Providence Mountains, Mitchell Caverns
By: Parker Severson
The DPS bus trip to the Providence Mountains on April 23-24 was a huge success, thanks to the efficient management of Walt Heninger, our genial expert on bus transportation matters. You good people will never know how much "blood sweat and tears" went into making this trip the smooth operation it was. Our sincere thanks to you, Walt, for a job well done. Next time, we'll call on you again.
Our two chartered Greyhound buses, loaded with 81 people and camping dunnage, left Tournament Park in Pasadena at 7:15 p.m., Friday, April 22nd. After a brief stop in San Bernardino, we encountered thick fog in Cajon Pass which slowed us down to a snail's pace. Once over the hump, we had clear going. Short stops were made in Barstow and Amboy. At Essex, we turned off on the Mitchell Caverns road, 21 miles of dust and washboard. About one mile short of Mitchell's, the road became too steep for the loaded buses, so we parked here, unloaded our sleeping bags, and sacked up at 2:30 a.m.
Next morning, Ranger Bob Simmons generously hauled our duffel up to his headquarters in his pickup truck, where we cooked breakfast. Breakfast over, the hike to the high point of the Providence Range got under way at 8:00 a.m. with Bob Bear and Frank Sanborn leading the way. We started up the right canyon, but as we got higher, the main canyon subdivides into a confusing series of steep rocky draws leading to the main ridge. Somehow we picked the wrong one and, after some rock climbing and rough going, reached what we thought was the high point, but turned out to be Hitching Post Peak instead. About a half mile north along the ridge we saw the high point. It was now 12:30 so we decided to rest and have lunch here. At 2:30 p.m. we reached the summit of the Providence Mountains after more rough going, picking our way over and around steep jagged pinnacles. I thought the Sheepholes were about the roughest desert range, but the Providence easily takes top honors. 15 signed the little DPS register on the summit and took another well-earned rest. Far below us to the west, we saw the shadows of the Kelso sand dunes. Off to the east were some flat topped mesas that looked like they belonged in Arizona instead of California. On the way up the canyon, Bob Bear found the skeleton of a bighorn sheep with a fine set of horns.
The Saturday night campfire session was a lively affair. Don Levy and his banjo accompanied the singing. During the course of the evening, Ranger Bob Simmons told us about the desert research project being conducted in the Providence Mountains by John F. Gaines and Richard F. Logan, assistant professors of Geography at UCLA, under the sponsorship of the Army Quartermaster Corps. This range was chosen as being typical of desert mountain ranges in many parts of the world. The purpose of the project was to learn more about the climate, vegetation and topography of a typical area such as this. This involved placing instruments for recording temperatures at various elevations from the desert floor to the top of the mountain. Simmons stated that one of these instruments was placed on the highest point on the range, housed in a small weather station. When we told Simmons that we had climbed the highest point in sight and found no trace of a weather station, he was convinced that we had not reached the top after all. This touched off a hot debate that went on far into the night. It was still going strong when I finally crawled into the sack for the night. Subsequent investigation on the part of Warren Flock, who contacted Prof. Logan, brought out the fact that the weather station was not placed on the highest point, but on a convenient, easily accessible high point some distance south of the actual summit. Since the summit peak (el. about 7,200 ft.) appears to have no name, the suggestion was made that it be called Mitchell Peak.
Sunday morning was devoted to a leisurely tour of the Caverns under the guidance of Ranger Simmons. The Caverns are reached by a short hike along the Mary Beal nature trail and plants and cacti are identified along the way. When this area is officially opened as a State Park it will comprise some 20,000 acres including the entire Providence Range, thus preserving a fine bit of unspoiled desert mountain wilderness. We are grateful to Ranger Bob Simmons for the friendly and helpful way in which he made our visit here an enjoyable occasion.
The party in the "Red" bus left at 1:00 p.m., traveling via Twentynine Palms. Near Amboy Crater we saw a wonderful example of a desert mirage. We arrived at Guasti Inn at 6:00 p.m. where Mrs. Remassi had a wonderful chicken dinner waiting for us. The "Blue" bus followed two hours later, in order to avoid congestion at the Inn. Everybody arrived home on schedule.
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