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Papoose Flat | Inyo West #4

After thoroughly enjoying the sunrise from the shoulder of Mazourka Peak, everything was packed up and I was on the road by 7:00am. Headed back to the summit and through Badger Flat, it didn't take long to discover that I was headed the right direction.

Let's go ... there!

Located just a few miles east - if you're coming from town - from the town of Big Pine - and nestled into the northern end of the Inyos off of Death Valley Road, is Papoose Flat. The Paiute occupied this area and most of the Inyo Mountains into the 1930’s. They called this region Tovo-Wa-Ha and spent the warmer months gathering Tuva (Piñon nuts) to help the tribe survive the harsh winter.

Here, steep, off-camber grades can be daunting, but the vistas offer the ultimate reward in the form of high Sierra views and beautiful granite magma formations, unique to this pluton.

The first of several steep hill climbs of the day.

Cresting the first - or was it the third - ridge as I wound my way north, I caught my first glimpse of the granite that Papoose is known for. This wasn't - I'd realize later - Papoose itself, but geology is rarely clean, and as with the Sierra, granite underlies much of the Inyo-White range that I was currently enjoying.

I could tell - even from up here - that I was in for something special.

In the distance, White Mountain rose high above the rest of the range, snow still limiting access for the time being.

Down into an adjacent valley, one step closer to Papoose Flat.

Trees shrouded the view as I made my final descent into the flat. This was a blessing and a curse, though at the time it felt more like the latter as I strained to get a good view of the mountains of granite sprinkled across the land. Ultimately - of course - the magnificence of the big picture was worth the initial frustration as I popped out into the flat, and a world that was so different than where I'd come.

Winding through a wonderland.

Arriving so early in the morning, I was at a bit of a loss as to what my next steps should be. As with the previous day, I'd mapped out an entire system of roads that formed - essentially - a hub and spoke, with Papoose Flat serving as the destination of the large loop. Not knowing how long the loop would take, I was forced to decide not only which direction to tackle it, but how long I should spend enjoying this magical place I'd found before pushing onward.

Ultimately my decision was irrelevant. With 12 hours of daylight still remaining, I ended up having enough time to do it all. Or at least, to see everything enough to know what I wanted to come back for!

My first order of business was to drive right up to some of the granite outcroppings and scramble into the rocks. In one case, I even scrambled through!

Moving from one pile to the next, even the clouds were playing nice.

The best view, to the west.

There was no doubt where I was, the backdrop a familiar one.

Before long, I'd followed all of two-track in and around the flats; it was time to get out of the Tacoma and closer to nature. As my starting point, I chose a spot near the center of the Papoose Flat, next to a sign placed by the BLM to close the road leading toward several of the granite piles. Here - the sign explained - Paiute occupied the land as recently as 100 years ago, hunting, gathering, and living through the summer and fall months.

Parked in the middle of paradise.

Granite waves.

As I pushed my way through the sage, a double arch rose into view.

I thought this formation looked a bit like an F-18 screaming out of the ground.

In spite of the 80°F temperatures, I had to remind myself to look down; to enjoy spring! (Spreading Phlox - Phlox diffusa.)

Moving further from the road, I walked a route that snaked its way between boulders, along trails traveled by four-legged friends, in between towering igneous formations and through a forest of 4′ sagebrush. It smelled amazing.

And always, the Sierra.

Two hours later I found my way back to the Tacoma. I'd discovered no rock art and happened upon no dwellings. My search for arrowheads and morteros came up empty. Still, in stepping out of the Tacoma and slowly wandering my way through this hallowed land, I felt rejuvenated. It was the most enjoyable experience I'd had all week; an experience I aim to repeat in the future.

Time to get going.

The loop I'd mapped from Lone Pine-Death Valley Road - of which Papoose Flat was the apex - could be experienced in either the clockwise or counterclockwise direction, and I had no idea if one way was better than the other. I decided, then, to head counterclockwise, following the 36E404 road downhill towards The Narrows before looping back up via Papoose Flat Rd (09S15). I had no idea if I'd find anything technical along the way, but I wanted to experience the "main route" that most take up, and I figured this was the best way to do it.

In the end, I don't think it made much of a difference, though I'd say that entering Papoose Flat from the east via Road 36E404 would afford the most dramatic light in the morning, and entering via the west on Papoose Flat Rd would situate the sun ideally to illuminate the granite outcroppings in the afternoon.

Leaving the flat, the road became sandy and soft as the sagebrush whipped along the sides of the truck.

Into another snaking plain...

...where a narrow road climbed steeply to the saddle.

This narrow road was nearly more than I'd bargained for. Travelled primarily by ATVs, off-camber ledges and tight turns through the Pinyon Pine had my palms sweating by the time I reached the top. I'd not expected such excitement on this leg of the journey, but escaping unscathed, I continued towards The Narrows.

An old cabin at The Narrows won't stand the test of time much longer.

Into the Narrows themselves, I wandered between towering walls of orange and gray.

Six silver mines once decorated these steep slopes.

King of the rock. (What am I?)

Gazing up as I wound my way through The Narrows was enjoyable, but incomparable to the sense of centered calm that I felt when wandering on the flat. As such, I spent less time here, opting instead to avail myself of a few donettes™ as I returned to the Tacoma, and then continued on my way down the mountain.

In the distance, a snow-covered White Mountain rose behind Big Pine-Death Valley Road.

Through a final, rocky narrows before hitting the pavement that would be my turnaround point.

Reaching Big Pine-Death Valley Road just after 1:00pm, a part of me wanted to high tail it into town for a cold soda and bit of bar-be-que, rather than drive back up to the spot I'd just been, simply so I could explore the remainder of the road system through the northwestern section of the Inyo Mountains.

Unfortunately, a combination of stubborn hardheadedness and an obsessive desire to complete what I started resulted in my left-hand turn towards town extending into a U-turn that would take me back to Papoose Flat.

Fortunately for me, the decision would result in one of the highlights of my day!

The Orange Globe Mallow were as vibrant here as they'd been through this entire adventure.

Heading up was steep and a little rocky - these were the Inyo after-all - but nothing the Tacoma couldn't handle.

Through a notch.

Along the way, I explored spur after spur, completely cognizant of the fact that each one would likely seem to end at nothing; old mining prospects long lost to history, the only reason for the roads' existence. Still, many of them climbed to stunning overlooks and camp sites, a much more pleasant way to pass the day than with a pickaxe and shovel any way.

As shadows played across the hills, I gazed north from a narrow road that climbed Andrew’s Mountain to the range I hoped to explore - in a little more than a month - on my next trip.

It took just under an hour to make the climb to the top.

Getting a little flexy as I descended from the ridge. Here, the right (passenger) rear shock is extended 8½ inches of its 10 inch total travel.

Much willpower was required to overcome the urge to explore this place for a second time in a single day.

Overlooking Papoose Flat, I had another decision to make: head back down the way I'd come (not my plan, but after several days of exploring in the sun, I could feel myself starting to drag), or stick with my plan to follow a connector between the Papoose Flat and Harkless Flat road systems to check out the lower elevation flat before beginning my trek back to Las Vegas.

Taking a lay of the land, I noted that Harkless Flat was a couple thousand feet lower in elevation than Papoose and that the road system there seemed much denser, many of the roads ending part-way up gullies, a sure sign that an old prospect was likely fading back into the surroundings. I could also see that the hillsides were significantly more treed, a fact that would restrict the Sierra views I'd been enjoying so far throughout the day.

Harkless Flat, I unconvincingly convinced myself, was - most likely - a hunter's paradise; less interesting for someone like me. And then, I glanced up from the map and spotted a dot speeding through the sky.

I'd been hearing military jets overhead for the last several days, but even as I roamed at 10,000 feet, they were but specks high above. Pointing the camera skyward, I snapped a distant photo of the current specimen - surely unidentifiable even at high zoom - assuming it would be flying away from me and toward Eureka Valley. Only then, as I tracked it across the sky, did I realize that it was approaching. And that it was low!

Things were about to get interesting.

Thank goodness for the clouds that give a bit of visual interest!

Banking right over my position!

I swear I saw him salute.

Off he went, shedding elevation, as he dropped into Eureka Valley via Marble Canyon.

The roar of an F-18 is invigorating. In the few seconds that this pilot took to circle my position, I was re-energized. It was time to investigate Harkless Flat!

Into the trees!

Dropping elevation, I worked my way into the folds of the western flank of the Inyos.

Most of what I found - as I performed my third hub-and-spoke exploration maneuver in the same number of days - was exactly as I'd expected. Old mining roads led to nowhere - not even a fire ring - as they petered out in narrow washes and in dense thickets of trees. Still, there were a few gems in the mix, and each time I broke out of the tree line - be it into a high meadow or along a ridge facing west, it was hard not to appreciate this place for the secret that loomed large to the west.

An unnamed flat above Harkless, where the clouds danced above the Sierra.

Yes, that definitely looks interesting!

A great place to escape the worst of the summer heat at an old mining prospect.

The Harkless Flat loop was the smallest of the areas I'd set out to explore, and after just more than 90 minutes, I was once again working my way towards the pavement at Big Pine-Death Valley road where I'd air up, eat dinner, and transfer fuel from my jerry cans into the tank for my return trip to Las Vegas. First though, I had one last mine to investigate.

Winding my way back - along a narrow, washed-out road - from a final camp site that'd overlooked White Mountain.

An unsealed adit at the Big Pine Mine.

Through Harkless Flat, the clouds were as fabulous as the golden glow of the grass.

It'd been a jam-packed four days on the trail. I'd covered all the ground I'd planned and then some. I was tired, and ready for a shower. And I knew that I'd only scratched the surface. I'd be back - to enjoy this place at a slower pace - in the future.


The Whole Story


Filed Under

California(50 entries)
Inyo Mountains(2 entries)


  1. SK
    SK June 27, 2024

    F/A-18E out of Lemoore NAS

    • turbodb
      turbodb June 29, 2024

      Nice! Thanks for the info; how'd you know - I always wonder about where the various jets are flying from...

      • sk
        sk June 29, 2024

        the tail code identifies what unit the aircraft is attached to.

  2. Chris Munson
    Chris Munson June 27, 2024

    Thank you so much for sharing your adventure with us!
    Having moved to Texas from Ridgecrest, your photos help with the homesickness.
    I never got to explore as far north as you, but did get to enjoy the Cosos, courtesy of my career at NWC... now NAWS.
    Keep it coming.

    • turbodb
      turbodb June 29, 2024

      Hey Chris, so glad I could provide a bit of homesickness relief for ya! There are probably quite a few adventures that you might enjoy if you were putzing around NWC/NAWS. I bet you got to see some places that I can only dream of 😉. Anyway, if you do want to read a few, I'll suggest a couple specific trips, and then give you some "broad buckets." Of course, feel no obligation to read any of it!

      A couple trips:


      And then areas (these might be obvious, but anyway...):


      Hope you enjoy, and I always love hearing when folks do, or - even better - stories that you might have that are somehow related to my trip/experience. That always adds a whole new dimension for me that I really love.

    JOHN D MORAN June 28, 2024

    Beautiful country, really makes me miss my hiking, backpacking, and dirt road/mine exploring trips with friends over many years. Thanks for sharing and bringing back memories of forgotten times to me. I hope that we'll get up to some of the towns and finally explore Bodie before the heat gets too bad (100 daily now here and worse near Death Valley) but the Sierras are still bearable, maybe a trip as far as Bridgeport.

    • turbodb
      turbodb June 29, 2024

      As always, it's great to hear when you enjoy the stories, John! It's definitely getting too hot out there for me now (which you'll see with the next trip to the White Mountains), so I'm headed north for the rest of the summer to (hopefully) cooler temperatures.

      Well, actually, I'm just wrapping up a trip with my dad in the Sierra (after the White Mountains) and it was hot, even at 7,000 feet. Luckily, that trip was a "just hang out in the shade around camp and catch up" sort of deal, so the heat didn't bother us too much.

      Of course, then I'll miss the desert and will be itching to get back in the fall, lol.

      Bodie is a pretty cool place. I think it's interesting to compare how it has turned out to what's going on at Cerro Gordo. They are two similar places, but which are now taking very different paths into the future. Not sure one is better than the other, but I know there are those who have very strong opinions!

  4. Karen Mangan
    Karen Mangan June 28, 2024

    Nice you made it up there! We were camped there and got buzzed by one of the jets-it was intense! Great photos as usual, Dan.

    • turbodb
      turbodb June 29, 2024

      Thanks so much Karen, glad you've gotten to experience it up there as well. Such a special place!

  5. Dave Parry
    Dave Parry June 29, 2024

    This set has been my favorite of the year so far!

    • turbodb
      turbodb July 2, 2024

      Awesome, thanks Dave! The next trip - to the White Mountains just north of the Inyo - is pretty similar from a locality perspective, so I hope you enjoy that series as well! If you're not already, you can get emails when I send them out, here: 👍

  6. Karl
    Karl June 29, 2024

    Just want to thank you for your content, particularly the Inyo series. I explore this area quite a bit and your adventures help me plan mine.


    • turbodb
      turbodb July 2, 2024

      Awesome, glad you enjoyed the trip Karl! Would love to hear if you've got places you'd recommend... I'm always looking for fun places to explore!

  7. Randy Stevenson
    Randy Stevenson June 29, 2024

    Great area to explore! Glad you got buzzed by a f-18. I'd say I've been buzzed about 50%+ of the times I've been in Papoose Flats. Usually they give you a "wing-wag" to let you know they saw you. Enjoy your time in the Inyo's

    • turbodb
      turbodb June 29, 2024

      Thanks Randy! Judging by the route the f-18 that buzzed me took, I can see how you'd get quite a high rate of return up there when it comes to jets. The main route through DVNP now - at least, as far as I can tell - is down through Marble Canyon into Eureka Valley, then up through Dedeckera and Steel Pass, before dropping into Saline and exiting out South Pass.

      Papoose is the perfect place to setup for that drop into Marble Canyon.

      In fact, I had an amazing experience there at the mouth of Marble Canyon when I hiked to Hidden Dunes. Maybe the most exhilarating pass I've ever had, especially since it was one of my first.

      And yep, I've gotten my share of wags; love those!

  8. Matt D
    Matt D June 29, 2024

    Great stuff, Dan! Not bad on that close up of the pilot, either!

    What drone do you use?

  9. Lars Pedersen
    Lars Pedersen June 30, 2024

    Sublime as always, Dan, thanks for the memories! You photographed some of my fave campsites among other places. I am terrible about taking photos, yours made up for it!

    I have a couple of friends that used to fly F-18s out of Lemoore, I asked them about it and they said, yeah, if they think they have an audience, they'll salute. Lol.

    • turbodb
      turbodb June 30, 2024

      Thanks Lars! Always nice to bring back the memories. Because really, it's the memories, not the photos, that are priceless.

      And, I wish I had buddies who were flying out of any base - that'd be so awesome to get some inside information about where training runs "might" be, or where I might want to set up with my camera, hahaha!

      Next year, I'm hoping to get down for Red Flag... though, I say that every year. One year it'll happen though, and after our close encounter with the F-15s this spring, @mrs.turbodb has declared herself interested as well.

  10. Jim
    Jim July 8, 2024

    Phlox diffusa. Spreading Phlox. That one where you remembered to look down! UJ

    • turbodb
      turbodb July 8, 2024

      Awesome, thanks! 👍

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