Valjean Hills HP P500
Valjean Hills South P300
Dumont Hills
Dumont Dunes HP P300
Peak 1,591ft P300
Peak 1,755ft

Jan 15, 2022
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 GPX Profiles: 1 2 3


Much of today's driving followed the route of the historic Tonopaha & Tidewater Railroad that connected Ludlow, CA with Tonopah, NV more than 100yrs ago. Much of the old railroad grade is still visible across the desert landscape, and the BLM road I followed often goes right on the grade. Where washouts have cut through the grade, the BLM road diverts to one side or the other. The most impressive section of the RR runs along the Amargosa River between Dumont Dunes and Tecopa. The river, mostly flowing underground for most of its 200-mile length, briefly pops aboveground in the Amargosa Canyon. The Sperry Wash OHV route crosses the river several times before eventually forking away from the river and ascending Sperry Wash. The route cuts through the Kingston Range Wilderness and is characterized by sand in the lower stretches, and badlands in the northern areas around Sperry Wash.

Valjean Hills

This is a small range of sand/volcanic hills north of the Silurian Hills and Valjean Valley, a few miles east of the T&T RR grade. There is an old, little used road that connects the RR grade just north of Kingston Wash to the southern end of the Valjean Hills. I had thought this road was a cherry stem into the Kingston Range Wilderness, but I later learned this is not true. I had had trouble locating the road the previous night so I simply camped off the RR grade near there. In the morning I was up early and discovered tracks leading me to the old road. I did not see Wilderness signs in the vicinity, but should have done better research. I ended up driving 2.5mi into the Wilderness on the old road, parking at the southern tip and starting from there about 6:45a.

I chose to visit the further Valjean Hills HP first, two miles to the north. I followed nearly a direct line to it from my starting point, most of it up gently rising slopes of sandy desert. The area has been home to countless critters since forever, and many of their tunnels have outlived their makers by generations. Consequently, it made for difficult walking at times as the seemingly compact sand floor collapsed over one tunnel or another. I could often tell when I was in an area of imminent danger, but other times I would drop into a hole unexpectedly. The sand was everywhere and held many suprises - interesting waves and patterns, tiny green sprouts trying to make a go of it, and the like. One creosote bush caught my attention because the sand had been blown out from around its root system, but the small bush clung tenaciously to the shifting sands. Once at the base of the peak, I found a mix of volcanic rock and wind-blown sand, making for easy class 2 scrambling. I took a little over an hour to reach the highpoint. There was an unlabeled USGS benchmark here stamped 1912, one of the oldest I've seen. Views stretch east to the Kingston Range and west to the Avawatz Mtns, both much higher than the Valjean Hills. To the south are the Siluian Hills, while to the north are the Sperry and Alexander Hills. Many miles of sandy terrain can be seen in all directions. Knowing Smatko had been to this summit in 1967, I was hoping to find an old register but found none. I left one of mine in its stead before continuing on.

I turned southeast to make my way to the southern summit, about 1.5mi in that direction. It would take me an hour at a leisurely pace, with another mix of volcanic rock and sand, with plenty of the latter. I found no register on the southern point, though Dan Raether had listed an ascent on PB, erroneously calling it the Valjean Hills HP (According to the USGS topo, Valjeans Hills South is a meter lower than the northern highpoint). I descended southwest off easy sand slopes to start, eventually dropping into a steeper, rockier gully that still went no harder than class 2. It was 9:45a by the time I returned to the Jeep, 3hrs for the two-summit effort. Parking at the Wilderness boundary would have added about 5mi and 2hrs to the outing.

Dumont Hills

This is an even more diminutive range than the Valjean Hills, located about three miles to the north. They are little more than volcanic protuberances on the sloping desert floor, but they garnered a name from the mapmakers and I was here to do them justice. I drove back to the RR grade and followed that north about five miles to a slight bend in the road three miles southwest of Dumont Hills. The BLM has built a miles-long fenceline here on the east side of the road, steel posts and cables meant to withstand some abuse. On the west side of the grade is the Dumont Dunes OHV area, and the fence was designed to keep vehicles out of the Wilderness - appears to be highly successful. The hike is longish at 6.5mi roundtrip, but an easy one with only 800ft of gain. Most of this is done almost imperceptively as one climbs the gradual slope of the desert floor to the base of the small hills. I spent about three and a quarter hours on the effort, a lonely but satisfying stretch of desert. The highpoint was a clump of volcanic lava rock that somehow has managed to stay unburied by the desert sands. I left a register for the next wayward soul that makes their way out here.

Dumont Dunes

It was MLK weekend and Dumont Dunes was abuzz with the sounds of OHVs while I was still several miles away. RVs and trucks are circled up like wagon trains of old in camping spots on the sandy desert floor on the north side of the dunes. This is no Wilderness experience. The harder ground of the flat camping areas gradually change to the all-sand piles that comprise the dunes, towering more than 300ft. The highpoint is located at the southwestern end of the dunes. I drove the Jeep as close to the base of the dunes as I felt comfortable. I watched a nearby truck struggling to pull a minivan that had driven carelessly close and got stuck. Eventually more vehicles arrived to extract the hapless victim. I wasn't really worried I'd get myself stuck because I could always air my tires down and use my lockers to get through. But airing down and back up is very time-consuming and best to be avoided, in my book. It took all of 17min to climb the dunes, a short but steep and tiring effort. I picked a route to make myself obvious from the OHVs buzzing about. I certainly didn't want to catch one by surprise coming over a rise and down on my head. There were three closely-spaced points that could be the highpoint of the day, so I visited all three before heading back. I'm sure the actual highpoint must drift about over the season at the whim of the winds and blowing sands.

Peak 1,591ft - Peak 1,755ft

Upon leaving Dumont Dunes, I headed northeast through the RV wagon trains to return to the RR grade I'd left earlier. The grade passes through an area of low hills and valleys rife with OHV tracks that have open range here. Most of the action seemed to be back by the dunes today, I didn't see anyone else in this alternate area. I was following the route shown on my maps at the edge of the Wilderness boundary when I came to where it turns north and cuts through a hill. The continuing grade was blocked to traffic here, likely due to a major washout ahead. Was I done for? I might have to return to SR127 and approach these peaks from the north through Tecopa. I followed the sharp turn in the road as it headed south, southwest and then north again, eventually bringing me a little unexpectedly to the Amargosa River. There was a BLM sign here showing the Sperry Wash route which I was now at the beginning of - nice! I had the place to myself for the next two days, not seeing another soul in that time. I spent the next half hour driving 5-6mi up the Amargosa River Canyon and Sperry Wash, a fun exercise. I crossed the river four times, visited the old Sperry town site, and marveled that some sections of the route showed old pavement. Where the route turns up Sperry Wash, the going gets rougher and I was glad to have sufficient clearance that I bottomed out only once. It's a pretty tough section with various washouts changing the course slightly from year to year. Lots of tight turns and good-sized boulders to watch out for, too. I eventually parked about 1.5mi up Sperry Wash to visit these two unnamed peaks. It was almost 3:30p and overcast when I started out, so I expected it might be dark before I got back.

The area around here is a mix of badlands, gravelly washes, and conglomerate rock. It makes for generally cool visuals and poor scrambling, bordering on unsafe. It took me 25min to make it to the near summit, Peak 1,591ft. The badland sections were soft and had surprisingly good footing, but the poorly consolidated conglomerate stuff near the top was no fun. I almost made it up and down unscathed, but on the descent my foot slipped out from under me and I took a fall that cut a few small gashes in my forearm - ouch, ouch - don't do that! Luckily I had long sleeves to lessen the damage, and after rubbing it a bit, carried on. The bloodletting would stop shortly, all part of the fun. The further Peak 1,755ft was a mile and a half to the southeast, and I had to drop in and out of several minor drainages between the two. Once out of the last wash, the climb was easier with better footing on more standard desert terrain. There were several false summits on the way to the highest point where views stretched out over vast acreage of rocky terrain in various shades of gray and brown. I found no registers at either summit, and left none of my own.

I returned back via some small variations to the outbound route, eventually getting myself back to the Jeep before 6p and before needing a headlamp (but barely). I would spend the next 45min continuing the drive up Sperry Wash in the dark, an interesting adventure on its own - I would often have to get out of the Jeep to check the route ahead, find the bypass that I missed, and otherwise make more work of something that would be easier in daylight. All great fun. I eventually reached my starting point for the first peak the next day, and after finding a suitably flat spot, stopped for the night. It had been a pretty filling day - Part 2 was on tap for tomorrow...


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