Whipple Mountains Wilderness.
I became a snowbird last winter, spending three weeks at Lake Havasu. (There is something singularly satisfying about receiving winter storm alerts from home on your cell while basking in 85-degree temperatures.)
On the west shore of Lake Havasu (California side) is a BLM wilderness area encompassing the Whipple Mountains. From the highway, the mountains look like a typical desert range – rocky, barren, with a few scattered bushes and cactus and no water or greenery. While looking for trails to hike in the area I ran across a write-up on alltrails.com about the Whipple Wash – the main drainage out of the mountains, flowing to Lake Havasu. Additional searching led me to the Needles BLM web page on the area, describing the cliffs up canyon as rivalling Zion NP.
Therefore, my wife and I decided to try it.
The directions to the trailhead seemed a bit vague, but turned out to be OK. The directions describe the last stretch of road to be a powerline road. My experience with powerline roads are negative, usually some unmaintained rock and rut strewn goat track, but this road was in fine shape. The powerlines are the main electric transmission lines to Los Angeles from Parker Dam, and the road was graded and well built, thought unpaved. The trailhead is in a large wash and the wilderness boundary is marked by a cable strung through some posts. The area outside the wilderness is heavily used by OHVs, but no tracks were evident inside the wilderness. The locals seem to honor the closure.
There was no water flowing in the wash, but evidence of past torrential flooding is present. The hiking was easy, hard packed sand and gravel, only a few short stretches of soft sand. There is no real trail, just follow the wash upstream. Several different sets of footprints braided up the wash, over 100 yards wide in places. It was a warm day and there is not much shade in the wash itself, but the banks are lined with mesquite, palo verde, and cottonwood, providing a shady spot for rests. And one lone palm tree. Wildflowers were in bloom.
The most common wildlife was wild burros. They are ever-present in large quantities, as well as their deposits on the ground. The rocks were multicolored, with deep red predominating. Interesting geology, with granite veins in the limestone, and basalt on the upper slopes. Lots of caves and small arches.
About two miles up canyon you arrive at the cliffs, several up to 1000 feet high. Although the write-ups describe them as similar to Zion, the comparison is weak but still impressive. At about 2.5 miles, the canyon narrowed and required bouldering to continue. Wife was ready to turn back, so we ate lunch, and headed back to the trailhead. The only water along the whole trip was the holes dug by the burros. They use their hoofs to dig holes in the sandy wash bottom, some a couple feet deep. The holes fill with water. Tracks of other animals (birds, rabbits, rodents) are seen next to the hoof prints, so all the critters use the water holes provided by the wild burros.
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