Right smack in the middle of my Bradshaw Trail adventure, I was presented with an option - travel the trail as outlined in my guidebook - Gold Road to La Paz, an Interpretive Guide to the Bradshaw Trail - or take a 75 mile detour north over Graham Pass to a nearby desert attraction - Corn Spring.
Normally, I'd probably have opted to just keep going, but this time the decision was a tough one. While not on the actual route, my book had included a photo of some petroglyphs at Corn Spring, and if I'm a sucker for anything, it's rock art.
Early on in my trip - and even as I started the Augustine Pass loop from Chuckwalla Bench, I'd hoped to make it to a BLM campground at Corn Spring to spend the night. That all flew by the wayside as the loop took me longer than anticipated, and it was 9:15am the next day when I finally reached the intersection of the Bradshaw Trail and Graham Pass Road.
Figuring that I could be back on my way by 1:00pm, having had a nice lunch at Corn Spring, I headed north.
Unlike the Bradshaw Trail - which at this point in the route was a rather high-speed raceway - the road leading between the Chuckwalla Mountains to the south and the Little Chuckwalla Mountains to the north was anything but high speed. Still, I made the 5-mile journey in a little more than 15 minutes, so it's not like I was crawling along, either.
Emerging from Graham Pass, to an expansive view of another valley - the Chuckwalla Valley.
Descending the pass, and then all the way across the valley floor, things got a lot better. The road was wide and smooth, and it was only my aired down tires that kept my speeds limited to 50mph. I made good time on the next 35 miles of trail, stopping only a few times for some quick photos before arriving at Corn Spring.
What's with all the boats out here?
Climbing back into the Chuckwalla Mountains, this time from the north.
I nearly arrived at Corn Spring just before 10:30am, the sight of the palm trees quite stunning against the backdrop of ragged ridges. Even so, I must admit that it wasn't what I'd been expecting, with a full 50% of the palms missing their fronds.
A plaque commemorating the area, which I just happened to stop next to for the previous photo.
Having done a bit of research prior to setting off on the trip, there were several aspects of this place that I was looking forward to exploring. There were - of course - the petroglyphs, but there was also an old cabin and mine, as well as what looked like a cluster of houses several miles deeper in the mountains. Finally, some 10 miles from the spring, what appeared to be the remnants of a mining operation. Really, as I look back on it now, there's no way I was going to pass this up!
The petroglyphs being at the top of my list, I set out immediately to find as many panels as I could. There are quite a few, and I recommend spending a bit of time broadening your perspective if you should visit this area yourself; not all the etchings are in one area!
Covered in glyphs.
I was curious what these upside-down rainbows represented, since they were clearly important.
Snakes and rainbows.
One of just a few anthropomorphs, and a sun beaming down on some grass.
A sun, and ... plants growing from the ground?
Tall, skinny man looking up at the stars (dots).
Not all the etchings were Native American Indian, several were from more recent visitors.
Many were old enough that desert varnish had nearly concealed them for eternity.
My exploration of the petroglyphs complete, I headed the final little way to Corn Spring campground. Located just above the spring, it was a desolate place on this hot spring day, only a single campsite - of ten - showing any sign of life. Even then, I'm sure the resident would have quickly vacated the area, had just about anyone show up.
Hello, reptile friend.
Corn Spring itself was no longer the gurgling oasis that I imagine it once was - no water was present above ground, and everything around seemed quite dry. To further add to the arid feel, it appeared that a fire had ravaged the palms, leaving many of them topless.
A sad sight.
Still, hope for the future!
What with it being only 11:00am at this point, I resisted the grumbling of my belly for lunch and pushed on into the mountains. I figured that I could either find a place further up the road to break out the taco fixings, or at the very least, I could stop by Corn Spring on my way out and set up the kitchen in the shade of one of the largest salt cedars I've ever seen. For now though, adventure called.
Just a mile or two up the road, I made my first stop.
A mining cabin! One of the first I'd seen all trip, and so quite exciting. (Small pleasures I tell you.)
This was Gus Lederer's cabin. Perched above the wash on a claim he called "The Little Chad," Gus Lederer moved to this site in 1915 where he built a small two-room cabin for himself and another for passers-by. Using Corn Springs as a headquarters, he'd venture out on prospecting trips - never striking it rich, but making enough to get by.
Inside Gus' cabin, things are kept nice and tidy.
Besides prospecting, Lederer was also an artist, philosopher and animal lover. He had a cadre of nearly 20 burros, for whom he would make flapjacks every morning. Eventually, people began referring to him as the “mayor” of Corn Springs, always friendly and helpful to anyone who happened by. He died in December 1932, when he was unable to receive treatment quickly enough after being bitten by a black widow spider.
This water tank drained into the rock pool around it, before feeding the mill on the hillside below.
Gus Lederer. 1868-1932. Prospector. Burro Fancier. Vegetable Gardner. "Mayor of Corn Springs"
From Lederer's cabin, I continued along the same road, curious as to what I would find. I'd seen some structures from my pre-trip planning, and wondered if there were perhaps some residents that still lived in this area, far from civilization but happy for the solitude. In other words, desert lovers like Gus.
The first building I came to looked to be in pretty good shape, but it was also quite clear that there was no one around - at least at the moment. It turns out that this was the Gold King Mine, and was mostly abandoned. I say mostly, because the lower level porch was packed with stuff as though someone had been living there. It was a bit creepy, really, and I decided that hanging around was probably not the best of ideas.
The combination mill/living quarters at the Gold King Mine was in pretty good shape from the outside.
An old bulldozer stood guard at the front of the property. Spray painted
I wish it was always this easy to discover the name of a mine.
Every other room in the building was a complete mess - with rodent droppings, old papers, rugs, insulation and drywall strewn on the floors, but the screened front porch certainly looked... lived in.
It was when I saw the spray paint on a back wall that read, "At the Gold King we mine our own business - so should you," that I made a beeline for the door and continued on my way. As the road forked, I realized that the "town" I'd seen was on a short spur off the main road, and initially I headed that direction. However, as I neared the buildings, I couldn't tell if they were occupied, and not wanting to bother any of the residents if they were, I decided to back off and take a few photos from a distance.
One thing is for sure - the residents of a place like this would need to be hearty souls, and they'd definitely put in a lot of work to their desert home.
The thing that struck me the most was how much firewood had been gathered. On a hot day like this one, it seemed crazy, but then I realized that all cooking, heating of water, etc. would likely need to be done by wood in a place like this.
With that, I carried on towards the end of the road. Unsure if I'd even find anything of note there, I enjoyed the trail as it wound in and out of a a wash, slowing gaining elevation in the middle of the Chuckwalla Mountains. The landscape here reminded me of Alabama Hills - weathered granite outcroppings reaching up towards the sky.
Leaving the creepy buildings behind.
There's a really big bunny hiding in that hill.
End of the road.
I reached the end of the road right around noon, the sun high in the sky and my air conditioning blasting away in the cab trying to keep me cool. It was generally successful as long as I didn't turn the engine off, so as I got out to take a few photos, the Tacoma continued to sip on - what was now - just a little fuel that remained in the tank.
There wasn't a lot at this old mine, but what there was told a story. A couple of adits and some old metal sleds over which buckets of ore were dragged before being dumped over the side of the hill and collected in chutes below.
Dragging ore over these metal sleds would have significantly reduced the friction, easing the job.
Like the miners who once worked these hillsides, the plants too are hearty little buggers.
"A cracked granite rock you say? Sounds like the perfect place to grow." -Barry the Barrel Cactus.
My exploration complete, there was no doubt now that it was time for lunch. I considered - for a full three seconds - having lunch here at the end of the trail, but with no shade to be seen and temperatures easily over 100°F, I quickly pushed that thought to the back of my mind and bee-lined it for the shade of Corn Spring.
Headed back the way I'd come; no stops this time, my belly wouldn't stand for it.
The post-fire view was a bit of a downer, but the shade and guacamole more than made up for it.
Originally, I'd planned for Corn Spring to be my only side trip as I ventured away from the Bradshaw Trail. However, as I'd climbed into the tent the evening before, I'd made the mistake of checking my phone for service. I was sure I wouldn't have any, given my location deep in the Chuckwalla Mountains, so you can imagine my surprise when I had one full bar - and sometimes two - of LTE signal.
As if to prove that it wasn't real signal, I fired up a bookmarked I'd created to Mike's @mk5 trip reports for the Bradshaw Trail, just to see if there was anything I was forgetting. While I seemed to be doing just fine on the trail itself, I took note of a recent visit to Desert Center - a town along I-10 that has fallen on hard times and is slowly turning into a ghost town. Only another eight miles up the road, I decided that I really ought to check it out.
As I often say, "I'm closer now than I will be when I'm home!"
Not really knowing much about this crazy town - I hadn't done any reading about it at all before showing up at the freeway offramp - I didn't really know why it was abandoned or when people had decided to leave. What I can say after visiting, is that it has a strange feeling to it - people seem to have simply walked out of their homes, not taking anything with them. The school building has been destroyed, but all the furniture is still inside. It's almost as if people were forced to flee, some invisible catastrophe necessitating the evacuation.
But, as far as I know, that was not the case at all.
This Texaco is not the last one left, and certainly isn't a 24-hour location any longer.
A room, full of belongings, abandoned.
Once, this was a happy place.
The old school building.
This was once the auditorium, an overturned piano and seating for several dozen people, strewn about.
Still in a state of misunderstanding - I don't really know how to better describe it - I made my way back to the Tacoma and along the high-speed route to Graham Pass. I squirreled away in the back of my mind a desire to find out more about this strange place, but for now, I just wanted to get back to a happier place - the middle of nowhere; the desert!
Headed south through Graham Pass.
As usual, my goal - to get back by 1:00pm in order to continue the Bradshaw Trail - was really more of a wish, as it was just after 3:30pm when I turned the Tacoma east again towards the last section of the Chuckwalla Bench and the Mule Mountains. Like any adventure, this one had been totally worth it. Leaving me with more questions than answers, I reveled in the unknown - knowing only that there was more of the same to come!
A welcome sign as I rejoined the Bradshaw Trail.
Hope you enjoyed this adventure. There are, of course, many more to come!