By: Steve Smith
Our first Friends of the Inyo WSA/DPS/Desert Survivor/BLM trip to inventory Craig Canyon in 1992 had left some unanswered questions. Plus, the canyon's spectacular natural attractions made it a high priority for further exploration. Located on the east side of the Inyo Range between Bunter and Daisy Canyons, we had discovered a historic 5-stamp mill midway down its length and wondered how the miners had accessed the remote site.
For out 1992 trip, we had followed the canyon bottom for seven miles from the crest of the Inyos down through a spectacular 2-mile long narrows to where it emptied out onto the floor of Saline Valley. For this follow up Craig Canyon exploration, we decided on a loop trio to traverse through the center of the canyon to search for trails. we knew that the miners had to have accessed the millsite off either the north or south side ridges since traveling the canyon bottom would have been impassable for pack animals.
Friends of the Inyo WSA participants of our original trip Morgan Irby and Tom Budlong came back again and we were joined by Jerry Goss (looking for a warm up trip for his upcoming Nepal trekking adventure) and Wendell Moyer in our quest to learn more about the area. First day we followed the Daisy/Craig ridgeline out to the Trepier Mine at 7,700'. The going was easy but it was obvious there was no pack trail so we knew this was not the primary access route.
The long abandoned Trepier mining site has several interesting diggings, artifacts, small shelters and an impressive, intact rustic old cabin built into a rock slope. We camped around the old cabin which overlooks Daisy Canyon and the Inyo Salt Tram - a most memorable view and campsite looking 5,000' down to the tramline and into Saline Valley.
Second day, going northward and dropping down into Craig, we were able to follow a minor trail most of the time from the Trepier town along a ridge to 6,200'. This trail was not as substantial as most of our others we have inventoried in the Inyos and we completely lost it where the ridge became steep and loose at around 6,200'. As Jerry lead us back and forth down the slope, falling rock on the opposite side of the canyon got our attention along with the cause of the falling rock - eight Bighorn sheep (two rams, five ewes and a lamb) ascending directly across from us. We spent about 15 minutes admiring the healthy looking Bighorns and were amazed at the extremely steep, loose cliff face.
Friends of the Inyo WSA have documented the evidence of Bighorn in all eight eastside canyons and now have live sightings for two canyons - Keynot and Craig. Since there have never been any Bighorn transplanted to the Inyos, it appears that there is a good natural recovery occurring. Jerry got us down through the final 1,200' of loose scree and by late afternoon we had reached the old water powered stampmill in the canyon bottom we had last seen 14 months before.
Looking back up the ridgeline, we could see segments of the trail we had missed off to the west. Without a more time consuming inventory, it would be hard for anyone to follow the lower third down to the canyon bottom. When the area is designated as a wilderness, the BLM will develop a management plan which will determine how the historic trails should be managed. If it is determined to be justified, we could go back in to map out the entire Trepier-Craig trail segment to make it possible for backpackers to use.
The Craig canyon stream had a real good flow of water - it appeared similar to the rate we had seen a year earlier. Having such good year round sources of water, riparian habitat and waterfalls in the eastside canyons are some of the features which make this area in the Mojave desert so special. we spotted one eat of our rappel anchors from our earlier trip where the narrows begins right below the millsite and you encounter the first waterfall which must be rappelled. Seeing the weathered webbing brought back the memories of the fascinating a-mile lower Craig narrows with its numerous waterfalls and sculptured canyon falls - and the mountain lion we had jumped at 3,700'. Everyone was ready and already making plans for another trip to come back and do the lower canyon narrows again.
Out third day was a challenging climb up through scree to the Craig/Hunter ridgeline and there was no evidence of any trail. It is now pretty conclusive that our north-south Inyo Eastside Historic Trail starting at the Pat Keyes Trailhead in Owens Valley only extends south to Hunter Canyon (Ron's current estimate is 39 miles total length - Ron and I hope to soon lead this entire trail for the DPS). We now believe the miners access to the Trepier mine area and Craig millsite was on a trail coming up the Craig/Daisy ridgeline out of Saline Valley. It would be another impressive eastside Inyo trail climbing out of Saline, and one which beckons us for a future trail inventory trip.
Reaching the Craig/Hunter ridge, we followed it westward over a series of four points and late in the day reached the old dozer road which descends from the Burgess mine into Hunter Canyon. We intersected the dozer road at 7,200' and had time to follow it up to 8,000' to reach a great campsite overlooking Craig Canyon. With our supplies dwindling, Morgen offered up four cans of anchovies, which we somehow finished off with some tabasco sauce I inadvertently had carried in my pack. Day four was quick as we reached the Inyo Crest and then walked around to where the cars were parked on the Craig/Daisy ridgeline - spotting two small herds of deer along the way.
This ended the 19th Friends of the Inyo WSA/BLM cooperative wilderness field project work. During these Inyo and Panamint Mountains projects which began in 1989, volunteers from DPS and the Desert Survivors have contributed 2,768 hours of time to monitor proposed wilderness areas, document natural and cultural resource values, clean up Keynot mine debris, map historic hiking trails and maintain trails and historic features.
For anyone interested in more information about these volunteer projects, I keep an on going summary describing this work and route descriptions which is available by sending me a request at the BLM, 300 South Richmond Road, Ridgecrest 93555. This information will be important during our preparation of the Inyo Wilderness management plan.
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