Red Mountain • Range Highpoint: Red Mountains
• Western San Bernardino County

Date Climbed
May 23, 2010

5,261 feet

5 miles

2 hours, 45 minutes

1,700 feet

Puffy clouds, very windy

2,061 feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version

Red Mountain as seen from the turn off onto Cuddeback Road

Desert hillside scrub as I get closer to the range

A view of the range crest, which I still need to get up on to

Interesting cliffs down low

The towns of Red Mountain (front) and Johannesburg (back), still hanging on after all these years

The real summit as seen from the false summit

Now approaching the very top

Visitors etched their names into the rock about 100 years ago!

Red Mountain as seen from US-395

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Red Mountain is a moderate-sized desert summit near the old gold mining towns of Red Mountain and Johannesburg, in California's Mojave Desert about 45 miles northwest of Barstow. I had come to California for a series of peaks, as I have done now for four years every May. I would also take time to visit my brother and his family, plus my own folks. As things would turn out, Red Mountain was the only peak that I could climb. A freak late-spring snow storm shut me out of my intended peaks in the Tehachapi Mountains, and when I tried to "make up" for the lost opportunities by hiking some desert summits further east, my lack of maps and information proved too much to overcome.

Usually May is pretty stable and warm in the southwest, and the day before I drove west, we had our first 100-degree day for the season in Phoenix. The drive itself was uneventful except for the wind. It kicked up a lot of dust the whole way into Southern California, and it was especially fierce coming up the Banning area. My truck shook with the gusts, and bigger trucks and RVs were really having a rough time. Fortunately, no one flipped over, at least on my watch. However, the message was clear: a front was moving in off the ocean. Still, I wasn't too concerned. Once in Cucamonga, I watched my seven-year old nephew play a Little-League baseball game, and had a late birthday gift for my niece. They are great kids. My mom was down visiting as well. I stayed with her back at their summer home in Wrightwood, in the Sierra Madre.

When I awoke on Sunday the 23rd, I was very surprised to see snow falling outside! It was enough to cover our cars, but not enough to clog up the roads. I appeared this storm would pass quickly and I was not too worried about how it may affect my plans. Tehachapi is about the same elevation as Wrightwood, and so far, things looked okay in Wrightwood. I assumed the same for Tehachapi. I left Wrightwood and descended into the Antelope Valley via Valyermo (L.A. County Highway N-4). However, I could see north to the Tehachapis and see they were socked in pretty good. My original plan to go directly to the Tehachapis was scrapped. Instead, I reversed course into Adelanto and north toward Red Mountain. I figured I'd let Tehachapi dry out today, and hopefully conditions would be better for tomorrow. On to Red Mountain.

Once in the community of Red Mountain, I went north to the junction with Trona Road, then immediately onto dirt Cuddeback Road, which runs about a mile into the range. I drove in about seven-tenths of a mile, parking at a wide spot in the road, and suited up. It was very windy and very cool, high 50s, which is quite cool even for Red Mountain in May. The peak itself stood high above me to the east. It had a nice shape and friendly-looking slopes. I started the actual hike at noon exactly.

From my truck I walked the remainder of Cuddeback Road to its end, then randomly chose a hill to ascend, generally aiming southeast. The slopes were mostly open, covered in low grasses, flowers such as goldenrod and lupine, a few succulents I was unfamiliar with, and russian thistle shrubs, better known as tumbleweeds when they die, dry and break loose. I walked up the gentle slopes, heading toward the base of a set of cliffs immediately in front of me. After about a half-mile and 500 feet of gain the route came onto a broad flat bench covered in large boulders. I took a break on one and eyeballed my next route segment.

The "crux" of this hike is getting to the main range crest, still above me another 600 feet. The slopes steepen and in places the rock was loose, but I made slow and steady progress upward, going more up than over to avoid some rocky gullies. After another half-hour of this I was now on top the range crest. So far, everything was going great.

Once on top the range crest I hiked up the very gentle slopes to a false summit, and once atop that, down some rockier slopes to a saddle directly below the actual summit. I found some good foot-paths to follow, occasionally leaving them to scramble over some easy rock sections. I made the summit shortly thereafter. The top is marked by a stone windbreak, a number of big air tanks of some sort, and some general garbage. Most intriguing were etchings made into the stone from members of the United States Geological Survey and the Marine Corps, from 1907-1916. It must have taken some time to etch these in! I was a little "greener" and signed my name into the logbook inside a strong box. A couple had been up here three days prior. Overall, the summit seems to be visited by a few dozen parties every year. The wind, however, was not being kind. I didn't stay long and immediately started my descent.

The hike down went well other than the wind. It was worst as I descended the steep slopes off the range crest. Here it barreled into me incessantly, cold and sharp, making me very uncomfortable. I didn't stop moving until I was down below the cliffs, where I finally had a respite from the wind, and where I took another break to enjoy the scenery. The final leg of my hike to my truck went without incident, and I was gently surprised to see I had been gone only 2 hours, 45 minutes. Not too bad for an old big slow guy like me.

I decided to return to Tehachapi. I drove south via US-395, but did not want to take the long way through Kramer Junction and Boron. I decided to be an explorer and cut a diagonal southwest through the peculiar city of California City. From US-395 in the middle of nowhere, I turned west onto Twenty Mule Team Parkway. It's a sandy and unkempt road for about a mile, but on the map it appeared to be a substantial road, so I drove until I came upon the Kern County line, which is also the city limits for California City. Here, the road "improved" to badly-degraded asphalt.

I rumbled forward along this horrible asphalt path, in places completely rotted back into sand. Every now and then a side road would jut off, some even signed with street signs, kind of odd for being this far into the desert. After about ten miles of this, the road improved and small hints of civilizations would appear. Eventually, I passed through downtown California City, then south to state route CA-58. That was my first, and probably last, time in California City.

So I did a little research and discovered that back in the 1960s, some developers had the idea to create a new city out of thin air. They plotted the roads and laid out the city, centering it in a huge patch of desert bounded by highways US-395, CA-58, and CA-14. The problem is that none of these highways actually goes through California City (technically, CA-58 nicks its southern edge). The plan was that the workers at Edwards Air Force Base would live in California City. That didn't quite happen. The city is over 200 square miles in area, third largest in the state, but its population is about 13,000, if you trust the signs.

The head-scratchy part about this whole thing is that it still seems like a not-half-bad idea, but why would you center your new town so far off the highway? Why not along the main highways and that way, get some "pass through" traffic, and create a revenue stream of taxable dollars that way? Driving through downtown California City was kind of sad. There's no money. Everything looks run down, like everyone just gave up. Weeds grow along sidewalks. I am not exactly sure what the people who live here actually do.

But there is hope: Richard Branson apparently is basing his spaceport either in or nearby the city. That could be a big boon. Maybe I am being too harsh on this place, but it surely did not impress me on my one visit. In time, I was in Tehachapi.

I ate a meal then got supplies with the intent of camping at Tehachapi Mountain Park and hiking Tehachapi Mountain and the nearby Double Peaks the next day, but the storm had been more energetic than I had planned: the campground was under about 4 inches of snow, which wasn't alarming, but this probably meant 6-8 inches up high, and since a lot of my hike would be cross-country, I saw that this would be a muddy, snowy, miserable slog. I decided to pass on this hike for now. Since I didn't need to be here anymore, I decided I would salvage the rest of my trip with a desert summit. I had one in mind: Clipper Mountain, along Interstate-40 about 100 miles east of Barstow. This one has an old jeep road to the summit, which was good since I had no maps for it otherwise. So eastward I went.

Along the way I indulged myself in another pursuit, visiting and logging the lat-long confluence at 35 North, 118 West, located about a mile south of Highway CA-58 about 10 miles east of Mojave (the town). That went well. Back on 58, I proceeded east through Barstow and along Interstate-40, finally pulling off the road at the Hector exit to camp. The night was cool and breezy, and with a mostly-full moon, utterly gorgeous and serene. I slept well in the bed of my truck.

So Monday morning comes and I drive east some more to the Clipper Mountain area. First issue: where does that jeep road start? I can see it from the highway. My only option it seems is to park along the interstate. That seems to ask for trouble and I do not want to leave my truck exposed like that. So I try plan B, which is to come in from the north under the interstate, but without good maps, I really have no idea what I am doing, so I scrap that plan, and opt for plan C: come in from the southeast from the little town of Essex. Well, that wasn't too successful either. Again, without good maps showing the roads, I would spend endless time running up dead ends. After about three hours of exploring options, I admitted defeat, but still had another back-up, Spirit Peak in southern Nevada. Same result: without maps I had no idea what I was doing and this one really does need some good maps. Since I was just 60 miles from Henderson I drove up to visit my dad, who was not expecting me. We had a good time, getting some steaks and gambling at the quarter machines, with variable luck.

My trip ended with two exploration scouts of Mohon and Peacock Peaks in Arizona. On Mohon I have some directions from SummitPost but come upon a washed out road way short of the start. Other roads prove equally fruitless. Peacock was just a look-see. It's surrounded by private land, and I was able to score an address of the property owner's association for a future bid. I drove on home to my wife and kitties that afternoon. In all I put on over 1,400 miles and had just one peak to show for it. I was a bit bummed, but overall the trip was fun: I visited my family, had a good time, and gained some valuable information for future hikes.

(c) 2010 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.