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Worn Out | EMHT Segment 4b Turtle Mountains to Needles

My plan - if one can ever really have a plan when out adventuring, was that this was going to be my last day on the East Mojave Heritage Trail. After nearly 10 days of travel, I had only 70 miles or so to complete Segment 4, and in an effort to ensure that I'd actually get through those 70 miles before dark, I was out of the tent nearly half an hour before the sun peeked over the horizon.

With no shadows, the ambient light on the Turtle Mountains was something special.

The main reason I was up so early was that I wanted to finally fix my clutch pedal. For nearly a year it hasn't returned to the ready position - not a fault of any of the hydraulics, but because the torsion spring that pushes it out has been worn out. I've tried several times to fix it, but figuring out exactly how to install the linear spring that I hope will work better, has been an exercise in failure, since I've never known where to find the spots where the hooks on the spring are meant to install.

No going back now!

Luckily, I'd found this photo on TacomaWorld from @Madjik_Man, and after several nervous minutes of fiddling around, I got the new spring installed.

That whole ordeal - along with poking around camp looking at a few interesting discoveries, eating breakfast, and getting camp put away - took me an hour, so it was just after 7:30am when I pulled out of camp and pointed the Tacoma south, along the eastern flank of the Turtle Mountains.

I don't remember the ocotillo here on previous visits, but I am getting old, so...

Working my way along the trail was slow going to say the least. I'd known this was going to be the case - both from my previous visit to the Turtle Mountains, and from the EMHT Segment 4 Supplement - but even so, I was a little surprised at how hard the trail was to follow, given its designation by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) as road NS-510.


  • OFFICIAL ROUTE: Turn right on NS 510 (south) and continue down this trail for 14.1 miles. Then turn right (south) on HWY 95 for 2.79 miles, then turn left (east) rejoining the EMHT mile 585.4 NOTE – this trail is EXTREMELY rugged with no discernable trail in multiple areas and little to no smooth trail at all. This is a rock garden and multiple foot recces will be required.
  • OPTIONAL ROUTE: A faster, smoother, well-defined path is to: Continue straight on Turtle Mountain Rd for an additional 10 miles, then turn right (south) on HWY 95 for 13.76 miles, then turn left (east) rejoining the EMHT mile 585.4.

EMHT Segment 4 Supplement

At least the Turtle Mountains were a nice backdrop to the EXTREMELY rugged "mapped route."

I never had to get out of the Tacoma to "foot recces," but it took me more than an hour to pick my way over those 14 miles of road - some of the slowest going of the entire trip, rivaled only by the alluvial fan near Valjean Valley in Segment 2. Ultimately though, I was glad I didn't turn tail and run for the pavement, as I stumbled on a pretty cool old mine site along the way.

I think this is a ore transfer site for a mine. That, or old training grounds for Evel Knievel.

The clouds were looking interesting along this section of trail as well.

As I neared the highway - it really is out there - Pyramid Butte rose in my windshield.

After driving for so many miles on dirt - and after crawling my way to the place where the trail crossed US-95 - it was quite the change of pace to push the Tacoma up to 50mph as I covered the couple of miles to where it peeled off to the east on dirt. I'm sure that the folks stuck behind me felt as though I was moving at a snail's pace, but to me, it felt like I was flying! And so, when I could see there were no vehicles between me and my turn to the east, I pulled into the oncoming lane, the three vehicles behind me, surely wondering what I was up to!

Only a few dozen feet from the highway, this drone landing pad (?) caught my attention. Why would anyone need this, and if they needed it, why would they leave it here?

Update from one of the folks who knows more than I do and contacted me:

Just an FYI that was not a drone landing pad but a surveyors Ground Control Point (GCP) for an aerial photogrammetric survey.

I do not have any info on those targets specifically, however... Unlike a Benchmark (the brass disc/medallion stamped with info that I'm sure you have come across in your travels), GCPs are usually unique to that specific job, are not public record and are somewhat temporary. I do know of - and have been involved in - a couple of ongoing ordinance removal projects in more or less that area though. My guess is the one you came across was 1 of probably 4-10 depending on the scale of the area and was more than likely used for a topographic survey and terrain modeling. Hope that helps!

To me, the paved surface of US-95 designated the transition from the Turtle to the Whipple Mountains. From here, I'd continue mostly east - and a tad south - soon arriving at the southern-most point of the East Mojave Heritage Trail. It was an area I'd never explored, and if the initial views were any indication, one that I'd enjoy as the Tacoma rose and fell over the hilly terrain.

From one color to the next, it was like driving through a kaleidoscope.

As I progressed through the colorful landscape, the thing that caught my attention was not the proliferation of teddy bear cholla, rather it was the fact that many of them - entire forests - were dead or dying. While I don't consider myself one to have been everywhere in the desert, I've most definitely been to a-lot-of-where, and I've never seen anything like this. I don't know if the widespread death is due to drought or some sort of invasive plant/animal species, but it was surprising even to someone like me who thinks of these plants as the devil incarnate.

Teddy Bear cholla are never warm and cuddly, but they certainly look less-so when they are dead.

This tall trunk shows that the problem is not (only) a recent one.

A closer look at the lattice structure.

I ended up stopping several times throughout the Whipple Mountains to photograph the cholla, and between a couple of these stops, I noticed that the Trasharoo was slowly sliding off of the spare tire. This isn't a common occurrence, but it's not uncommon, either so after putting my camera back in the cab - no more leaving it on the bumper for me (!) - I went back to adjust the straps.

Lazy as ever, I decided I'd first try to just pull the Trasharoo back into place instead of opening the swingout, unfastening the clips, and repositioning the entire bag. And, it was as I did this that the entire tire moved as I tugged on the Trasharoo.

I knew it wasn't good, but I had no idea how bad it was. My initial thought was that the three lug nuts that hold the spare tire onto the tire mount - which in turn is bolted onto the swingout of the rear bumper - had come loose. However, after removing the Trasharoo, I quickly realized that things were much worse.

It wasn't the tire that was loose, it was the welds on the tire mount that had failed!

Realizing what was wrong, I wondered as to the best way to proceed. I'd modified this tire mount - to save 2 lbs - when I'd shaved weight from the Tacoma, and I assumed that it was my weld that'd failed catastrophically.

Only as I was in the process of cinching it all back together with a ratchet strap - and inspecting the 15+ inches of welds that failed - did I realize that the welds looked a lot better than anything I've ever done. Perfectly stacked dimes, I realized that these could not possibly have been my welds - mine look like little more than a poopy sludge randomly splattered across once pristine surfaces - but were actually original welds from CBI. And looking even closer, it appeared that they'd gotten the 3/16th inch steel too hot in the process, the tear happening along the scalloped edge of the weld.

This isn't the first time this ratchet strap has been called into service to complete a trip. It'd gotten us home from Death Valley once before.

The tire as secure as I could get it - and in my opinion, secure enough to not cause any further damage on the remaining 40 miles of trail - I got back underway, towards the last mine on my journey, and the spot I planned to eat lunch.

Somewhere in there is the New American Eagle mine.

The New American Eagle Mine is a copper mine owned by Hal Oxnevad, which - like many copper mines - also produced a bit of gold and silver. Though production numbers of all three metals are not available it was pretty clear as I arrived at what was obviously the main camp area that there was quite a bit of copper that came out of the ground here.

The big hole in the center housed an inclined shaft, and the size of the waste piles suggested it was quite large.

When even the concrete is green, you know the copper was coming out in reasonably large quantities.

From the main camp, the road wound a little further into the hills, where a second shaft - this one vertical with a wooden headframe - sat perched on a similarly green platform. It always amazing to me how much material these mines seemed to leave behind; I can only imagine that the ore they did send off to the smelter must have been amazingly rich!

No, that's not mint chip ice cream.

I had mixed feelings as I pulled back onto the main route. On the one hand, I knew that I was reaching the end of this amazing route; on the other, I knew my spare tire was holding on for dear life, and it'd be a relief when the last mile of dirt was behind me. And so, having visited the southern most point on the route, I turned north - first toward Lake Havasu City, and eventually to the end of the loop at Needles, Ca.

Civilization. Not something you see a lot of on this trail.

Approaching West Well, the mountains here reminded me of the Trona Pinnacles.

From the air, the color on the ground was even more dramatic.

Sometimes the Tacoma acts like it's a side-by-side, and in those cases, it always gets a good scolding.

Like many of the waypoints along this section of trail, I'd not known of West Well prior to my arrival at it. There, I discovered that it has been a reliable source of water for Native American Indians, ranchers, and farmers for centuries, with evidence of several cultures still present for those who spend the time to look. The more modern corrals, guzzlers, and concrete-lined wells were less interesting to me, but taking the time to find the petroglyphs and rock rings - where the Chemehuevi Indians once lived - was an exercise in delight!

Petroglyphs of West Well.

Someone couldn't leave well enough alone and carved a female anthropomorph (?) over the top of this abstract design.

W. H. Gier also left his mark in May of 1919.

I had to look a little harder to find the rock rings, but after taking a moment to look around at the terrain, and consider the geography of the West Well site, I was rather pleased with myself when I ended up finding them in the first place I looked!

There's not much left, but when you find them, you know these rings aren't natural.

A cluster of dwellings.

By this point I had fewer than 2 hours of daylight remaining and still more than 30 miles of trail to cover - I was going to have to keep the skinny pedal depressed as I raced by the Chemehuevi Mountains if I hoped to get to camp before darkness set in. It was a tall order. The lighting on the mountains - as the sun streamed in under the dark clouds - was dramatic, and I knew I'd have to fight the frequent urge to stop and point my camera towards the jagged peaks.

Dramatic ridges.

I thought the scale of this Teddy Bear cholla and the peaks behind was a fun contrast.

When a bit of light illuminated the landscape, I sprinted to capture the fleeting moment.

Ultimately I made reasonable - but not what I would call quick - time past the Chemehuevi Mountains and along the nicely-graded power line roads that would deliver me to the Sacramento Mountains and the place where Mike @Digiratus, Zane @Speedytech7, and I had set off on the start of this grand adventure some 10 trail days earlier. I wasn't going to make it to camp before the sun dropped below the horizon, but it wouldn't be much later, I hoped.

There were several green patches of trail as I entered the Sacramento Mountains. These were not copper, but were - I believe - green volcanic ash, similar to some that I'd seen in the Mule Mountains on the Bradshaw Trail.

Heading down the final wash, the smoke trees were just starting to bloom.

Eagle Peak provided a dramatic backdrop for the last several miles as I wound my way down the wash.

As if on cue, a final splash of color.

The last turn.

I rolled into camp - at the same place that three buddies had begun this crazy adventure along the East Mojave Heritage Trail - three minutes before 5:00pm. The sun had fallen from the sky 15 minutes prior, and a blazing sunset - the most vivid I'd seen on these last three trips was bright in the sky to my southwest. I found the perfect spot - on a ridge with a commanding view of my surroundings - and contemplated everything that'd happened along the way.

A fitting finish.

What an amazing route through the Mojave Desert. It's hard to get a sense of all this place has to offer - and there is much that any route will miss - but the East Mojave Heritage Trail is an amazing experience. Traversing a large swath of the desert, the terrain, history, and scale of this place are just a little clearer when it's all in the rear-view mirror. I've always appreciated my first foray - running the Mojave Road - into the Mojave National Preserve, but it's easy to see that the EMHT offers more.

Of course, my recommendation is to run them both - there isn't much overlap when it comes right down to it - and then dive deeper into the Mojave. Because the best is found by venturing off the tracks that others have created, and by finding your own adventure.


The Whole Story



Looking for other segments of the EMHT? Check out
East Mojave Heritage Trail
for other trips where the other parts of this epic route were enjoyed.



  1. Anthony Williams
    Anthony Williams February 24, 2024

    "Drone Landing Pad". Hah! It is more likely a visible reference point for aerial photography.

    • turbodb
      turbodb February 24, 2024

      I suppose. Actually, that's what I thought it might be at first too, but it was so small, so not sure? Another desert mystery. (And yes, I can see that there is something there in (consumer grade) satellite imagery, but I can't tell what it is... so maybe it is an imaging thing!

    JOHN D MORAN February 25, 2024

    Another fine adventure and wonderful photos. Always look forward to each new adventure. Yes, out here in the desert sometimes the road just disappears & we've had many times that we did have to recce on foot to find it again. There is a road not far from here that shows up on Google maps and GPS but I can't find. So, when I have time I plan to use the GPS & try to find it since it's a shortcut. We'll see what happens. Also plan to get over to the Trona pinnacles soon then Death Valley. Thanks for sharing again.

  3. Rob K
    Rob K February 26, 2024

    Great pics as always and kudos for the field repairs. I've used a plethora of zip ties of various sizes to limp home - the super huge ones were a godsend once or twice

    • turbodb
      turbodb February 26, 2024

      I've only ever used zip ties - lots of them - to limp out once, but my buddies use them all the time. It's amazing to me how "straps" - regardless of that which they are made - can be so versitile. Zip ties, ratchet straps, bailing wire... all key components of my "repair" kit these days, as the goal has become "getting out" and not "completely fixing" the Tacoma on the trail. 👍

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