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El Paso Mountains and Last Chance Canyon
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Last Chance Canyon
El Paso Mountains

The El Paso Mountains are a desert rat's delight. There's something for everyone: wilderness, off-highway vehicle open areas, gold-bearing ore, and rockhound sites with semi-precious gems. Numerous trails, ranging from easy to impassable in anything but the best locked-down, trail-ready jeep, cross these rugged desert mountains. There are many, many interesting sights and things to do -- mines to visit, places to camp, and sights to see. Some of the trails in the mountains include Last Chance Canyon, Mesquite Canyon, and Burro Schmidt's Tunnel.

Located in Kern County, The El Paso mountains are southwest of Ridgecrest, and about 20 miles northeast of Mojave east of State Highway 14. Red Rock Canyon State Park is west of the El Pasos.

Parts of the range are a wilderness area, with limited access. Numerous reddish-colored buttes and dark, uplifted volcanic mesas dissected by narrow canyons distinguish this wilderness. Badlands topography surrounds Black Mountain, the central feature of the wilderness area. The southern portion of the wilderness is included in the Last Chance Archaeological District and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places due to the areas numerous cultural sites. The vegetation in the El Paso Mountains is primarily creosote bush scrub with Joshua trees on the western side of the mountain.

Access this wilderness via State Highway 14 north of Red Rock Canyon State Park and along Red Rock - Inyokern Road along the west; Hart Road (EP155 - four-wheel drive only) along the south; and from the east via U.S. Highway 395 south of Inyokern, along EP 18 to Sheep Springs Road (EP26) (four-wheel drive recommended).

Last Chance Canyon

The southern part of Last Chance Canyon is within Red Rock State Park. Driving the canyon from the south is awesome. It is a rugged and difficult canyon climb. I took this trail in a Cherokee Laredo that had been lifted 3"; in a stock SUV I probably would have turned around. Anything larger or with less clearance is would be at risk for body damage.

From the north, an easy trail that most 2-wheel drive vehicles could take, except for some patches of sand, leads you into the main valley.

The canyon was named by the Rainbow-Chasers (late 1800's gold seekers) who had been just about everywhere else, and missed out on good claims in the Sierras or the Nevada silver lodes. There are many exploratory shafts, and several miners made a living here during the depression of the 1930's.

The southern trail begins on the Redrock-Randsburg road at 5.6 miles north of its intersection with Highway 14. The GPS coordinates are N35o 21.672', W117o53.943. You'll proceed north, and enter the canyon about a mile up the trail.

Southern entrance to Last Chance Canyon

The canyon trail gets exciting. There are numerous rock hazards, and a few places where you'll be next to sandstone cliffs that 'exfoliate' a little too often for comfort; the jeep-size boulders that have bounded down the cliffs make this a place you really don't want to hang out at too long. But, off to the right and left, magnificent vistas of colorful cliffs and rock outcroppings make the trip worthwhile.

At about 4 miles from the pavement you will encounter a small stream that often has water, and the Cudahy camp. To your left is roaring ridge, a place where the wind doesn't seem to ever stop.

Here, the canyon trail widens, and access is easy. At 8 miles from pavement, there'll be an intersection with a signpost. Bear left to go to Highway 14 -- you'' come out at Hart's place, a total of 15 miles from where you left the pavement.

By turning right at the signpost, however, you will get to Burro Schmidt's tunnel. This is an easy wheel. The Schmidt camp is at GPS coordinates N35o 24.673', W117o52.062', and there are signs along the way for directions.

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