New York Butte, Pleasant Point
By: Linda McDermott
"Bad 4wheel drive road" means different things to different people. To me, it means having your vehicle at a 45-degree angle on a narrow, crumbly road and momentary possibilities of plunging thousands of feet to a fiery death. To others, it means a grade so steep the riders in the vehicles have to get out to walk as gasoline spews from your gas tank. The 4-wheel drive road from Cerro Gordo to Swansea meets everyone's definitions of "bad 4wheel drive road."
Bruce Trotter led a group of Canyon Explorer Club participants over this route the weekend of June 28-30, 1996. I went along mainly to get the two listed DPS peaks, Pleasant Point and New York Butte plus learn more about this spectacular area. We met about noon on Friday at the Ranch House Café in Olancha then proceeded to Keeler and then Cerro Gordo. Most strong 2-wheel drives can make it to Cerro Gordo, although I might hesitate to take my 4-cylinder passenger car since it lacks power. At Cerro Gordo, Bruce had arranged a tour with owner Jody Stewart who spent the afternoon explaining the history of the silver mine, its importance to Los Angeles, and how lumber, water and minerals were transported. I found myself astonished by the history of Cerro Gordo and Jody's love of the area.
Late in the afternoon, we started on the 4-wheel drive road marked "Swansea-Cerro Gordo Road" just to the left of the 8200' saddle beyond Cerro Gordo. This narrow, slate-covered hillside road really tipped the 4-wheel drive vehicle I was riding in, and made me worry about the rest of the trip.
After about a mile of this narrow, white-knuckle E-ticket passage, there was one very steep portion of the road before the camping area where several passengers walked. The road opened up and we camped on a terrific Sierra overlook just to the west of the start of Route C climbing route of Pleasant Point.
The next morning Bruce pointed out Bristlecone and Limber pines as we climbed Pleasant Point in about an hour. Afterwards we proceeded with the vehicles over the gentle ridge of the Inyos. This road was easy going and spectacular, with views of the Saline Valley and the Sierras almost constantly. Another goal of the trip was to explore the Salt Mine ruins. We stopped at the ridge-top tram and 5-room home which housed the caretaker and his family. Salt was transported from Saline Valley below up the ridge and down to Owens Lake. The Saline Valley lake where salt was gathered is readily seen as are numerous tram stations in various states of decay on both sides of the ridge. Even in late June, it was windy and cool during this stop.
We proceeded to the Burgess Mine area where the town "dump" is readily identified. After lunch we drove up to the trailhead of New York Butte and climbed Route B. The trailhead area and the climb along the Lonesome Miner Trail for the peak is breathtaking. We then retraced our steps and took the Swansea Grade road to a Pinyon pine covered area down from the ridge to camp. The 4-wheel drive road was very steep down to this point.
The road continuing down the grade is extremely steep through the Pinyon pine area and continues for awhile. It then runs down a wash and into a small, narrow canyon which required slow going and caution with the walls and large stationary rocks. All the way down the canyon there are glimpses of the old Salt Mine tram, and at one point we stopped to hike up 700' to a tower more or less intact. Several folks were able to stand for pictures in a barrel still on the cable.
Our 5 vehicles made it safely down to Swansea (population 3) and we split, going to Olancha or Lone Pine. Although I haven't been on many true 4-wheel drive trips, this 30+ mile circle seems to be a premier one!
Participants: Leader Bruce Trotter, Dick Drosendahll Barbara Love, Keith Bohl, Paul and son Michael Grynick, Jason Rubinsteen, Joann Sarachman, Lucy·Woodard, Bob and Cynthia Mercer and Linda McDermott.
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