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Peak Views and a Peek Into Past in Keystone Canyon

January 23, 2000|JOHN McKINNEY

Thrusting high above Lanfair Valley, the granite-crowned New York Mountains are among Mojave National Preserve's highest peaks. New York Peak, the range's 7,463-foot signature summit, offers commanding views of the preserve and far beyond to the Panamint Mountains of Death Valley National Park, the San Jacinto Mountains behind Palm Springs and ranges in Nevada and western Arizona.

Keystone Canyon shares botanical similarities with Caruthers Canyon, located a few miles south. Both canyons cradle relict stands of white fir--arboreal survivors from a time of much cooler, wetter climatic conditions. Yerba santa, ceanothus and other shrubs more common to California's coastal slopes grow in the upper reaches of the New York Mountains.

While the last Ice Age evaporated about 11,000 years ago and the Mojave has become a far drier landscape, the firs and "coastal" flora still flourish. The survival of these moist-environment plants in the New York Mountains is due to the range's height: The high peaks snag moisture from passing storms and clouds.

The firs are by no means the only attraction for tree lovers along the Keystone Canyon Trail. Lower Keystone Canyon hosts pin~on (pine), juniper and oak.

Seasoned hikers with good map-reading and route-finding skills will most enjoy the steep and challenging ascent to New York Peak. (Experienced hikers ascend via a couple of routes, including a scramble by way of Keystone Spring. Those hikers seeking an easier outing can traverse fascinating Keystone Canyon and turn around at road's end.)

While the view from atop New York Peak is unsurpassed, hikers be warned: Serious rock scrambling is required to reach the summit. However, nearly the same glorious panorama is available from the ridge crest below the peak.

Directions to the trail head: From Interstate 15, exit on Nipton Road and go 3.5 miles to Ivanpah Road. Turn right (south) and head toward the New York Mountains. Twelve miles along, the road crosses railroad tracks, bends east and turns to dirt. After six more miles, just as Ivanpah Road bends southeast, turn right on the narrow, unsigned road leading to Keystone Canyon. Avoid a couple of left-forking, narrower roads, and travel 2.5 miles from Ivanpah Road to a junction just before the road descends into Keystone Canyon. Briefly follow the left fork to a parking area.

The hike: Walk up the deteriorating road into Keystone Canyon. The wide range of trail-side flora includes pin~on and juniper, yerba santa and cliff rose.

Keystone Canyon bends south, and you'll stick with it. Half a mile out, ignore a right-forking road that leads into Live Oak Canyon, and after another 0.1 mile, ignore a left-forking road; this one leads 0.25 mile to Keystone Spring.

Continue your ascent through Keystone Canyon as the views of granite-topped mountains improve and the road you're following gets worse. At road's end, about 1.5 miles from the trail head, you'll find a small abandoned copper mine. It's colorful in an odd sort of way--green and blue copper ore debris scattered around ore car tracks.

Above you to the southwest are two gullies leading toward the crest. Choose one and begin a brutal quarter-mile ascent, gaining 500 feet in elevation, then catch your breath at a narrow saddle.

From this saddle, repeat this exercise, with another quarter-mile ascent and 500-foot gain to reach the ridge crest just south of New York Peak. Scramble southwest among the boulders, keeping your eye out for a stand of white fir that grows in the company of pin~on.

If time, energy and your abilities permit, continue along the rugged ridge to the summit. Otherwise, enjoy the marvelous view from the ridge. Broad Ivanpah Valley lies straight down to the north, and you'll be able to identify several prominent preserve features including Cima Dome to the west and Clark Mountain to the northwest. On particularly clear days, look for the high peaks of the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains on the eastern border of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. The Virgin Mountains of eastern Nevada and southwestern Utah are located more than 100 miles to the northeast.


Keystone Canyon Trail

Where: Mojave National Preserve

Distance: From Keystone Canyon to road's end is 3 miles round trip with a 700-foot elevation gain; to New York Peak is 4.5 miles round trip with a 2,000-foot elevation gain.

Terrain: Pinyon pine and juniper dotted canyon, rocky and rugged New York Mountains.

Highlights: Unusual desert flora, including white fir, and great desert vistas.

Degree of difficulty: Moderate to strenuous.

Precautions: Route to New York Peak for experienced desert hikers only.20

For more information: Mojave Desert Baker Information Center (760) 733-4040 or Mojave National Preserve Headquarters tel. (760) 255-8801.

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