Saturday, April 15, 2017

Yucca Gap Fossil Tour - 4/15/17


Desert National Wildlife Refuge

Hedgehog Cactus

Mormon Well Road
 A large concentration of Precambrian fossils are located in Yucca Gap and at the base of Yucca Peak in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. Yucca Gap is located at the 5 mile marker on Mormon Well Road as it travels up from the Corn Creek Visitor Center. Mormon Well Road isn't a bad road but it is best to have high clearance vehicles since there are areas with deep gravel. Twelve club hikers piled in 3 vehicles and traveled north on this road after making a stop at the Visitor Center to sign in and use the facilities.

Gastropods at First Stop

Yucca Gap

Returning to Cars at First Stop

MM 9 TH View to Spring Mountains
 Our first stop was in Yucca Gap at the 5.4 mile mark. This is the first place that the limestone slab of Fossil Ridge drops down right at the road. We looked at the slabs nearby and found our first excellent examples of gastropod (snails and such) fossils. When the slab was laying flat down about 250 million years ago, a sea covered this area. The fossils indicate that there were millions of gastropods that lived and died here to become part of today's landscape. It bears reminding hikers to treat this area with respect. We saw a few broken beer bottles around.

Canyon Entrance for Yucca Peak Trail

Outcropping Above

Yucca Peak Fossil Bed

Tiny Fossils
 After this stop, we traveled on up to mile marker 9. At this trailhead, we could see our next goal. The high point to the northwest is Yucca Peak. Below this formidable peak, there is a bed of tiny seabed fossils. We dropped down into the Long Valley Wash and crossed over to a canyon located around a corner on the other side. As we climbed up to the ridge from here, we found a huge number of these fossils. The group was very curious and started climbing in several different directions. But, we all ended up on top of the ridge above a large rock outcropping.

Looking for Fossils

Slowly Climbing to Ridge

Fossil Ridge View from Yucca Ridge

Claret Cup
 Next, we climbed up the Yucca Peak Trail on the fossil filled ridge until we reached a saddle dip. We stopped here for our break. The view was fantastic and we watched as a car tooled its way up Mormon Well Road and passed our trailhead. A few hikers lamented that if there was just a little more time, they could make their way up to Yucca Peak. They were assured that they would need more than just a "little" more time! The peak climb gets a little nasty after the point where we stopped.

Climbing the Ridge and Looking for Fossils

Seabed Precambrian Fossil

Settling down for a Snack Break

Returning down from Ridge
 There is a loop route that can be taken by dropping into the wash to the right of the ridge but in it lies two dry falls that are just a tad bit too high. We chose to go back the way we came but that meant we had to find our way down the small cliffs that we climbed up. The group was experienced and this was not a problem. When we got back to the cars, we got the photo below to show our route and the one that continues up to the peak. On the way back down the road, we passed a trailhead (mile marker 8.4) for the large overhanging alcove that mars the mountainside landscape to the west.

Our Route from Trailhead

Large Cave Overhang with Trail

A Visit to an Agave Roasting Pit

The Western Terminus of Fossil Ridge
  Our third stop would be at mile marker 7. Here, we paid a short visit to an agave roasting pit left by the basket makers of ancient time. We tried to imagine the people that lived here at that time. The pit had a great view down through Yucca Gap. Our fourth stop was at Fossil Ridge again but, this time, it was at mile marker 6.2. Here, we had a lot of fun finding more gastropod fossils and a few other fossils that we didn't recognize. Most of the hikers climbed up the slab limestone to various points since the more unusual fossils could be found there.

Hikers climbing Fossil Ridge

Fossils found at Stop 4

Stop 4 Fossils

Ravine Filled with Fossils
 Finally, we turned onto Gass Peak Road and stopped at the trailhead located about half a mile to the east. This was purely an exploratory stop. We were trying to answer the question, "Why is this trailhead here?" We hiked around the nearest hill and found nothing. Perhaps the answers will come another day. Regardless, it was a relaxing and fun day of adventure and explorations. Fossils everywhere!

4.5 miles; 1300 feet elevation gain; 4.5 hours

Unusual Fossils in this Area


Trailhead on Gass Peak Road (Gass Peak in Distance)

The Yucca Gap Fossil Tour

Yucca Peak Fossil Beds Elevation Graph (O&B)

Agave Roasting Pit Stop

Fourth Stop

First Stop



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