Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Joshua Tree NP - Carey's Castle and Mastodon Peak

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 trustworthy, 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.

Barrel cactus and teddy bear Cholla cactus

Jeff photographing a blooming Engelmann’s hedgehog cactus

Englemann’s hedgehog cactus blooms

Perky yellow flowers in the middle of the wash

Looks impassable

But there is a way

Blooming beavertail cactus

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... 

Carey’s Castle

Let’s take a look inside, shall we?

Remains of rusted bed springs.  Notice the windows.

Rough shelving and old tin cans

The area around the dwelling is littered with rusty barrels

While Jeff sauntered off to bag yet another peak (3468), David and I found the faint trail to Carey’s “Welcome Stranger” mine. Peering through the grate we could see a ladder going straight down into pitch black. Interesting that it is barricaded when so many mine openings in the Park are not.  This is supposed to be a hard-to-find location, but I suspect plenty of people have checked out Carey’s Castle and mine.

Heading back the way we came – sort of

Ocotillo cactus

Ocotillo bloom close up

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.

Time for one more?  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 hiked the easy three-mile loop that includes Mastodon Peak.  (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.

“We may never pass this way again.” ~ Seals & Crofts

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