TR Santa Rosa Crossings

General Palm Springs area.

TR Santa Rosa Crossings

Postby Robert Hunt » Tue Feb 25, 2014 1:43 am

This is the time of year when I am typically able to get away for a solo weekend guilt free because I am now a year older. The Santa Rosas beckoned and my plan was ambitious, a trio of remote peaks (Dawns, Martinez, and Toro) involving off trail routing with uncertain water sources. I had it all worked out.
I drove to Borrego Friday night and parked in Rockhouse Canyon at Hidden Spring. Between working late, family obligations, traffic, and an hour and a half of off-roading, I didn’t reach Hidden Spring until 11:30 pm. This did not bode well. After changing into hiking clothes, I backpacked up to lower Rockhouse Valley where I stashed 3 ½ liters of water for the days first peak (Dawns, about halfway between Toro & Rabbit). I then continued on to Nickolias Canyon, arriving at about 3:00 am. Even though I often looked, I never saw the cougar that I was just sure was stalking me in the dark. By the time I set up my tent, filtered water, and readied my daypack for the coming run, it was almost 3:40 am.
It came as no surprise that I slept right through my watch alarm set for 5:00 am and awoke at 8:00 to full sun. This was not good. I knew it would take me at least an hour to run down canyon to my water stash and another hour to summit Dawns Peak. This only left me with 7 or 8 hours to then reach Martinez Mtn and beeline it to Toro. My plan was already tight for time and this late start had totally blown any safety margin. In my mind it was all falling apart. I realized that most emergency situations are usually the result of a series of unforeseen circumstances and bad decisions so I took some time to rethink my day and not make that first bad decision. After much thought and two cups of coffee I decided to have fun and bag Toro, drop down east along the main ridge to the north of Horsethief Canyon until my turnaround time and return via a different ridge to the south. My main problem was that all my water bottles were 7 miles down canyon although I did have my 2 ½ liter camelback.
I drank lots of water and left camp with a full camelback, calories, flashlight, emergency blanket, cell phone, gps, jacket shell, tights, and light gloves at about 9:30 am. The ridge started out rocky and crumbly but quickly gave way to Manzanita and then trees as I topped out onto the Alta Seca bench. I remember massive pinyon pine trees that provided shade every couple hundred yards along the lower portion of the ridge in the late eighties. I watched them go brown, become skeletons, and eventually topple over. Not even the trunks remain anymore. The rock outcroppings overlooking Rockhouse Valley made for great views as I made my way from one to the next until I got ‘near’ Toro summit just before noon.
At this point I decided on a turnaround time of 2:00 given that I had extra clothing and a flashlight but did not yet know what my return route would look like. It was disappointing that my great adventure had been pared down to two more hours but I was really enjoying being in the trees on top of the world. Heading towards Martinez Mtn (I made it about halfway) was a mix of big pines and low Manzanita until about 6,000 ft where the brush got thicker. I dropped into Horsetheif Canyon and meandered down until it pinched into some large, beautiful (but stagnant) rockbowl pools that I could not downclimb. It was nearing 2:00 so I climbed a ridge to the south and came across some segments of trail leading up west and then south into Black Rabbit Canyon. It was clear that the trail was there long before the bushes and that progress would be very slow and painful from then on.
I then went up Black Rabbit Canyon a short distance and attained a ridge to the south towards a peak at the south end of Alta Seca Bench. Bushes…hours in the bushes, until I finally topped out at a peak with a house-sized boulder perched on top. I peeked around in the little caves at the base of it and noticed two deep grinding holes in the underside. To clarify, these were going up into the underside of the boulder. I felt them and the insides were polished smooth. I then climbed around the rock and noticed that all exposed surfaces were evenly oxidized and could find no signs of recent movement at all. Those grinding holes have been there for a long, long, long time! I stood and marveled at the topics that were surely discussed here during the tedium of food prep so very long ago; births, deaths, dreams, stories of far away places…
The descent to Rockhouse Valley was a full-on run. The route used to go from tree to tree but I still remember where a lot of them used to be and made it to camp in under an hour with a liter of water to spare. I made dinner and climbed a small hill with a view of Borrego to eat while watching the sunset and then sweet sleep.
Sunday morning started with exploring side canyons and surrounding ridges until 10:00 when I packed and headed out. The hike/jog back to Hidden Spring took about two and a quarter hours including retrieving my water stash.
Although I didn’t accomplish anything near what I had set out to do, I didn’t end up crawling back to camp in the dark (or worse) and I absolutely enjoyed the east side of the Santa Rosas even though the bushes are just as fierce as I had feared. Those things suck the time right out of a day! The sheer volume of well-worn trails (unusable due to brush) between upper Horsethief Canyon pools and Black Rabbit Canyon begs to be explored further.
Last edited by Robert Hunt on Tue Feb 25, 2014 1:52 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Robert Hunt » Tue Feb 25, 2014 1:50 am

I can't seem to place any breaks in this, they show up in the messege body but not the submitted text???
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Postby Robert Hunt » Tue Feb 25, 2014 1:54 am

I can't seem to place any breaks in this, they show up in the messege body but not the submitted text???
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Postby bluerail » Tue Feb 25, 2014 8:33 am

Great trip Robert, theres so much unexplored stuff back there ( for me, and thats my back yard), and bushes, so many bushes.

so youre saying the the mortars were inverted? did I get that right?
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Postby Robert Hunt » Tue Feb 25, 2014 10:50 am

HI Steve. Yes, the mortars are inverted. They are definitely mortars and the rims are very rough due to weathering while the inside walls are smooth. They must have been made when the boulder was in a different position, but that had to be a VERY long time ago. It was so exciting yet frustrating to come upon such well built trails and then be denied by such thick growth. Such an awesome juxtaposition of time-frames.
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Postby bluerail » Thu Feb 27, 2014 7:11 am

thats an amazing thing to come across, id love to see it someday. just weird.

It's a real bloody treat traveling back there and it definitely takes you back in time.
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Postby Sally » Thu Feb 27, 2014 9:18 am

Thanks for the very interesting trip report, Robert! Sometimes plans that don't work out can lead to something else that's just as good. It's always neat to run into relics left by people who lived there long, long, ago.

When I did some backpacking in the AB desert back in the 60's it was not uncommon to find bits of arrowheads and pot shards. I, too, would imagine what it would be like to have been a resident back then.
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Postby Robert Hunt » Thu Feb 27, 2014 12:45 pm

Hi Sally. I envy your early AB experiences although I still find many things, including two whole ollas (different locations, reburied & still there). On this trip I found a rim piece with a partial fingerprint! Steve, read your reply & thought, you're right...what a treat. An hour later I caught sight of my scratched up legs & got the pun. I'm a little dense. Posting about discovered artifacts is a thorny issue. I got caught up in the moment. Maybe I should branch out and explore Black Rabbit Cyn more. Jim?
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Postby cynthia23 » Thu Feb 27, 2014 3:04 pm

Excellent TR. I enjoyed how you took us through your own thought processes as you journeyed. How cool to find the ancient mortars!
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Postby msugarpants » Thu Feb 27, 2014 3:05 pm

Great TR, Robert. Thanks. Do you have any pics of the inverted mortars? I tried following bits and pieces of the 'Old Toro' trail, which is rumored to cross the alta seca bench (that part is easy to spot...at times...) over to the upper reaches of Horsethief, and down into rockhouse. Instead of finding all that, I found myself an old empty whiskey Jar.
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