Monday, April 26, 2010

The Devil's Highway - Part 3

The Tule and Cabeza Prieta Mountains

West of the Pinacate is a long section of roadway enclosed by a sandy trench, one of the few places you might actually need 4-wheel drive. (If it had been raining heavily you wouldn't have made it past Los Playas before the Pinacate...don't expect me to tell you about all the hazards you might run into!)  Just keep your momentum going and the landscape hums by pretty quickly.  Ahead lay the Tule and Cabeza Prieta in the same range really, the former named by the Spaniards for the reeds found growing near water tanks; the latter for the lava-capped mountains further north and west in the range.  For practical purposes, the Tule Mountains are mostly south of the road, while the Cabeza Prietas lay to the north.  The vegetation in these mountains is sparser, the landscape more exposed. As for scenery, it is my favorite.

Graveyard Pass is an austere but gentle entry into the area.
Several markers can be found here. 

Cabeza Prieta Peak ("Dark Head")

This valley floor is laden with a carpet of blooming brittlebush.

The international border is just two miles away, in the next range of hills to our south;
as El Camino del Diablo continues to snake westward.

It was upon this same stretch of road that my Dad, my brother, Malcolm, and I once came upon this mysterious scene. The fresh remains of a campfire, built in a tire rim, indicated the car's occupants were here the previous night.  With nefarious activity easily imagined and wary of leaving my truck out in the open as we walked to Tule Tank, I pulled well off the road and parked out of sight. Before setting out we saw a tow truck. When we returned from our walk, the car was gone.

Tule Tank

There's water here?  Yeah, and here's a temporarily introduced species, Canis australis shepherdus (designation: Topaz), partaking of the stagnant rain water that has collected in this natural catchment.  Seriously though, this adventure is not for the dogs; lesson learned...lots o' prickly things to get stuck in paws.

I camped in this area with my father where where we were treated to numerous sonic booms in the morning, though the jet aircraft making them were eerily difficult to spot.  The road from Tule Well to Christmas Pass, with its collection of lumpish hoodoos, I think, is one of the most scenic places in the preserve...though I've not seen much wildlife beyond birds and lizards; not even a lot of insects to bother you most of the year.

Christmas Pass
was allegedly built on one of those holiday-days in the early 1930s.  It is little more than a squeeze between a wash and the end of a ridgeline.  On the farside it offers an impact-hardened campsite good for large or small groups.

Last light glows on the Sierra Pinta.

I took this photo of Comet Hale-Bopp from Christmas Pass
before sunrise on the morning of March 23, 1997.

Cruising north from Christmas Pass you can reach Interstate 8 (east of Tacna) in less than two hours, with exploration of the Mohawk Dunes an option on your way. (A real treat during a good wildflower season.)  The one time we drove out that way, a pair of redtail hawks raising a brood in the arms of a saguaro were forced to put up with my photo pestering for a few moments.

The other way out of the Cabeza Prieta Mountains is to continue west across the Lechuguilla Desert; forboding in expanse but holding the promise of dependable water in the mountains on the other side. Such was not to be fulfilled for one alleged family, whose only cistern of water fell from their wagon and shattered. Two of the men set out to find the water across the valley but could not; and so returned to die with their family...eight men, women and children succumb to the desert heat.

An occasionally-morphing memorial and/or road marker consisting of a circle, a line, and the number 8, can be found at the site where the family is alleged to have perished...pictured above with the distinctive Tordillo Mountain to the north.  The line, itself alleged to point the way to Tinajas Altas--the water tanks eight miles across the valley--points to the wrong canyon anyway.

Continued in Part 4...

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