Cerbat Mountains

I should be used to this by now. After all, the past 3 years have been exactly the same. In 2008 they claimed it was a “freak occurance”, in 2009 they pondered the odds, in 2010 “a record breaking storm”, and this year they finally admit that “weather extremes” are the new norm. Snow, in the Mojave, in April? Sweet! The forecast called for a warm and sunny afternoon. Knowing this last snow of the season wouldn’t stay long I grabbed some munchies, scraped the ice off the windows, and headed out to explore the Cerbats.

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My first stop was the Chloride general store in search of a refill for my now cold coffee—no joy. “Sarsaparilla?” The shopkeeper looks at me with confusion. I settle for a Weinhard’s root beer and wonder to myself if the previous owner is enjoying his retirement. Soda in hand I wander the streets of the old mining town, snapping photos of snow-covered relics and watching the sun come out.

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From Chloride I pushed east in search of some landmark called “The Mural.” Just outside of town the first in a series of prominent markers led the way. The location of The Mural on this route couldn’t be better: just before the first obstacle on the trail leading up the mountain, and right in front of the perfect air-down spot. I spent the next few minutes checking out how the artwork changes from different angles before a fellow traveler pulled up. He was once a prospector out here, and after a brief conversation I learn that the original Mural is still intact nearby—a mosaic of the old town made up from the glass of broken bottles. I’ll have to come back after the snow has melted and look for it.

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With the sway bar disconnected and the tires aired down I continued east, climbing quickly over the ice-covered boulders. I didn’t make it very far. At the first switchback the sound of rushing water overpowered the purring of the engine, and I spent the next two hours getting to know the full potential of the Canon S95.

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I left the waterfall and crested the next ridge, only to be met by a wall of dark clouds and snow. Time and weather had once again lined up perfectly, and the hours spent at the waterfall were just long enough for the last remnant of the snowstorm to catch up. I had never driven this road before, so with visibility fast approaching zero I retreated back to the safety of the waterfall and waited for the skies to clear. Besides, it was lunch time anyhow, and I couldn’t think of a better spot to grab a bite and enjoy the sound of falling snow (yes, it makes noise).

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Just about the time I finished lunch, the snow lightened up and the towering mass of Cherum Peak came back into view. I’m glad I waited, or I would have missed out on a spectacular view and driven right past some of the mines that dot the hillside. I stopped at the first of these, a small speck on the map labeled “Samoa Mine”, but found little of interest still visible through the snow. Then I turned around—beyond a maze of concrete foundations left over from the old mill, a railway bed snaked it’s way down from the main shaft high on the mountain, ending with the splintered-but-standing remnants of an old bridge. The railway bed looks to be intact, and might be worth hiking once the snow has melted away.

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I passed on the many side trips to mines farther off the road. I enjoy mine exploration far more without snow on the ground, there are just too many details that get lost under a sea of white. Cresting the ridge at 6,000 feet, the slush gave way to fresh powder. Here the narrow mountain trail becomes Big Wash Road—a wide, smooth, and now slippery road weaving it’s way between the highest peaks of the Cerbats. I realized just how grateful I was for the experience I picked up earlier this winter.

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Safely back down in the valley I still had a couple of hours to kill. I didn’t much like the idea of airing the tires back up for the short run home on the highway, so that left only one option: head straight across the valley and find a route south through the Black Mountains.

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This proved to be a more challenging task than originally planned. There was no snowfall or mud to contend with, but the BLM routes out here don’t appear to have seen traffic in decades. At several points the road simply disappeared into the brush, leaving me to route-find across open country.

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Score another point for Overland Navigator here, its detailed topo maps enabling me to “drive by wire” and slowly retrace the long forgotten routes south. It was slow going, with several stream crossings in need of re-building. About an hour after I planned to be home—but miles of beautiful scenery later—I finally reached familiar ground at the Wayfarer’s Inn.

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