Adobe Mountain P300
Blue Rock BM P300
Piute Butte P500
Rocky Buttes
Alpine Butte P500
Lovejoy Buttes P500
Black Butte P500
Three Sisters North
Three Sisters Middle
Three Sisters South
Mt. Elmo P300
Black Mountain P300
Gray Mountain P300
Shadow Hills

Mon, Jan 25, 2016
Piute Butte
Black Butte
Black Mountain
Gray Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 GPXs: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

In perusing maps I noted that something like 20% of Los Angeles County is taken up by the Mojave Desert north of the San Andreas Fault and the mountains separating it from the LA metropolitan areas. The LA population spills out into the desert in the sprawling communities of Palmdale and Lancaster found along SR14. It would seem that back in the 1960s when the townships were first laid out, it was expected that much of the Antelope Valley would be developed along the lines of the San Fernando Valley. Running east to west, Avenue A starts at the northern county boundary, with Avenue B and subsequent roads to the south at 1mi increments. Avenue Y is found against the San Gabriel Mtns some 24mi to the south. Roads running north to south start with 260th St East at the east county boundary, going to 300th St West at the far west end of Antelope Valley, with 1mi between each increment of 10 - that's something like 1000sq miles of planned development. While things didn't quite work out that way (at least yet) and most of the roads are rough dirt roads leading to often squalid homesteads, Lancaster and Palmdale have steadily grown over the decades and continue to consume desert real estate.

To the east of these cities, in the NE corner of the county, are more than a dozen small buttes that rise modestly above the surrounding sea of desert sands. The highest of these is Saddlebag Butte, an LPC summit I had visited more than 4yrs earlier. On my own for the first three days of a desert roadtrip, it seemed a good opportunity to tag a bunch of these for the fun of it. The area is pockmarked with isolated homesteads and the sparsely developed Lake Los Angeles (the lake was a dry lakebed artificially filled by developers in the 1960s to entice investments, then allowed to dry up again once the developers had divested most of their interests in the community). With a few pockets of BLM land, much of the open terrain seems to be publicly used for OHV travel, dumping grounds, and the ubiquitous personal shooting ranges found at the end of every spur dirt road. This is not your more remote desert Wilderness experience and despite what the Bundys and their pals will have you believe, local control of lands does not generally mean good stewardship.

Adobe Mountain

This was the first stop on my tour. Paved Avenue J runs to within a mile of the summit on the south side and dirt 250th St E gets one even closer. I slept the night parked off the road here and spent about an hour on the roundtrip hike first thing in the morning. Though no homes are found in the immediate area along the route, someone has seen fit to use a small plot as a dumping ground for old jet skis, about 10 all told - not the sort of thing one expects to see in the desert. A 1929 benchmark can be found at the rocky summit along with a register that has page after page of entries by a Bret Mercer. I would find his name on a number of the day's summits, handily outnumbering every other entry in the registers - this is one busy local hiker.

Blue Rock BM

My starting point was the junctionl of Avenue J and 170th St E, at the NW corner of Saddlebag Butte State Park. The shell of a rock-walled homestead stands just to the north on the way to the summit. About 40min was spent on the roundtrip hike. The Blue Rock benchmark has been plundered and probably sits in a dusty box in someone's attic. Just to the north at a lower elevation are situated a microwave relay tower and a water tank. Saddlebag Butte rises prominently to the southeast with the San Gabriel Mtns in the distance to the south across the Antelope Valley.

Piute Butte

With 600ft of prominence, this summit lies at the center of a rectangular patch of BLM land, fenced to keep out motorized traffic. The CA State Parks' Antelope Valley Indian Museum is located on the flanks of the butte's south side, but not open during the weekday when I drove by. It would make for the closest starting point on the weekends when it's open, a $3 tour of the museum making a nice accompaniment. I started from 150th St E where a spur dirt road/trail runs most of the way to the summit from the west. The summit features a class 3 granite summit block with a tiny perch, the most difficult of the day's peaks.

Rocky Buttes

Less than a mile and half southwest of Piute Butte, Rocky Buttes can also be easily accessed from 150th St E. Less than 10min to reach the summit, the easiest of this bunch.

Alpine Butte

An easy summit that can be reached from the south via dirt 136th St E. A few homesteads line the road, none of them particularly inviting. Some dogs barking at the start had me a little nervous but they kept close to the property and didn't come after me. The short but steep hike took all of ten minutes to reach the summit where a Gordon/Barbara register can be found filled with more Bret Mercer entries. South of Avenue O is the Alpine Butte Wildlife Sanctuary, part of the LA Parks and Rec Dept. It looks exactly like the surrounding desert, one of a dozen or so small plots found around the area that have been similarly set aside. No fences actually keep out vehicles. The adjacent Big Rock Wash Wildlife Sanctuary has ample tire tracks running right down the wash for which it is named.

Lovejoy Buttes

The Lake Los Angeles community is partially built around the base of Lovejoy Buttes on the east, north and south sides. Paved 145th St E provides easy access to the highpoint from the west. One of several motorcycle tracks can be used to reach the summit. Other tracks reach it from the east. Someone parked a fiberglass speedboat hull high in the buttes - as good a place as any, I suppose. Southwest of the buttes at the corner of 145th St E and Avenue Q is the Four Aces motel. This 50's era motoring stop no longer provides rooms, but survives as a movie set. A production company was onsite when I drove by.

Black Butte

About three miles inside the county's eastern boundary lies the volcanic Black Butte. Good dirt roads off the paved E Palmdale Blvd allow any vehicle to drive fairly close to one of several informal shooting ranges found at the base. Not a particular pleasant climb but the rocks that litter the slopes are more solidly set than other such cones I've visited. Gordon left a register here in 2006, soon discovered by Bret whose entries fill several pages. The summit has a good view of Three Sisters to the southeast.

Three Sisters

In descending order of height, the North, Middle and South Sisters are a closely spaced group of three bumps rising from the desert floor. I spent 40min on the roundtrip effort to visit all three. North Sister has another Gordon/Barbara register. On my way up North Sister I heard shots coming from the other side of the summit. On the way down to the saddle with Middle Sister I noted someone walking around the range setting up various targets between rounds. From a distance it looked like they were wearing a black trenchcoat, but upon closer inspection it looked more like a full-length, quilted parka with fur around the collar. I have no idea how gun fans choose their wardrobe, but it appears to be only slightly more fashionable than the average peakbagger's.

Mt. Elmo

I moved east across the border to San Bernardino County for the last five summits. Mt. Elmo is the closest to the border, north of Avenue P which becomes El Mirage Rd in San Bernardino Co. I parked to the west of the peak on the dirt road that runs along the county line. Depending on what you reference, this road is called 260th St E, Old El Mirage Rd or County Line Rd. A group of homes with private driveways are found at the base of the hill on the west side, but I found a route just north of these homes through unoccupied lands. A few annoyingly loud dogs watched me on the way up and back down, thankfully from inside a fenced yard. A wooden white cross has been erected at the summit, otherwise not very noteworthy. At one time, someone spent some time constructing an informal trail which I came across on the descent. The work consisted primarily of lining sections with rock. Someone was really bored.

Black Mountain

This volcanic plug rises almost 500ft above the desert just south of El Mirage Rd. A dirt road gets one to the base of the hill on the north side. I followed the NW Ridge to the summit and took a more direct descent off the north side. Of note is a large solar array just to the northeast, the most modern piece of development I saw all day.

Gray Mountain

Gray Mtn is located a few miles west of El Mirage Field, a private airstrip leased by General Atomics. Among other businesses, they are the manufacturer of the famed Predator drones used extensively in the nation's campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of these was flying while I was visiting Gray Mtn, making repetitive loops around the airport, landing and taking off with each circuit. A small private plane followed lazily above and behind it all the while. There was no variation in the pattern which grew quite boring after the novelty wore off. I figured they were either training new drone pilots or making a series of tests on the drone. The summit itself was not of much interest. My starting point off Gray Mtn Rd passed through a junk-strewn yard, one of several found on this side of the mountains. OHV tracks can get you to the summit ridge followed by a short jaunt to the rocky highpoint in about 15min.

Shadow Hills

Futher east, just west of SR395 and five miles north of Adelanto is a diminutive collection of bumps called the Shadow Hills. They are overshadowed by the much larger Shadow Mountains to the northwest, which themselves are one of the smaller ranges in the state with the lofty title of "Mountains". A dirt road off US395 gets one pretty close to the hills, a 4WD vehicle could nearly drive to the summit. Still only a short hike even with my van. Just to the west of the hills has been laid out a series of roads intended for a small suburban community. Not a single structure was ever built and none of the roads ever paved - another victim of the over-hyped housing market before the 2008 crash.


Just northwest of Victorville, along the old Route 66 coming from Barstow, can be found what is left of a formation called Sugarloaf. This is a common placename of old, given to lumpy mountains that fancifully resembled the lumped cakes that sugar was sold in. The hill has been extensively transformed by excavation and bulldozing, at various times a gravel/sand pit, now a storage yard for half-forgotten building materials. An unmarked dirt road leads from the highway up to the excavation site, signed for No Entry but ungated, allowing me to drive up and out of view of the busier roadway. Good place to take a shower at the end of the day, but good luck locating an actual summit.


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