Turtle Mountains Wilderness

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Turtle Mountain at a Glance
Location : San Bernardino County; 30 miles south of Needles, California
Size : 144,500 acres
Elevation range : 1,000 to 4,231 feet
Administration : BLM Needles Resource Area Office
Maps : Desert Access Guide Parker/Blythe #16, Sheephole Mountains #15; AAA San Bernardino County

With 144,500 acres within its boundaries, the Turtle Mountains Wilderness is one of the largest wildernesses in the eastern portion of the California desert. Yet it could be much larger. Since only a dirt road separates the Turtle Mountains from the 81,600-acre Stepladder Mountains Wilderness to the north, the effective size of this wildlands is considerably greater than even its significant acreage may indicate. Not only is this wilderness area spacious, but it is also one of the most dramatic. Volcanic cliffs, granitic spires, and deep canyons all surrounded by broad bajadas and numerous washes make this a wildlands worthy of extensive exploration. Many of the highest peaks are volcanic plugs—the necks and relicts of large volcanoes that were active in this area millions of years ago. Among the more spectacular named peaks are Horn Peak (elevation 3,866 feet), Castle Rock (elevation 2,979 feet), the twin Mopah Peaks (elevations 3,541 and 3,514 feet) and 4,231-foot Bolson Peak—the highest in the range.

The northern Turtle Mountains consist of colorful volcanics with jagged spires, whereas the southern Turtle Mountains are more rounded. Between the two sections is a large interior valley bisected by numerous washes. Homer Wash, another major drainage, cuts across the northwestern corner of the wilderness and has a rich desert woodland riparian zone with palo verde, ironwood, smoke tree, and other desert wash species.

Unlike most of the California desert wildernesses, which are completely waterless, the Turtle Mountains harbor 11 springs, including Horn Spring, Martins Well, Mopah Spring, Carsons Well, Mohawk Spring, and Coffin Spring. However the BLM recommends that anyone hiking in this wilderness bring their own water because the springs may not be reliable. Mopah Spring supports the most northern California fan palm oasis in the California desert, although the palms are not native to the range, having been planted there in 1924.

Vegetation consists of typical desert species like creosote bush, barrel cactus, and palo verde located along streams. Wildlife include desert bighorn sheep, desert tortoise, golden eagle, and prairie falcon. The Turtle Mountains possess significant archeological resources and are a designated National Natural Landmark. Cultural remains include rock shelters, rock art, rock alignments, quarry sites, and tool production sites. Mopah Springs in particular has an extensive collection of petroglyphs, trail shrines, and habitation sites. The Turtle Mountains are also well known among rock hounds for jasper, agate, and Mopah Roses—a chalcedony thought to resemble the folded petals of a rose.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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