The wakeup call came way too early Saturday morning. Bleary-eyed, we made our way down to breakfast with the group. A lot of new faces on this trip, soon to become new friends. Did I mention that there were 35 people, including seven kids? After a hearty meal at the abundant breakfast buffet, everyone packed up their jeeps, WayOfLife gave out logo'd burlap bags (for packing out trash - our own and any find we along the way) to all the newbies and made sure someone experienced would take the rear position (Trailbud volunteered for that job), a quick radio check and we were on our way to the trailhead just a short distance away. Fifteen Jeep Wrangler JK's, everything from bone stock to highly modified, traditional 2DRs and the new 4DRs, caravaning down the road. Wow, what a sight! You can't help but feel a sense of thrill to be a part of that group.
Doojer & family never made it to the hotel the night before; after five and a half hours of L.A. traffic he still hadn't made it out of the city, so they went back home to grab some sleep and planned to meet up with us on the trail. The first few miles of the trail cross a couple of paved roads, so it would be easy to find a place to meet.
Fort Mojave is on the other side of the Colorado River (the Arizona side) from the trailhead, so we skipped it since many people had visited it either earlier Friday or on previous Mojave treks. There's no sign marking the trailhead for the Mojave Road, you just have to know where it is. The trailhead begins in the flat floodplain of the Colorado and follows a wash up out of the Colorado River Valley. There is so much to see along this trail that it's just not possible to stop for everything in a three day trip; we passed by Picture Canyon, named for the prehistoric Indian Petroglyphs, and save it for another time. We cross the state line from Nevada into California and continue on through Piute Valley toward the Piute Range. It was a little disappointing that we didn't see any of the protected Mojave Desert Tortoise; this was the section in which we were most likely to find. But somewhere along the way (after crossing Needles Highway maybe?) we did find Doojer and family waiting for us on the trail.
I had my Mojave Road Guide out and WayOfLife played tourguide via CB for the benefit of those who did't have one. We passed by the remains of the George Irwin Ranch where more petroglyphs can be found (as I make a notation in my book for the next time) and make our first stop after a bit more than 23 miles at the remains of an old army post called "The Outpost at Piute Creek", or simply Fort Piute, which was built in 1867. Normally I love photographing these old abandoned structures, but mid-day in the desert is the worst light for photography and this was actually the one spot along the trail that had a crowd. I snapped a few quick shots anyway that are about as bad as I expected.
This low stone wall is all that's left of the fort:
Hehe, jkjeep found black lacy undies:
We ate lunch here before continuing up to cross the Piute Range. At the summit of the range there is an overlook with an incredible view of Piute Gorge, and at three in the afternoon it was late enough in the day to have some interesting shadows:
Everyone had the cameras out here because the view was just breathtaking. Piute Gorge was in front and to the left of us; to the right was a view of the route we just travelled with the Mojave Road a thin pencil line across the valley floor way off in the distance. Of course, the light wasn't as good looking back that way.
I had to take a shot of Bill, Fish and Bullfrog because I thought it was funny that they had dressed almost identically:
I would've loved to stay here longer and explore, but we had to keep moving if we wanted to make it to our planned camp before dark. Past the Piute range we move into the heart of East Mojave cattle country and we pass by old corrals and water tanks, some of which are still in use today. At mile 37 there is an old abandoned bus and WayOfLife knows that this is one of my favorite things to photograph. He's leading the pack and he nears the bus he spots a bobcat. He manages to get a couple of great shots, but since I'm several jeeps back in line and we're well spaced out because of the dust, so by the time I get there the bobcat is long gone. Not a complete loss, though, because my shots of the bus are my favorite photos of the entire trip and everyting I hoped they would be.
I haven't seen "Into the Wild" yet - it's on PPV this month so I'll watch it the next weekend that I'm home - But I know the story and seeing this bus made me think of Chris McCandless. I got several great shots and even risked hanta virus to climb inside and shoot through the windshield. Even though I love the shots I got here, I would love to revisit and camp out here, try some HDR with the interior and some light painting at night. It's just a fantastic subject with so much character.
But back on the trail again through the Lanfair Valley. Remains of old mines are visible off in the distance as we enter the section of trail that Casebier warns is the most difficult. It's almost comical, the trail is washed out first on the left side, then on the right side, so as you look at the line of jeeps they are tipped in alternate directions. Then there's the V-notch that is a lot of fun. Wish I got a photo but I was too busy navigating the trail. I've either got to teach Bill to shoot or let him drive more often.
We enter the Joshua tree forest and soon reach the Penny Can and pay the toll. I tried to grab a quick shot without holding up the line of jeeps hoping to make it to camp before nightfall, but it didn't really work out too well.
Next is a quick detour to the GOFFS VORTAC station, a long range aircraft navigation system maintained by the FAA. Doojer's son is doing a school project about the history of the Mojave Road and he had a book that said a public telephone was mounted on a phone pole at the station. Not quite as cool as the Mojave Phonebooth, but since that's long gone he wanted to see if there was still another public telephone in the middle of the desert. No such luck...it either had already been removed or we just didn't look in the right place.
Caruthers Canyon in the New York Mountains was our intended camping spot for the night since it was most likely to have a spot with an established fire ring that also had room for our fifteen jeeps. Our first choice was already taken, but further back in the canyon we found an even better location with beautiful canyon walls on two sides to provide some protection and plenty of room for us to spread out. It never fails that we're always setting up camp when the light is gorgeous and I most want to be out shooting, but I can't dump that burden on Bill and by the time we had set up the tent and our spot in the community kitchen it was dark.
I had been fighting the flu the previous week, and I never should've stayed up late "socializing" the night before. I wasn't feeling well and as soon as we finished dinner I was done for the day and went to my tent. After I got back home I really wanted to kick myself; I did some research on Caruthers Canyon and found night photographs of the hoodoos on another photographer's webpage and they were just incredible. I really missed a big opportunity there.
Sometime in the wee hours of the night an unbelievable windstorm kicked up. I peeked outside my tent and could see the tent next to me blowing flat with every gust, then popping back up, then blowing flat again. The wind made it impossible to sleep and I could hear things blowing around camp. I went through a mental checklist to try to determine how well secured everything was and debated going to out to check, but I decided that things were as secured as they usually were, which was pretty good, and I didn't feel well enough to climb out of the tent and check things out.
So I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep and waited to see what the morning would bring.