Black Mountain #6 Summit Hike (El Paso Mountains)

I had considered this wilderness hike for the last few months after having learning of the mountains possible connections to the Native American tribes in the region. There is no real evidence of the myths, but I wanted the opportunity to explore the mountain for myself.

It is said that the top of Black Mountain was a religious meeting place for all the tribes of the area. Not one particular tribe claimed ownership, but it was a shared resource that brought neighboring tribes together as a place of worship and to promote peace among them.  This was at least the belief of Dr. John J. Cawley, a Bakersfield physician that visited the site in 1963.

Dr. Cawley was given this information by Della Gerbracht. Della once lived with her father at Gerbacht Camp, which was located at the base of Black Mountain.  She had claimed to Dr. Cawley that, “In the early days when she came there with her father, there were many Indian artifacts present and much evidence that the Indians had once used this area extensively”. Cawley went on to add, “She states that there were at one time some caves on the western side of the mountain where a young girl found several kachina-like dollas whose bodies were elaborately clothed.”

During Dr. Cawley’s visit in 1963 much of the evidence that he believed that he would find had disappeared. Petroglyphs (rock carvings) that had supposed to have been at the site had been destroyed or removed by vandals. He did make the claim to have come across numerous petroglyphs at the top of Black Mountain. The cave with kachina-like dolls had been destroyed in the 1952 earthquake. Cawley also claimed to have found six ringed enclosures, which he presumed were made for ceremonial purposes.

Sadly on my hike up Black Mountain I didn’t find anything as interesting as Dr. Cawley, or even Della Gerbracht. Some of the sites mentioned above do exist, I just didn’t choose the correct location to begin my hike. Photographic proof of some of these locations can be viewed on the Bickel Camp website.

Despite my lack of finding the sites that I had set out to find this was still a fun and rewarding hike.

Black Mountain is the tallest peak in the El Paso Mountain Range at 5,244 feet, from the top you have a stunning 360 degree view of Fremont Valley and Indian Wells Valley. The mountain is surrounded by badlands topography. From the location that I began my ascent along Mesquite Canyon Road it was roughly a 2.25 mile hike with an elevation increase of 1,759 feet. The route is mostly trailess, however there are portions that an old trail is visible and marked with cairns.

You can view and download the route that I used via Garmin Adventures.

Along the route that I used there are a few points of interest. The first being what appears to be a grave or a marker of sort. I’m not sure on the grave aspect as the ground is not raised like you would expect. Maybe a religious shrine? You can be the judge.


An old grave? Marker? Religious shrine? You decide.

An old grave? Marker? Religious shrine? You decide.


Further along on the trail along one of many basaltic rock outcroppings that I encountered there is what I believe to be a blind. Most likely not for hunting based on its location, but rather as a lookout.


Possible lookout or hunting blind.

Possible lookout or hunting blind.


At the top of the peak there is a small build up of basaltic rock, it seems to have been a shelter at some point. At this same location there is a metal ammo box with a notepad to add your name to the list of people who have made the journey. From looking at the list of people and dates, you can assume that this peak only sees two or three groups of people per month. Records in the ammo box date back to the 1980’s.

Walls of a past shelter at the peak of Black Mountain.

Walls of a past shelter at the peak of Black Mountain.


As far as the claim of petroglyphs at the top of the peak, I couldn’t find anything on this trip. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not there.

I’ve already concluded that I will climbing Black Mountain again, however this time with a different starting point. I’m determined to find and see for myself some of the mysteries that this mountain holds.

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.