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Mojave Desert Peaks: Hiking the Crown of the California Desert

Mojave Desert Peaks: Hiking the Crown of the California Desert

by Michel Digonnet


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Experience the Best Mountain Hikes of California’s Mojave Desert

With a total protected area of 9.1 million acres, the Mojave Desert is one of the best-preserved ecosystems in the United States and a formidable playground for hiking, mountaineering, and backpacking. Mojave Desert Peaks describes 130 peak climbs selected among 41 mountain ranges to celebrate this region’s remarkable geological, botanical, and historical diversity, and its breathtaking landscapes.

The hikes range from easy to strenuous and appeal to both beginners and seasoned hikers. Each description emphasizes the area’s scenic beauty and provides information on road access, navigational directions, distances and elevations to key waypoints, and natural and human history. This guidebook also gives valuable tips on desert hiking. Illustrated with 100 computer-generated topographic maps, five general maps for regional orientation, and 160 photographs, it covers Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave National Preserve, Mojave Trails National Monument, Castle Mountains National Monument, and 12 designated wilderness areas.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780965917889
Publisher: Michel Diggonet
Publication date: 02/19/2019
Pages: 600
Sales rank: 1,111,019
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Michel Digonnet is a professor of Applied Physics at Stanford University. He has spent most of his life in the San Francisco Bay Area and has dedicated a good fraction of his spare time to exploring the deserts of California and the Southwest. He has authored three outdoors books on the California Desert. He lives in Palo Alto, California.

Read an Excerpt


Lookout Mountain is the site of the Modoc Mine, one of the richest historic silver mining centers in the region. The short climb to its flat summit on the trail used by miners well over a century ago, past cavernous tunnels, the ruins of the Modoc smelters, and the ghost town of 1880s Lookout, is a rare experience. It gives a glimpse of the life of the men who toiled here to harvest nearly $2,500,000 of silver from the mountain. The view of the Panamint Range is spectacular.

General Information

  • Jurisdiction: Private claims on BLM land
  • Road status: Climbing on trails and cross-country; graded access road
  • The climb: 1.7 mi, 1,350 ft up one way/moderate
  • Main attractions: Historic silver mine, ghost town, trail climb
  • USGS 7.5' topo maps: Panamint Springs, Revenue Canyon*
  • Maps: pp. 523*, 499

    Location and Access

    Lookout Mountain is a colorful, steep-sided promontory of folded Devonian limestone and dolomite, in the northern Argus Range. With a strong high-clearance four-while-drive vehicle, one can drive a rough stony road right up to its summit, but to climb it on foot all you need is a standard-clearance vehicle. First work your way on Highway 190 to Panamint Springs, 45.2 miles east of Olancha, then to the Panamint Valley Road 2.5 miles east of it. Drive this road 7.4 miles southeast to the signed Minnietta Road on the right. Take this wide graded road 3.6 miles east, over Ash Hill, until it veers north and merges with the Nadeau Trail, signed P 105, coming in from the left. Lookout Mountain rises just to the west. Continue north 0.4 mile to a fork. Angle left on the Nadeau Trail Cutoff, and go 0.35 mile to a junction. The left fork is the way to the summit. It gets rapidly rough, so park at this junction.

    Route Description

    Lookout Mountain was made famous by a large silver lode discovered near its summit in April 1875. The discovery attracted Senator George Hearst—his son would later build Hearst Castle—who promptly bought into the claims and formed the Modoc Consolidated Mining Company. The area was so rich that after a few veins had been opened, it was incorporated into a new mining district. Inspired by the open views from the mine, the mountain and the town that grew near the mine were named Lookout. The ore was initially teamed to Panamint City for smelting. In 1876, desert freighter Remi Nadeau delivered to Lookout two 30-ton smelting furnaces. First fired up in October, they produced around 10 tons of silver-lead bullion daily. The charcoal needed to reduce the ore was at first made from pinyon pine logged on this range. By the end of 1876, this scant wood supply was nearly depleted, and Hearst turned to the extensive forest in Wildrose Canyon, across Panamint Valley. Up in the canyon the company erected ten large kilns, which were activated in the spring of 1877. In May, Lookout boasted 30 or 40 houses and stone buildings, three saloons, two general stores, and a bank. Three times a week, a stagecoach connected it to Darwin and Panamint City. By the summer of 1878, the furnaces had churned out over $1,000,000 worth of bullion. For reasons not well understood, the kilns and furnaces were shut down a year later. But there was still plenty of ore, and mining continued. By 1890, the Modoc Mine had produced about $1,900,000, and joined the hall of fame as one of the richest silver mines in the Death Valley region.

    In its early history, two shortcuts gave quick access to the mine. The Pack Trail was built for pack animals; the China Wall Trail, much steeper, was for humans. Its namesake is the Chinese employees who built it, and perhaps also its construction: most of it was supported by curvy stone walls, like the Great Wall of China. To get to it from the road junction, hike up the road 0.45 mile to, then in, a steep canyon, to the foot of the tailing and large retaining wall of the Lower Tunnel. Walk up the short tailing to the top of the wall, then go about 25 yards to the left, away from the tunnel. The China Wall Trail starts on the right, just before a cable anchored to the mountain. This narrow foot trail was built to last—and it did. Other than a small landslide and a litter of stones loosened by the local burros, it is essentially intact after 140 years. In 0.4 mile it switchbacks 430 feet up the steep canyon head to a saddle on Lookout Mountain’s northeast shoulder, where it joins the Pack Trail. The name Lookout is instantly justified when you reach the saddle and succumb to the first gorgeous view of Panamint Valley.

    The trail continues 0.15 mile up the more gentle ridge until it ends at the road at the Modoc Mine. Continue west on the road; be very careful, and avoid walking here at night, as the area has many deep open shafts, including one right in the middle of the road. Here as all along the Pack Trail, slag litters the ground. These shiny black pebbles were formed in the smelters when charcoal combined chemically with the silver ore. Four of the Modoc Mine’s main tunnels are located along this stretch. Most of the historic production came out of the two Lookout Mountain split 500-foot tunnels of Level No. 2, the first adit below the road. The two long, superposed stone platforms on the right side of the road just a little further is the site of the 1876 smelters. Although it is one of the region’s oldest ghost towns, Lookout still has five stone buildings and the ruins of at least two dozen more. The largest structure, right by the road past the smelters site, is a prime example of desert mining camp architecture in the 1880s, its two-foot-thick walls of carefully laid angular rocks and portions of its rafters still defying gravity.

    From there it is a short walk up the broad ridge (or the road) to the summit. Lookout Mountain was so full of silver that there is a shaft even at its very top, as well as three stone buildings for the miners who liked their room with a view. The barren summit knoll is indeed a spectacular lookout over the 75-mile length of Panamint Valley, from the pale dunes and dry lake in the northern basin to the southern basin’s salt pan, all sprawled below the majestic Panamint Range.

    To return a different way, hike back to the saddle and go down the Pack Trail. In 0.35 mile it ends at the bottom of a canyon. Continue down waves of white-marble slickrock, then along the canyon’s stony wash, to the canyon mouth. The Nadeau Trail Cutoff, which runs just past it, will take you around the tip of the mountain to your vehicle.

    Lookout Mountain

  • Nadeau Trail Cutoff: Dist.(mi): 0.0, Elev.(ft): 2,420
  • Lower end of China Wall Trail: Dist.(mi): 0.5, Elev.(ft): 2,840
  • Ridge/Jct with Pack Trail: Dist.(mi): 0.9, Elev.(ft): 3,270
  • Lower end of Pack Trail: Dist.(mi): (0.35), Elev.(ft): ~2,980
  • Nadeau Trail: Dist.(mi): (0.6) Elev.(ft): 2,750
  • Return via Nadeau Tr. Cutoff: Dist.(mi): (1.3), Elev.(ft): 2,420
  • Upper end of Pack Trail/Road: Dist.(mi): 1.05, Elev.(ft): 3,435
  • Lookout (main building): Dist.(mi): 1.4, Elev.(ft): 3,580
  • Lookout Mountain: Dist.(mi): 1.65, Elev.(ft): 3,764
  • Table of Contents


    About This Book

    1. Geography and Climate

    • Boundary
    • Topography
    • Legacy
    • Conservancy
    • Human Developments
    • Climate

    2. Natural History

    • Geology
    • Botany
    • Wildlife

    3. Cultural History

    • Native American History
    • Mining History

    4. Safety Tips, Regulations, and Ethics

    • Backcountry Driving
    • Hiking and Climbing Tips
    • Desert Hazards
    • Regulations
    • Wilderness Ethics

    5. Northern Mojave Desert

    • Nopah Range

      • Pahrump Peak
      • Noon Peak
    • Kingston Range and Avawatz Mountains

      • Kingston Peak
      • Avawatz Peak
    • Grapevine Mountains

      • Mount Palmer
      • Thimble Peak
      • Death Valley Buttes
    • Funeral Mountains

      • Chloride Cliff
      • Nevares Peak
      • Pyramid Peak
    • Black Mountains

      • Red Cathedral
      • Mount Perry
      • Coffin Peak
      • Ashford Peak
      • Desert Hound Peak
    • Last Chance Range

      • Last Chance Mountain
      • Lead Peak
      • Ubehebe Peak
    • Cottonwood Mountains

      • Tin Mountain
      • White Top Mountain
      • Leaning Rock
      • Lost Burro Peak
      • Hunter Mountain
      • Towne Peak
    • Panamint Mountains

      • Wildrose Peak
      • Telescope Peak
      • Sentinel Peak
      • Slims Peak
      • Porter Peak
      • Striped Butte
      • Needle Peak
    • Owlshead Mountains

      • Con Peak
      • Spring Peak
      • Owl Peak

    6. Eastern Mojave Desert

    • Mountains and Piute Range

      • Hart Peak
      • Ute Peak
    • Woods Mountains and Hackberry Mountain

      • Woods Mountain
      • Hackberry Mountain and Guitar Mountain
    • New York Mountains

      • Castle Peaks
      • New York Peak
      • Pinto Mountain
    • Mid Hills

      • Eagle Rocks
      • Table Mountain
    • Providence Mountains

      • Barber Peak
      • Fountain Peak
      • Providence Peak
    • Granite Mountains

      • Silver Peak
      • Granite Mountain
    • Clark Mountain Range

      • Alaska Hill
      • Clark Mountain
    • Ivanpah Mountains

      • Kokoweef Peak
      • Striped Mountain
      • Kessler Peak
    • Cima Dome

      • Teutonia Peak
      • Cima Dome
      • Mount Hephestus
    • Cowhole Mountains

      • Little Cowhole Mountain
      • Cowhole Mountain
    • Sacramento Mountains and Chemehuevi Mountains

      • Eagle Peak
      • Chemehuevi Peak
    • Stepladder and Old Woman Mountains

      • Stepladder Mountain
      • Old Woman Mountain
      • Old Woman Statue
    • Marble Mountains

      • Castle Peak
      • Marble Peak
    • Cady Mountains

      • Cady Peak
      • Sleeping Beauty

    7. Southern Mojave Desert

    • Ord Mountains

      • West Ord Mountain
      • East Ord Mountain
    • San Bernardino Mountains

      • Bighorn Mountain
      • Chaparrosa Peak
    • Little San Bernardino Mountains

      • Warren Peak
      • Eureka Peak
      • Quail Mountain
      • Inspiration Peak
      • Ryan Mountain
      • Lost Horse Mountain
    • Wonderland of Rocks

      • Keys Peak
      • Queen Mountain
      • Joshua Mountain
    • Hexie Mountains

      • Malapai Hill
      • Lela Peak
      • Monument Mountain
    • Pinto Mountains

      • Twentynine Palms Mountain
      • Pinto Mountain
    • Sheep Hole Mountains

      • Sheep Hole Mountain
      • Stifle Peak

    8. Western Mojave Desert

    • Coso Range

      • Silver Mountain
      • Jurassic Peak and Scattered Bone Peak
    • Argus Range

      • Ophir Mountain and Darwin Peak
      • Zinc Hill
      • Lookout Mountain
      • Mine Peak
    • Slate Range

      • Slate Point and Empasse Peak
      • Searles Peak
    • El Paso Mountains

      • El Paso Peaks
      • Black Mountain
    • Lava Mountains and Fremont Peak Range

      • Klinker Mountain
      • Red Mountain
      • Fremont Peak


    Summary Table of Climbs


    Customer Reviews