Corn Spring: Gateway to Petroglyphs, Miner’s Cabin and More!

Corn Spring is in the Chuckwalla Mountains of the Colorado Desert seventeen miles southeast of Desert Center. You can access the main dirt road with a high clearance 2-wheel drive vehicle. Native Americans relied on the springs, and they engraved many petroglyphs on the rocks in the area.

 

 

The Chemehuevi, Desert Cahuilla and Yuma bands frequented the spring and carved elaborate petroglyphs in the nearby rocks. Some of the oldest rock art is over 10,000 years old.

 

 

In the late 19th century, miners in the area also relied on the springs, and they established the Corn Springs Mining District in 1897.

 

 

The springs were added to the United States National Register of Historic Places in 1998.

 

 

Early pioneers found feral corn plants in the vicinity, giving the spring its present name.

 

 

Is its correct name Corn Springs or Corn Spring? The Bureau of Land Management calls it Corn Spring but Riverside County’s plaque embedded in a boulder at the petroglyphs site reads Corn Springs.  Call it what you may, but we call it glorious.

 

 

The Chuckwalla Mountains are a mountain range in the transition zone between the Colorado Desert, Sonoran Desert and the Mojave Desert.

 

 

Many petroglyphs in the area indicate an earlier Indian presence and an ancient trail has been traced to the Mule Mountains near Blythe. You will also see recent glyphs of names, dates, and even an Indian head etched into the rock from early to mid-century in Corn Spring.

 

 

Make sure you pack plenty of common sense along with lots of water no matter what the season. Sites are numbered  by the BLM. Refer to their online guide for specifics. Prepare to be awed by ancient art and stunning scenery.

 

 

Meet Debbie, Lois and Judy, former residents of Corn Spring. We bumped into them near the petroglyphs and struck up a conversation. Turns out Debbie and Judy are Lois’ daughters re-visiting the area. All three shared fond memories of living in Corn Springs 40 years ago.

 

Best of all, they revealed Lois is 95 years young, which was also about the area’s temperature. What a delight talking with these three lovely ladies. Don’t let their pretty faces fool you though–they’re desert tough in all the right ways. To hear these knowledgeable ladies, please watch our YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjBpGuRDfOw&t=439s

 

 

The Corn Spring Campground is available for $6.00 per dry campsite. There’s no hook-ups but limited water and a restroom is available on site. There was no one there when we visited in mid-June, except one horsefly from Hades who dive-bombed our every move.

 

 

California Fan Palms surround the spring. Typically there is no surface flow, but the wash that drains the area is named the Corn Springs Wash.

 

A man named Tyler Bennett stated that sometime around 1907 he planted two fig trees in the canyon, but others feel that the oasis has been there much longer. In 1921 there 57 trees, but a fire swept through later and damaged most of them. By 1945 there were over eighty.

 

 

The spring is dynamic, and for unknown reasons the amount of water coming to the surface has fluctuated widely over the years. The source of the water is unknown – very little rain falls in the area, and the nearest body of water is the Colorado River, over 40 miles to the east.

 

 

One mile past the campground is a miner’s cabin and the remains of one of the mills.  More mines and cabins are located further up the road.

 

 

In the late 19th century, miners came to the area and used the water for processing their gold ore. They released burros which roamed the desert freely.

 

 

The most notable resident of the spring was Gus Lederer, the self-proclaimed “Mayor of Corn Springs.”  Gus was born in Idaho in 1868. With only a couple of years of what we would call a formal education, Gus was admitted to the Colorado School of Mines. But he did not stay long enough to graduate.

 

 

Lederer lived at the spring until 1932, when he died from a black widow spider bite to the back of his neck. He couldn’t get to help in time and was subsequently buried at nearby Aztec Wells.

 

 

Although the cabin is vacant, it is apparent it gets frequent visitors.

 

 

 

There’s a couple of notebooks on a desk chock full of information, and in this case, even a curse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It looks like somebody enjoyed some good meals over the years!

 

 

 

Three graves are located behind one of the miners cabins to the left at the dead-end road on a hillside. Bear left at the fork. Respect the privacy of cabin inhabitants if you go to the cemetery.

 

Note the trio of graves near the lower center of picture. The cemetery is 3 miles from the campground. Photo courtesy: Google Earth Pro

 

Photo Courtesy: Cass Ellsworth

 

“Mayor of Corn Springs” August ‘Gus’ Lederer 1868-1932. Gus was known for serving his family of 18 burros a breakfast of flapjacks he made specially for them every morning. 

 

Photo Courtesy: Cass Ellsworth

 

Photo Courtesy: Cass Ellsworth

 

 

The headstones were recently stolen. Thanks to the Clampers who replaced them and maintain the cemetery with respect and elbow grease.

 

 

You can return to the interstate at this point by re-tracing the way you came in. The BLM roads to your right, designated by a small sign, are full of sandy washes and rocky spots which criss-cross the road in multiple places but leads to beautiful scenery where regal Octotillo cacti rule. 

 

A 4-wheel drive vehicle is highly recommended. When crossing washes, never come to a complete stop or stomp on the gas pedal. Either maneuver will likely guarantee you getting stuck. Slow and steady wins the race.

 

 

We came upon this old can dump deep in the desert near an abandoned mine. Although it may appear to be litter, it is actually a wealth of historical information and the closest most of us will ever come to finding treasure in the middle of nowhere. Remember, take only photos.

 

 

Although Teddy Bear Chollas may look and sound appealing, a wise person will give them a wide berth. Their spines are attracted to body heat and have impaled many an unwary admirer who got too close. The spines are barbed, and hold on tightly. A good method to remove the spines is with a hair comb.

 

As with all desert explorations, no matter what the season, always be prepared for unexpected emergencies. Please remember the desert is not your friend and can have deadly consequences.  Carry emergency supplies and plenty of water with you.

 

Wear appropriate clothing, hat and footwear. Long sleeves, long pants and sturdy walking shoes are preferred, even in the summer. Let someone reliable know your itinerary before you go and stay on marked roads. Expect cellphone service to be spotty or absent. Be aware of your environment and know your limitations. Don’t become another desert statistic.

 

Directions:

 

Location: 33° 37.5′ N, 115° 19.368′ W.  Marker is on Corn Springs Road near Interstate 10, on the right when traveling west. From the beginning of the dirt road it is 6.9 miles to the marker which is mounted on a rock next to the road and is easily missed. The hiking path is located near the petroglyphs area. You will be able to see the palm trees at the campground beyond.

 

Citations and Suggested Reading:

 

http://dezertmagazine.com/the-nature-treasures-of-corn-springs/

https://www.blm.gov/sites/blm.gov/files/documents/files/media-public-room-california-corn-springs-campground-trail-guide.pdfhttps://www.blm.gov/sites/blm.gov/files/documents/files/media-public-room-california-corn-springs-campground-trail-guide.pdf

https://kids.kiddle.co/Corn_Springs

https://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=78596

http://www.longbeachbsa.org/images/pdf/Corn_Spring_Hike_Guide.pdf

https://www.yelp.com/biz/corn-springs-riverside

 

 

Jaylyn

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comments
  • Thank you Jay and John,
    What a marvelous sight! Never been near this part of the Desert. That’s the trouble with life: We only see a fraction and know so little about our world and our fascinating desert.

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