A SOUTHWESTERN DESERT ROAD TRIP: Valencia Peak (1,347'), Sandstone Peak (3,111'), Mt. Ajo (4,808'), Sugarloaf Mountain (7,310'), Wasson Peak (4,687'), Picacho Peak (3,382'), and More

December 16, 1998 to January 3, 1999

I planned to attend a joint, HPS/DPS, peak section, Angeles Chapter, Sierra Club activity to Southern Arizona over the week of Christmas 1998 and New Year's, 1999. This was called the "Arizona Snowbirds" activity. The extended weather forecast was very good the week before this trip, scheduled to start on December 23, 1998. I had my personal business taken care of, so off I went.

Driving first to Pinnacles National Monument, I hiked a High Peaks Trail loop. This is a five mile hike through some of the most spectacular portions of the park. One winds along, using rock carved steps and handrails, in some places, through a panoply of rock formations. This hike I took from the Visitor Center, approached from the east side of the park, via Highway 25. I had tried to climb Scout Peak, the highest point along this trail, but it was apparently a difficult rock climb.

Taking back roads to King City, CA, on U.S. 101, I secured a motel room. I like to camp. But with the long, colder nights this time of year, the prospects of leisurely, nearby, restaurant meals, with an inexpensive room coming with a bed, shower, and television, proved too much to resist. The town was done in Christmas lights, as many towns I visited, and I did some library reading to pass the time.

Moving southward the next day, I drove on U.S. 101, then Highway 41, to Morro Bay. Morro Rock loomed over the landscape as I drove to it (photo, right). This is a pleasant, quiet, coastal town. Taking plenty of pictures of the seaside businesses, I enjoyed a short walk about the seafront.

Motoring on, I drove southward to Montana Del Oro State Park. I hiked to the top of Valencia Peak (1,347'). A good trail, winding through seaside ecology, leads to the summit. I had read about this hike in a travel section of a major paper. This was the first of many points on this trip which I define as a peak ascent. This hike took me about two hours round trip. Some schoolchildren were being led to the top by two teachers, so it is an easy peak.

Driving on to Avila Beach, then Pismo Beach, I took in more views and photos. If I had the resources, these would be nice places to live. Passing through Guadalupe, CA, I came to Lompoc, CA, and took another motel room.

December 18th, Friday, I headed for Santa Barbara. At the visitor center along the oceanfront, I discovered a map for a historical walk about the downtown area. I hiked about the nice, Early California-motifed buildings, and visited some shops.

Stopping in Ventura, CA, I snapped a few more photos. Taking U. S. 101, by lunch, I came to Thousand Oaks and chose there, at the SMMNRA visitor center, to hike Sandstone Peak (3,111'). This is the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. This is another easy hike, but I had limited visibility and cold wind. I didn't get much of a view, but through the clouds, I gained a few glimpses. My time to the top was about one hour, again.

Discerning that there was a Sierra Club night hike nearby about Tarzana, I had a good dinner, and drove to the meeting place at Caballero Canyon. Several hikers appeared. We were taken by the leaders, up into the hills, to the unpaved Mulholland Road. I took a night photo of the city lights in the distance. They don't use flashlights, saying the lights of the San Fernando Valley below would be enough to see by. This took about two hours, and was excellent exercise.

I decided to splurge, and got another motel room in Van Nuys. Next door was a famous, Southern California burger joint, which had a very good cheeseburger.

December 19th, Saturday, I just had time to spend before the all night hike, "L.A. Christmas by Night," led by the Hundred Peaks Section. After a cloudy view and photo of Santa Monica Bay, I motored about, visiting Santa Monica, Venice, the L.A. County Museums, and even seeing an IMAX movie, "Everest." I had cups of soda and coffee to prepare me for staying up all night.

Meeting the HPS group in downtown Los Angeles at midnight, we hiked over to the nearby, run-down area, and passed out food and clothes to the homeless persons. I had bought considerable amounts of groceries and had taken old ski clothes to hand out. This charity hike has been run for several years. Almost a hundred hikers started out tonight to do this.

After our gifts were given out, we were taken by the leaders about the downtown business district. We viewed wonderful Christmas lights and displays. One security guard was very gracious to allow the group in a store to see these. We also toured Little Tokyo, Union Station and Chinatown. After an early breakfast, we hiked back to our cars.

I drove east on I-10 to sleep at Harwood Lodge. This is run by the Angeles Chapter, Sierra Club. I was tired, and appreciated the inexpensive bunk. Spending three nights here, I watched videos and just relaxed. Aside from the overseers, I had the place to myself. My main activity was to drive down once into Claremont to tour that town.

On December 23rd, I woke up early, and met the HPS/DPS group at one of their meeting places in Pomona. There were six of us total. We headed east, and down, to Yuma, Arizona. We visited the Territorial Prison, now an historic park. Moving on, we lodged in Gila Bend, AZ.

The next day, we sought to visit more museums. The one in Gila Bend was austere. The mining museum in the town of Ajo, near the big copper mine, was closed. Reaching Organ Pipe National Monument, we took the 53 mile, Puerto Blanco Loop road. This is a wonderful, self-guided, auto tour with many stops for natural history interest. Three of us rode in the leader's van, sparing our own cars from the washboarded dirt road. A nice camp was made in the Monument campground.

On Christmas Day, the plan was to climb Mt. Ajo (4,808'), a DPS peak. It was the most beautiful December 25th that I have ever had! Hiking upward on trail, the views were spectacular! I took plenty of photos, and we reached the top, with nice vistas, after 3.5 hours. The descent made for photos as well.

We had a holiday meal in the town of Ajo, and then camped nearby at an RV park.

On the 26th, after a quick walk about Ajo, AZ, we toured the Tohono O'odham Reservation, which is the home of the Papago Tribe. I left the group temporarily to visit Picture Rock, on the road approach to Baboquivari Peak (second photo right). There are petroglyphs here. Motoring east on AZ 86, I joined the group again at Mountain Park near Tucson, AZ, where we camped for two nights.

Sunday, we went to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, where a large, open-area, wildlife zoo was the main attraction. I am philosophically opposed to zoos, but the animals here had extensive spaces to wander, and were not penned up in small cages. They looked happy, and healthy. Spending much of the day here, we also visited the nearby Saguaro National Park's western unit. We hiked to another petroglyph site. We spent the evening with a nice restaurant dinner in Tucson.

Monday, the 28th, we hiked in the east unit of Saguaro National Park. I left the group, again, to hike in Sabino Canyon, a popular recreation area on the outskirts of town. Phoning some local peak climbing associates that I knew, we met for an evening walk, and then a light dinner at a Southwestern restaurant.

Tuesday, I woke up early and drove to Nogales, AZ, to meet the group again. We motored on AZ 82 to Patagonia, AZ, which I had been curious about for a long time. Further east on AZ 82, going into Sierra Vista, we visited the Fort Huachuca military museum. Then, in Bisbee, I chose finally to leave the group. There were too many things to see and do, and I have a "rush" attitude. I wanted to do more hiking, since the weather was excellent, and there were peaks to climb. I passed through Tombstone, AZ, to see what sights there.

After another motel stay, in Willcox, AZ, I drove, with a nice sunrise, to Chiricahua National Monument to climb Sugarloaf Mountain (7,310'). The vista from the top was superbly desolate. I loved seeing the sights on the popular trails. There are balanced rocks, and I shot many of them, and other unusual formations. I hiked about a dozen miles to see the best of these.

There were nice sights on the way back to the Interstate. I drove back to Tucson and readied for a two peak climb the next day.

I woke up early, and started my trail hike/climb of Wasson Peak (4,687'), the highest point in the west segment of Saguaro National Park, as well as a range highpoint. This took all morning. Then, I motored to Picacho State Park to climb Picacho Peak (3,382', photo left). A trail leads to the top, with handrails and cables to assist on steep sections. This took me about three hours, total, round trip. The views were O.K. It felt nice to be climbing and cruising about the desert. I was really enjoying it.

Celebrating the New Year in Phoenix quietly, I drove north, on the first, to visit Montezuma's Castle, Sedona, Oak Creek Canyon, Flagstaff, see Humphreys Peak, and the Grand Canyon. This was great! I snapped many photos, but the light wasn't so dramatic. Coming to Kingman, AZ, I wondered about heading home. I decided to spend a couple more days out.

Spending the next morning walking and touring in Las Vegas, I went to the Stratosphere Tower for a few views. In the afternoon, I motored north on U.S. 93 to see remote parts of Southern Nevada. The Extra-Terrestrial Highway (NV 375) proved mildly scenic. I'd love to explore the peaks around here. I wound up in Tonopah, NV, that night.

My last day, January the 3rd, 1999, was spent driving north along U.S. 95, then to Reno. I came home to cold, thick fog, by 1:42 p.m.

I had spent roughly $800, much on lodging. I ate in restaurants almost every meal, and purchased postcards, a travel book, and souvenirs. I had purchased a National Park System Golden Eagle Pass, at $50, for the parks and monuments. This came in very handy, also, for my 1999 Northwest Loop. My total driving came to 3,571 miles. My hiking stats were about 70 miles with 13,000 feet gain. My fuel efficiency was about 50 miles to the gallon. If I can get a hiking partner, I know now of several more peaks and hikes to do. For me, this is living!