Tag Archives: Black Mountain
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.
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.
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.
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 folds.
Black Canyon & Inscription Canyon are located in the Black Mountains near Barstow, CA. There are a few different ways to reach the area, if you are 4×4 enabled I recommend the route from Hinkley, CA. Below you can view a map courtesy of Google of this particular route, as well as step by step directions.
This area of the Black Mountains has a lot of history in it. From the ancient petroglyphs that line the canyon walls in the thousands, to the Panamint City stage stop, Native American ruins, and much more. We will get more into each of these as I take you down the route piece by piece.
The adventure begins in Hinkley, CA. Hinkley was made famous world-wide from the movie Erin Brockovich, which featured Julia Roberts as an attorney assistant fighting PG&E over the ground water contamination in Hinkley. The town of 1915 has had 196 cases of cancer found in their residents over the last 12 years as a direct result of PG&E’s contamination. Now as you drive through Hinkley, don’t blink, or you might miss it. This small town doesn’t have much to it, however it does have a small gas station and market, which gives you the perfect opportunity to stop and fill up before heading into the wilderness.
Next stop is Harper Dry Lake, which is one of the largest dry lakes in the Mojave Desert. In the 1940′s and 50′s the dry lake was used by aerospace companies as a landing strip. Today it is a popular site for parasailing, camping, and off-roading. There have even been talks of a power plant or even a commercial space port being constructed here.
Once you reach the dry lake, I highly recommend a side trip to the marsh. There is a road baring to the left right before the dry lake, take that and follow it for a short distance to the marsh. Here you will find a sanctuary for many birds including but not limited to White-faced Ibises, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, White Pelicans, Tricolored Blackbirds, Black-crowned Night Herons, warblers, sparrows, blue birds, Northern Harriers, Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Prairie Falcons, and Ferruginous Hawks.
Besides birds, you will also find other wild life at the marsh including multiple lizard species, coyotes, jack rabbits, bobcats, desert tortoise, and the Mojave Ground Squirrel.
Once you have crossed Harper Dry Lake you will descend into Black Canyon. From this point you will want to pay particular attention to the rock walls around you. You will immediately start coming across many petroglyphs. Archaeological evidence reveals that this region had humans living here for over 8000 years. Many of the geometric petroglyphs in this canyon are carved in the Great Basin curvilinear and Great Basin rectilinear styles and are traced to the Shoshonean Period of the Western Great Basin, AD 1000 to Historic times. Some of the other petroglyphs have a higher amount of re-varnishing and are traced to earlier hunter/ gatherer times. This area was utilized by the Shoshone, Southern Paiute and the Kawaiisu.
Continue the drive through Black Canyon. A few miles in (sorry, I’m not sure of the exact mileage) on the right hand side of the road you will come across the ruins of the Black Canyon Stage Stop. The stage stop was used in the mid-late 1870′s during the mining boom at Panamint City. Because of the violence, and chance of stage-coach hold ups in the area Wells Fargo refused to service Panamint City. This caused the mine owners to create their own stage service to deliver their ore to the train to Los Angeles. The route used led their drivers directly through Black Canyon where this stage stop was created. It is said that once the stage stopped running through the area the building was likely used as a home for miners. All that remains of the stop today is the lower portion of the walls.
Roughly 1 mile from the Stage Stop ruins you come upon Black Canyon Well. It’s unknown when the well was dug, or by whom. It first appeared on a map in 1915, but it’s likely to have been dug in the 1870′s when the stage-coach came through. Water is still in the well to this day, but I highly doubt that it’s consumable based on its appearance.
From the well you still have several miles before reaching Inscription Canyon. As I stated earlier watch the walls around the canyon, as you will continue to find various petroglyphs along the way.
Once once you reach Inscription Canyon there is a parking area. The road leading through Inscription Canyon is blocked off from vehicles, but you are free to walk through the area. Inscription Canyon is a relatively small canyon, however close to every square inch of it is covered in petroglyphs. There has been some vandalism to the site, but minimal compared to the petroglyphs site in Titus Canyon (Death Valley area).
From Inscription Canyon you can continue and explore much more of the Barstow wilderness area.