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Bighorn Mountains, Meeks Mountain

7 April 2005

By: George Wysup

Zobeida "Pathfinder" Molina phoned Wednesday, "I just found out I don't have to work tomorrow. Are you going hiking?" I wasn't, but I never have to work, so why not? I knew she was in need of Meeks and Bighorns (HPS 23 E and A) for List #2. I quickly formulated a plan to get me explorer routes on both, with pathfinder routes for Ms. Z.M. "Meet me at 5:30 am," I instructed. She didn't whine, many would have.

Meeks. HPS is providing more opportunities for strange emblems, which serves to keep many of us neurotic obsessive-compulsives interested. I planned for us to climb Meeks by hiking the usual road around to the northwest side, then summiting via the west ridge. I had already hiked it from the north and from the east, ergo an explorer by my definition (especially since a private property issue precludes us from hiking from the south side). From here we would drive to Bighorn Mountains route 3, rather than make the easy road hike from the Meeks road. After a gourmet breakfast at Carl's in Yucky Valley we sped in my old 4Runner to the New Dixie Mine Road for the slow, bouncy, 10 mile drive to the Meeks trailhead. 4WD was necessary to negotiate the soft sand starting about 3 miles in. Then there were a couple of small ravines where the water flow had bared a few boulders and created some actual stream banks, also requiring 4WD and high clearance. The plains near Landers were loaded with yellow flora, mostly desert dandelions and related asteraceae. A few miles up the dirt road we were awed by a profusion of brilliant purple from Desert Canterbury Bells (Phacelia campanularia). As we got above 5000' the bright colors mostly changed to green and brown.

We started hiking about 1/4 mile short of the ruined cabin. About the only flowers worth noting were the belly flower, Pringle's Woody Daisy (Ericophylium pringlei), and the Lotuses - or Loti to you Latin speakers - L. rigidus and strigosus. The hike was short and sweet and uneventful except for an encounter with a 5 foot buzz worm that gave ample warning, even to my aged and malfunctioning ears. The peak had a perfectly good register that has not seen much traffic. The road was almost as drivable as ever.

We had enough daylight left to climb Bighorns from the desert side.

Bighorn. We drove the prescribed 12+ miles north on 247 to Bighorn Road, then south 2 miles to Cholla road, then a right turn to search for the road toward Bighorn Canyon, as the peak guide directs for route 3. My memory failed me (as usual). I turned south on the first road I came to, which looked strangely familiar though route 3 was new to me. For the first 0.4 mile this road was fine, but then it began to jar our bones, so I stopped after 0.6 mile. We donned our packs and gear and set forth on this adventure. The road is so bad that even hiking on it is a chore - it is easier paralleling the road. We hiked through the common flora, Desert Chicory, White Tidy-tips, Goldfields, Desert Pincushion (Chaenactis fremonti), purple Lace-leaf Phacelia (P. distans), and violet Notch-leafed Phacelia (P. crenulata) with the caterpillar shaped flower heads. Some of the less common wildflowers in bloom were Desert Paintbrush, Sand Gilia, Forget-me-not (Cryptantha possibly pterocarya), Western Tansy-mustard, Whispering Bells (Emmenanthe pendulariflora), and Long-beaked Streptanthella (S. longirostris). Then we came to the cabin. Something was rotten, because there is another cabin exactly like it on route 2. We continued up the gully and the terrain just didn't match the topo (where we were supposed to be), hard as I tried to force it to match. A quick check with the not-so-trusty Garmin E-Trex revealed that we were, indeed, dead on route 2. We had to salvage our pathfinder/explorer somehow. We could have traversed east for a mile to join the real route 3, but we decided to go southeast, then south, up a perfectly nice ridge right next to us which joins route 3 just north of bump 5641 on occasional mild class 2.

On the ascent Zobeida yelled, "Hey, pseudo-expert, what's this red flower?" I told her if it is red it has to be paintbrush. It wasn't paintbrush. I looked it up at home. It was a Scarlet Milkvetch (Astragalus coccineus), quite a nice bloom and not so common. A bit later Zobeida said, "Oh, oh. Let's get out of here fast!" Then I saw what she saw, a large, dark, fast moving cloud that consisted entirely of honeybees. They passed without bothering to sting us to death. We paused to reflect on life and its fragility. If the bees had decided to sting us en masse it would have mattered not at all that we hiked together and not alone. I know nothing of the inclinations of swarming bees, especially Africanized bees. Probably they are too busy searching for a suitable new home to bother stinging anything. We were a bit uneasy at the concept. The unusual profusion of wildflowers no doubt increases the likelihood of bee swarms.

On with the hike. No problem. We turned westerly along Bighorn Ridge, crossed a few dips, and ended up atop the HPS summit at 5894'. We returned via route 2 to patiently waiting cold beer, 2 more pathfinders/explorers in our bags.

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