25-Jun-99 (Pictograph Rock and Big Kitties)
By: Doug Mantle, Tina Bowman
At 5:40 a.m. Friday, June 25, Doug led our grand group of seven from the Leavitt Meadows trailhead parking area to the Leavitt Meadows campground and across the footbridge onto the West Walker River trail. Beyond Roosevelt and Lane Lakes we had a number of stream crossings that we made with aplomb, until we had to cross the river itself at the lower end of Upper Piute Meadow. Doug, Mirna Roach, and Erik Siering used the obvious trail crossing, which was fairly deep at the beginning for Mirna. Following Greg Roach, Herb Buehler, my husband Tom, and I went slightly up river to a sandy, mostly knee-deep or shallower, and moderately broad ford. We definitely moved quickly through that cold water, but then had lunch, despite mosquitoes, at the ranger's cabin and admired the collection of rocks and view. As we left the meadow, we encountered more and more snow, as predicted in Doug's trip sheet. We camped at a spot half a mile or less from Tower Lake (Doug caved into group resistance at this point) on a bench above the stream and one spot a little lower, stopping before 3:00 after fourteen or more miles and 3340' of gain. We had a great spot for lounging and dining.
Saturday morning we were off at 5:30, heading up to Tower Lake, where we found some delightful campsites free of snow, though most of us, were glad we hadn't carried our backpacks up there. Just beyond the lake we put on crampons, and headed up the wall, exiting to the right on great snow and avoiding a cornice wannabe. We traveled on snow and rock onto the north shoulder and then around onto the northern end of the west side were winding through talus and runty trees, to the west - facing chute of ledges up to the top, a fun scramble, all free of snow. Our strong group was on top before 8:30 and lingered a long time picking out peaks and snacking.
Back in camp at 10:50, we packed up, ate, and started out before noon. We all crossed the river at the sandy ford this time and enjoyed the brief respite from mosquitoes afforded by the coldness of our skin from the water. Although we had planned for a three-day trip, five of us staggered all the way out to the cars by 7:00. Greg and Mirna, demonstrating sanity, camped partway out. For a trail going down river, it has a lot of uphill sections -- we had 4200'of gain for the day, almost a thousand of it on the backpack after the climb. Leavitt Meadow seems to go on forever, and just before the bridge, there's a hill for the final insult. We said our good-byes and thanked Doug for a fine lead.
Tom and I spent the night in Independence before wandering home. Erik had told us about pictographs in the area of Coso Junction, so we made the side excursion to see them. Going east on the road from Coso Junction 3.9 miles to an excellent dirt road, we turned left and went 4.5 miles to a gate to a mining operation. Here we turned left again on a good dirt road to the parking area at .4 miles. It's only on this last little bit of road that you'll find signs for Pictograph Rock. A well signed trail (five minutes or so?) leads to the huge boulder which has paintings of hands, antelope, people (perhaps), lizards (maybe), and strange lizard-like figures with antennae. Evidence of landings from outer space? Lots of obsidian chips festoon the ground. We thought the trip worthwhile, but then we also had a host of house projects waiting for us in Long Beach. Fascinating site or work-avoidance delay? You decide. We also stopped in. Tropico at the Exotic Feline Conservation Center to see the jaguars, pumas, leopards, caracals, ocelots, fishing cats, and more. It's open 10 - 4:00 every day except Wednesday and is free -- take Rosamond Blvd. East several miles, turn night at the green sign for the Center (Tropico-Mojave Road) and left at another live just below the old Tropico mine, sign onto a good dirt road to the parking area. The big cats and, if you are headed north, you can take the Tropico-Mojave Road up to Soledad Mountain and the Silver Queen Mine road back to Highway 14.
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