I always enjoy visiting the desert during the week of Thanksgiving since the weather is usually so perfect for the activities we enjoy. Instead of the oppressive heat that is normally associated with such a place, the temperatures tend to hang around the 60s during the day and 30s at night. Sometimes a little colder, sometimes a little warmer, but overall it makes for comfortable hiking and climbing weather during the day, and nothing that a good campfire and jacket can’t handle in the evening. Every once in a while we get a bit of a sprinkle or snow, but hey, it’s the desert, and it likes to stay dry.
Well, this year we headed out right as a big weather system moved through the area. The forecast kept changing, but overall it looked like the rain would move out of the area by Saturday mid-day. We headed out from San Jose and met up with our friend Robin around 9 am on Saturday in Baker. It was foggy and drizzly, but we decided to charge on with our plans: exploring the Turquoise Mountains, a small range on the north side of highway 15 between Baker and the CalNeva border.
What is interesting about the Turquoise range? Well, the maps indicated a lot of old mines and some rock hounding books described some of these spots as good turquoise sources. There are also a few rarely climbed desert peaks in the area. The climbs were easy and short, so my biggest concern was the roads. Desert dirt roads can get nasty when they are wet, and the standing puddles we saw on our way into Baker weren’t encouraging.
Exiting highway 15 at the Halloran Springs exit, we followed a deteriorating paved road north towards Turquoise Mountain. Along the way, we stopped to explore the site of an old talc mine. The light mist and drizzle continued, and visibility was only about 100 ft, so we didn’t get a good view of the area. Wandering around, the only interesting thing was a jumbled up old car with a partial license plate.
From here, we followed the nicely paved switchbacking road to the top of Turquoise Mountain. From the gate it was a short little walk to the top of the peak. It was fun to tag a little desert peak, but we didn’t really sit around and enjoy it, the views weren’t exactly cooperating!
Next, we left the partially paved road and headed a few miles down some old 2-track to the ruins of a turquoise mine. About 1/2 mile short of the mine the drivable road ended, so we parked and started wandering. After some navigation arguments (visibility didn’t help!) we caught the correct old road and found ourselves at some old tunnels and diggings. It didn’t take long to find some turquoise under foot! Unfortunately I only found some small pieces. Suddenly I wanted blue raspberry nerds candy.
One annoying part about playing outside at this time of year is the early sunset, and after spending more time than expected at the turquoise mine, we only had time left for one short peak: Squaw. About 6 miles away down nasty muddy road, we never got an actual look at the peak due to the fog and clouds. After driving some circles trying to identify the best place to park, we found a wash where we could comfortably park both of our trucks and started walking towards the hidden peak.
This was a good hike to do in these conditions since the route description was simple and straightforward and apparently did not require any visual queues. Essentially, we followed an old two-track along the south side of the peak, then started up one of the south ridges to the summit. I had a couple of waypoints marked in my GPS, which was good. Even 100 ft from the ridge we couldn’t see it!
We scrambled up and found the summit quickly. No view today!
For an easy little desert peak I was surprised at the lack of signatures in the cute little summit register. This is clearly not a frequently climbed peak!
Looking at the topo, we decided to follow the next ridge down since it looked a little gentler. We were back at the trucks a little after 3 pm, and with only ~1.5 hours of daylight left we headed out of the Turquoise Mountains and back to highway 15.
The drive down 15 was brief since we exited at Cima road and headed north towards the Kingston Range. Our goal was to find a campsite back there for the night, then climb Kingston peak in the morning. About 20 miles down this paved road we turned into a small new (3 sites) BLM campground. It was clean and empty and COLD!
Luckily we had plenty of firewood to keep us dry and warm as the system continued to drizzle on us throughout the night. So much for that mid-day clear up! We hoped the next day would dawn clear for our climb of Kingston!