It was only about two weeks after Dan and I got engaged at the top of Black Crook Peak that we made it out to the Desert Mountains. From that summit we’d looked out across the endless nothing and saw those craggy ridges, like mountain islands rising out of a sea of sand and shadscale, and something about the aptly named Desert Mountains caught both of our imaginations.

Topping out at 6480’, they’re not particularly noteworthy. But it was the isolation, their dramatic rocky appearance, and the promise of solitude that drew us to make a trip out there.

Getting to the Desert Mountains

We decided to do just a one night trip, more of a scouting trip, and left the Friday after Thanksgiving. The drive took us past Little Sahara Recreation area, along Weis Highway/Jericho-Callao Road. The road’s only paved up to slightly past the turn to Little Saraha, and then quickly turns to well-maintained dirt for the remaining 20 or so miles.

The Desert Mountain range is split pretty distinctly into two sections, separated by a well-maintained road through a low pass. We veered off of Jericho-Callao Road to go up through the pass, and about half a mile along the road found a dirt track heading off to the right.

Maybe half a mile in, we found an impacted site with a fire pit and a level spot to park the car. After setting up camp, we decided to use the last few hours of daylight to explore. Dan had seen a low point on the ridge that he wanted to try to get to, so we set off around 3pm with some small daypacks.

Hiking to Desert Mountain Summit

We followed the dirt track through the campsite until it faded into the low scrub, then started to work our way up a to a low point on the ridge.

We kept making our way cross-country from the end of the dirt track, aiming for the big dip, just at the edge of the shadows.

Starting the hike to Desert Mountain Summit

Getting closer to the ridge! The terrain was steeper and rougher than it looked from the bottom, so it was slow going—definitely need to be on the lookout for loose rocks and rattlesnakes.

Finally made it to the ridge, and spent a minute enjoying the views and considered what to do next. We’d planned on hiking to the summit of Desert Mountain the next morning, but after a quick look at the map, we realized that we were actually most of the way there, with just a short stretch of not-too-sketchy-looking ridge to cross to reach the summit. We had just enough daylight if we pushed it, so we decided to go for it.

Looking back at where we started up the ridge toward the summit.

Looking up the ridge toward the summit

Looking up the ridge toward Desert Mountain Summit. The high point in the distance, where the rock changes to a lighter color, is the summit.

The ridgeline was rocky, but nothing too technical. We easily picked a Class II route along it, skirting around the rock outcroppings, and found ourselves at the summit right around 4pm.

I’m not sure I could image a place more fitting of the name Desert Mountain, with it’s rough and barren terrain surrounded by expansive views of the basin and range, uninterrupted by any signs of civilization except a few dirt roads (and the damn power plant, but we don’t need to go into that here). There are few places I’ve felt more solitude, more out there, more like I was on another planet. It’s not an impressive summit by the numbers, but it’s one of my favorites regardless.

Structure at the summit of Desert Mountain

Wood structure near the summit of Desert Mountain. Turns out the summit benchmark is hiding in the shadows just at the base of this structure (I think).

We thought we found the summit benchmark up there. After reading a bit about these benchmarks on Summit Post, I realized that the mark we saw wasn’t the actual benchmark—it’s a reference point directing to it. I think the actual benchmark is hiding in the photo of the wood structure, just at the base of it, but I guess we’ll have to make another trip up here to confirm.

Reference marker near the summit. We missed the actual benchmark.

After a few minutes of enjoying the views and taking photos and the summit, we both felt a stark chill blowing up from the shaded north side of the summit. We were about to run out of warmth and daylight, so it was time to hoof it down.

The descent was quick, and we had just enough daylight left to take a detour to check out an interesting rock formation just below where we were camped. I was falling utterly in love with this place, with the perfect sunset light, the beautiful rocks, the open endlessness of the desert in front of us and a summit behind us, and silence, the pure and untouched silence.

Cool rock formation in the Desert MountainsBack at camp, we got a small fire going and reheated some Thanksgiving leftovers. We were treated to a crystal clear night with stars that rivaled what I’ve seen in any designated dark-sky area, crisp and twinkling, with the blush of the milky way clearly visible. But the cold drove us into our sleeping bags pretty early for the night.

Exploring rock climbing in the Desert Mountains

The next morning, we set off in search of some of the climbing areas, driving back out the pass and following Jericho-Callao road around the north side of the range. Here, beautiful granite formations tower over you, and there’s seemingly endless potential to explore.

We followed a dirt track back a little ways until we found a spot called Practice Wall with some easy routes that we could set up top ropes on. Not exactly a towering, epic cliff, I know, but it was a perfect spot for two people who have been out of the climbing game for over a year to give the gear a good shake-out.

Setting a top rope at Practice WallWe both got a couple of routes in, then continued our circumnavigation of the range, stopping to check out a few other promising looking crags in the process, and then it was time to head home.

Rather than head back the way we came, we decided to chance it on exploring a different route home. From the summit, we’d seen a road stretching almost due north from the Desert Mountains, and figured it must cut through the mountains and meet up with the Pony Express Route on the other side (a guess that we confirmed with maps and GPS before driving too far along it). The road was in good condition, and eventually took us through Erikson Pass, on the flanks of the Sheeprock range and in the shadow of Black Crook Peak, before meeting up with the familiar terrain of the Pony Express Route. It wasn’t any faster than the main access, and likely impassible in bad weather, but it was a fun and scenic detour in good weather.

There’s so much more to explore here, and with it being such a short drive I’m sure it won’t be too long before we make the trip back.