Spangler Hills PP P500
Peak 2,921ft P300
Peak 3,710ft P500
Peak 3,881ft P300
Peak 4,166ft
Galileo Hill P300
Orphan BM P300
Twin Buttes South P300
Peak 3,110ft P500
Willow Springs Butte P500
Fiss Hill
Gem Hill

Tue, Mar 28, 2017
Twin Buttes South
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 GPXs: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10


After three days of fairly long outings around Panamint Valley with Brian French, I was on my own and chose a very different type of outing - a bunch of short hikes separated by modest drives as I made my way south through the western Mojave desert. I started in the Ridgecrest area and ended up in Lancaster, about 70mi to the south. Along the way I tagged a dozen desert hills and buttes, none of them more than two miles one-way, most much shorter. After early pre-dawn rises the previous days, I gave myself the luxury of sleeping until the sun came flooding in the van windows around 7a. The last peak would finish close to sunset 12hrs later, making for a full day, but the driving in-between made it far less strenuous than the number of hours might suggest.

Spangler Hills PP/Peak 2,921ft

The two halves of the China Lake Naval Weapons Center are separated by Searles Valley and the Spangler Hills. They are connected by the Randsburg Wash Rd which runs through the Spangler Hills. The two summits are located on either side of the roadway where it spans across this small range. I wasn't sure if the public was welcome to use this road and park along it, as the maps seem to suggest that either side of the road is part of the military base for at least a short distance. I found the road signs did not specifically forbid the public to use it and it appears that OHV users regularly cross it to access from one side to the other. Still, I was a little apprehensive driving in about 3.5mi from Trona Rd to park along the access road between the two summits. The first truck following behind stopped alongside me as I pulled off, but it turns out he was merely being friendly to check that everything was alright. The two summits were similar, featuring rocky granite slopes with some grass and otherwise minimal vegetation, class 2 from any approach. I spent an hour and three quarters doing the two together in a triangular fashion and was happy to find I had created no military incident upon my return.

Peak 3,710ft

Located south of Ridgecrest, very near the Kern/San Bernardino Co border, this one caught my attention because Laura Newman had the only recorded ascent on PB and LoJ. From the Searles Station Cutoff via which I approached it, the peak hardly seems capable of the 500ft+ of prominence that it boasts. The two mile hike to the summit climbs 600ft ever so gradually at the gentlest of gradients. The desert area around here was bursting with the glow of small yellow flowers, the first sign of significant blooms I had seen in the desert all year. The area is part of the same BLM OHV area as the Spangler Hills, with trails both signed and informal criss-crossing the landscape. I found the highpoint adjacent to a BLM route sign, with decent views overlooking the desert between Ridgecrest to the north and the El Paso Mtns to the south. A guy stopped just as I was starting out to warn me about the "crazy riders" who don't care about hikers or where they ride. I told him I'd be careful and watch out for them. Never saw or heard an ATV or motorcycle for the hour and a half I was out there.

Peak 3,881ft / Peak 4,166ft

These two summits are located on either side of US395 where it goes through the old mining town of Johannesburg near Red Mtn. I climbed the first from the east at Trona Rd, following an OHV trail all the way to the summit, a distance of just under a mile. Afterwards I drove through Johannesburg to access the second from a paved road going over a saddle on the peak's southwest shoulder. A very short climb gets one to the summit in less than ten minutes. Being higher and closer, Peak 4,166ft offers better views of Johannesburg and the surrounding areas. Red Mtn is immediately to the east across US395, pointy Fremont Peak can be seen far to the southeast. To the west the Rand Mtns block views further in that direction to the Sierra Nevada.

Galileo Hill / Orphan BM

Covering more than 200 sq miles, California City is the third largest city by area in the state. It's 14,000+ residents mostly work at the nearby Edwards Air Force Base or the state correctional facility. Incorporated in 1965, it never lived up to its grand expectations. Roads have been layed out for miles in all directions, but outside the city center, much of the pavement has crumbled and most of the city never developed past the street signs found at many junctions. Galileo hill is a small, standalone peak rising from the vast desert floor. On the north side of it is the Silver Saddle Ranch & Club, which seems to sorely lacking attention and membership. A paved road rises from the club to the summit of Galileo Hill. I found the gate halfway up open and drove to the top. A hexagonal viewing pavilion sits at the summit, its windows sadly all boarded up and the doors locked. A selection of telecom towers have been bolted to the sides of it to give it some purpose. It seems such a sad, lonely place. Five miles to the west rises Orphan BM. This area has no development at all save for the dirt roads and seems mostly used for OHV travel. I followed their tracks on the northeast side for the half mile distance to the summit from where I had parked on the dusty road below. Even more bleak than Galileo Hill.

Twin Buttes South

Twin Buttes are located 3.5mi south of the California City center. I had climbed the north butte (also called Desert Butte) more than four years earlier on a previous pass through here. I approached the southern butte from the east off paved California City Blvd on my way south through town. The cross-country is fairly easy, the summit less than 2/3mi from the road. A steel cross has been erected at the summit. One can drive closer with a high-clearance vehicle, if desired, but I doubt it would save much time.

Rosamond Area

The last four summits were all located in the collection of hills north of Rosamond, east of SR14, another Edwards AFB community. Peak 3,110ft lies just NE of the Rosamond Blvd/SR14 junction. I drove up a dirt road off Felsite Ave that took me to a water tank near an old quarry site. From there it was a short hike up to the summit. Though not BLM land, there are no fences and the area sees regular OHV use. A man walking his small dog was there when I got out. As we greeted each other he commented that his dog doesn't bite. First thing it did when it's attention diverted from the rabbit it was chasing was come over and nip the cuff of my pants. I tried to engage it to show I was friendly but the dog only wanted to circle around and approach me from behind in order to nip me again. Stupid dog. Stupid owner. Stupid me for believing him. The summit has a good view overlooking Rosamond and Rosamond Lake.

Immediately west of this first peak is Tropico Hill. A large, rusting mining complex is found on the south side of the hill with a high fence and No Trespassing signs surrounding it. I drove around a bit to look for a way up, but it seemed the fence might surround the summit and I left it for another time. Upon review later, it seems the north side of the hill is BLM land and may offer a good way to reach it. Instead, I drove further west to Willow Springs Butte. The Willow Springs International Raceway lies at the foot of the butte on the southeast side. The summit lies on BLM lands and can be most easily approached from dirt Truman Rd that runs along the base on the south side. My starting point was about a mile from the summit to the southwest, and I used a steep OHV road climbing up from that side to the summit ridge. I used a faster descent directly down the south side before angling west at the base to return to the van.

North of Tropico Hill are three other summits listed on LoJ, though I only had time for two of them. Fiss Hill is an exceedingly minor point off paved Mojave-Tropico Rd, less than a quarter mile and barely any prominence. It may have been named for a pioneer in the area. Gem Hill is a little better but still a minor hill, about half a mile off the same paved road. Another mile west of Gem Hill rises the unnamed highpoint of the Rosamond Hills with more than 400ft of prominence. I left that one for another time since I was racing sunset to get back from Gem Hill and didn't feel like continuing in the dark to the last point - it would give me further reason to come back and do this one with Tropico Hill at a later date.

After showering, I drove south to Lancaster where I collected some supplies and dinner before heading west towards the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve I planned to visit in the morning. I found a very quiet spot off W. Ave I, away from the city lights to spend the night and slept quite comfortably...


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