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

DSC_0439

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.

DSC_0445

 

 

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

DSC_0450

 

 

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.

DSC_0455

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

DSC_0460

Nope, it’s a no-go.

DSC_0471

Gotta dig the ruts a little deeper.

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

DSC_0477

 

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

DSC_0486

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

DSC_0489

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

DSC_0505

 

 

 

 

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

DSC_0513

 

 

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.

Advertisements

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.

DSC_0413

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.

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.

DSC_0381

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.

Hangin’ in Mojave (3) – Banshee Canyon and a hyper-sunset

Today, we had only one “serious” mission: dump/fill. For those of you unfamiliar with this little RV delight, let me euphemize it by describing it as trading in old water for new.

You see, RV’s have at least three water tanks: Fresh, Gray, and Black. Fresh is what it says. Gray is somewhat benign “used” water like dishwashing rinses and down-the-shower-drain flows. Soapy stuff but not particularly obnoxious. Black now – – this is the evil stuff. Toilet flushings. Black water could gag a maggot.

And incidentally, it’s not black, it’s an insidious, threatening brown – – – but with texture. You get the feeling you could conduct biological warfare with this stuff. Might be true. WMD and all that. Are you gagging yet?

2014-01-16_DumpingLong story short, we simply found a “dump station” (our camp has one), hooked up a 3-inch sewer hose to the station septic port, and opened large gate valves to get rid of our “old” waters. Then we re-filled the fresh water tank and voila! we became happy campers again.

What with setting up Howie to be moved, off-loading 70 gallons of varied sewage and on-loading 70 gallons of fresh water, then re-situating Howie back in camp – – this minor process took up well over an hour of our day. A camp neighbor came by and we BS’ed for at least another hour or two. And then there’s stuff like sitting, thinking, being quiet, getting a drink of water – – – you know, all that busy stuff you have to do when you camp.

But all this is just banal camp drivel. I needed to show you that life on the road is not ALL fun and games (but yes mostly it is). The real entertainment of the day, however, came from a hike on the Loop Ring Trail and a climb-crawl down some nasty stone chutes of Banshee Canyon.

DSC_0332Banshee Canyon is right near camp, and is named for the unearthly howling that ensues when desert winds play their music through exotic, intricate rock formations. The weathering in this place looks like a cross between the Goblins in western Utah and Bryce canyon, with a definitely spooky feeling in attendance. Striking.

IMG_20140212_111619_285The canyon trail negotiates some steep, nearly vertical rock chutes which would be un-navigable except by experienced rock climbers, except for the installation of multiple grab-rings in the most difficult passages. These are the namesake Rings in the trail title.

We spent a couple of hours patiently making our way down the chutes and around the Loop (it’s only a mile or so).

DSC_0318DSC_0334

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the far side of the Loop, we found a dreaded devil cactus, with yet another cactus-wren nest safely ensconced in the cholla’s hideous embrace.

 

 

This Trail is definitely another must-see in the Preserve.

CZ20140212173247276The evening presented us with one of the nicest selections of desert sunset artistry we’ve seen (and we’ve seen a lot of them for sure). The sky was full of mid-level strato-cirrus, and the moisture level up there must have been right on the dew-point, because the clouds kept forming, moving, dissipating, and re-forming with the upper-level winds. The visual result was simply outstanding.

Bottom-lit clouds stretched from horizon to horizon, north-south-east-west in golden/red profusion. Everywhere we looked, there was a different, dynamically-changing display. The phenomenon lasted for many, many minutes in the slanting winter sunset, and we soaked up every moment of it in amazed, head-swiveling reverence.

CZ20140212173408792

CZ20140212172949572

CZ20140212173048717

Even Howie was mesmerized, as you can see by his glassy stare.

After the light show was over, a fine barbecued rib-eye steak dinner put the cap on yet another fine day.

Hangin’ in Mojave (2b)

— lots of trouble uploading a large post, had to split it in two parts. This one is the second half of the day, (2a) is the first half —

We started back from the Lava Tube by simple pavement, but whimsically decided on a “long cut”. [For those of you not familiar with the lexicon, a long cut is like a short cut. However, a long cut, although significantly shorter in distance, will inevitably require twice the gas and three times the time to navigate.]

DSC_0257_thumb[1]In this case, the cut was about 20 miles of the ancient Mojave Road. This little track runs about 140 miles from Barstow to the Colorado River (between Needles and Las Vegas). Like so much of the area, the Road is steeped in geology and history. It’s hard to convey the total sense of delight that both of us experienced in traveling this ancient Indian trail, now an easy 2WD/4WD back country track.

DSC_0256_thumb[8]Firstly, it’s REMOTE. We were far away from the paved road, which is itself far away from the Interstate, which is far away from any town of any size. We were <way> out there and very glad for the spare gas, water, tools, and our satellite phone.

Second, it’s GORGEOUS. The desert is pure, simple, serene. We were surrounded by plants and animals and incredible scenery, from long winding sand washes to massive lava flows to towering cinder cones and massive rocky ridgelines. Although signs of man’s touch were visible, we still had a sense of the primeval.

DSC_0298_thumb[8]As we chunked along the winding trail, Karin spotted a weird sight: a faded American flag fluttering gamely in the desert breeze. At first, we thought we’d stumbled on a remote camper, but no, it was the venerated Mojave Road Mailbox.

DSC_0313_thumb[1]This delightful little treat has a sprinkling of traveler’s remnants inside: some beef jerky, a roll of duct tape, bottles of drinking water. Also sheltered is a large, dense logbook full of travelers’ entries, to which of course we added our own. According to guidebook comments, the Friends of the Mojave use the book entries to gauge road use by visitors.

DSC_0314_thumb[7]Past the Mailbox, we crossed the Powerline road and its enormous parallel strings of monster towers, carrying unimaginable quantities of precious juice to the masses.

DSC_0316_thumb[8]Later, crossing a broad slope above a broader valley, we rolled past a hawk scouting from a Joshua tree for an evening meal.

Per our maps, guidebooks, dead reckoning, intuition, and perhaps mostly pure luck, we popped out of the Mojave Road fantasy-land and back onto Cima Road right where we needed to turn into Cedar Canyon and head on back to camp. Dusk was settling in as we pulled into HITW camp.

Howie wagged his tail in greeting and we settled satisfyingly in after a splendid day.

Hangin’ in Mojave (2a)

DSC_0225

Tuesday, 11 Feb….

FINALLY starting to feel really better today, with the cough diminishing and my energy continuing to rise. Still not up to a lot of hiking, though, so a short morning walk was all I tackled.

The morning sun lit up the slope west of camp. This area is favored by the barrel cacti, and their purplish spines set off many hillsides. This plump fellow guides the way to Banshee Canyon in the distance.

 

 

DSC_0229Another oddity we’ve never encountered before: the coyote gourd. Looks like a small un-ripe watermelon, but it’s light and some of them rattle with internal seeds.

 

After breakfast, we decided to gas up Ralph. At 1/4 tank, we didn’t have the comfort zone needed for long lonely desert roads. Nearest gas is at Needles or Baker, each about 70 miles away. But Baker was close to something we wanted to see, the Lava Tube area, so that was our pick.

DSC_0263Baker is a nondescript whistle-stop about halfway between Barstow and Las Vegas, on I-15. Coming down off the high country of the Preserve, it looked like nothing more than a thin scattering of shacks along the Interstate. Gee whattayaknow – – that’s what it was.

Driving back into the Preserve, we were amazed at the total lack of signage of any kind. Major (dirt) roads simply darted left and right off the main Kelbaker road (Kelbaker – – Kelso to Baker – – get it?). DSC_0264

Some roads went somewhere, some didn’t. Fortunately, we have a great NatGeo map and some terrific guidebooks, and they helped us find the Lava Tube Trail, which (finally) was flagged by this gallant 6” square notification.

DSC_0269

 

The Lava Tube was smallish, as such structures go, but nevertheless intriguing, eerie, and charming.

 

 

DSC_0285Several holes in the roof let sunlight streak in at various places.

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_0291When we walked the old dusty floor, the sunbeams took life and became Luke Skywalker laser swords scything down into the tunnel.

 

 

DSC_0293After Baker and the Lava Tube, it was getting late. Ralph was waiting patiently amidst the deep green creosote, the lava flows and cinder cones.

– – to be continued.