June, my wife, drives us along the railroad tracks to the drop off point at the north end of the range near Interstate 10.
The hike begins at an abandoned lava rock quarry. The first destination point is Dry Lake, the most northern crater in the range. Looking south then sometimes back north as I hike along the first impression is one of shocking contrasts. The bright desert sun has already melted most of the snow it has seen. The snow is melted off the southern sides of each rock, plant, rise, and cinder cone. In the shadows on the north side of each one is a remaining snow patch. Looking south one sees a land of snow. Turning back to the north its all a desert brown with no snow. This strange dichotomy between north and south views continues throughout the trip.
The route is cross-country up a gradual slope then up to Dry Lake. This crater is deep (80 to 100 ft) with a little flat area in the middle that looks like it gets water sometimes. Walked around the East side of the rim and down the North side.
Wandered towards Aden Peak. Crossed a dry stream bed and on a whim decided to follow it. The stream bed has interesting formations. Its always wonderful to follow a dry stream bed. The work of the occasional water that flows in desert channels is clearly seen. Most larger rocks are not rounded but rock beds sometimes crossed by the stream are rounded a bit. Small pebbles and "pumice" type light rocks are rounded. Stream beds and peaks are the gems of this area.
About 2 inches of snow are on the northeast side of Aden peak. The snow is too light to provide footing itself but covers up everything else, making footing difficult. Walking cross-country over the desert terrain is simple but tiring. The spring winds tend to blow off the surface dust leaving a desert pavement with many rocks in the 3 to 5 inch diameter size range. They are too small to walk on and sufficiently large to twist the ankles and knees. The light snow covering the rocks makes the footing treacherous and slows the pace.
12 noon brings the top of Aden Peak. The weather is perfect, views are forever. Its time to brew a pot of tea with melted snow. Florida Mountains to the west. Cook's Peak to the northwest. Organ Mountains to the East. Far to the north trucks are moving east/west along the freeway. High mountain ranges are visible all around.
What is the next goal? This is a solo hike with only general goals. Traverse the West Potrillos, visit all the intact craters, and make it to the arranged pick up point by Wednesday at 3 PM. Looking South there is a region with some minor peaks then a large high peak. How far can or should I make it today? One wants to have a prime location for the camp site.
Head down the south side of Aden peak and to the west of the minor peaks. The flat area is higher now and fully snow covered. In the higher areas only the south facing slopes are free of snow. Even so the same dichotomy exists. Looking south all is snow and looking north little sign of snow. The contrast is hard to believe. Pick up a yucca walking stick to aid with the footing.
Went to SW side of Peak 5546 to avoid deeper snow. There is a cholla forest at the bottom. Surprise! This peak has an intact crater even though its not shown on the map - too shallow perhaps. See a deer watching me in the cholla filled bottom. Walk all around the rim, about 3/4 mile. Fantastic views in all directions. Mountain range after mountain range for 50-100 miles or more in every direction.
The primitive camp is set up on the rim near the western high point. This is a nice exposed bivouac site. As darkness arrives the distant light of El Paso, Texas and Las Cruces, New Mexico appear.
The camping shelter chosen for the trip is an old home made bivouac sack along with a plastic tarp for a ground cloth and partial rain cover if needed. Its cold. Any precipitation tonight will be as snow. Snow is quite compatible with home made bivouac bag, but rain tends to be unpleasant.
A bivouac sack is the best way to camp in the desert since one can see everything. Tents take this away. The greatest problems with minimal shelters are rain and bugs. Neither are likely to be a problem on this trip. The sleeping bag is a summer weight semi-rectangular one. It works very well combined with a hooded parka. With the parka on and the legs in the bag one can sit up to cook, read, and ponder in comfort.
The trip is just one week past the winter solstice. It will be completely dark from 6 pm to 6 am and mostly dark from about 5:30 to 6:45. This is a long time to spend in the sleeping bag. I bring a copy of Moby Dick and a CD player. Although some might disagree I find no unconformity between Mozart and the surroundings. The novel has been downloaded from the internet and printed out two sided with small fonts and minimal margins bringing Moby Dick (a 650 page novel) down to 38 sheets of letter sized paper. Already read pages can be used as fire starter if a fire is ever desired.