Sierra Nevada Region
The original Hoover Wilderness was designated in 1964 with the historic passage of the federal Wilderness Act. Yet the 48,000 acres included in the area are just the beginning of the potential wilderness on the east side of the Sierra Nevada. More than 70,000 acres of roadless lands adjacent to the existing Hoover Wilderness remain unprotected, and are potential additions to the wilderness.
The area forms the headwaters of the West Walker River and possesses striking vistas and outstanding natural beauty. Snow-capped peaks tower above the landscape at more than 11,000 feet, and rugged ridges slope down to glacier-carved U-shaped canyons. Ice-cold streams alternately tumble down rocky gorges and meander across flower-studded meadows. More than 30 alpine lakes, large and small, dot the landscape. Forest vegetation varies from fir and lodgepole pine at the higher elevations, to Jeffrey pine, pinyon, juniper, and sagebrush in the lowlands. The endangered great gray owl and threatened wolverine reside in the potential additions to the Hoover Wilderness, as do bighorn sheep, Mt. Lyell salamander, bald eagle, and golden trout. Almost 12 miles of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail cross this land.
Despite its significance in history and unique physical character, the isolated Modoc National Forest in California’s far northeast is one of the least visited forests in the state. Its large size and over 200,000 acres of inventoried roadless areas, and an additional 70,000 acres of citizens’ wilderness inventory areas, provide endless recreational opportunities. You can take advantage of the backcountry hiking and camping, picnic by lava beds, and birdwatch for the threatened northern spotted owl. In a nod to the region’s history, the forest is named after the Modoc Indian tribe that led the last Indian War in California and Oregon, holding fast to their territory as long as they could despite being outnumbered.
Today, it is a truly distinctive place to visit. A geologic wonderland, the Modoc National Forest is part of the most volcanically active region in California, with hardened lava flows, thermal vents, hissing gasses, natural arches, and an extensive system of caves. The area also contains the finest and largest ancient forests in the Modoc Plateau region. High in the forest is an ecological transition zone between the Cascade, Great Basin, and Klamath Mountains. It is a stronghold for a wide variety of plants and wildlife including northern spotted owl, California pitcher plants, and Rocky Mountain elk.
Trail name: Chocolate Mountain
Distance: 5.5 miles in and out
Features: It’s not often that politically imposed boundaries match ecological boundaries, but the Piper Mountains Wilderness comes close. One of the northernmost Wilderness Areas preserved by the visionary California Desert Protection Act, the Piper Mountains divide the Deep Springs and Eureka valleys to create an ecological transition zone between the hot Mojave Desert to the south and the cold Great Basin Desert to the north.
Formed mostly of speckled granite capped by dark black basaltic lava, the 7,703’ mass of Chocolate Mountain resembles a scoop of chocolate chip ice cream topped with chocolate syrup dropped in the middle of the desert.
Enriched by the flora and fauna of two distinct biological communities, the Pipers contain the best of both worlds—from the Mojave Desert’s exalting Joshua Tree to the proletariat of the Great Basin, the aromatic Sagebrush. With a good mix of cacti, black-tailed jackrabbits, Utah junipers with their juniper titmice and a few furtive bighorn sheep, the Pipers are alive year-round.
For more information: Contact the Bureau of Land Management, Ridgecrest Field Office, (530) 224-2100.
Directions to trailhead: To reach the Pipers and the hike up Chocolate Mountain, head east about 35 miles from Big Pine along Highway 168 to the far side of Deep Springs Valley. At Gilbert Summit, turn right on a gentle dirt road heading south. You can either park here, just off the road, or travel about .3 miles to the informal trailhead marked by the welcoming Piper Mountains Wilderness sign.
**Many thanks to our friends and colleagues at Friends of the Inyo for their permission to reprint this hike from their newsletter. Visit them at www.friendsoftheinyo.org.