Teutonia Peak, Old Dad Mountain
By: Audrey Goodman
I've often heard it said in the movies that the most elusive things we search for in life are often right under our noses when we take the time to look. For example, I had always thought of Mojave as this grungy little town you had to slam through to get to the Sierras and was surely the LAST place I'd want to go for a desert getaway. But lo and behold, there is another area of Mojave which makes a perfect weekend destination when you can't leave until Friday PM and must be back by Sunday night.
To our amazement, traffic was quite reasonable as Brian, Charlie (the dog) and I barreled down the 15 freeway. We followed the DPS Guide directions to get to "Old Dad" mountain, though as we came down Kelbaker Road, we found that the 'right hand turn onto a good dirt road signed Aiken Mine Rd', WASN'T! (signed that is - correct that in your guide if you've got one). The junction with a dirt road we came to was in the approximate range of the mileage indicated in the write up, and there were no others further down the road, so we turned back and took the right turn.
As we attempted to follow the DPS Guide's myriad 'bearing of right’ & and 'taking of lefts' in the darkness, it became apparent that the write up was no longer valid, as there were many more forks than indicated, seemingly due to ATV use which created lots of new roads since the last time directions were written. There was a mention of a road where 'signs existed of it once having been paved' and this was still accurate. Most of the dirt roads around us were not well maintained at all - one section of 'road' found us literally car-surfing on the deep, soft sand (thank goodness for our Subaru-all wheel drive all the time!). So we intuitively followed what seemed like main(ish) roads; mostly bearing right, keeping power lines in proximity and voila(!) we wound up pretty much at the trailhead. The ground was too rocky to tent camp however, so we drove back half a mile where there was softer sand for Charlie to sleep on (it's all about the dog's comfort of course, Brian and I are hardy...ha!).
Saturday, taking a different dirt road, we came to an area of Cinder cones (of which there are 32) and all manner of basalt, cinder and pumice rock, black, red and green. We also checked out a very neat lava tube. Following that, we drove into Kelso and found a new Visitor Center which has lovely exhibits about the area's geology. It's renovated from an old train station. The exhibits detail the tremendous amount of volcanic activity in this area millions of years ago during several different periods, and educates nicely on all this, plus the local wildlife, etc.
After a picnic lunch, we decided to hike a small peak, Teutonia, which was north of Kelso. We got the idea from the 2006 edition of Andy Zdon's 'Desert Summits' book which I purchased from the Kelso Visitor's Center. One of the best parts of this easy class 1 hike, was that the trail wound through a gorgeous stand of Joshua trees; thickly branched and in great abundance. As you start the ascent to the peak, the views and rock formations are all lovely. After all, it's a desert peak isn't it?
In order to get back to our 'personal' camp site that evening, I had assiduously 'cairned' every turn as we drove out that morning. But at day's end, Brian and I opted instead to have a mini adventure and take a dirt road indicated on the park map which was a direct cut across the area, rather than going all the way around by freeway and back to Kelbaker. To accomplish this, Brian's entire navigational system was predicated on 'following the power lines', and we found ourselves going WAAAAAAAY up in and amoungst the pylons, and then WAAAAAAY down rather steeply on very rough dirt road. Amazingly, the route did in fact drop us back into our little campsite area by complete dumb luck just as the day's light was fading after a gorgeous sunset. (Note here: For the record, Brian doesn't think it was dumb luck at all but a result of his flawless navigational skill). We had a wonderful grilled kebob meal under the desert stars, toasted our luck to be where we were and yes friends, forced ourselves to stay up 'til 9:30 PM before retiring to the tent.
Sunday, we got up earlier and decided to try for Old Dad. We drove to the trailhead, and as we were about to park, a big herd of deer came bolting across the road. DEER?? In the middle of Mojave?? Ah, but it wasn't deer at all, it was SHEEP! With big horns!! My hands shook trying to quickly get the camera out to record this, my first ever 'bighorn' sighting. They stood and stared at us from the bottom of the mountain, and of course I was petrified to move and scare them so I stared back for a number of minutes, somehow managing to get a decent shot as I soooo very slowly maneuvered my camera up to my face.
As they slowly meandered their way up the side of the mountain, I tore myself away and we started our hike with Charlie in tow. We followed a wide wash for a mile or so and then turned left going uphill through a canyon. It wasn't long however, before the rock became predominantly volcanic and very jagged. Out of concern for Charlie's feet I decided to keep him back and we ducked into a shaded arch of rock (no doubt originally formed by a volcanic 'gas' bubble) and hung out for an hour while Brian continued to the summit. I had my sopranino along, and as Charlie napped I played my favorite english folk tunes which gently reverberated along the canyon walls and cliffs. Brian told me later that he was able to hear the music 'wafting on the breezes' as he was making his way up.
Charlie and I headed back down following the canyon and the wash to where the car was before Brian returned. I opened up my camp chairs, a bottle of Framboise Lembic, and my multi coloured beach umbrella, so Brian could find us easily. I was enjoying a wonderful lounge in the cool desert quiet when a white official looking truck pulled up to break my perfect solitude. Sigh. Out came a tall, lanky fellow with a big backpack containing telescopic equipment which he proceeded to unapologetically open and set up-right in front of where I was sitting. The 'noyve'!
As it turns out, he was a joy to have been invaded by, as he was employed by the Department of Fish and Game and it was his job to survey the big homed sheep, having done so for at least 30 years! Without realizing it, as I had no binoculars, I was right at the prime viewing spot for seeing the herd (with his very high end telescope). He was a bit reluctant at first to tell me what exactly his research methods were, but finally confessed that he comes out once a month to these and the Marble mountains, and collects fresh uh... 'stuff', you know, brown 'stuff' (and per him, "it's gotta be fresh!") in plastic bags to take back and analyze. He's actually accumulating some fantastic data sets from this, and writes and publishes research which delineates where the sheep live, what they eat, their fertility rates from year to year, population, habitats, etc. He's expert on the creature and told us that he is personally responsible for the creation of several herds throughout Southern California that did not exist prior to his having them put there at whomever's behest. Wanna know how many there are in California alone? 63 herds. I would have guessed maybe 5 based on how often I've seen them (which would be zero times before this day)!
He told us about the sheeps' rather male chauvinistic society. The males live separately from the females, and show up once a year for, 'you know', and then they take off somewhere else and cavort on their own leaving the females to live the rest of the year on their own birthing and raising the lambs. In this group on Old Dad, there are approximately 120 Ewes and 6 lambs with more on the way. He only tracks the lambs and ewes and states that the males are "completely insignificant" in the study of the species. Hmmm...
My new friend (name witheld by request) also plays oboe in the Eastern Sierra Symphony and records with a local chamber group, so we had a LOT to talk about as Brian showed up around 3 PM. We all chatted together a while longer, before heading in different directions to take care of our respective stuffs; Brian and I, to gather up tent and other belongings and Mr. Sheep Expert, to take care of collecting up that other, ahem, 'stuff with his government issued baggies.
Traffic coming home was as delightful as it was going out, and we got home just in time to see the humans take on the Cylons in the season's finale of "Battlestar Galactica", thus helping us in our transition from no tech beautiful wilderness weekend, to high tech money earning 'real' world Monday.
And speaking of money earning...just before falling asleep, I admit to having spent a few moments pondering if collecting 'stuff for a living in the beautiful wilderness as a vocation, could actually be preferable to what most of us have to do to keep a roof over our heads with all the tight schedules and heavy expectations placed on us..I mean, let's say for instance, if the sheep were constipated on a 'pickup' day, would anyone get on my friend's case or bark about deadlines to him? Probably not. That must give him a lot of peace at the end of the day. More than I can say for my job! It's something to think about... isn't it?
Detailed information for visiting one or more peaks mentioned in this article can be found in the|
Desert Peak Section Road and Peak Guides
|DPS Archives Index | Desert Peaks Section|