Fri, Dec 2, 2016
Sands BM is a P1K in the Bristol Mountains found in the heart of the Kelso Dunes Wilderness. With no easy way to get to it, the approach involves a very long drive on sandy roads, almost 30mi from Ludlow off Interstate 40. There may be others ways to reach it, possibly shorter, but the roads looked to be more questionable. I'd been eyeing this peak for a number of years now and finally got an opportunity to do so with an appropriate vehicle. Patrick's Grand Cherokee was enlisted for the job, and made for a remarkably comfortable ride. Heading north out of Ludlow, Crucero Rd was in pretty good shape and fairly fast. We took the shortcut across Broadwell Lake, kicking up a cloud of dust in our wake, but otherwise an easy crossing. When we reached the powerlines past the dry lakebed we turned northeast to follow this lesser road, but still in decent shape. Three sets of parallel transmission lines make their way across the desert landscape, the single road acting to service all three with numerous spurs heading off to the various towers. The powerline road eventually led us to the Union Pacifc railroad tracks that head southeast along Kelso Wash. The BLM road is in poor condition here and seems to see little traffic. Luckily there is a service road on the south side of the tracks that is pretty good, though it may not be entirely legal (we didn't see any No Trespassing signs, so we weren't too worried). While plying the roadway here, Patrick suddenly stopped, saying he needed to make espresso. For some reason, we didn't ask why he needed to make it, probably because we were more impressed that he actually could make it. He pulled out a little case with a small, 12V espresso maker that made a shot of espresso in about two minutes. Our stop was near the old Sands depot, a watering stop back in the day of steam engines, now just an old tank alongside the tracks and little else. Once properly caffeinated, Patrick continued driving along the railroad service road until we were about 4mi from Sands BM, as close as one can drive without actually driving into the Wilderness area. We parked next to a line of drought-tolerant trees that the Union Pacific planted as a windbreak on both sides of the tracks, probably to keep blowing sand off. We were intrigued that along the row of trees followed a set of sprinklers used to water them periodically. Evidence at one of them showed recent, although probably not regular usage. How they get the water to the sprinklers wasn't clear, but Patrick speculated they probably bring it in on a tanker along the tracks and periodically stop to pump it into a section of sprinklers. The things one finds in the desert...
The hike was fun and interesting, though more usual than otherwise for a desert peak. The first 2.5mi was across the flats rising slowly up from Kelso Wash, then some hiking in a sandy gully emanating from the side of the mountain, and finally a steep climb on the upper face, landing us almost directly at the highpoint. We found the remains of an old wooden survey tower probably erected when the benchmark was placed in 1965. The corroded remains of batteries and a lamp that at least temporarily adorned the tower were scattered about the summit rocks. Mark Adrian had left a register in 1999 that had 4-5 other parties visiting since then, John Vitz the only name I recognized among them. To the west could be seen a large cairn about 1/4mi away on the slightly lower south summit. After relaxing on the summit and giving Patrick sufficient time to refuel, I talked them into visiting bonus Peak 3,228ft, a little more than a mile to the east. On the way, we stopped at the south summit to see if the cairn held another register or anything special but found nothing. We spent about an hour and a half getting between the two summits, a somewhat slow effort due to the terrain but still interesting. Karl found a large bighorn skull complete with two full-curl horns that we photographed before leaving it on a more prominent rock for display rather than the half-buried condition he'd found it in the sand. The second summit held no register. The wind, which had been pretty strong for most of the hike, chilled us more quickly at this second summit, forcing us to leave sooner. We descended the steep face to the northwest, dropping us down to the flatter washes that we used to get us back to our vehicle by 4p, about half an hour before sunset. It was a quiet, but delightful walk across the desert on the way back, not really talking to each other, but watching the shadows develop and the colors shift with the setting sun, getting lost in our own thoughts.
The drive out went much faster, partly because Patrick was now familiar with the road conditions, but mostly because it seemed he wanted to get back in a hurry. What had taken us almost 2.5hrs to negotiate on the way in was done in half that time driving out, no espresso stop needed. We met up with Tom Becht back in Ludlow. We just missed dining hours at the Route 66 Cafe on the south side of the highway (they closed at 6p on Friday), so we ended up at the Dairy Queen for burgers on the north side. Afterwards, we drove back down Crucero Rd in our vehicles to find a quiet place to sleep for the night. There are lots of options here, much better than trying to sleep in Ludlow with the Interstate and train tracks that can be somewhat noisy.
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