Last month, Jerome’s Notebook March 2002, we explored some of the Castle Dome Mountains. That covered our first visit in May of 1975. This month we will continue our exploration of that area, but on our return in November of 1975.
Once again I left my house in Whittier, California (near Los Angeles), and drove direct to our campsite off of US 95 in Arizona. I arrived a day early to avoid weekend traffic. It was 5:52 P.M. and 67 degrees, when I left US 95 at mile post 62. I crossed the utility corridor, and drove out on the desert pavement covered mesa, parked at the site, and unloaded my dual-purpose motorcycle.
The sun was going down as I had a snack and prepared the camper for sleeping. It was great being in the desert again, but as dusk turned to night and the temperature dropped to 60 degrees, I retired to my sleeping bag in the camper.
Saturday arrived too soon. I put off getting up as long as possible, since it was an invigorating 58 degrees outside. At last I opened the camper door and greeted the day. After juice, donuts, and hot chocolate, I looked through my map collection for the ones we would need.
By 9:00 A.M., a desert wind started up. 78 degrees and wind at 9 miles per hour. At 11:00 A.M., the CB radio squawked. Larry had arrived from San Diego, California, parked his camper and unloaded his dual-purpose motorcycle. After we pushed his trailer to the side, we popped open a couple beers, chips, peanuts and spent the day looking at the maps and talking. By 10 O'clock it was time to hit the hay.
Sunday, 2:00 A.M., 63 degrees with gusty winds from the north; back to bed! My camper’s profile is only 36 inches above the box rails on the pickup bed. Plenty of room to sit up inside, but less side exposure for winds. Still, there was a gentle rocking from time to time from the wind gusts. I hoped it wouldn’t stir up the dust.
7:30 A.M., 64 degrees, 10 MPH wind gusts. Well, I at least could eat breakfast inside that morning.
It really got exciting around 9:45 A.M. 73 degrees, and wind gusts to 40 MPH! Thats when the dirt blows around! A 30 MPH wind will start moving sand and dirt. Oddly, the wind felt balmy and no clouds in the sky. Our campsite was pretty well sheltered by the tall and dense trees and vegetation. By 1:30 P.M. the temperature peaked at 78 degrees.
Well, we came to explore, and so we rode out to US-95 and turned south to the Castle Dome Mine road at mile post 55. This road we had only partially checked out in May. I had some newspaper in my day pack to wrap any interesting samples I found.
We picked up a few samples, then got onto the McPherson Pass road to complete a segment we didn’t cover in May. Doubling back, we returned to camp via the Castle Dome Mine road and US-95, arriving in camp at 4:00 P.M. We had ridden 30 miles round trip. The wind had dropped way down and it was a pleasure to pop open a few cans of beer and have a snack. By 8:00 P.M. It was 58 degrees and no wind. It would have been a good night for a camp fire, but we were both too tired to tend one. We retired to our campers and sleeping bags by 8:30.
Monday was a lounge around camp day; enjoyable because we didn’t feel we had to get up and scurry around the desert. We caught up on our reading or did low maintenance things. Around noon the temperature had climbed to 82 degrees with a mild wind from the west.
The Castle Domes were a primary producer of lead and silver with periods of major activity during World War I and II. Discovery of the Castle Dome Mine was generally attributed to Jacob Snively. The claims were filed in 1862. Early mining was for silver ore and there wasn’t much interest in lead, despite the fact that the silver ore contained as much as 70 % lead. In fact, some 18,000,000 pounds of lead were mined from all the mines in the Castle Domes from 1870 to 1949. The Castle Dome Mine even constructed a road to the Colorado River and built a landing for river steam boats, just south of Martinez Lake.
Tuesday again saw temperatures from 57 - 73 degrees with a strong wind gusting to 35 MPH. A good time to be away from camp and the dust. We put 11 miles on our motorcycles remarking the route from our camp to the McPherson Pass road. It stayed windy all day. I missed having a camp fire. I retired to my camper bed at 9:00 P.M.
Wednesday had a low of 58 degrees, but mostly the temperatures stayed within a fairly small range. I had not expected such a constant wind, but from the Colorado River to the Castle Domes there is a lot of open space broken by an occasional range or group of low mountains. The wind was fairly steady 20 MPH gusting to 30 MPH. Clear sky. In the late afternoon, we tried for McPherson Pass again.
We seemed to be losing the pass road every time we left our “mesa”. There was quite a band of dense brush, head high, with trees and cactus so we weren’t in sight of each other, even though we were not that far separated. I wondered what the area looked like in the mining days. We returned to camp for an early supper and bed.
Thursday dawned with a slight breeze which fell off through the day. Our camp had a high of 80 degrees. It was time to reprovision ice and food. Leaving the motorcycles chained to Larry’s trailer, we took Larry’s truck into Yuma. A nice change of pace. They have a nice little historical society that occupied two original houses. Wind had dropped to very faint. At last we enjoyed a safe campfire that evening. The smoke smelled great!
Friday, “Deer Season” opened! Lots of hunters down by the Castle Dome Mine area. After a quick breakfast and motorcycle prep, we left camp and headed south again for the Castle Dome Mine road, passed the hunters and headed up the McPherson Pass. Larry was ahead of me and suddenly stopped, turned off his engine and motioned for me to hurry up and do the same. Wow! Not more than 15 feet from us, on the road, and looking right at us were some bighorn sheep!
The first time I ever saw them close up. Beautiful animals. 2 rams, and 2 ewes. We stayed motionless and silent. The rams regarded us, slowly turned away and leisurely strolled on down the road, eventually left it and climbed a far slope. When they stopped, they “vanished”. When they moved, you could see them. The coloration was perfect. And what big horns! I did not try for a picture. I was afraid one glance at my camera or hearing the noise of the focal plane shutter and they would be off and running. The thrill of a lifetime for me.
We drove through the pass and instead of going straight on to the King Road as we had done in May, completed the triangle of two 6 ˝ mile sections out into King Valley. On the first leg of the triangle, game-road post 53-56 we turned south briefly and rode over to the “Little White Tanks” which were dry. We could not locate the old “Welton-Kofa” road going east. We got back to camp at 1:15 P.M., tired and thirsty. Beer and snacks for supper, and sitting around our campfire.
Saturday, 54 degrees at 6:45 A.M. Larry wanted to leave for home in San Diego in the afternoon. We just had time to try for the lower loop below the Castle Dome mine groups and see the Big Eye Mine, up Big Eye Wash into the interior of the mountain. Larry had no trouble going up one of the steep sides of the wash and
onto the final section of road to the Big Eye Mine. He waited for me to climb out of the wash as he had, but a combination of too much throttle and sitting too far back caused me to lift the front wheel of my cycle like doing a wheely. As soon as the front wheel lifted I knew I had to get out from under the probable fall line, upside-down, of the 200 pound cycle. Time slowed to a crawl as the bike continued up and over center.
I punched the engine emergency kill-switch and as the bike continued to gracefully fall toward me, I turned the front wheel (way up in the air) and shoved the bike to my left side. I had succeeded. The bike and I landed on our sides, side-by-side! Larry ran down to assist me. There were no marks on the bike, but I had a sore left buttock where I fell. I got the bike back up, and told Larry to go on and check out the Big Eye Mine.
He wasn’t gone long and we started back to camp. My steering was very difficult as it was out of line with the handle bar clamps and required a few well placed kicks to bring it back into line enough that I could ride it back to camp. Eventually, we drove into camp and after a short rest Larry prepared his truck, motorcycle trailer and other gear to leave for home; pulling out at 4:15 P.M. He faded out of CB radio contact at 4:45 P.M.
I popped open another beer and bag of chips. I had planned on staying over night and going home Sunday. There was a nearly full moon as I sat looking at the fantastic Castle Dome Mountains.
Sunday, 11-16-75, 60 degrees at 6:00 A.M. I rolled my motorcycle into the back of my camper, cleaned the area and rolled out of our camp site at 7:15 A.M. for Whittier, California, arriving home at 1:25 P.M.
I hope you enjoyed our adventure. See you next month.