Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Mojave Road Finish
Last Saturday we finally made the time to finish the section of the Mojave Road that we missed last month. Only four of the jeeps from the original group joined in, the WayOfLife family, Toad and Bullfrog, Trailbud and his son Ryan and us, but we were joined by two new jeeps and three new people; fellow photographer artpics and Dawson and his wife. Six jeeps is the perfect number for a day of exploring and adventure. WayOfLife agreed to run the trail in the opposite direction, from Afton Canyon to Soda Dry Lake, so that Toad, Bullfrog, Bill and I could spend Saturday night at Kelso Dunes.
We met for breakfast at Coco's in Barstow and had a great time meeting the new people. They fit right in to the group and we knew we were going to have great time. After a hearty meal we gassed up and heading for Afton Canyon.
It was the perfect day for a trailride and some adventure. It was warm in the sun and cool in the shade. Okay, sometimes it was a little too warm in the sun, and we could tell that this would probably be our last Mojave run for the season. Maybe not, we'll see. There's still so much more out there I want to see.
After airing down at the campground in Afton Canyon we hit the trail, running alongside the railroad tracks for a while, then making our first crossing of the Mojave River. The water was about two feet deep, enough for a little fun and some good photos. I wanted to drive through this one so I didn't shoot, thinking I would let Bill take the next river crossing and I could shoot. As it was, we ended up taking a slight detour and never got to make the second crossing.
Our first stop was at a slot canyon where we found Beavertail cactus in full bloom. I also found some tiny Mojave Desert Star, a Desert Pincushion, Goldfields and Gilia (I think either Showy or BroadFlowered). I tried to get my gear bag out of the back of the jeep so I could get my macro lens, but we were parked on a such a steep incline that it was impossible to open the swing gate. I always tell Bill when we're loading the jeep that I need two things accessible at all times; the cooler and my camera bag. He thought that meant to put it at the back of the jeep, when I meant close to the front seat. Lesson learned - put the bag in the jeep myself next time. Since I'm not really into flower photography anyway it was no big deal.
Our next stop was the incredibly cool Spooky Canyon.I had no idea what we were in for when we stopped the jeeps. WayOfLife told us to grab flashlights and we head off under a railroad bridge and into a cleft in the cliff. As we hiked further back the walls got narrower and narrower until we were walking single file and there was just a tiny slot of sky overhead, then no sky at all and it was pitch black. The trail started a steep and rocky ascent that was mostly in the dark with an occasional peak of sky. We continued to scramble our way up until "BAM!" Bill was holding our flashlight and had gone ahead to help someone up a climb, and I was two people behind him in the dark. I didn't realize that the ceiling at the top of one little climb was only two feet high and I smacked my head hard enough to see stars. Leave it to me to be the clumsy one, and least my camera wasn't damaged. It did give me a wicked headache though.
When we reached a vertical climb I decided to call it quits; just didn't have what it takes after that knock on the head. Artpics and I had our cameras around our necks and didn't want to risk damaging them (should've grabbed the backpacks!), so he and I along with Dawson and his wife headed back out while the rest of the group ventured on. Further back there are two climbs that are so steep that you need to use the ropes that are hanging in place. The kids were the only ones to brave the second rope climb and make it all the way to the top.
After some much needed cold drinks we rejoined Mojave Road and continued until we reached the spectacular railroad bridge over the Mojave River. With the jeeps parked in the shade under the bridge, Cindy and I ran up top with our cameras, soon joined by WayOfLife. Built in 1936, the steel geometry of the bridge is in stark contrast to its desert surroundings. The shade of the bridge provided a relaxing spot for lunch so we kicked back for a while just enjoyed the day and the company.
But soon enough it was time to hit the trail again so we could reach the dunes before sunset. The trail through here is mostly deep sand, what Casebier's guide refers to as blow sand. We were close to Soda Dry Lake when WayOfLife decided to explore a side trail that he had never been on before, and that ended up being the best stop of the day. We traveled to the top of a hill and found two old abandoned cabins, then an incredibly huge mine shaft. What we didn't realize at the time was that this was the Brannigan gold mine, later known as Oro Fino. The cabins still had old belongings inside -a jacket, some pantry items, comics and a calendar on the wall. The grounds were littered with old barrels, cans, vehicles and parts, machinery, you name it. I found some Desert Five-Spot, Apricot Mallow (Desert Globemallow) and Desert Pincushon. A little further up the hill we found the most incredible mine shaft. This was the real deal, complete with rail tracks running down the main shaft. It looked extremely stable (much better than a lot we've been in) so out came the flashlights and in we went to explore. We could go waaay back in this one until we reached some vertical shafts. This would be a great place to camp and do some light painting, but it would be a little on the spooky side. The Lost Arch Inn didn't spook me at all, but I think this place would.
We later found out that one of our friends knew the people who operated the mine as the Oro Fino mine, and he used to hang out there twenty years ago. He told us some great stories about the times he spent there and I can't wait to hear the rest. It's really cool to hear about the history from someone who was actually there.
Back on the trail heading toward Soda Dry Lake, we took a quick stop for a bio break and to grab some shots of Sand Verbena, Bladderpod and Silver Prickle Poppy. When we reached the edge of the dry lake bed we stopped to grab our rocks to add to the Traveler's Monument. I think one day all of the rocks in the area are going to end up in the middle of the lake!
We hadn't had rain for several weeks so the lakebed was dry except for one mushy spot. It really bothered me to see that so many people refused to stay on the trail and there were tracks all across the lake bed. I guess some people just have to try their luck with the infamous mud. The crusty surface of Soda Dry Lake is caused by alkali salts forming a coating on the bed of the playa where the groundwater table is at or just below the surface.The salts accumulate through capillary rise of salty groundwater and evaporation and return to the groundwater when it rains. The salt from Soda Dry Lake contributes to much of the windblown haze and dust that occurs in the Mojave region.
It was a straight shot to the Traveler's Monument with salt and dust flying everywhere. We added our rocks to the pile and took more photos, then we got lined up for the next segment of the video. I decided this time to let Bill take the jeep while I went down to the end with WayOfLifette and artpic to shoot the jeeps. It's always a tough decision as the whether I want to shoot or wheel! WayOfLifette wanted the jeeps to try to stay close together for the video, but between the bugs on the windshields and the dust and salt flying, it was next to impossible. I had to take a photo through my windshield when we left to show just how bad it really was. We were shooting into the sun here, but the results were better than I had expected.
Across Soda Dry Lake, we were soon on paved Kelbaker Road and racing to get to Kelso Dunes before the sun set. Once I again I was too late to hike to the top but I'm sure I'll be able to convince Bill to make another trip (although it will probably have to wait until fall). We turned onto the road to the dunes just as the sun was setting, and by the time we made it to the primitive camping area the sun had dropped below the mountains. But the most wonderful surprise was that the base of the dunes was a carpet of Dune Evening Primrose everywhere we looked.
Toad, BullFrog, Bill and I started setting up camp as the rest of the group head for home. We were ravenous and tired from all of our explorations, so as soon as the tents were up we cooked big dinners and settle in by the fire. After we had finished dinner we were joined at our fire by Will, a guy who was camping alone and looking for some company. He brought a bottle of wine and his sweet bulldog Booger (and she's a girl!). He's looking to start an expedition guide business, so we spent some time talking about the places we've all explored. When the wine was gone the whiskey came out. Toad and Bullfrog head to their tent early, and while Will and Bill talked politics (time for me to leave!), I set up my camera for the night shot I posted previously. It was around 1:30 or 2:00 before the fire died out and we called it a night.
Somehow I managed to get up before sunrise, but I really needed to make coffee before heading out. Will met up with me to hike out to the dunes, but we didn't make it further than the wash. It was hidden from the campsite and ablaze with flowers. A few of the ones I found are; Dune Evening Primrose, Brown-eyed Primrose, a yellow primrose I haven't been able to identify, Desert Canterbury Bells (California Bluebells), Desert Chicory, and a blue one I haven't identified yet. There were so many others that I didn't take photos of...and I didn't get to stop for photos of the blooming Joshua Trees. I really am not into flower photography and I don't do it well, but I guess it's become a sort of scavenger hunt to see how many I can find. It's a shame that we only get a good bloom every few years, but I guess that's part of what makes it so fun to find them.
The early morning light wasn't nearly as good as it had been back in December when we camped here and I didn't photograph the dunes at all. The angle of the sun just didn't work for me. Now there's a trade off - good light and overnight temperatures in the 20's, or bad light and overnight temperature of 50...
Heading back home and chatting over the CB, Toad and I made note of some interesting trails we spotted that headed toward some places we put on the list to explore. I hope the temperatures stay mild enough for us to fit in another trip or two in the Mojave region before we head up to the mountains.