Saturday, March 10, 2012

Offroad: Parashant - Savannic Mine-Tassi Springs Loop

I just noticed that in all the frenetic hustle to pick up stakes and migrate, there were two trails from last riding season which didn't get posted. Nor did their accompanying maps. We have been there before but this time Gordon and I were able to convince dad to ride with us down into "the Parashant".

Parashant arm of the Grand Canyon that is: mining towns, lake-side houses and lofty views like none other in all of this riding area! After it quit raining, we loaded up Gordon's side-by-side and my ATV to head to the hills. Gordon offered to let dad preempt his normal canine riding companion in the side-seat, so we would all fit on one trailer.

I've always had the luck to have been riding with someone who had been to the mine before, otherwise one could get hopelessly turned around down there. Washes cross washes and NOTHING SEEMS TO BE MARKED! In addition, there are areas that you can get in to that you can't get back out. That is, huge sections of land is so full of uncrossable chasms that you need to go 50 or so miles out of your way just to get back. If you don't believe me, take a look at the Google Earth map!   [A free Google Earth file of this route is available at: Google Earth Trail FileOffroading Home (Season 2011, 12-Savannic-Tassi).]

The good day's journey of eighty-seven miles began at Whitney Junction, the old standby for rides in the lower Gold Butte area. And the adventure begins as usual down the standard Backcountry Byway; but, just after you pass the Devil's Throat turn off, there is another major junction with a fairly nice road turning easterly toward Arizona taken only occasionally. Head that-a-way for some some views to rival the areas namesake canyon: Grand Canyon.

The Grand Gulch Road is what you want to be on. You may see a sign to that effect but you'll know you are where you're supposed to be when you cross over some cattle guards and a fence and see a sign for Arizona. Shortly thereafter another sign heralding the Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument. After that it's pretty much riding in the wash until you need to head uphill to the mountains.

For this trail I've included lots of waypoints with their GPS coordinates clearly marked because there are a lot of side trails that look alike. At waypoint #4 you will be in Cottonwood Wash and there will be a trail clearly going to the east across to the hills on the other side. The other fork runs down to Grand Wash Bay and we'll be coming back from that way.

The first of some progressively steepening climbs will get you up and out of the wash. Along the trail side you get to see some rock formations that look like they just don't belong in the desert - black, volcanic basalt. Where on earth did that come from?

Once up on the plateau, the trail continues east across some more-than-usually-interesting desert, complete with whole hillsides of cryptobiotic soil. Just to keep things interesting the Gyp Hills that you'll be crossing are punctuated by a fairly substantial Gyp Wash, which you'll need to navigate down into and back up out of. What makes it fun is that the trail runs down a high-walled chute of slick-rock.

The photos that I took on the journey have been uploaded to Google Earth and already show in the Panoramio layer (found in the left side-bar on Google Earth). Make sure that the check box next to "primary database -> photos -> Panoramio" is checked and you will see their tiny icons next to almost all of the GPS waypoints on our map. Click on any of them and the photo will pop up for you to see.

After the wash you still have quite a ways to go to get to the mine - and the best is yet to come! After Gyp wash you'll travel about three and half miles and you'll notice that the trail has turned from southeast to consistently northeast, and you'll be in another set of badlands, climbing for about the next three miles.

The vista at the top will merely whet your appetite for what lies ahead. One more valley to cross and you can start climbing in earnest. The sharp turn from almost due south to due north up an incline welcomes you to the final shelf road leading to the mine. From here on out you can't stray from the path so cheaply! There be 1500 feet of air straight down off your larboard side mateys! (That's the left side for you nautically challenged.)

From 1500 feet to 4191 - that's the distance from where you are now (the rim trail) to down in the wash where you've been. Actually, a NED1 lookup (giant government database) shows that the elevation at the floor of Pigeon Canyon (what you are hoping not to fall into) is 886 meters (2906 feet); I'll just need to take their word for it because I've never actually been down there.
Once you are on the shelf road you'll find Savannic Mine if you keep going long enough because there really is ONLY one way to go, and you pretty much nearly need to get to the mine in order to turn around. This is a pretty nice spot for lunch, it's what we always do, because it'll be just after noon if you left Whitney at 9am. There are shaft openings to explore and photograph, some old mine equipment and a lot of incredible amazement to go all around over "how did they do this?"

From the mine, the trail keeps going up to the top of the mesa, albeit much more steeply. For today, we wanted to see Tassi Springs which is back in the other direction. Unfortunately, there is no other way back than the way we came up; or should I say fortunately, because you won't recognize it as the same trail. For one reason, your view over the handlebars is 180°; for another, if that was your first time up you definitely were keeping your eyes glued to the trail in front of you and NOT gawking about sightseeing.

If you are following along in this narration by looking at the trail in Google Earth you will see that once you get to Gyp Wash I have marked a purple trail line runing almost perpendicular to the trail you are on. That is on a "possibles list" which are areas which look like they are trails when viewed on a satellite image. We were looking for it coming down but must have missed it. We've been at Tassi before and did see a trail going up the wash from below. Whether it is passible all the way up, I hope somebody can write and tell me.

When you reach waypoint #11 (it's a wash without an official name) you'll be at a crossroads which will take you directly south down to Tassi Springs. There really is a nice springs down there and a substantial rock house, the once bustling Tassi Ranch; which, when we were there, was being restored by two men working for the park service. They had masks on because that area is know to have the Hanta Virus (spread by rat feces) but were well under-way with a fresh coat of mortar they were pointing into the rock joints.

It's worth a short hike around if you have time to see the actual springs, rustic corral and appurtenances. Tassi Ranch is in what they call "The Box" at the mouth of Tassi Wash. It'll probably be getting late but you'll want to head down to the lake (or at least where it used to be) for at least a look after coming all this way. On the left there will be what is left of a landing strip and on the right Pigeon Wash into Pigeon Cove.

When we were there we were able to ride all the way down to the point near Grand Wash Bay however pretty much all we saw were lots of dead fish in mud amongst the Tamarisk. Another time Charlie went down his rig sunk irretrevalby into the mire (another reason to not travel alone) and needed to be abandoned until a much longer tow rope could be secured.

We turned back north, passed Tassi Springs and came to Waypoint #24 and turned west. When we arrived in Grand Wash we just couldn't resist a short side-trip south "to see the water again." We did try, but unfortunately, the light and trail petered out before we reached view of the water, wich was at an all-time drought low.

We passed Burro Spring, Seven Springs and Whisky Spring without really knowing they were there (did I say it was dry?) In Cottonwood Wash the terrain looked familiar and we headed west along our former trail into Nevada and the Gold Butte Road.

A long ride (for us at least) and one that we can recomend to others who have the time and inclination to see views that very few visitors to the area experience.

Learn A Little More

Today's post went a little long so we don't have much time to "learn a little more" - only probably about a minute. So, here is Victor Borge and his friend Leonid Hambro playing "The Minute Waltz."

Victor Borge and Leonid Hambro - Minute Waltz (with embellishments)


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