01 January 2019

Hole-in-the-Wall: Rings Loop and Barber Peak Loop

Mojave National Preserve

Click for map.

The Hole-in-the-Wall visitor center for the Mojave National Preserve has a little notoriety to its local trails because one is set with rings to help travelers traverse a couple spots that otherwise would be somewhat difficult climbs. There are two loops possible to combine with the short rings loop, one to the south known as the Rings Loop is about a mile, one to the north known as the Barber Peak Loop is about six miles. The Rings Loop heads out from the south side of a parking lot near the visitor center and returns through the Hole to a picnic area on the same spur road but past the visitor center. There is a sign to show the start. This sign also explains the trail markings that are put up frequently along the route to that it is more easily distinguished from washes, cow trails, random abundances of human footprints off trail, and whatever else might exist to get folks lost.

Hole-in-the-Wall visitor center
The visitor center in front of Barber Peak and, not visible, the hole-in-the-wall.

trail in the desert
A bit of the trail in the desert. It can quickly become hard to distinguish from the rest of the desert and the rest of the trails.

Woods Mountains and Tortise Shell Mountain
Looking at the Woods Mountains and Tortoise Shell Mountain across the main road.

The trail navigates to the side of a couple washes and already it is easy to wander off in the wrong direction if not looking for signs. Ultimately, it just follows a rather flat route around the base of the mountain that happens to have a slot through it that is the hole-in-the-wall. As I get a bit further off into a wash that was not meant to be followed down the middle so much as down the side, I notice an information sign that also serves to show where the trail is. This one happens to shout out some petroglyphs that can be found on a few of the local rocks.

sign along the trail
Calling out some details that might have been missed: petroglyphs.

petroglyphs on one boulder
Some of the petroglyphs found on one of the nearby boulders.

I round the corner into another valley with more peaks. In this area, footprints are everywhere, so they can not be relied upon to be on trail, but the markers persist enough to find the correct way.

more valley and mountains
Another valley and more mountains. Off to the side of the trail, a road continues straight into the distance.

The trail curves around further and what was a few caves along the side becomes lots and lots of holes that are, in fact, in the walls. The rocks around the holes also take on interesting shapes.

three holes in a row
A few holes up the side of the mountain.

lots of holes in the walls
Up ahead, many more holes in the walls and in an outcrop separated from the rest.

holey wall
Plenty of holes in the wall.

There is a sign for the junction when the two loops combine to funnel into the Hole-in-the-Wall. Here, the trail starts a little climbing and there are sometimes big steps up rocks. It is all well worn with feet.

rocks seem to droop from above
This section of rocks appears to be drooping.

triangle full of holes
Always more holes.

There is a split in the trail and it follows into slots on both the left and right. A sign seems to indicate the left is the correct way, but the right has quite a lot of traffic too. I go left.

right hand slot with an arch above
The right hand slot is really a box and ends far below the observation point signed from the picnic area.

This brings me to more stone steps that must be climbed and finally to the rings. On the way, there is an interesting line of what looks to my eye to be sedimentary rock in a few very light and very dark layers that separate the thick layers of ash that make up most the canyon.

looking up the first set of rings
Looking up the first set of rings.

closer holes and a little different
Getting up close and personal with the higher holes which have a little different character.

down at more rings
Looking down the second set of rings.

I find the rings to be a little difficult, partly because I am wearing gloves, but partly because they just wobble around a bit. I prefer the supports for a climbing aid. Shortly after, I find myself at the picnic area. Plenty of people are just doing the rings and none of the loops. I stop by the observation point before heading back to finish the loop around the mountain on the Barber Peak Loop.

observation point
Observing the dead end slot from the other side at observation point.

The rings are a lot easier going down, but there are some spots when it might have been hard to find the next one down had I not come up that way. In short order, I am out in the sun again and following little trail marker signs while cows and people try to lead me astray. In fact, I have to pass by some cattle, both steers and cows, to continue on the trail. There does not look like much to eat out here, but they seem to be finding it.

cholla halos
Lovely light through the cholla.

hole-in-the-wall from another angle
Leaving Hole-in-the-Wall behind.

The trail starts to climb as it leaves Hole-in-the-Wall behind. Up ahead, the land is rather rough looking, but with plenty of opportunity for a trail to pass. The cactuses just look more and more like a garden with just a few types selected and all planted at a specific spacing. The mountain I am circling to my right keeps having strange and interesting structures, too. Well, so do the other mountains, but they are further away and harder to see.

cactuses along the trail to rough country
Always interesting what is left standing among the volcanic creations.

long valley
One last look back over the wide valley before popping over to new stuff.

big ash wall
The new stuff includes an impressive white wall of ash.

The trail had seemed to be climbing to a pass between valleys, but it is quickly apparent that there actually is a canyon running between the two wide washes. As the trail sets down in the upper wash, I just have to go back and look at what was bypassed.

another slot of a canyon
The bypass was for a series of waterfalls in a narrow bit of canyon, the top one actually from a dam with a massive pipe toward the bottom.

Narrow canyon and ledges greet me. As I look over the top ledge, it is clear it is concrete. Some ten feet below, a massive pipe with a massive valve sits waiting for a connection. I wonder if it was meant as a dam. Probably. It is completely filled with sand now. Continuing on, the trail sort of follows the wash still upward. Sometimes I miss where it gets out, sometimes not, but it never matters.

light and dark ash
A contrast of ashes, one dark with varnish and the other light.

Except for the stark band of white, the landscape seems a little more plain for a bit. There are some interesting towers, but largely the mountain is getting more mundane. Maybe I am just getting used to the structures. I almost walk past a prospect without noticing. Well, it is really just a small hole in the ground now.

bands and towers
Oddities on the mountain include the stark bands and some towers.

Rounding the mountain a little further, Woods Mountains come back into view. The wind has been blowing against me all the while I have been climbing, but the climbing keeps me warm against it. Now I will be moving into the shadow of the mountain and going downhill with a cold wind rushing past somewhat bitterly. It might be hard to stay warm enough for a bit.

Table Top Mountain
The particularly large flat one is Table Top Mountain, of course.

The trail is distinctly marked specifically for the other direction as I head back toward the visitor center. There is more cattle, too, but it is suddenly apparent that there is water for them over here, too. For a moment of interest, the trail gets up close and personal with one of those white bands so I can get a closer look.

stark white ash carved a bit
The ash shows a lot of weathering.

Over the top, there is a fence to keep the cows from the campground and visitor center areas. Past it the trail takes a turn for the campground and I somehow fail to notice that it also continues on up high before taking the extra trip down the spur. The rocks above are full of holes again. The trail is a mess and trying to follow it down takes a lot of guessing. It is probably because this is close enough to the trailhead that people come up and do a lot of wandering before heading back to their cars. The result is that everything looks like trail. The signs sometimes help, but they still seem not to be placed for best visibility in this direction.

sun picking out the details on a tower beside the visitor center
Almost back, but it is a surprisingly long way down and it does the downs in steep bouts over indistinct trail.

campground and horse camp and fire thingy
Looking down over the campground and group camp and such things.

I arrive back only a little bit bitterly cold. The wind really is a bit much and expected to go on for a couple more days.

©2019 Valerie Norton
Written 6 January 2019


glinda_w said...

Do you know which volcano left all that ash, and when?

(I've been to one spot in eastern Washington where there's a really thick layer of pumice & ash from Mazama, the eruption that eventually sculpted out Crater Lake...)

Valerie Norton said...

According to the nearby Earch Cache write up, it was just the nearby little bunch of bumps known as the Woods Mountains. It threw down 200 meters of flows and tuffs about 18.5 million years ago and then blew itself up 17.8 million years ago in an explosion bigger than any humans have been around to watch. Their reference is here.