California Desert trips,interesting places to visit: ghost towns, old mines, lost treasure, personalities and bits of the old west


The desert is sort of my second home. The places described below are special and worth visiting provided you know the story. That's what this blog is all about. Now I have tried as best I can to be factual but sometimes you hate to let facts get in the way of a good yarn.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Fremont on Mojave River in 1844

A number of years ago I obtained a copy of “Table of Latitudes and Longitudes” that was part of the Report to Congress submitted by John C. Fremont describing the expedition of 1843-44. These coordinates marked the route traveled and places where the party camped. A while back, with these numbers and my GPS, I took to the field to relocate his campsites along the Mojave River.

His report states that, after heading east, across the Antelope Valley from the southern reaches of the Sierra Nevada range, the party “… reached a considerable river [Mojave River], timbered with cottonwood and willow, where we found tolerable grass. As the animals had suffered a great deal in the last few days, I remained here all the next day to allow them the necessary repose”

On April 21, 1844, Fremont’s coordinates were: north latitude 34 degrees 34’ 11” which placed the camp site on the west side of the river near Old Highway 66 where it crosses under the 15 Freeway.

“The morning of the 22 was clear and bright and snowy peak to the southwest shone out high and sharply defined [Mt Baldy peak]. … We traveled down the right bank of the stream, over sands which are some what loose. After riding 20 miles in a northeasterly direction we found an old encampment, where we halted.” At this point he observed an elevation of 2,250 feet above sea-level. That elevation places the campsite on the river near where it crosses Hinkley Road, I got north latitude 34 degrees, 50.134’; west longitude117 degrees, 11.545, near or at the place called “Cottonwood” on old maps.

23RD – “We continued along the dry bed, in which, after an interval of 16 miles the water reappeared in some low places, well timbered with cottonwood and willow, where was another of the customary camping-grounds”. Sixteen miles from Cottonwood places the next camp site at a well know watering hole east of Barstow known in early times as “Fish Ponds”[Nebo] now within the Marine Corps Logistics Base. His reference to “customary camping-grounds” relates to those campsites established by annual pack-train caravans traveling between New Mexico and California as early as 1829. The route that they pioneered became know as the “Spanish Trail”.

24th –“We continued down the stream (or rather its bed) for about 8 miles, where there was water still in several holes, and encamped”. This distance is inconsistent with the coordinates for the 24th (north latitude 35 degrees 56’; west longitude 116 degrees 29’ 19”) which places the party on the river near Afton Canyon.

25th -- “We left the river abruptly, and turning to the north regained in a few miles the main trail (which had left the river sooner than ourselves) … and, after traveling 25 miles, we arrived at the Agua de Tomaso” [now Bitter Springs located in the Ft. Irwin National Training Center].

The party continued to follow the Spanish Trail on this, the homeward leg, completing their two-year odyssey. This, the second of five trips to the west by Fremont, was, by most accounts, his most famous. Before reaching the Mojave River, the party had traveled south from Sutter’s Fort, through California’s Central Valley skirting the Sierra Nevada Range and reaching the desert by way of Tehachapi Pass then down and across moving easterly through the Antelope Valley to connect with the Spanish Trail north of Cajon Pass.


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