Mastodon Peak

I pulled into Cottonwood Springs Campground around 3 pm. Since this part of Joshua Tree National Park is lower in elevation, it was a bit warmer. I set up my tent and relaxed in my chair beneath some shade. I rehydrated some more while enjoying Journeys North: The Pacific Crest Trail by Barney “Scout” Mann. As the sun began to get lower, I thought about summiting Mastodon Peak then, instead of in the morning. Since the trailhead right at the campground, so I grabbed my gear, making sure to toss in my headlamp and set off.

Opting to take the loop in a counter-clockwise route, I soon found myself at Cottonwood Springs. The evening light was making the palm fronds glow. I continued up the trail, watching as the evening light crept across the desert. Soon I reached the turnoff toward Mastodon Peak and Mine. The Lost Palm Oasis would have to wait for another time…

The trail continued working its way up. There were even some nice carved steps at one point along the trail. Finally, Mastodon Peak revealed itself. A sign indicated that the summit was just .1 miles away but on an unmaintained trail. I knew from my research that the path circled around to the eastern side of the peak and had some light scrambling. I found the route without issue, and with two little scrambles was standing atop Mastodon Peak. The sun had almost set, so I was being mindful of the time. Even so, I got some nice photographs.

After scrambling back down, I rejoined the trail and soon found myself at the Mastodon Mine. The actual mine shaft is grated over and is now home to a variety of bats. I looked over some of the other artifacts for a bit before continuing on.

The trail was still fairly easy to follow as the light faded. Finally, I stopped and donned my headlamp. When I was on a rise, I could see the lights of the campground off in the distance. Once in a while, I would see a bat fly by, much too fast to even attempt to snap a photo.

Soon, I found myself back at the junction to the trail and my thoughts were turning toward dinner. All told this hike was 3.36 miles with just over 500 feet of elevation gain. It took me 1:35 to complete it (including a short side spur). 

Ryan Mountain

My second peak of the day was to be Ryan Mountain, which is also on the Sierra Club Hundred Peaks Section list (#239). This peak is one of the more popular hikes in the park, in part due to the incredible views from the summit. Before I set off, I saw a couple looking over a map, and I offered some assistance as to their next adventure. Afterward, I chatted with one of the volunteers nearby. We commented on how many of the hikers were improperly clothed for the hike. Shorts, t-shirts, or tank-tops were common on many of them. While we stood there in long pants and long-sleeves and wide-brimmed hats just shaking our heads. 

The trail begins climbing straight from the parking lot. For the first part of the trail, stairs built from the native rocks helped me make the 1,000-foot climb to the summit. Standing off to the right, just after hitting the trail, was a massive rock formation. This white tank granite is over 135 million years old.

I would keep climbing up the mountain, letting the returning hikers pass safely by. It was hit and miss on the face-covering usage. After a short, relatively level section, the rock stairs returned until I reached the saddle. Here I got my first real view of the summit. At this point, the trail’s grade eased and I soon found myself atop Ryan Mountain. 

I had packed my lunch, so I found a nice spot to rest and enjoy my well-earned meal. The views were truly spectacular. The summit is nice and wide, so everyone was able to find a spot to safely distance from one another.

While it was warmer, the breeze made it pleasant to just soak in the views. I eventually figured I should head back down, as I had about an hour’s drive down to my campsite at Cottonwood Springs. The descent was uneventful, except for the sweeping views. All told, I covered the 2.8 miles in 1:43 with 1,060 feet of gain. 

Lost Horse Mine

I decided to spend a couple of days exploring Joshua Tree National Park. The first day was spent summiting some peaks, and the second day would be playing tour guide for a friend. Since the weather was still warm, I knew I wanted to get an early start. I arrived at the trailhead for Lost Horse Mine to an empty parking lot around 7:30 am. This was to be the longest hike of the day, so I wanted to get it done first. After grabbing my gear, I set off to see the well-preserved mine and then summit the nearby peak. The entire loop is just about 7 miles, while if you just go to the mine and back it is about 4.5 miles. Being mindful of the temperatures, I was unsure which option I was going to take. As I stepped onto the trail, I saw the sign that the park had turned this trail into a one-way route, so I realized I’d doing the loop.

The trail worked its way back into the wilderness. About a mile in, a runner shouted that he was coming up from behind. I didn’t expect to see that on the trail. I wished him a safe run and he wished me an enjoyable hike. As I made my way toward the mine, I was rewarded with some nice vistas of the park. Soon the mine came into view. I had tried several times in the past to hike out to this site but had been unable to. 

I took the spur trail up to the Lost Horse Mine. The mine itself is fenced off, so it took a little finagling to take my photos. It is quite a sight to see. After exploring some of the surrounding artifacts, I rejoined the main trail and headed along my clockwise route. I soon came to the turnoff to make the ascent to Lost Horse Mountain. This peak is #251 on the Sierra Club Hundred Peaks Section, hence why I was eager to climb it.

The route is straight up the short slope, and I was able to follow the faint use trail for most of it. As expected I was rewarded with some sweeping views. A light breeze made it quite nice. There was no register nor benchmark to be found. After a short break, I headed back down, knowing I had another 4 or so miles of hiking to return to the car. 

Once I was back on the trail, it began its steep descent for a while. I stopped for a bit to explore what appeared to be closed mine shafts. Here, an actual hiker passed me. We exchanged hellos as he continued on. Since I was hoping for a multiple peak day, I was playing it conservatively with my pace and energy. 

After a bit, I came to the ruins of an abandoned cabin that Johnny Lang, the founder of the mine, moved to after being accused of stealing gold from the mine. All that remains is the chimney and the bed frame. This is also the site of the Optimist Mine, which unlike the Lost Horse Mine, was a bust.

Once I made a short climb, the trail would gradually descend back to the car. I was passed by another runner. Did I miss the notice for the race? Around a mile to go, I encountered three hikers going the other direction. I let them know that this trail is one-way and they might encounter some folks giving them the stink-eye.

While I cruised along, I debated what my second peak will be. Mount Inspiration was an option. While short, it was a use-trail-only hike. My other option was Ryan Mountain, which would have more traffic. In the end, I decided Ryan Mountain would be the smart choice. Soon the road came into view as well as the parking lot. The lot had filled up since I set off. Tossing my gear into the back and enjoying some cold water, I was off for the short drive to the next peak. This hike took me 3 hours to cover the 7 miles with 1,111 feet of gain.