The Turtle Mountains Wilderness is an isolated BLM property south of the city of Needles in California. The difficult to access wilderness is surrounded on all sides by rugged mountain ranges and other BLM lands. The Whipple Mountains Wilderness is to the east, the Sheephole Valley Wilderness to the west and the Chemehuevi Mountains Wilderness to the north. The Turtle Mountains Wilderness itself covers over one thousand seven hundred acres of rugged terrain, which includes the cathedral-like crags of the Turtle Mountains and the distinctive peaks of the connecting Mopah Mountain Range. The wilderness is both stark and scenic with its bajadas covered in creosote bushes and washes dotted with elephant trees and catclaw.
The Turtle Mountains are a designated National Natural Landscape and the natural habitat of the endangered Desert Tortoise as well as the California Fan Palm. While the area superficially appears to be arid and void of life, there are multiple springs throughout the wilderness and a great variety of wildlife occupying the extensive bajadas, woodland washes, and the lower mountain slopes. The wilderness offers interesting hiking opportunities with plenty of chances to spot birds and animals along the way. Rockhounding is a permitted activity in the wilderness as is horse riding, hunting, and dispersed tent camping. Vehicles are not permitted inside the wilderness boundaries and there are no campgrounds for RVs there or in any of the surrounding wilderness areas. There are RV camping options in Lake Havasu State Park, the Buckskin Mountain State Park and also in the Joshua Tree National Park.
To get to the Turtle Mountains Wilderness you'll need to head for the Californian city of Needles which is located on the I 40 about mid-way between Barstow and Flagstaff. The CA 95 runs from Needles to Vidal Junction down the eastern border of the wilderness. Before reaching Vidal Junction, you'll need to turn-off onto an unmarked BLM road for about two miles to get to the wilderness boundary. The road is not suitable for large vehicles or rigs, but passable in a four by four or something with high ground clearance. All vehicles should be parked at least thirty feet away from the boundary.
If you've been RV camping in the Coconino National Forest across the border in Arizona, once you're through Flagstaff, it'll take you just over three hours to get to Needles from where you'll have another thirty miles to go before arriving at the wilderness. If you're motoring down from the Sloan Canyon NCA near Las Vegas, you'll have a straight run on the CA 95 southbound that will take you less than two hours. From the campgrounds of the Death Valley National Park, you'll find the shorter route, avoiding Las Vegas, to the Turtle Mountains Wilderness is via the CA 127 and will take you about three hours.
Lake Havasu State Park is around forty-five minutes' drive from Needles and a great place to pitch camp for visiting the Turtle Range Wilderness. The campground at the park is open twelve months of the year, though it's advisable not to head into the wilderness during the mid-summer months when temperatures reach their peak.
The campground offers RVers a choice of almost fifty campsites, many with views of the lake and the site's famous landmark, London Bridge. There are also beachfront campsites that can be acquired for a small extra charge. All the pitches are fitted with fifty amp electric and water hook-ups, picnic tables and fire rings. The campground has good amenities which include showers, toilets, and a dump station. There is a boat ramp located in the day-use area.
During the period from the first of April through to the end of September, all RV campers are required to stay for a minimum of two nights. No stay can exceed a maximum of fourteen days. All campsites must be reserved prior to arrival via the Arizona State Parks website or by calling the Arizona State Parks Reservation Desk during office hours.
The Turtle Mountains Wilderness is a great location for outback hiking with a variety of different landscapes to trek through. The washes and bajadas are wide open spaces with no defined trails marking the route you need to take so you can explore the desert environment following your own direction.
Peakbaggers who enjoy a bit of a scramble will want to add Turtle Mountain to their achievements. It's a difficult, but doable trek with an elevation gain of over four thousand feet that rewards with stunning views of the Mexican Hat peak in the Mopah Range.
If you're not into a strenuous hike through desert lands, take a scenic drive around the borders of the Turtle Range Wilderness instead. While you won't be able to make a complete circle of it, you can get to see quite a lot without getting out of your vehicle. Drive along the I 40 from Fenner to Needles and you'll have distant views of the northern section of the wilderness.
Take the CA 95 southbound from Needles to Vidal Junction and you'll have passed by the entire eastern border. Continue on the CA 62 out of Vidal Junction heading towards Rice and you'll be able to see the peaks of the Mopah Range as well as snap a souvenir photo of the idiosyncratic Rice Shoe Fence.
Head out into the wilds of the Turtle Mountains Wilderness, go rockhounding and you could end up going home with some mineral treasure. One of the best finds to be had there is chalcedony which can be either white or light shades of pink. If your search is fruitful, and there's a good chance it will be, you could find a Mopah Rose, chalcedony that has formed in the shape of petals that resemble a rose or even one covered in sparkling quartz crystals.
There's a lot of wildlife to be seen in the Turtle Mountains Wilderness, so make sure to be carrying a good pair of binoculars to catch a glimpse of the more distant or reclusive creatures. You could spot any number of small mammals scampering over the bajadas including ground squirrels, jackrabbits, and kangaroo rats.
On the slopes of the mountains, there are bighorn sheep as well as nesting raptors like golden eagles. Reptile life abounds so you'll be guaranteed to spot any one of many species of lizard and quite possibly a rattlesnake too. Keep a careful eye out for desert tortoise burrows or you could stand on one by accident and spoil its chance of survival.
Delve into the local history of Needles and the surrounding area with a visit to the Needles Regional Museum. The museum has a good collection of artifacts relating to Route 66, the Santa Fe Railway and exhibits of traditional handicrafts of the Mohab Native American Tribe. The museum is open from ten in the morning until two in the afternoon every day except Sunday, though it closes to visitors during the hottest months of the year, so check it's open before you go.
If wildlife spotting in the Turtle Mountains Wilderness has left you feeling slightly dehydrated, head to the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge to see some birds and animals by the water. The refuge lies on the shores of the Colorado River and provides a riparian habitat for an incredible variety of waterbirds and other species as well as many mammals and insects. The refuge is one of the best spots in Arizona for observing flocks of migratory birds in winter.