Black Butte and Chuckwalla Mountain
Revised Jan 2010 - please send updates to the webmaster
For climbing details, see my 2010 trip report.
Drive east of Indio on I-10, 14 miles beyond the Joshua Tree exit (waypoint COTJ10) and 10 miles before Desert Center (waypoint DESC10). Exit at the large green sign for Red Cloud Road (waypoint REDC10) and find the large parking area south of the freeway. If you're driving west, you'll have to loop under the freeway west of the exit and go back east to join the eastbound exit ramp. At the south end of this parking lot there is a sign for Red Cloud Road, which goes southeast. Cross under the powerline (waypoint REDPWR) on a dirt road that is still OK for passenger cars.
2 miles from I-10 (waypoint REDCM2), you briefly join Summit Road coming in from the right and drive along railroad tracks. (NOTE: It seems Summit Road could be taken all the way from the underpass that westbound I-10 drivers took to get to Red Cloud, but I haven't tried that variation.) Driving the other way, REDCM2 is where you would fork right, leaving the railroad tracks. Near here I stopped to talk to the border patrol, who asked me plenty of casual questions and thanked me for stopping so they didn't have to come find me.
Drive along low voltage wooden power poles for 2 more miles. Several roads branch off, just stay under/near the power lines. There is a sign at the intersection of Red Cloud and Gas Line roads (waypoint REDCGL), where you bear right (south) on Gas Line Road and stay with the power lines. Ignore all further intersections, just keep straight all the way to Bradshaw Trail (waypoint GLBRAD, 12 miles from I-10). Turn left (east) at a Bradshaw Trail sign on a 4x4 post. The road gets slowly worse once you are on Bradshaw Trail, until it becomes one lane with water flowing over the entire width of road (in a big storm). It might stay nice when it's dry, but some significant flows had crossed the road, leaving washouts and/or mud in Jan 2010. Once up out of these washes, Bradshaw Trail was quite nice.
19 miles southeast from the Red Cloud I-10 exit, turn north to Black Butte at the top of a rise (waypoint BRADBB) just before (west of) where the gravel becomes more coarse and there are bladed rock berms on both sides. Passenger cars can not get off Bradshaw Trail, and it's not clear where they could park near the turn without blocking Bradshaw, but 2WD with high clearance would be OK at this point. There are no stakes saying you can't drive here, but at first it doesn't look much like a road!
The map shows an actual GPS track log in green. 50 yards from Bradshaw, the road becomes more obvious. Over 2 miles from Bradshaw (but before BLK2WD) there is a sign saying This road forms the wilderness boundary on left. Must stay within 30' of centerline of road. It is apparently OK to camp anywhere on he right (east) side of the road, or near the road on the left (west).
The DPS 2WD trailhead is where trail crosses a wash from one rib to another (waypoint BLK2WD at 2.7k, 2.5 mi from Bradshaw). The USGS map shows a fork, but I only saw the road turning 90 degrees right at the first campsite area. The road doesn't get much worse at first, but it does narrow after BLK2WD. The map shows a junction at BLKB05, but I didn't notice it. Just AFTER Gulliday Well (waypoint GULDAY) there was an unexpected fork (waypoint BLKB07) with a sign saying Wilderness Area 1 mile Ahead. Turn right at this sign (waypoint BLKB07), or park here. Below the sign this rib is OK for high-clearance 2WD, but above BLKB07 is much tougher going.
I pushed a Jeep Patriot all the way to the end of the road (waypoint BLK4WD at 3.1k, 4.6 miles from Bradshaw Trail). If you're going to show up in a 4WD vehicle, you might as well blow past the DPS 4WD trailhead (waypoint BLKDPS at 3k, 4.1 miles from Bradshaw) to a camping and parking area with clear stakes saying it's the end of the road. It's a ridge climb (waypoint BLKB10) from the end of the road, or a gully climb (waypoint BLKB15) from the DPS trailhead. You choose!
The right (south) side of Bradshaw Trail is frequently signed as a dangerous military reservation! There was lots of mud here after the storm, and I needed 4WD. It might all pack down nicely when dry in the fall, so please let me know if you've been here when the road is suitable for 2WD with clearance or passenger cars.
2.9 miles east of the Black Butte turnoff, at waypoint BRAD03, take a small turn left turn where the main road goes right (which does not match the USGS map). 5.8 miles east of the Black Butte turnoff, at waypoint BRAD08, continue straight (southeast) past a road sign and BLM signboard. The correct route is fairly obvious, but I entered a number of waypoints just in case.
There is a major road fork (waypoint BRAD19) 15 miles east of the Black Butte
turnoff, or 34 miles from the Red Cloud exit from I-10. The left turn to
Graham Pass and Chuckwalla is marked Road 594. A third of a mile further east
(waypoint BRADCW) Road 594 continues east to Graham Pass, and a "faint dirt track"
called Road 588 goes left (north) to Chuckwalla Mountain. It's not really fair
to call Road 588 a road, since there are no berms or ruts to define it, but
it does get less faint as you drive further from Road 594.
Passenger cars can do part of Chuckwalla, even though it seems cross country. Cars should approach from Graham Pass, not from Black Butte, for far better roads. There is room to park cars just before a dip (waypoint CHUKPC at 1.8k, 1.2 miles from Bradshaw Trail).
Less than a quarter mile beyond that is the DPS 2WD trailead (waypoint CHUK2W), where there is lots more parking. It is hard to figure out where the road goes: The main road turns left out of 2WD parking area, another spur road goes uphill and dead-ends, and there are mining mounds everywhere. I think the DPS Guide is wrong or out of date, so I'm indicating the 4WD trailhead where I was able to drive in 2010.
From CHUK2W, continue north-northeast on what looks like the main road. At the junction shown on USGS maps (waypoint CHUCK1, 1.5 mi from Bradshaw Trail) the main road goes left and downhill, but a much smaller track goes uphill. I parked at waypoint CHUK4W (2k, 1.7 miles from Bradshaw). This was not at the end of the road but where rocks and trees make the road somewhat impassable. You could push on another tenth of a mile, but it's not worth the effort and the road turns on a side slope so there's no place to park up high.
It's about 19 miles from the Chuckwalla turnoff (waypoint BRADCW) to the freeway (waypoint FORD10) over Graham Pass (waypoint GRAHAM). Most of Graham Pass Road is flat and well graded, and some can be driven at 50mph. There are a few minor washes to cross near the pass, but it's all suitable for passenger cars.
Take Road 594 east from BRADCW until it turns north (waypoint GRAM07) and climbs over Graham Pass (waypoint GRAHAM). The road straightens and goes northeast to a T intersection where there is a large green sign for Chuckwalla Road (waypoint GRAM02). You're back to pavement about 16 miles from the Chuckwalla turnoff. Turn right (east) on Chuckwalla Road and drive 3 miles to the Ford Dry Lake exit from I-10 (waypoint FORD10).