Joshua Tree NP- Day Four – 3/23/13 – Carey’s Castle and Mastodon Peak – 11 Miles
Yesterday’s off-trail hike didn’t interest me, but today’s off-the-map adventure sounded intriguing. Jeff found a GPS track for this one on the internet, and we all know that everything on the internet is accurate and trusthworthy, right? But…who can resist searching for Carey’s Castle?
As I mentioned previously, abandoned mines are spread all around Joshua Tree NP and the origins of many are lost to time. This web page summarizes that in the late 1930’s Arthur Cary staked several mining claims in the area, including one called the “Welcome Stranger” claim, and moved into a nearby shelter formed by several huge boulders leaning against each other. There is evidence (drawings on the rock ceiling) that this cave-like space was once used by Native Americans. Cary added rock and mortar walls, three windows and a door, and it became his Castle. Once upon a time there was a rough road that passed near the Castle (we saw a rusted old truck bumper) but nowadays there is no road and no trail. Crossed fingers and Jeff’s GPS are the way to go.
We drove through the Park and out the southern entrance, took a couple of back roads, and parked in some obscure spot to start our hike back inside the boundary line. Mental bread crumbs for later: picture a piece of paper with a horizontal line across the bottom – the road. At the top of the paper, treeless mountains of rocks. Squiggly lines of sand rising vertically from the road up to the mountains. There’s your map.
Walking in deep sand again, following many footsteps up a wide wash, seemingly flat but with a slight and steady elevation gain. Another day for interesting cacti and flowers.
Jeff directed us left or right as the canyons split and we began a pattern of climbing over boulders, walking up a small wash, climbing over more boulders, another wash. We were all going so slowly that I didn’t get out of breath, but a couple of times I needed David to pull me up. Hiking poles seem useless in boulders. After 2.5 hours and about 4 miles of what felt like an easy walk in between the scrambling, we stumbled upon...
This is supposed to be a hard-to-find location, but I suspect plenty of people have checked out Carey’s Castle and mine.
We retraced our steps with Jeff’s guidance back down out of the narrow canyons to the wide valley floor. Jeff did his usual disappearing and reappearing act from time to time, taking photos and enjoying some solitude, and I kept a close eye on David. Jumping off rocks makes me nervous and I wanted a helper if I broke a leg.
Remember that mental map I described earlier? The road is several miles going across the bottom of the “page”, but whereabouts along that line did we leave the car? We have to hit the road at some point. Do we go straight, bear left or bear right? Straight is relative. David seemed to be trending right, and my memory leaned left, so I stuck with my intuition and trudged on. Just as I was beginning to tire, a glint of light got my attention and I walked right up to the car. Jeff was a couple of minutes behind. We drove back along the road and picked up David as he was approaching the road bed about a half mile away.
Of course. On the way back to camp we had to pass right by Cottonwood Spring Oasis, a vital water source for miners back in the day. Records indicate that the palm trees are native. Awesome, aren’t they?
(We skipped the 3.6-mile trail further out to Lost Palms Oasis.) The summit of Mastodon Peak is a short but steep rock scramble that my body said “no” to, so I waited at the bottom while the guys made the summit, a few minutes of introspection. Just standing and looking out across miles and miles of desert was very calming, a few deep breaths in, burning a memory into the brain because we may never pass this way again.
How is it that we have been in California this long and have not had a Mexican meal? Tonight we found one in 29 Palms.