Some of us remember Snoopy in the Peanuts cartoon beginning his writings with “It was a dark and stormy night”. This field trip did not start “dark and stormy”. More to the point, Saturday began with perfect weather for rockhounding in the Red Canyon area and it ended with success and perfect weather. No wind, moderate temps in the mid 70s, and brilliant sunshine. However, it wasn’t the weather that caused many of us to think about reevaluating the location for this field trip. Read on!
Barbara and Richard Catlin were scheduled to lead this most interesting and scenic field trip but problems with a water heater and plumbing caused them to back out at the last minute. Fred Kalmar ably led the group of 9 vehicles into the “wilderness”, starting off from our usual location at the T & A stop on I-10 at 0700. Climbing up I-10 directly into the sun presented a bit of a challenge for visibility but we all ended up at Chiriaco Summit in time to take the exit, leave I-10 and begin the “off road” portion towards the collecting area for fluorite (flourospar). Both names are used for this mineral composed of fluorine and calcium. The mineral has an important function in the chemical, metallurgical and ceramic processes. But enough of that. We were interested in just collecting pieces for inclusion in our rock bags to be sold at the Riverside County Fair in February.
Arriving at the collecting site, after a rather rough road full of dips , dives, and hills carved by summer rains that managed to make the journey somewhat more “interesting” and slower, we parked and walked up a gentle wash to a higher area to collect our treasures. Around 20 in our group managed to come up with hundreds of suitable pieces for the rock bags. Some larger specimens were also collected by digging into the partially eroded side areas just slightly above the trail in the wash. One lady in our group fell into a sharp rocky patch and did some damage to her lower leg. She commented that she
should have listened to the suggestion for not wearing shorts. Even though the weather was fairly warm, long pants are very much in order for just that kind of protection from rocks and thorny bushes.
While we were waiting for everyone to return to our vehicles and carry on to the next collecting area, we observed another 9 or 10 car caravan passing on the same route we had just taken and carrying on towards Red Canyon. This turned out later to be very fortunate for us to not be the only group in that area. Read on!
The next portion of the road, which was more of a goat track than a road, was unfortunately more rutted, gouged, narrow and terrain challenging than the last one had been. We were to lose some 1500 feet in altitude along what I estimated to be about 8 miles. This took considerably longer than usual because of the difficult terrain. Did global warming have any influence on this trail deterioration? Possibly, because of the heavy rains over the summer. This trail is not kept graded or improved by BLM or water board personnel, resulting in changes to its “driveability” becoming the norm. In short, it was a “rough and rocky” road!
Our first casualty of sorts happened to me. My normal 4 wheel drive vehicle that usually climbs up and down trails such as this suddenly lost its traction. After stopping and getting out to check the vehicle for damage, a flat tire was unfortunately found to be the cause of the problem. We all worked as a well coordinated crew to get the spare, jack up the vehicle, take off the flat tire and replace it with the spare which unfortunately was quite flat. Remember the vehicle cavalcade that passed us at the collecting area for fluorospar? That group stopped down the road, and we passed them only to now stop their progress with the flat tire. This flat tire was now the spare. We needed a compressor and quick! Fortunately, one of the vehicles in the other group had one and we filled the spare tire with air after about 5-6 minutes.
After this near unfortunate event (I fall short of calling it a near tragedy), we continued on down the Red Canyon trail towards a large wash. Scenery was quite spectacular. Vistas of the surrounding mountain ranges in all directions were clearly visible. The “road” did not improve, in fact in some areas it worsened and caused some of the vehicles in our group to become stranded due to heavy sand and difficulty handling the tight turns required in order to stay on the trail. That was handled with proper tow material, patience and a resolve to be a bit more diligent. However, that change in attitude did not help. We continued to have stuck vehicles one more time before we finally encountered the end of our vertical drop, only to encounter more loose sand and a different driving challenge.
We managed to find the canyon where we were to collect bloodstone, a mineral whose official name is heliotrope. Heliotrope is a form of chalcedony, the classic form of which is dark green with red inclusions of iron oxide or red jasper. If the inclusions are yellow, the mineral is given the name “plasma”. Once again, we had to walk a bit to get to the collecting area and the mineral came in rather heavy rock formations which were difficult to carry without resting many times to change hands if carrying the mineral in a pail or bucket. Next time I resolve to use a back pack.
After about 11⁄2 hours in this very scenic and interesting location we decided that we would now begin the journey back to I-10. Although there is another way out, we took parts of the Bradshaw Trail to the North which for some distance parallels the old railroad track, not in use for many years now. There is an alternate route to get out of this very sandy canyon road, and that is to the Southwest to Highway 111 near the Salton Sea. However, being more familiar with the road to the North we advanced on that one. The road unfortunately turned out to be much more soft sand than usual and there were at least 2 occasions where some of our cavalcade took the wrong
turn and became lost. All roads looked the same and there were many tracks. If the speed of travel was not kept up, some of our vehicles became stranded once again and had to be hauled out of their location with tows from Fred and others who were equipped for such situations.
Many of our problems were caused by drivers not keeping the car behind in view. That became more difficult due to the amount of dust being raised but the need to keep the speed up in the soft sand. Not all of our vehicles were as well equipped as some to navigate through this “muck”. However, when we come to any fork in the road, we are supposed to stop and ensure all vehicles are there so that no wrong turns are made. Had we followed that one simple rule, we would not have lost that much time turning back and looking for the “lost”. We lost a lot of time waiting for vehicles to catch up or back track in order to find the right road. So much time was lost, in fact, that there was no time left for stopping at Chiriaco Summit for our usual ice cream treat. And THAT was the real tragedy of the trip!
All in all, even though we experienced a road and trail that was probably the toughest road the club had ever encountered, we did enjoy success and ended up with sufficient fluorite to fill the rock bags along with bloodstone that could be sawed and made into attractive cabs.
There is an old adage which goes something like this: “It’s a poor day when you don’t learn something, even when you get old(er)”. Here is some of what I learned and I will change my approach to reflect this on the next rockhound field trip.
1. Ensure that the radio has fresh batteries. Communication was difficult at times due to low power in the radios.
2. Make sure your spare tire is inflated and in good shape. 3. Carry a tire inflation device that can run off the car
battery. 4. Keep the vehicle behind in sight at ALL times.
5. If there is a need for speed, such as in soft sand, brief everyone on this prior to getting into this so that we all are aware of this requirement.
6. Always wait at the fork in the road for all vehicles to catch up.
7. Keep a tow rope as part of your equipment. 8. Watch speed on the tougher parts of the terrain.
Sometimes you have to go slower to protect your vehicle, and THAT is what damaged my tire – too much speed trying to keep up.
The above list is in addition to the usual list which deals with water, clothing, food, etc. We are often in areas that are not very friendly to anyone who has to overnight or wait for assistance. Better to be prepared for any eventuality than to hope for the best.