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Book Review


Desert Climbing & Hiking Guides:
Two New & Three Revised  

By Burton Falk 



Hiking Nevada’s County High Points (2010),
Bob Sumner


Afoot & Afield, Inland Empire (2009),
David & Jennifer Money Harris


Hiking California’s Desert Parks
(1996, Revised 2006),

Bill & Polly Cunningham


Desert Summits (2000, Revised 2006),
Andy Zdon


140 Great Hikes in and Near Palm Springs
(2003, Revised 2007) Philip Ferranti


Hiking Nevada’s County High Points (2010), Bob Sumner

Bob Sumner, who for the past six years has done a masterful job editing The Desert Sage, has now published his own equally fine climbing guide, Hiking Nevada’s County High Points.  An April 2010 production of Wynne Benti’s Spotted Dog Press, the 160-page volume is both well-conceived and well-executed.

   Kicking off  with a review of basic hiking necessities, including clothing (think layers) and equipment (think ten essentials), Sumner continues with tips on driving rough roads, camping suggestions, and notes on such diverse subjects as ducks and cairns, rock art, tree inscriptions, and summit registers.

    Next comes the high point guides themselves.  As Sumner explains, Nevada is made up of 16 counties plus one independent administrative unit, Carson City, the highpoint of which is also considered.  He reviews the best time of the year to hike each highpoint, the type of route to be encountered (trail, cross-country, etc.), the length of the hike, the total gain involved, and the driving distances from nearby towns.  A topographic map is included for each adventure, a description of the view from each summit, a “bonus” peak that can be bagged in the immediate vicinity, side trips, historic notes and a nice selection of photographs.

  Five of the Nevada county high points are currently on the DPS list: Clark County’s Charleston Peak, Elko County’s Ruby Dome, Esmeralda County’s Boundary Peak, Nye County’s Mount Jefferson, and White Pine County’s Wheeler Peak.

  Of the remaining eleven high points, two are located on the shoulders of peaks whose summits lie in an adjoining county (Lincoln County’s is on the shoulder of White Pine County’s Mt. Grafton; Lyon County’s is on the shoulder of Middle Sister, in the Sweetwater Mountains, the summit of which lies in neighboring California’s Mono County); and three lie in the Carson Range, flanking Lake Tahoe to the east, and should probably be regarded as Sierra Nevada peaks—indeed, Mt. Rose, Washoe County’s highpoint, is on the SPS list.

   That leaves six high points, any or all of which—with the possible exception of Mt. Davidson, Storey County’s highest, a 2.7 mile hike from downtown Virginia City—might make fine additions to our DPS list.

  Bob Sumner, an experienced mountaineer and an excellent writer, includes a host of interesting information regarding each climb.  Did you know, for instance, that the “White Mountains were originally named for pale granitic White Mountain Peak (which we know today as Montgomery Peak)?  Later, when a peak further south, Mount Olmsted, was discovered to be higher, the name was transferred to that high peak.  Despite the predominant red rock on this fourteener, the name stuck—both on the peak and the range.”

  Or how about the fact that 10,520’ Corey Peak, Sumner’s high point climb for Mineral County, isn’t the true county high point at all?  No, indeed, the actual high point is 11,239’ Mount Grant “which is located on the Hawthorne Army Depot and is closed to the public.”  Should you be determined to climb Mount Grant, however, Sumner describes the process of applying for special permission to do so.

   Hiking Nevada’s County High Points is a valuable climbing resource, which, in my opinion, belongs in every DPSer’s library.  Congratulations on a fine job to Bob, a resident of Hawthorne, NV, in the state that has “remained the enchantress that kept pulling me back for more, and the place where I ultimately settled.”


Afoot & Afield, Inland Empire: A Comprehensive Hiking Guide (2009), David & Jennifer Money Harris

So I was browsing through the high-piled book table at our local Costco earlier this year, when I spotted a copy of David & Jennifer Money Harris’ 2009 Afoot & Afield, Inland Empire.  Leafing through its 410 pages I realized instantly that I was holding a small treasure in my hands.  The drudgery of another afternoon’s shopping trip suddenly vanished.

   David Harris is a life-long hiker, an engineering instructor at Harvey Mudd College, the co-author of the 6th edition of San Bernardino Mountain Trails, and a Sierra Club trip leader.  Jennifer teaches Early Modern English Literature—and I’m sure she can take much of the credit for the volume’s excellent readability—and is interested in preservation of indigenous South American cultures. The couple live in Upland, CA and have two small children.

   Regarding the term “Inland Empire,” the Harrises contend that its origin “is shrouded in the mists of history, but one theory says it was coined by real estate developers to lure buyers to this purported paradise.”  Although the actual boundaries of the so-called “Empire” are even murkier, the definition used for this volume is that “it spans Riverside and San Bernardino Counties and eastern Los Angeles County…”

   And with such a large area to be considered, it’s not surprising that more half of the more than 200 hikes described fall outside the DPS climbing area.  The remaining “desert” hikes can be found in the Afoot  Afield’s chapters entitled: High Desert, Desert Divide, Palm Springs and the Indian Canyons, Santa Rosa Mountains National Monument, Mecca Hills Wilderness, Desert and Mountain Preserves, Joshua Tree National Park, and Mojave National Preserve.  Surprisingly, only three DPS climbs are included, East Ord Mountain, Rabbit Peak (three routes) and Spectre Point.

   On the other hand, all the hikes described, both “desert” and “non-desert,” include maps, GPS coordinates and interesting facts, and constitute a treasure trove for anyone looking for a good day’s hike.

   Similar to Bob Sumner’s book reviewed above, the Harrises introduce their volume with basic information for hikers, i.e., what clothing and equipment are necessary, what precautions to take during the hike, simple courtesies to be practiced on the trail, plus pointers on camping.  Each hike description includes: distance, hiking time, elevation gain, level of difficulty, trail use (e.g. dogs, cyclists, children), best times of the year for the hike, recommended maps, and whether or not a permit is necessary.

   In Appendix A, the Harrises list their picks of “Best Hikes” in several different categories, many of which are located in desert areas.  For instance a best bird watching hike can be found at the Big Morongo Preserve in the Little San Bernardino Mountains; a best geology tour might be the Ladder and Painted Canyons hike in the Mecca Hills; for a best hike with kids one might consider the Kelso Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve; a best strenuous hike could be the Boo Hoff Loop (12 miles, 8 hours, 2,000’ of gain) in the Santa Rosa Mountains near La Quinta, and a best monster hike would be the Nine Peaks of the Desert Divide (26.5 miles, 11-15 hours, 9,000’ of gain) stretching between the Devils Slide Trailhead in Idyllwild, continuing south along the Pacific Crest Trail (which incorporates much of the original, God rest him, Sam Fink Trail), and descending on the Cedar Springs Trail.

   During the past season I hiked 4 of the 5 sections of the California Riding and Hiking Trail in Joshua Tree National Park as described by the Harrises.  Having done so, I can attest that their hike descriptions are excellent, equivalent to those found in Bill and Polly Cunningham’s also excellent Hiking California’s Desert Parks (see review below), and substantially more detailed than those found in Patty Furbush’s On Foot in Joshua Tree National Park (not reviewed).


Hiking California’s Desert Parks (1996, Revised 2006), Bill & Polly Cunningham

Bill and Polly (nee Burke) Cunningham lived in California “decades ago,” Bill in Bakersfield, Polly in San Diego.  They met while exploring the Golden State’s desert regions and got along so well that they eventually married.  Today, the Cunninghams live in Montana, where Bill is a conservation activist and backpacking outfitter, and Polly makes a living as a freelance writer, a wilderness guide, and by working with the elderly.  The Cunninghams are the coauthors of several wilderness guides, including Wild Utah, Hiking New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness, and Hiking New Mexico’s Aldo Leopold Wilderness.  In addition they’ve coauthored Hiking Death Valley National Park, Hiking Mojave National Preserve, Hiking Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and Hiking Joshua Tree National Park and, though not specifically stated, it appears that they’ve consolidated much of the latter four volumes into one, Hiking California’s Desert Parks, a 1996 publication, revised in 2006.

   Similar to the volumes reviewed above, the Cunninghams lead off with hiking basics, including what specifically to avoid, i.e., dehydration, weather-related problems (flash floods, lightning, hypothermia), the wrong sorts of vegetation (Cats-claw, Spanish bayonet, cacti), critters (rattlesnakes, scorpions, mountain lions), mine hazards, hanta virus, unstable rocky slopes, and, last but not least, Giardia.  In Appendix B, they also offer a list of recommended hiking equipment.

   Divided into four hiking sections, Hiking California’s Desert Parks offers 114 hike descriptions, beginning in the south in Anza-Borrego Desert S.P, and continuing with Joshua Tree N.P., Mojave National Preserve and Death Valley N.P.

   Each of the four sections begins with a list of the hikes in the area, including a brief description of the features to be found on each, e.g., vista, canyon, historic site, oasis.  Individual hike descriptions within each section include directions to the trailhead, the distance to be hiked, the hike’s difficulty, the condition of the trail, the best seasons to do the hike, and the USGS topo map(s) needed for the area.  The only DPS climb listed is that of Telescope Peak, no doubt because it’s reached by trail.

   I’ve recently completed several of the hikes listed and again I can assure you that the Cunninghams have done an excellent job in their descriptions.  I do wonder, however, why they omitted Anza-Borrego’s Hellhole Canyon hike, one of the best in the area in my opinion.

   I don’t have a copy of the 1st edition of Hiking California’s Desert Parks for comparison purposes, however the Cunninghams note that in this 2nd edition they include several new hikes, including the South Fork Hanaupah and Upper Hole-in-the-Wall hikes in Death Valley N.P., and the Lava Tube and Castle Peaks hikes in Mojave National Preserve.


Desert Summits (2000, Revised 2006), Andy Zdon

In my original review of Andy Zdon’s Desert Summits, appearing in the May/June 2001 issue of The Desert Sage, I wrote:

   “What DPS member/Owens Valley resident/consulting geologist Zdon has done is to start with Walt Wheelock’s classic Desert Peaks Guide(s), Part 1 & 2 (originally published by the La Siesta Press in 1971 & 1975 respectively) and, with Wheelock’s blessing (Walt, a former DPS chair, passed away in November 1997 at the age of 88), greatly expand and update the information contained therein. In doing so, Zdon has completed a monumental task as he considers more than 300 summits (versus Wheelock’s 178), in an area bounded by the Sweetwater Mountains, along the CA/NV border, to the north; the Virgin Mountains, along the NV/AZ border, to the east; and the Coyote Mountains, along the CA/Mexico border, to the south.”

   “(Desert Summits is) a wonderful book.  Every DPS member who doesn’t already own a copy should rush out and purchase one—right now!

   Well, what are you waiting for?”

   In 2006, Zdon published a revised edition of Desert Summits, adding a handful of new summit climbs, including 7,620’ Harkless Peak, at the north end of the Inyo Mountains; 5,430’ Muddy Mountain, the highpoint of the Muddy Mountains, east of Las Vegas (by the way, 5,387’ Muddy Peak, in the same range, but slightly lower, is a DPS peak); 3,720’ Mercury Mountain and 3,237’ Ship Mountain, both in the Mojave National Preserve; and 5,518’ Eureka Peak in Joshua Tree National Park.

   In his “Using this Guide” introductory, Zdon admits that “…once out in the desert, the hiker will find scores of peaks, named and unnamed, worthy of ascent, but not included in this guidebook.”  That point was recently brought home when a high-pointer friend of mine asked if I could recommend a guide for a climb of 4,627’ Cady Mountain, the highpoint of the recently proposed Mojave National Monument.  Well, naturally, I turned to Desert Summits, where I found the peak not to be listed.

   So, Andy, it looks like you might want to consider yet another revision


140 Great Hikes in and Near Palm Springs (2003, Revised 2007) Philip Ferranti; Maps by Hank Koenig

In 1992, Philip Ferranti, a retired teacher and counselor living in Palm Desert, founded the Coachella Valley Hiking Club.  In 1995, he published 75 Great Hikes In and Near Palm Springs, an instant boon for local hikers.  Ferranti updated his guide in 2000, re-titling it 100 Great Hikes In and Near Palm Springs, a volume which I reviewed in the May/June 2001 Desert Sage as follows: “100 Great Hikes is a profusely illustrated, well-mapped volume, divided into nine geographic sections, namely: Mecca Hills/Box Canyon, Coachella Preserve, Desert Cities, Palm Springs and Indian Canyons, San Jacinto Mountains, Santa Rosa Mountains, Joshua Tree N.P., San Gorgonio Pass and Nearby, and lastly, Orocopia Mountain Wilderness and the Chuckwalla Mountains.”

   “Having completed perhaps a quarter of the hikes described, I can truthfully report that this is a first-rate effort...  The maps by Hank Koenig are much better than the rudimentary efforts contained in the earlier edition.”

   Well, in 2003, Ferranti added even more hikes, creating 120 Great Hikes…, while in 2007, he came out with 140 Great Hikes In and Near Palm Spring. 

   Goodness knows where this will all end!

   Should you decide to spend a weekend in the Palm Springs/Palm Desert area, you’ll find that any one of the above editions will offer a cornucopia of hiking suggestions.  Unfortunately, Ferranti needs to publish yet another edition to describe the excellent new trails recently completed by the cities of Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage, i.e., the Mike Schuler and Herb Jeffries Trails (both of which connect with the ever-popular Bump & Grind), plus the northern extension of the Hopalong Cassidy Trail.  The trailheads for all three of these new hikes can be found on Painters Path, just behind the shopping center at the southwest corner of Highway 111 and Fred Waring Dr., in Palm Desert. 


(This article appeared in the July-August 2010 edition of
The Desert Sage newsletter.)