Hangin’ at Home (a temporary condition)

We got back from the desert a week and a half ago, and have been busy non-stop since then. Home stuff, tax stuff, miscellaneous stuff, and a LOT of preparation for going out again.

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It seems that I have this proclivity for thinking up “improvements” to Howie, Ralph, and our camping setups. When I’m out on the road, I am always eager to see my shop again so I can do the upgrades. When I’m home, I can’t wait to get out and away to try everything out.

We’re hoping to get away again right after tax season. Stay tuned…

G.

Mines and Meandering

We knew that this was our last day at Hole-in-the-Wall, and we wanted to see just a bit more of the Preserve. One of the wide-spread features here is the large number of mines, and the old dirt roads/tracks that service them – - so we set out to see a few, namely the Columbia (off of Macedonia Road) and the Evening Star (off of Cima Road).

Our day was yet another potpourri of sights, rocky roads, gorgeous weather, and yes even a little adventure. The day was long, relaxing, scenic and even educational, and it begs for some elaboration. But words can pale, and rather than any attempt at narration, I’ll simply present today as an annotated slide show.

Here’s where we’ve spent the last eleven days. Barstow to the west, Las Vegas to the north, Needles southeast. Our base-camp is Hole-in-the-Wall, lower-right from center.DSC_0429

On the slope above camp, a gang of barrel cacti supervise operations. Howie is in the foreground camp site. I-40 is about 15 miles distant.DSC_0430

Our early-morning walk produces the usual smattering of cottontail rabbits.DSC_0438

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Barrel cacti are solemn, smooth, un-threatening – - but if you really intrude on their space, their two-inch-long quills are a hell of deterrent.

These are woody, stiff spikes with points sharper than hypodermic needles.

Keep your distance.

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Hawks are on patrol everywhere, and the furry rodent population scurries below them across the brushy plain of their dinner table.

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Old mine shafts are usually blocked, grated, or otherwise shut off to prevent injury or death to people and animals. This one was casually boarded up, easy to enter, and way too dangerous to do so.

It’s difficult to imagine how people made their living in this rugged terrain.

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Ralph perches on a gradual slope which leads down the the railroad tracks. A long freight train is crossing the valley below.

DSC_0457The “new” trash from late-era mining always looks much more shabby than the early efforts’ leavings. It’s all still trash, but the 1800’s stuff looks more like it belongs with the terrain.

DSC_0465Whenever a sand-wash crosses a railroad, there’s an underpass to permit natural drainage. Problem is, the underpass fills up with gravel and sand. Clearance can be an issue.

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Nope, it’s a no-go.

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Gotta dig the ruts a little deeper.

It needed about four inches deeper in each rut, for ten feet or so.

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Ah, that’s got it (about one or two inches of clearance). A miss is as good as a mile, they say.

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After many more miles of rocky road, the towering old structures at the Evening Star mine make it all worthwhile.

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It’s an imposing affair, sound on the bottom but unsafe to explore any further up.

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Another closed and covered mine shaft in the area, very large and deep.

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Back in camp for the evening – - the distant lights of Las Vegas out-do the feeble glitter of the few campers remaining at Hole-in-the-Wall.

Mixed Bag

We started out the day just as relaxed and kicked back as yesterday, but somehow the afternoon developed a life of its own.

DSC_0425This morning, Karin took her usual walk. She has not yet gotten around to investigating burrowing animals here. And why should she?

We bought an intriguing little book, Desert Holes, and have been studying up. At first, we thought it just a simple guide to what critter digs what hole (and it is), but it also has a plethora of information about things we didn’t know existed.

 

Did you know that the Mojave desert provides habitat for (among many others):

  • Howling predatory carnivorous mice
  • Asexual lizards that self-fertilize using double-chromosome sets
  • Honey-storing ants with grape-sized abdomens which feed their working brothers

- – - the list goes on. Amazing stuff, take a look at the book here on Amazon.

I laid around and read, browsed (Internet is much improved during daytime), and whiled away the morning. Afternoon just begged for more exploring, and off we went. Did I say “get stuck” in a previous post? Really I didn’t mean it. Really.

DSC_0409We turned off of Wild Horse Canyon road to the west and made our way toward Blue Jay mine. The road went from marginal to ugly and then pretty much impassable.

Ralph is set up as a multi-purpose vehicle, and doesn’t compete with off-road-only configurations (some super-mudder tire prints of which preceded us). At 31 inch tires and 9 inches of ground clearance, Ralph’s qualifications are modest, and the road was extreme.

DSC_0401Rainy seasons had made enormous gullies and ditches, not wide enough to drive in, but not narrow enough to straddle. The result was severe off-camber runs, punctuated by horrendous piles of washed-up jagged transmission-eating boulders.

As we worked our way towards the inevitable no-go, a minor clutch of rocks tossed one up toward the rear driveline connect linkage.

One flying stone nudged the link just a wee teeny bit toward the driveshaft, and it got caught in the spin and instantly mangled to a pretzel.

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In the cab, all we heard was bangitty-wappity-bangity-wappity, nearly the exact same sound as when a U-joint bearing fractures and collapses (ask me how I know this). Karin and I looked at each other with lots of white around our eyeballs. It was with real relief that I found the culprit. A few minutes with some wrenches and pliers and I extracted the junk parts, shifted the connect by hand, and we were off again.

DSC_0403But soon after, the trail stopped (for us) at a V-shaped “road” full of hatchet-edged boulders the size of lawn chairs. We walked up the road only a few hundred yards more to discover the mine, which was in pretty good shape.DSC_0404

DSC_0407Couldn’t say the same for the workers’ lodging, which was totally derelict and abandoned, old iron stove and bedsprings rusting in the desert air.

Truly, it was a bleak sight, nestled amongst the old burned trees on a gray, flat day. Very hard to imagine living and working out here.

DSC_0406We have better sense than to enter any old mine, regardless of how sound it looks, so we just snapped some pix and went back to Ralph. DSC_0411

He was waiting patiently, but he was pretty nervous that we might want to take him up that awful road. Pretty relieved when we turned back home. Us too.

DSC_0408Walking anywhere in this area must be done with caution, not only because of treacherous terrain, but because of a local piece of pure vicious called Cat’s-Claw. This shrub-tree looks innocuous at first glance, but reveals its true colors when you get within a foot or two. ANY brush or intrusion is met with tenacious, needle-sharp hooked thorns that catch in clothing, skin, boots, even leather. Once hooked, a professional surgeon must be summoned to extract the claws. This maniacal desert assassin is also called the Wait-a-bit bush. Obvious.

On the way back, we checked out the water supply for the mine. No water was in evidence, but near a natural drainage there was a large iron tank and a broken-up concrete cistern, typical technology of the time and area.DSC_0415

So, all considered, a pretty decent afternoon. Got stuck, got broke, got fixed, got home. Saw some interesting stuff along the way.

Nothing wrong with that.

Time for Pause

I’m sitting in Howie at the dinette, looking out the windows and typing. We’re in camp at the Hole-in-the-Wall campground in Mojave Preserve, California. Outside, the morning desert wind is blustery but not cold.

For the second day in a row, Karin and I have set ourselves absolutely no goals whatsoever, and it looks like we’ll continue to be successful in achieving those goals.

DSC_0397Yesterday evening we burned off some of our precious firewood hoard and celebrated our kick-back day. My cough continues to gradually subside, and this morning I awoke at 6AM, unheard of for me, and even reasonably rested.

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Sun not yet risen, the dawn light bathed Banshee Canyon in soft pastels, a gentle precursor to the stark arc-lighting of the desert day.

 

The luxury of doing almost nothing is something both of us rarely experienced in our “former lives”. Working five, or six, or seven days a week (sometimes it seemed like eight) left little time for relaxation or reflection. More than that, the working attitude was something that dominated our lives, sometimes in very hidden and unconscious ways.

In this new lifestyle, we find that we have to studiously concentrate on letting go – - on having it be okay not to accomplish something. We try to spend some time not making commitments, not making deliveries, and not being accountable. Sounds horribly irresponsible, doesn’t it? We are basically trying to simply be aware of the universe and appreciate it, but without being immediately responsible for it.

We are ever so gradually learning how to let the Earth spin without our help – - at least for brief intervals such as yesterday and today.DSC_0390

But there sits Ralph right outside our door, ready and eager to do some more exploring. Clearly, it’s just not possible (or right) to relax forever.

Maybe we’ll go get stuck somewhere later today….  Sarcastic smile

Mojave Road–Water and Wandering

The 138-mile-long Mojave Road, or rather the 30-odd miles of it that I’ve so far experienced, has left me with two strong impressions.

DSC_0382Firstly, the road didn’t just happen by chance. It’s an essential link in a “connect-the-dots” line from the San Bernardino mountains all the way to the Colorado River. The dots are water sources. In this sere locale, any travel of any sort mandated water stops along the way. Early Indians seasonally migrated, and later miners and ranchers traveled, along the route. Water was king, and the springs and wells defined the pathways.

DSC_0385Secondly, as with many back-road explorations I’ve undertaken during the last 50 years or so, probably 95% of Mojave Road can be negotiated by a high-clearance 2WD or AWD. But that tiny little 5% consists of sandy uphills, rocky canyons, washed-out side-hills, and the like. In these places, only the “serious” 4WD rigs have a chance of passing through. Consequently, the Road is such that you can easily explore many sections of it without special equipment or skills. However, to travel on it continuously from any arbitrary point to another, you will need good gear and good skills. Attempting passage without both of these ingredients is a sure recipe for bad-stuck and/or breakdown.

Today, we set out to explore and enjoy yet another dimension of the Mojave Preserve, specifically the roads and environs of Government Holes and Rock Springs water holes.

Government Holes

- – - was actually a single hole (well) and one of the most reliable in the area.

It was also home to some of the more outrageous behavior in Western history, right up there with “dime novel” stuff but totally true. Murders, thievery and all sorts of excitement.

DSC_0370Today, the well is serviced by a cantankerous old windmill, in near-conflict with a big cottonwood tree. The clanking, creaking water pump doesn’t seem to be an issue with local hawks who’ve built their nest just a few feet away from the wind-swinging tail of the windmill.

DSC_0351Just down the hill a circular cattle trough makes for many snapshots by passers-by. Cattle are still being raised on the land, and although considerably desert-abused, all the local corrals and cattle-handling “furniture” are in serviceable condition.

Rock Springs

DSC_0377Yet another striking, delightful departure from the “normal” spread of the surrounding desert, Rock Springs flows year-round from a large rocky outcropping. Although more sporadic in flow than the nearby Government Holes, it was nonetheless an important historical waypoint.

The feeling of coming upon this scene brings up dream/thoughts of the early travelers. Walking up the sandy mouth toward the spring produced dark-sand moisture flags with each heel scuff. I can hardly imagine the joy of arriving at water after 20-30 miles of hard Mojave travel, on foot or by wagon.

Of course, the traditional cottonwood marks the spring proper, and the woody debris scattered over twelve feet up the trunk of the tree is quiet testimony to the volume of water that passes by during the rainy seasons.

DSC_0378The scrawny, towering, desiccated collection of twigs makes it hard to imagine a kelly-green profusion of serrated leaves fluttering in the summer breeze of just a few months ago. But the still-running trickle of a stream, the thin warm pond, and the proliferation of algae on the sheltering rocks, all verify the constant presence of life-giving water.

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The spring is in a designated wilderness area, and we’d walked a quarter-mile to visit it. Ralph waited patiently for us, outside the wilderness boundary at the mouth of Rock Springs Canyon.

After leaving the Mojave Road watering holes, we almost decided to head back for camp via the “good” roads. But adventure overcomes conservatism, and we elected another “long cut”.

This time, we traveled only a few miles of Mojave Road, and then headed straight into the back country. We had about two hours of daylight remaining, and 20 miles of rugged, possibly washed-out or gated-closed, unknown and only partially mapped roads to cover. Snug, but should be possible, we thought.

Well, we were right, but still experienced a few anxious moments.DSC_0384

The most memorable one was actually just out of Rock Springs, a nasty hill made considerably nastier by horrendous assaults of water. The only thing recognizable about this “road” was that there was no vegetation growing on it. Otherwise, it was gouged out, rutted deep, off camber and filled with chair-sized rocks.

For the first time ever, Ralph was actually stopped and/or stuck, not once but several times. And this happened in 4WD compound-low with the Detroit Truetrak locking differential – - in short, despite all the advantages. I had to rock him back and forth, swing the front tires side-to-side for extra purchase, and several times back a few feet to inch over slightly to one side or another. One tire on the front or back was constantly hanging in the air. It was HARD. It was only by patient, gentle urging that I managed to get him up over the top, and I confess I was never sure it was actually going to happen.

Karin was, fortunately, much more impressed than frightened by this little episode. She commented after the climb that she’d always heard me talk about years of desert experience, but she half-thought it was pretty much that – - just talk. “Well, today you proved it” was her assessment.

I’ll tell you something folks: There’s praise, then there’s high-praise, and then – - – there’s high-praise from your loved one. That last one is the best there is. I spent the rest of the drive pretty much floating with pride. Ralph was happy too.