidently there are some gaps where they least expected to find vehicles or people. The last bonus, Peak 5,130ft is located about a mile WSW of Peak 5,310ft. I went up its east side and down the south side which was more or less in line with where I'd left the van. I was back by 2:30p, taking a little over four hours to cover about 7.5mi.
After showering, I still had some driving to do, taking me east on SR190 to Darwin and then south through town onto the dirt/sand Ophir Rd. I had some trouble locating the road leaving Darwin, trying various streets before hitting upon the correct exit point. I was a little worried that my back and forth driving with headlamps ablaze would draw the attention of the Darwin residents, but no one came out to greet me with shotgun in hand or otherwise. I found Ophir Rd to be in excellent condition and was able to drive east of the Darwin East Gate where I planned to start hiking the next day. I was pretty darn far from civilization at this point with only a single light evident some 10mi to the south and a shockingly bright array of stars overhead. I would sleep well tonight...
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