The Hall of the Mountain King

Arriving in the area just in time for the annual chili cook-off sponsored by the Whiskey Runners Motorcycle Club we decided to find a different spot from our normal place near the base of Saddle Mountain. Turning off of West Courthouse Rd onto West Salome Highway right under the Highline power lines we saw some marks on our mapping app (Locus Maps Pro) indicating old mines off to the right and decided to go take a look.
After taking a careful peek at the mine shaft openings we drove further down the road, under the power lines and continued on until we came to a dead end near the base of the mountain.
Tacoma parked at base of the mountain
Sun In The Wrong Spot For A Photo? Partially Cover The Lens With Your Finger.

We immediately saw the temple-like hunk of rock gracing the top of the mountain as well as what appeared to be a cave leading into the “temple.” Snippets of In the Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46: IV. by Edvard Grieg flitted in my head.

‘Temple” Opening From Our Camp Spot

Was it carved out of the rock by humans or natural forces? Was it used by Native Americans long ago? Inquiring minds wanted to know and the quickest (but not easiest) way to get those questions answered was to head for the source. Once we had our camp unpacked and set up we decided to check it out remotely with a quick, jerky, amateurish drone reconnoiter that we turned into a six second time-lapse. It was breezy and I really didn’t want to slam the drone into the side of that mountain. That’s my excuse and I am sticking with it.

Our curiosity peaked we decided to check it out firsthand. The hike up was short, it only took about 30 minutes, but it was steep with rocky and gravelly sections along the way. Various spiny plants also intruded into our hiking route to make the going dicey and more difficult than we first had imagined. We crossed over a couple areas that had been transformed into relatively smooth rock chutes or flumes by eons of water runoff.

Rock Chute Formed Over Thousands Of Years

In one of the chutes we found the remains of a tortoise that to Willow’s delight was still quite aromatic even though it had obviously been there long enough that its shell had been bleached white by the sun. The shell had been cracked open either pre- or post-mortem but I couldn’t tell if it had happened because the tortoise had slipped and fallen onto the hard rock itself or possibly it had been purposely dropped there by a winged predator of one sort or another.

Willow next to the sun-bleached remains of a desert tortoise
Moments Before She Peed On It And Made It Hers
Still Some Meat Left

It’s hard to see in those pictures but at some point after death a smaller desert mammal decided to use the inside of the shell as a toilet and left proof that a meat-eater (there was fur in the scat) had crossed this path. We’re guessing a fox.

As we continued up the steep side of the mountain we both had to be careful to not brush up against the numerous Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) plants (or their remnants) on the slope.

Willow Next To An Ocotillo Plant

We passed a few, nice barrel-style cactus as well.

While there was no obvious trail we found evidence that humans had come this way before including children (toys), shooters (bullet casings), smokers (cigarette butts) and people with poor taste in alcohol (Mike’s Hard Lemonade bottles). Somewhat surprising smokers could even make it up here 😉

Half way to the top we found a small plateau with a closer view of the cave opening and great views of the surrounding valley and back down towards the Tacoma as well.

A closer look at the cave opening on the way up the mountain
Getting Closer And More Finger Sun Shading
Willow standing on a rock outcropping with the valley below and behind her
Standing Close To The Edge
Half way up the mountain, a pic of Willow with the Tacoma way down below
The Tacoma Is Just Past Her Head

Once we got real close to the cave a trail became more noticeable.

Willow on the path about 10 meters from the cave opening
Almost There

From the hoof prints and droppings it was obvious that sheep or goats use this area as a sheltered overlook and rest area. Willow gloried in the Super Scent Sensations…and then peed on a pile of dropping to win the chemical warfare game.

hoof print in the gravel
Hoofin’ It
Desert sheep droppings
Someone Needs To Show Them How To Dig A Cat Hole 😉

Once at the cave itself we could tell that human hands had played no part in its creation.

Willow at the opening to the cave
Nope, Not Going In

A dearth of hand and footholds along with copious amounts of bird dropping and the noticeable smell of ammonia along the lower edge of the entrance dissuaded either of us from attempting to climb up and enter the cave itself. On closer inspection (but not too close) it seemed clear that this cave had been created over thousands of years by the erosive actions of water, wind and temperature fluctuations. The interior that we could see was broken, uneven and unsuitable even as a temporary shelter for human-sized visitors.

Interior of the cave
Not Going In, Wouldn’t Fit Anyway

After a brief break we picked up and bagged all the litter we had found up here. Then, considering our thirst for a closer view and some understanding of this bit of geological phenomena quenched, we started our way back down the mountain.

As I mentioned earlier there were sections of deeper gravel that made the going more difficult than we had hoped. I took a quick video on the way down where you can see my Keen Durand Hiking Boots sliding around and sinking into the gravel.

20 minutes later we we back on flat ground where we looked over and saw, from a distance, what looked like a dead body in the arms of a large cactus! Before we got as close as the picture below my mind raced with possibilities including that a motorcyclist had been racing through the desert, went off a rock or jump, flew off their bike and landed there to die the death of a thousand puncture marks. When we got close enough we could see, unsurprisingly, that in fact that was not a human body but the remains of the cactus’ neighbor/buddy that had come to rest across its outstretched arm after it collapsed in death.

Willow next to a large cactus
Still Somewhat Of A Sad Scene

Now relieved we didn’t have to report a dead body to the authorities we finished up the last couple hundred meters back to our camping spot and took a well deserved rest.

Except for a grizzled local who showed up every day on his smoking, rickety old ATV to collect some of the spent brass that was littered all over the spot we saw or heard no one else for that week. Our cell signal was more than adequate there and we were protected from the majority of the wind that came through each day starting around 4 pm and so we’ve decided to add this spot to our list of Approved Airbnfree spots for future reference.

If you choose not to use websites or apps that offer suggestions and directions for camping spots sometimes that means a bit of extra effort on your part. In this case we found this spot just while looking around and it turned into a win.

Have you found any cool camping spots off the beaten path by accident? Let us know in the comments section.

Have fun exploring.

One thought on “The Hall of the Mountain King

  1. Ivelisse Escribano

    I appreciate you telling us about your adventures! Happy 2019 to you and dog.

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