During his entire life John App had kept daily activity journals, and we can thank him for leaving us this story of his expedition to the Ivanpah area of California and back. It is an extraordinary glimpse into the life of a nineteenth century prospector. The entries begin near Walker Pass, about 263 miles (423 km) south of Jamestown where on April 1, 1870 he writes that he and his traveling companion, John, spent the night at “Bridger’s house.” Bridger may have been someone John knew, or it may have been a simple place to sleep overnight.
Walker Pass traverses California’s southern Sierra Nevada Mountains and connects the San Joaquin Valley on the west with the Mojave Desert on the east. The pass is about 5,250 feet (1,600 m) in elevation, almost 20 miles (32 km) long, and is part of today’s State Route 178.
The weather along the route going east through the desert from the first of April through mid-May is usually temperate, but can sometimes be unpredictable ranging from snow and cold to high levels of heat. In addition to all of the supplies they would need, they carried their own drinking water but would depend on water holes along the way for refills. It also would be necessary for them to find sufficient water and grass for the horses along the way.
Travelers through the Mojave had maps and advice about the location of water holes. These stopping places along the way for John had interesting names. El Paso Springs, Black Water Holes, Surveyor’s Wells, Burnt Rock Canyon, Salt Spring, and Leach Spring were all named for a specific reason or characteristic. Travelers knew where these watering places were and went from one to the next until reaching their destination. Occasionally, there was no water where they camped and whenever John mentions a “dry camp” he means that they camped in the desert where there was no water of any kind.
Most of the mapped route of their journey exists today as roads, but there were times when John would go across terrain making his own trail or following a small existing path. Many of the names of the stopping places John mentions in his diary are documented on modern maps. Today, most of his route is drivable, although something more substantial than a car would be recommended.