January is a great month to explore the Marble Mountains. Our plan was to explore them on Saturday, camp there, then meet the Yucaipa Valley Gem and Mineral Society for a trilobite fossil hunt on Sunday. We left Highway 40 at Ludlow and drove the old National Trails Highway, Route 66, through Amboy to Chambless. What a difference from Highway 40! You could almost lie down in the middle of the road and take a nap there was so little traffic! Arriving at Chambless we turned north toward the Marble Mountains and the Trilobite Wilderness Area. James Mitchell has excellent directions and detailed maps on pages 66 and 67 of his book Gem Trails of Southern California. Our goal was to explore what he refers to as Site B. This area literally has a small mountain covered in dark red and brown garnet crystals. Most of the crystals are very small and form a druzy covering of the rocks. However, a few larger crystals can be found. There is also a large amount of lime green epidote and bright metallic hematite in the area. The idea is to find these two mixed together in the same rock. The results are quite showy!
As we drove toward the site the dirt road began to get rocky. A stout vehicle would probably make the trip, but four wheel drive is advised. We drove up the wash and then headed steeply uphill to a turn around at the dead end that made a good base for our exploration. To cover more ground we hiked in different directions and kept in contact with our radios. They provide not only a safety factor, but also make it possible to share information on what is being found. The climb from the dead end is steep in any direction. It was hard to hear anything 'cause my heart was thumping so loudly! We gained elevation quickly and some nice vistas unfolded. I also found a nice example of one of the larger garnet crystals in the wash I was scrambling up. Soon the epidote and hematite deposits began appearing and then some rocks containing both. These specimens looked great in the bright sun! A call from Niki informed me that she had flushed some big horn sheep and managed to get a very distant photo of the head of one as it looked back down on her before disappearing over a ridge. I also was seeing scat and tracks that indicated they were in the area. The climbing and scrambling was hard work, but we really enjoyed the scenery and were very pleased with the rock samples we found.
As evening approached we drove back down into the wash to find a level spot that wasn't too rocky so that we could put up our tent. As we set about our campsite chores the sun slowly set, washing the hills with a rosy glow. We had dinner around the campfire, but the night got cold quickly and we retreated into the tent which was quite cozy. At dawn I heard a loud swoosh, swoosh, swoosh sound and popped my head out to find that all that noise was being made by the wings of a raven that was flying over! Now that's solitude! We packed up and drove back to Amboy for breakfast and waited for the rock club to arrive and start on our trilobite adventure. The Marble Mountains south of Chambless and east of Cadiz have exposed a window to the past. This window is shale. The shale that has now been uplifted in these mountains was once the mud bottom of an ancient ocean. These shales are as old as 600 million years. Trilobites, creeping crablike creatures, were very common in these seas. They lived and died in uncounted numbers. As they drifted to the mud bottom they became entombed. The mud, under heat and pressure, became shale, and the shale still has within its layers the imprints of these trilobites that have been extinct for nearly 300 million years. Wow! We were really excited to split some shale! Very few whole trilobite fossils are found. Most of the finds are of heads, legs, etc. But what the heck, even that is pretty neat!
After breakfast our small group headed out to the fossil area. Mitchell's book also has good maps and directions to this area on pages 64 and 65. The first shale outcrop we stopped at was my favorite. The shale had a reddish glow to it and the hillside was bathed in morning sunshine. Shortly we were all finding bits and pieces of trilobites. Holding the remains of a 300 million year old organism is a real treat. After a while we decided to move to the best known site. This site is high on a hillside and usually produces some larger specimens. That didn't happen today, but the hike was nice and the views spectacular. We left with a new appreciation for time, it actually made me feel a lot younger!
As we returned to old Route 66 for the journey home, we saw one last inexplicable sight. Off to the side of the highway, between Chambless and Amboy, a large tree had been covered by pairs of shoes that had been thrown into it! Was it the work of aliens? Bored travelers, who then continued on barefoot? Maybe 300 million years from now geologists will be digging up fossils of the amazing shoe tree!