I woke up early Sunday morning dreading what I'd find when I looked outside the tent, but it wasn't nearly as bad as I had imagined. The guys' tent next to us survived the night looking a little worse for wear but still somewhat standing, a few stray paper plates were caught up in the bushes on the outskirts of our camp, and the worst was that one of my chairs had tumbled over into the fire ring. It was one that had an attached headrest cushion, though, and that was all that had melted so Bill later just cut it off and the chair itself was fine.
I still wasn't feeling 100% after the mostly sleepless night, so while WayOfLife and WayOfLifette climbed up the cliff to shoot the beautiful early morning sunlight, I opted to get some coffee going and slowly wake up by a newly built campfire. It's definitely not like me to pass on that beautiful light, so that gives you an idea of how bad I was feeling. But I'm usually always one of the first up in camp and I really enjoy the peace of those early morning hours, even if I am just sitting by the fire watching the sun play across the rocks.
I think the winds gave everyone a sleepless night because no one was in a rush that morning. We took our time with breakfast while sharing stories about the wind, and by the time we had packed up and completely scoured the surrounding area for anything else that might have blown away in the middle of the night, it was very late morning before we were back on the trail. But I think the quiet morning was just what I needed because by the time we were back on the trail I was at 110% and ready to go.
Our first stop was nearby at Camp Rock Spring, the site of a historic Army post and an important source of water for the Mojave Indians traveling the trail. Camp Rock Spring was known as the one of the harshest and most isolated army posts that ever existed, and many soldiers assigned there simply deserted. There's really no evidence left of the army post except for some rubble believed to be the remains of some of the structures and this "graffiti" which the US military believes was carved into the rock wall near the spring sometime between 1863 and 1866 -
The water source was irregular at Camp Rock Spring and that eventually led the army to close down the post, so I was surprised to actually see water when we visited. Well, sort of - the spring itself was in the shade of the canyon wall and frozen solid, so the kids had some fun sliding around on the ice.
While WayOfLife got a group of people to re-enact the famous photo by Rudolph d'Heureuse of people from the Philadephia Mining Company, I seized the opportunity to do a little bouldering up to the top to photograph the Bert G. Smith homestead high up on a hill above the spring. The homestead was built in the 1930's by the WWI veteran who was sent there to die in 1929 due to the effects of gas poisoning during the war, but ended up living alot longer than anyone thought he would. He lived at Rock Spring until the mid 1950's, and died in a rest home in 1967. The building is now owned and maintained by the National Park Service.
The view from up there was amazing (despite the midday sun) and really brought home how remote and harsh this location is.
In this photo, the spring itself is located in a deep wash at the base of that black hill on the right and you can just see the Mojave Road running horizontally through the middle of the photo:
We spent a lot of time here because everyone was having fun playing on the ice or the rocks, but eventually everyone was rounded up and we got back on the trail. Next stop - oh no - there was a road that would allow you to practically drive up to the homestead (yes I had noticed it while I was up there, but I had already climbed up at that point)and that was our next stop. But that was okay, since I had already seen it and had a chance to photograph it without worrying about getting people in the photo, I just relaxed at the jeep. And there is a full-fledged restroom here courtesy of the NPS. I neglected to mention that JeepCacher had a cast on his leg and spent this whole trip hobbling around while Jana took the wheel. I gotta give him a lot of credit because he really toughed it out, but he was in pain. So at his arm-twisting I tossed the jeep keys to Bill and JeepCacher and I each did a shot of Jameson to help him feel better. Yeah, I felt like a little kid sneaking behind my parents' back, but what am I going to do when a friend asks for my help? Besides, the light was horrible and I knew I wasn't going to be doing any serious shooting for several hours.
Back on the trail again with Bill at the wheel, we pass by Barnett Mine and head to Government Holes, another important water source along the trail. It is relatively close to Camp Rock Spring, but Rock Spring was a better camping location while Government Holes was a more reliable source of water but more exposed to the elements. Although it is called the plural "holes", there is really just one well. I wasn't inspired to photograph it because it really is just a big ol' well. I guess I should've taken one photo though.
All along the trail at the cattle watering troughs are these wonderful old windmills:
This one was clearly marked as being built by the Aermotor company in Chicago, which means it was built prior to 1964 when the company moved its operations to Oklahoma. Aermotor began building windmills in 1888 and is the only manufacturer still producing in the U.S. They are currently located in Texas.
From Camp Rock Spring and the Bert G. Smith homestead, the Mojave Road follows Cedar Canyon Road. Part of the old stretch of wagon road is blocked by private land, and part was in Cedar Canyon Wash of which part is wilderness so driving in the wash is not allowed. But a well-maintained dirt road gave us a chance to pick up a little speed for a few minutes, and with Bill still behind the wheel I decided to try to grab some shots of the jeep ahead of me. WayOfLifette is great at hanging out the window and shooting, but I've always been nervous about putting L glass in harm's way, so I stuck with shooting through the dirty windshield.
It's really hard to shoot with the jeep bouncing around. Every time I'd think I had a shot framed, either my jeep bounced up or the jeep I was photographing bounced up, so I took quite a few shots of half a jeep.
And I never realized how big my 24-70mm f/2.8L looks in front of my face, it's kind of funny -
When we get out of Cedar Canyon we have one of my favorite views in the Mojave.To the left are the Kelso Dunes and beyond them Devil's Playground, further left are the Providence Mountains, ahead are the Beale Mountains and behind them the Marl Mountains with the Mojave Road winding through a Joshua Tree forest, to the right are some cinder cones and then Cima Dome, and then further to the right are the Ivanpah Mountains. You have to know that it kills me that every time I pass this way it is the middle of the day and sky has that desert middle-of-the-day hazy thing going on that just makes it pointless to even try for a panoramic shot, but one of these days I'll get it.
Cedar Canyon becomes blacktop for a couple miles before the Mojave Road returns to the backcountry after crossing Kelso-Cima Road and entering Kelso Wash. The trail in this area is full of whoops because storm waters flow at right angles to the road. It is endless, mile after mile of whoops. It's a lot of fun for the first mile, and just when you think you can't take it anymore you have about one more mile to go. It really was next to impossible to grab a shot of the jeeps ahead of me because I was really bouncing.
It was a little easier when I stopped and photographed the jeep coming up behind me.
Oh, and we stopped at Marl Springs for lunch, but by the time I finished eating we were ready to go again, so I never got any photos except for this one of the endless line of jeeps:
Next stop was the Mojave Road Mail Box. The Friends of the Mojave Road maintain a logbook in the mailbox that all travelers are asked to sign, and the flag is replaced by 4x4 groups when it starts to show signs of wear.
Back behind the mailbox we found a grouping of frogs on the desert floor. No, not real ones, ceramic ones. I tried doing a little google research but couldn't find out anything about them. We just decided that they were there to honor Toad.
WayOfLife had another great spot picked up for our camp that night in the Cinder Cone National Natural Landmark area, another of my favorite spots in the Mojave desert, so we left the Mojave Road and started heading over to our intended camp site. This entire area is covered with thick black basalt lava flows and is just gorgeous. The last time I was here in December with Toad and BullFrog we did a portion of Aiken Mine Road, which rides directly on the lava flow, and I was thinking then that I was glad I had 10-ply tires because that basalt looked like tire killers. Well the trail we were on this time was just deep sand, but there were big chunks of basalt scattered on the trail. We were making good time along the trail when sure enough, a call comes over the C.B. that someone had a flat tire. It turned out to be Sgt. Evil (I don't understand the name because he is the nicest guy), and it wasn't one flat tire, it was two! Now I don't know too many people who carry two spares, certainly none of us did, so the only solution was to hope somebody else had a spare the right size that would be willing to give it up. Sgt. Evil had 33's and most of us were running 35's. When more people caught up and came up to see what was going on, JeepCacher saw the problem and volunteered his spare. We thought that had it solved, but it turned out that his tire wasn't the right width. Then FunN4Lo volunteered his tire, which was the correct size. Poor Sgt. Evil, his jeep was only a week or so old and this was his first run with us. We always joke that we can't get through the easiest run without SOME damage, but at least I run with a good group that you can always count on to take care of each other. And FunN4Lo's dad NotMySonsJK was also with us on this trip, so at least he had someone with him for the trip home in case he got a flat tire.
That problem resolved, WayOfLife led us to a beautiful campsite in a canyon near the Indian Springs trail. We had plenty of room to spread out, although I ended up setting up my tent about a quarter mile away from where we decided to set up the community kitchen! Once again I found myself setting up camp during the best light and it was dark by the time we were done. The trek back and forth between my tent and the kitchen/campfire in deep sand wore me out after a long full day of excitement, so once again I just relaxed by the fire socializing after dinner instead of heading out for some night photography. It was great to get to spend some time with the people who were new to the group, and it's always fun to spend time around the fire with the regulars.
It was really late by the time the last of us head to our tents, hoping for an uneventful night.