Monday, March 31, 2008
I had wanted to travel along the Mojave Road since I first read about it's historical importance to the California desert. A 183 mile trail through the harsh Mojave Desert, it begins at the Colorado River between Needles, California and Laughlin, Nevada and ends at Camp Cady (it actually ends at Afton Canyon now) near Barstow, California. It originally began as an ancient trade trail that connected the villages of the Mojave Indians from the Colorado River to the California Coast. It later became an important travel route for early American explorers. Edward Fitzgerald Beale oversaw the improvement of the old Mojave Indian Trail to an official wagon road in 1858 using camels (!), but when emigrants attempted to use the route to travel from the east to the California, brutal fighting with the Mojave Indians began and the army moved in and established Fort Mojave.
The discovery of gold in the mountains of Arizona brought greater use to the trail as the Arizona territory was dependent on California for supplies. The trail also became an important mail route. Still the bloody battle with the Indians raged on, now with the Chemehuevi Indians, and the US army established several forts, or redoubts, along the route to provide protection for mail and government wagon trains. When the Apache Wars in Arizona ended in the 1970's, the Mojave Road saw more travelers as it was used to drive cattle and sheep to Arizona.
But when the Southern Pacific railroad connected Barstow and Needles across the East Mojave, wagon traffic (and later autos) began following the line of the rails (his later became the National Old Trails Road; Route 66; the Mother Road), and travel on the Mojave Road declined significantly. As roads were built along better routes, Mojave Road became a fading memory. Most of the trail is in the same condition it was when the pioneers traveled it, and the desert country remains mostly unchanged since prehistoric times.
This was the REAL Wild West!
There are no signs marking the Mojave Road, just rock cairns. If you've never run the trail before it is highly recommended that you read the definitive guidebook by Dennis Casebier (the man responsible for generating interest and forming Friends of the Mojave Road to preserve this treasure of a trail), the Mojave Road Guide. In addition to all of the wonderful history of the trail, the book has mile-by-mile narrative detail, maps, and advice about traveling through this harsh region.
So I bought the book, studied the history and made notes in the margins. You really need three days to run Mojave Road, and you should always travel with at least one other vehicle; it's harsh, remote territory and there are no services. My attempts to plan a trek last fall kept failing; first there were the wildfires, then the nasty flu season which took out almost everyone I knew for weeks at a time. Interspersed with all of that were trips that had been previously scheduled, and then the holidays. So when WayOfLife told us he was going to organize a run for Project-JK over a 3 day holiday weekend in February there was no question that I'd be there. WayOfLife tried to limit the group to six jeeps, but there was such great demand that he finally conceded to 15. That required a permit and was going to be tough logistically - where would find places to camp that could fit 15 jeeps and 35 people? But WayOfLife is never intimidated by tough organizational challenges. Going with a large group also meant that I would not be able to put an emphasis on photography, but I knew that there'd still be ample opportunity to use the camera. So yippee! I would finally get to travel on the historic Mojave Road for the first time.
Bill and I left at 4:30 in the afternoon on Friday (the soonest he could leave work), and after seven hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic (I'd swear that every single person in all of SoCal heads to Las Vegas on the weekends!), we finally pulled in to the Tropican Express in Laughlin, Nevada (the newly remodeled rooms in the tower are very nice - comfy beds!). Our friends were having a good time waiting up for us (maybe too good of a time), and shots of Wild Turkey American Honey were handed to us, courtesy of Fish who somehow smuggled a bottle into the bar, as soon as we walked through the door of the hotel (if you've never tried American Honey you should - although I wouldn't drink a lot of it because it is too sweet for me, it tastes great and most people who normally don't like straight whiskey really seem to love it.) A few more rounds to get rid of the road stress and catch up with everyone, then we all hit our rooms to get some sleep in preparation for our big weekend.
Just have to mention here, our group loves our whiskey, but never while we're wheeling - on or offroad, and we won't wheel with anyone who does drink while they're behind the wheel. 'nuff said.
Next - Day One and photos