The Old Woman Mountains in the Southern California Mojave Desert were named for a monolith rock formation which early miners and settlers said appears like an old woman. The namesake formation, now known as Old Woman Statue, is at the north central heart of the range, while the highest point, Old Woman Mountain is at the northwest end. Old Woman Statue is a demanding technical rock climb while Old Woman Mountain is merely a desert hike and scramble. Guidebook author Courtney Purcell even stated that Old Woman Statue was the toughest climb in his book Rambles and Scrambles. Access to the area can be difficult since many of the roads are sandy. Other noteworthy peaks include Mercury Mountain in the far north and Carbonate Peak southeast of the main peak.
Despite the seeming scarcity of water, the Old Woman Mountains are home to a variety of flora and fauna. In fact there are 24 known springs and the animals know where they are. Some of the animal species present include bighorn sheep, mule deer, bobcat, cougar, coyote, jackrabbit, squirrels, kangaroo rats, quail, roadrunners, rattlesnakes, lizards, hawks, falcons, owls, eagles and the endangered desert tortoise. Some of the plant species located here include but are not limited to creosote bush, catclaw acacia, yucca, barrel cactus, cholla cactus, cheesebush, desert lavender, desert almond, pinion pine and juniper.
Native American History
In 1994 Congress designated the Old Woman Mountains Wilderness which encompasses 165,172 acres. Then in 2015, The BLM (Bureau of Land Management) sold 2,560 acres along the northeast side of the range to the NALC (Native American Land Conservancy), who then created the OWMP (Old Woman Mountains Preserve). This area around Painted Rock and Painted Rock Spring was used for generations by the Chemehuevi tribe and Southern Paiute for religious ceremonies. Painted Rock features a small cave near the top. Well preserved rock art is present as well as natural tanks down below which hold water for months after a storm. The petroglyphs are likely 600 to 800 years old. The NALC hosts interpretive visits to the site which you can learn more about through their website.
The Old Woman Mountains are a metamorphic formation. Granitic rocks, primarily subtypes of granodiorite, crystallized underground after magma intruded older metamorphic rock and cooled slowly. Taking place 99 to 65 million years ago, this formed what is known among geologists as the Fenner Batholith. A batholith is a large subterranean formation of granitic rock, usually harder than the surrounding earth. Often through millions of years of erosion and tectonic forces, a batholith can be forced up or become uncovered through erosion to create a mountain or mountain ranges. Many of the desert ranges were created in this way.
The Old Woman range has a rich history despite its remote location in the Mojave Desert. Like many of the desert ranges, mining of the California Gold Rush era left numerous mining sites all throughout the area. The primary draw was gold and silver, but one tungsten mine operated during World War II. You can read more about specific mining history here, and here.
More recently, what two prospectors later spotted along the western slopes of the range near the Black Metal Mine, would go down in history as one of the most important prospector discoveries of our time. In March of 1975, Mike Jendruczak and David Friberg were searching for the Lost Spanish Mine but instead they found a meteorite weighing 6070 pounds. This was the largest meteorite ever discovered in California and the second largest ever discovered in the United States.
The prospectors filed a claim in hopes of possessing the meteorite but a clause in the Antiquities Act prevented them from obtaining ownership. Instead the meteorite was removed and placed on display in the Smithsonian Institute where it remained until 1980 when it was shipped to the Desert Discovery Center in Barstow. You can see it there in person today. Read more about it here: Discovery story and ensuing legal battle, BLM meteorite information page
More External linksBLM Old Woman Mountains Page