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Cottonwood Creek Redux
Trip Report

Cottonwood Creek Redux

Cottonwood Creek Redux

Page Type: Trip Report

Location: California, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 37.49338°N / 118.12637°W

Date Ridden: Sep 14, 2002 12:00 am

Activities: Cross Country, Mountain

Season: Fall


Page By: Tom Kenney

Created/Edited: Nov 28, 2007 / Nov 28, 2007

Object ID: 264826

Hits: 7605 

Page Score: 76.66%  - 7 Votes 

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Going Ultra-Remote in California's White Mountains

NOTE: Bicycle access to this area may be restricted or prohibited in the near future. This wilderness area proposal may impact bicycle access. We may have made one of the last bicycle journeys through this amazing area. Senator Barbara Boxer is largely responsible for the drive to designate this and other areas as wilderness. She is not inflexible on the issue, and has been persuaded to drop efforts to get other areas designated as wilderness. If you would like to help preserve access to this area, please write to her and let her know!

Having redacted all the unpleasant memories of my last bike journey in the White Mountains, I thought I'd return to Cottonwood Creek...and drag along two hapless suckers to share in the pain...er...fun! This report is less a story, and more a pictoral, with some useful details for those wishing to take on this beautiful and difficult route.

Meeting in the town of Big Pine, at the Hwys US-395 / CA-168 East junction, I led our little caravan up into the White Mountains to 7321' Westgard Pass. Here is where the White Mountain Road branches to the north and begins a long, gradual climb along the backbone of the White Mountains. We drove past Schulman Grove, Silver Canyon and Wyman Canyon to the Crooked Creek Road and parked, starting our ride at 10,400' in Big Prospector Meadow.
Paved Climb Near Patriarch Grove

The first climb was quite grueling, and rough with rocks and washboard to boot. We crested a shoulder of Campito Mountain at 10,800' and dropped a bit into Campito Meadow before the climbing became more serious, but fortunately paved for a while.
Gone For Tow Truck!

At 11,200' we passed the entrance to Patriarch Grove, where some bristlecone pines have lived for more than 4500 years. Here, we encountered a disabled car that had flatted one regular tire, then the spare. The driver left a note on the dashboard saying "Gone for tow truck!" Even the roads in this zone are serious business.
Your Humble Author At 11K

Taking A Break

At 11,400' we took a break, then took another at 11,800' as we crested the east ridge of Sheep Mountain. The road descended a bit to where the road into Cottonwood Basin branched to the right, heading northeast into the canyon. Rough doubletrack got rougher and steeper as we descended, passing the site of the Eva Belle Mine, where an old cabin made from bristlecone logs still stands.
Upper Cottonwood Basin

We crossed the basin and veered left, heading north and searching for the start of the Cottonwood Creek Trail. We almost rode into someone's campsite, very unexpected, and turned around to try another spur road. We spotted what looked like a trail across the creek, so we bushwacked over and began to follow what could have been a cow track...except for the faint motorcycle tracks! The trail started in earnest after we broke through a thicket of willow, and we began to cruise down the canyon.
This Is A Trail?

Riding was varied. Mostly, we were tracking through sagebrush with a little cactus. There were beautiful aspen groves and little meadows, with big granite outcrops on all sides. Occasionally we'd lose the trail, but quickly find it again.
Your Author Enjoying The Ride

At about 9800' we passed a trail junction at the lower end of Granite Meadow, a beautiful meadow along a tributary creek flowing in from the west. The views here were magical. Big granite domes lined the basin, with a carpet of grass everywhere, and aspens turning yellow on the mountainsides.

After this junction the trail became progressively more vague and rough, until finally at 9000' we reached the South Fork of Cottonwood Creek. I had previously recorded the map coordinates for this fork in the canyon, and I was glad I did. At this point we lost the trail heading down-canyon, and had not yet found the trail headed up the South Fork, which was our planned escape route. We searched around in the sagebrush and found the barely-visible trail heading up the canyon. What a relief!
Turning Aspens


This was a nice spot for lunch. We hung out and munched a bit, taking in the solitude and beauty. Then we headed up the trail, which became better quickly. We rode on through beautiful little aspen groves, passing a corral and cabin at McCloud Camp, where the trail turned to doubletrack. The road bent south and began a severely steep climb up a rocky canyon.
More Aspens

The canyon ended abruptly at a saddle at 10,300' and the road dropped a couple hundred feet, then traversed across a mountainside and into Crooked Creek, where we picked up the road up to Crooked Creek Station. A long, slow grind followed. We were all pretty whipped, and finishing the ride with a slow climb was really taxing.
Grand View

Returning to the car, we cracked some barley pops and drank to success. We sat around and yakked for a while, then headed down the road to Grandview Campground.


Escape!Your Humble Author At 11KYour Author Enjoying The RideMore AspensGrand ViewTaking A BreakUpper Cottonwood Basin
This Is A Trail?Aspens!Turning AspensPaved Climb Near Patriarch GroveGone For Tow Truck!


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Voted 10/10

Sounds like "fun!"
Posted Nov 28, 2007 11:01 am

Tom KenneyRe: Sounds...

Tom Kenney

Hasn't voted

'Twas an excellent day out! I highly recommend it.

Posted Nov 28, 2007 8:37 pm

OldestRoadieMy Old Stomping Grounds


Voted 10/10

Howdy Tom:

I see from your profile that we live about 15 miles from each other.

Thanks for re-firing the memories. Looks like you folks had a great time. I'm a hiker, not a biker.

My first run up into the Crooked Creek and Cottonwood Creek areas was when I was 16 with my uncle Lester in 1963. Lester lived in Bishop and worked at the local GM dealer there as a mechanic. He was close friends with a fella that was the mechanic that worked on the half-tracks and trucks, and generators for White Mountain Research Station at Crooked Creek and Barcroft stations. We took Silver Canyon out of Laws off US 6 to get up on top. We stayed two nights at the old Quonset quarters at Barcroft then went camping and fishing at the beaver ponds on Cotton Wood Creek for a week. Great memories. After that week I was well acclimated for my 3 week trek out of Rock Creek up over Mono Pass into the recess lakes area of the Sierras. What a summer that turned out to be. Later on, we also kept our trailer and camper at Crowley Lake campgrounds as base camp for our sojourns throughout the Eastern Sierras and White Mountains over the past 40 years. Been into the Whites dozens of times.

Also: You have most likely already heard, but the Boxer/McKeon "Eastern Sierra and Northern San Gabriel Wild Heritage Act" bill made it through congress. So there it is.

Thanks again for the photo tour. It's got the wife fired up to make the trek once again.

Larry the Duck ~ aka/The Oldest Roadie Left Standing.
Posted Apr 27, 2009 12:52 am

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