Not too long ago, we went back to the time when the Turtle Mountains of California were just two weeks ahead of a Bureau of Land Management Wilderness closure. It’s neighbor to the East, the Whipple Mountains were to be closed the following week. Ray couldn’t join us on this Whipple trip, but Larry and I hotfooted it out there with our faithful dual-purpose motorcycles, maps, and cameras.
This month will be Part 1, and next month will be Part 2. The date is October 20, 1973.
For those readers not familiar with our western deserts, October is a transition month. The first week or two will see temperatures in the low 100s F, with the last two weeks, you will see temperatures in the high 70s F.
The Whipple Mountains start on the East side of US 95 and go clear over to the Colorado River and Parker Dam. Its not a short trip to get there. I was still working and living in Los Angeles, and Larry lived in San Diego. The average one-way time for me was 8 hours, and for Larry, 9 hours. We would meet in Riverside and caravan together to our destination, talking to each other on our Citizen Band radios. So lets begin:
Almost there! Our old friend, the Turtle Mountains were on our left as we headed toward Vidal Junction via state hiway 62. The Colorado River Aqueduct flowed near our hiway, to separate widely once we drove through Vidal Junction. We had to watch closely for a short service road which would take us across the aqueduct and onto desert dirt and one part of the Whipple Mountains.
Eight miles East of Vidal Junction we found a suitable road, backtracked 1 ˝ miles and set up camp. We were about a mile from the state hiway, but undisturbed by any traffic noise. We enjoyed the late afternoon play of sunlight on the Whipples a few miles North of our camp.
The next morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we prepared the dual-purpose motorcycles, stuffed the two or three rolled up topographic maps into a metal tube (used to carry a collapsible fishing pole) that I had fastened to my motorcycle’s carrier behind the seat, put an extra roll of film in my day-pack, secured the camp, kick-started the engines into life and off we went.
We started our explorations by heading West on the aqueduct service road till we found a crossover; something like a small bridge over the aqueduct. What we thought was a slowly rising flat plain turned out to be a lot of deep, wide, canyons with mines and prospect holes wherever we looked. Here and there were piles of junk and wood from collapsed cabins.
Almost at once, we saw a mine headframe still standing. We rode over to it and gave it a good looking over. Larry is wearing the red helmet. The headframe looked more impressive from a distance. Even so, from the cement foundations for hoisting equipment and perhaps a grinding machine to reduce the size of the ore chunks to a more manageable size, there was enough to look at.
On we rode, looking here and there. We looked at everything from trash piles of old bottles and cans, broken dishes, and just plain trash.
As you can see in the accompanying pictures, we almost drove down into this mine situated in a very narrow hole! Look at the condition of the wood ladder rungs. It didn’t look very safe to me. The long wide plank adjacent to the ladder served to haul up an ore bucket by sliding on the board’s surface.
The next picture shows a view from the business end of the skid plank and the ladder rungs. It still didn’t look very safe to me. Thats one thing Larry and I don’t do. Go into the old mines. The angle of the tunnel looked to be about 45 degrees, according to my stereoscopic (3-D) slides.
From that unnamed mine, we continued North Northwest up a very rough road, which soon turned into sand and gravel, the bain of slow off-road motorcycles. I had quite a time with it as it was easy to “snow plough” to a halt with the slightest misalignment of the front wheel.
Our final view, for Part 1, is a more elaborate mine, possibly the D & W mine. In the foreground, the white paint splashes marked the edge of the “road” we are on. Note too the two green trees denoting water in the ground. Water was probably pumped from wells and into the tanks we also see.
The general area of the Whipple Mountains is primarily silver and copper country with most mines producing both metal ores at the same time. The famous Black Metal mine assayed 2,442 ounces of silver and 41% copper per ton. At some locations in the Whipple Mountains, gold was mixed in with the silver.
Next month we
will conclude our limited explorations of
Whipple Mountain. See you then.
Jerome W. Anderson