The Coso Range Wilderness is a BLM property of rugged beauty near the town of Olancha in south-east California. Covering over fifty thousand acres, these BLM lands are wide-open stretches of scrub-covered desert edged by the volcanic peaks of the Coso Mountain Range. It's a landscape of elevated flats, deep canyons, and weather-worn geological formations. As remote as it may be, it's bordered by national parks, forests, and several more wilderness areas. To the south is another BLM property, the Argus Range Wilderness, to the east is the Death Valley National Park and to the west, the Sequoia National Forest.
The Coso Range Wilderness is an area steeped in Native American history as well as stark, but eye-catching scenery and unusual volcanic features both inside the wilderness and in the surrounding area. Prehistoric petroglyphs on the canyon walls and various types of fossils lying on the desert surface are frequent sightings while hiking.
Access to the Coso Range Wilderness is only possible with a four by four vehicle, OHV, on foot or mounted on horseback. There are no facilities for RV camping at the Coso Range Wilderness, but there are campgrounds in the nearby national parks and in the Red Rock Canyon State Park to the south of the wilderness. The Coso Range Wilderness is a great place to escape to if you're searching for somewhere in California to get away from the crowds and enjoy the solitude of a desert environment. It's a certain fact that, when you're there, you won't find many other folks wandering along the same trail as you.
The main route into the Coso Range Wilderness is via the US 395, which runs along the western edge of the area. It's an easily accessed road for RV campers who have been further north pitched in the Inyo National Forest and will cost you no more than an hour behind the wheel to get as far as Olancha. Heading into the wilderness in a rig isn't advisable or allowed, so you'll either need to leave your RV on the wilderness boundary or pitch camp at your chosen campground before setting out to explore.
If you're heading into the wilderness with your OHV, on foot or with your horse, you'll find there are numerous access roads you can use depending on the direction you're arriving from. On the west side, take the Cactus Flat Road turn-off from the US 395, and it'll take you into an area of the wilderness full of historic mining importance. To get to the northern and eastern sections of the wilderness, turn-off the US 395 in Olancha and onto the US 190. The driving doesn't get testing until you're off the main highways and inside the wilderness boundaries. Once inside, the roads convert to single-lane dirt tracks that can be strewn with rocks in places.
There is a small primitive campground located along the side of the US 395 in the Fossil Falls Recreation Area. There are eleven pitches suitable for RVs up to twenty-five feet in length. The campsites are furnished with a picnic table and fire ring but have no utility hook-ups and the closest restroom is a short distance away in the Fossil Falls Picnic Area.
The Ricardo Campground at the Red Rock Canyon State Park, at around an hour's drive from the Coso Range Wilderness, is one of the closest to the area. At the campground, there are fifty primitive sites suitable for RVs up to thirty feet in length. The pitches have no utility hook-ups or showers on the campground, although drinking water and pit toilets are available on site.
The campground is open twelve months of the year and operates on a first-come-first-served basis. The use of generators is permitted but restricted to the hours of eight in the evening until ten in the morning. The site is pet-friendly but doesn't accept horses.
Hiking through the Coso Range Wilderness, even if you're not alone, is a solitary affair. There are no specific hiking trails, so you'll be trekking along tracks used by all-terrain vehicles and if one comes along, you'll more than likely need to step aside as they won't be able to go around you. The tracks are not heavily trafficked, though, so it won't happen too often.
One of the most popular areas of the wilderness to hike to is Joshua Flats from where there are stunning views of the distant Sierra Nevadas. The track to Joshua Flats is signposted on the Cenntenial Canyon Road, off the US 190 on the eastern side of the wilderness.
The Coso Range Wilderness is an excellent spot for letting loose your creativity with some photography. In the wilderness, you'll be able to snap off some incredible desert-scapes, capture images of petroglyphs depicting bighorn sheep as well as abstract linear designs and, if you head over to the Coso Mountains, some weird and wonderful volcanic formations. The best areas within the wilderness for scenic shots are in the Vermillion Canyon and from on top of the Joshua Flats.
As sparse as it may initially appear to be, there is abundant wildlife inhabiting the Coso Range Wilderness. In the low-lying areas of desert lands, if you keep your eyes open, you'll see a variety of reptile life ranging from lizards basking on the rocks to scorpions and rattlers curled up in the sun.
There's both big and small birdlife, including eagles and hawks, in the wilderness, as well as the ever-present bighorn sheep on the mountain slopes.
If you're missing the sound of running water when you're in the Coso Range Wilderness, make the short trip over to the rural hamlet of Panamint Springs to the east and hike up to the Darwin Falls. The walk up Darwin Canyon is along a moderate to difficult mile-long trail and can be reached off the US 190.
At around eighty feet high, the multi-cascade waterfall is the tallest in the Death Valley National Park and pretty enough to make the effort of getting to see it well worth the bother.
Take time out from exploring the BLM lands of the Coso Range Wilderness and make a visit to the Maturango Museum to find out more about the area's native inhabitants, the Coso. The museum has several galleries full of artifacts, art, and natural science exhibitions relevant to the region.
The museum also organizes tours of the Little Petroglyph Canyon, where there are thousands of undamaged petroglyphs. Ordinarily inaccessible to the general public because it's within a restricted military zone, the tours led by a Navy-authorized guide are the only way to see the amazing artwork left by the Coso people.
If, after spending time in the Coso Range Wilderness, you still haven't had your fill of volcanic scenery, head south to Fossil Falls. There won't be a drop of water in sight, but rather an unusual geological formation known as Fossil Falls, which was formed over half a million years ago by volcanic and glacial actions. It's a site that is rich in obsidian, a black volcanic glass, and was where the Coso people came to mine the stone to make their tools.