Oooohhh, it can be cold on the desert!!! It can be very cold; and for years my buddy Larry and I always seemed to be out somewhere (Arizona or California) during the days from Christmas to New Years. Mostly because his employer shut down the factory during that time and all the employees have a long week vacation. The sane ones are in their cozy, warm, homes, while it is the fearless and intrepid Explorers like us that take to the sand, rocks, terrible old roads, blinding wind and sandstorms!!!
But the winter has it’s own charms. One of which is that very few citified Desert Rats are about and it is an ideal time to explore as the wind blowing by our dual-purpose motorcycles’s nice hot cylinder fins keep us warm, and the air many times, is crystal clear.
This journey takes place in the year 1962, the month, December. I and my buddy, were still living and working in San Diego, California. The trip I will be describing was one of our very early trips, when I had for “truck and home” a 1961 Ford Falcon station wagon.
We both had power scooters called “Tote-Gotes”, made by the Bonham company in Utah for hunters to get to their “blinds” and haul them and their game (deer) out again. To set the scene further, this was a time before dual-purpose, or any, off-road motorcycle had been invented.
Some early explorers had chopped up full-sized cars, stripped off the bodies, welded an extra tire rim and wheel to the existing ones on the rear wheels and were called “water pumpers” because they were not air-cooled, but used the standard car radiator and engine. The widened wheels, at low pressure, ensured their passage over the desert.
Larry and I drove from San Diego, in the early morning after loading his Tote-Gote, next to mine in the tailgate area, and loaded a Coleman cooler filled with yummy things, sleeping bags, air mattresses, collapsible camp stools, Coleman lantern, Coleman two burner white-gas stove, a stand to support it, assorted plastic gasoline jugs, plastic water jugs, a portable kitchen made out of a wooden fishing tackle box (which I still have to this day), and other goodies.
After some 2 hours of driving North to Riverside and San Bernardino, we turned East on I-10 and followed it to Blythe California, stopping for gas and a burger. Talk about COLD, I have never been so frozen! Now we had two Tote Gotes and all, with a wide open tailgate, and my poor 6-cylinder Ford Falcon simply couldn’t generate enough hot water flowing through the heater in the driver/passenger area to keep us warm!! The engine temperature gauge sat out the trip on the COLD mark!
We kept going South until we were at mile post 102, a gas transmission line. Late afternoon and tired, we turned West off US 95, and onto the desert pavement at mile post 102. Larry picked out our camp site. We were here, at last. Tomorrow and perhaps other days we would explore South and then Westward to see what was here.
The area we were interested in was the Copper Bottom Mine, in the La Cholla mining district. Our camp was North and East of it. This would be the very first time we would visit it. After a breakfast of hot chocolate and donuts eaten around the warming flames of a rekindled fire in the stone ring Larry had built last night, we reloaded the wagon. Looking at picture number 1, I am amazed at how spartan our gear was then. In this day and age it takes us two trucks and campers!
We had figured out a general lunch that was practical for all times of the year. We each bought the small cans of Vienna sausage, stewed tomatoes, and canned fruit cocktail; one can of each rolled up in a sheet of newspaper and stuffed into the packs on the power scooters took care of lunch. We also packed two canteens of water and spare parts for the scooter such as master links for the chain drive, spark plug, set of ingnition points, engine flywheel remover, and some small first aid kits.
The power scooter engines were Briggs & Stratton lawn mower engines which really drink gas! Our original machines used 3 ˝ horsepower engines, which gave us 11 MPH top speed.
Later we upgraded to their 6 horsepower engines. We had made front racks to hold the extra gas jugs to get us there and back at 20 MPH top speed.
I put the rolled up topographic maps we would need in the cardboard map tube, hung my cameras around my neck, and with Larry leading, off we went.
The day was beautiful!! Just like a crisp bite into a cold apple! Larry was feeling adventurous, and led me down into a sandy intermittent desert wash going our way. That was a mistake. I wallowed all over the place and could hardly keep my balance. The gravel-like sand had been all churned up by 4-wheelers. The scooter and I parted company a couple times.
Larry found a way out of the steep-sided wash and not more than a couple hundred feet away was the dirt road we should have come in on. In that trip and in repeat trips to this area, I never got in another sandy wash in that area. The dirt road carried us along the Eastern side of La Cholla mountain and in few miles the road curved around the Southern tip to head Northwest to the Copper Bottom Mine.
Shortly, we pulled up our power scooters at the bottom loading bin, shut off the engines, and stretched our legs. Canteen drinking time. Thirst quenched, I unpacked the camera and from the bottom of the ore bin, aimed way up the mountain to capture the nearly complete mine.
Note the track leading from the upper storage bin down to the lower bin.
Larry hiked to the top and took pictures of the draw works, and a nearby tunnel. While there were tunnels, and a vertical shaft at the top, the listing of this mine was a “placer” mine, instead of a “lode” mine. Along this Southwest side of La Cholla mountain are a series of gravel stream beds with sediments covering them. The miners tunneled into the mountain until they hit the bedrock of an ancient stream and cleaned it out. The same thing was accomplished by drilling the shaft way up on the side of the mountain. As the digging of the shaft progressed, many old stream beds were encountered and mined. The Copper Bottom mine produced rough gold flakes silver, and copper. Twenty-two years later, we again visited this mine. Time and vandals had taken their toll. Finished with our exploration of this mine, we fired up the power scooters and headed leisurely back to camp. Tomorrow we would move our camp to a different area to explore. See you again next month.