Altitude: 1433 ft. Stoke level: 6 Temperature: 80-51 degrees Conditions: partly cloudy, calm early, moderate-strong wind late
I got up early and did some writing and blog editing before I broke camp. Afterwards, I checked the bond on my solar panel. It seemed to be stuck on pretty good. I took out my stainless steel zip ties and lashed the frame of my new panel to my rack. That will give me some added protection in case the adhesive ever decides to give way. I can’t be having my solar panel smash into someone’s windshield if it comes off as I’m going down the road!
Everything got checked out and packed up, so I finally got back on the trail again. I charted a course down Gold Crown Road. The road was nicely deserted and wide at first. After a few miles however, I came to my first obstacle. There was a culvert in the road that bridged a gully about 15-20 feet deep. I had about a foot on either side of my tires before I’d slip into the ravine. It wasn’t aligned straight with the road, so I had to back up and pick a better line. I’ve been through worse, but this was a bit stressful to navigate without a spotter. Right after this, I was faced with a hill that was kind of gnarly. The Beast and I were both capable of navigating this slope, but who knew what was on the other side of the hill?
I got out and walked up the hill to see what lay beyond. When I got up to the top I could see into the distance as the trail got narrower and rougher. It was definitely within my skill level, but my guts got in a knot thinking about the stress I’d have driving it. I decided to turn around and head back down. I wanted to see what was up the trail, but it just looked like more than I was willing to bite off at the moment. I had to go back over the tricky culvert again, which sucked. Since my daylight was running out, I made my way back to the general area I had previously camped. This time I chose a slightly better spot on the other side of the road however. I had a bunch of cardboard to burn, and this spot had a pretty nice fire ring already set up. I wanted to grill a tri-tip I’ve been packing around for a while as well.
Unfortunately, I never got to cook or burn anything. The wind came up pretty aggressively and refused to stop. I had to resign myself to eat cold food out of cans for dinner. Not the best meal by any stretch of the imagination. Some nights are like that out on the trail, especially when you have to cook your food outside on a propane grill. Wind really messes with the flame on the things, not to mention can even blow your whole grill over. That happened the first night I was in Anza-Borrego, fortunately no food was on it at the time, but it could have been a disaster!
I had many things to do tomorrow before I left town, so I got to bed early. My goal is to leave town no later than noon to get to the place where I want to be north of Baker. This damn time change has really screwed me up, now I have to start looking for campsites around 3 in the afternoon. It doesn’t give me a lot of time to explore unless I get up super early, which I am loathe to do unless absolutely necessary!
Altitude: 668 ft. Stoke level: 7 Temperature: 79-60 degrees Conditions: clear, sunny, strong wind early, light wind late
The winds last night never let up, and it was quite chilly. When I got up around 7 it was nice and sunny, but the wind was still whipping around pretty intensely. It took longer than I would have liked to break camp, but I finally got out of there around nine. I got back to the highway and drove back into Joshua Tree to go to the only laundry in town. I’ve done my laundry there before, it’s not my first rodeo! It was insane how busy the laundromat was, nearly every washer and dryer in the place was in use. I guess they’ve got the monopoly on laundry in town, that’s where everyone has to go!
Finally, I found a couple of washers ready for use and I got my clothes on to wash. It took a couple hours to get everything clean & dried, and when I was done I hit up Home Depot, Walmart, Vons, and the gas station to get filled up on various supplies, water, gas and food. I had a huge load of garbage to drop off at the gas station, I kind of felt bad to fill up their can. Oh well, I was a paying customer so all good! By this point it was close to 2 o’clock, which meant it was too late to get up to where I wanted today. I had an alternate place to go though, a place called Amboy Crater. It’s between Joshua Tree and the Mojave National Preserve right off an old section of Route 66.
I’ve passed the Amboy Crater a few times on my journeys north from Joshua Tree, but always have viewed it from a distance. The crater is actually an old cinder cone that is left over from an eruption in the valley. The valley floor where it is found is absolutely flat, it must have been an old lake bed at one point. You can see Amboy Crater from miles away, it does look really odd on the horizon. It has a rather looming presence both far away and up close.
It sits on BLM land so it’s able to be used for camping. According to my app, the only spot where that was allowed was on the pavement in the overflow parking lot. I wasn’t thrilled to be camping on pavement, too damn civilized for me! Also there were busy train tracks close by, so it wouldn’t be quiet. It was the closest place I could get to in my timeframe where I wanted to go, so I really didn’t have a choice. Still, it would be really cool to set up camp there in the presence of interesting geology.
I headed back in the direction from which I came earlier. Back through 29 Palms I drove. I went and took Amboy Road north through Wonder Valley. I’ve been this way a few times before and it’s always cool how fast you can be in the middle of nowhere from the hustle and bustle of the Highway 62 corridor. The traffic, while light, was much more prevalent than in summer. There were lots of RV’s and campers for a Wednesday afternoon. They aren’t weekend warriors though, so they are all good in my book!
After an hour or so, I drop down into the Amboy Flats. I see the crater from ten miles away, it’s cool looking as ever! I took a left where Amboy Road meets good ‘ol Route 66 and went towards the crater. I found the road and went up towards the parking lot. Along the way, I spied the overflow parking and it wasn’t bad. There was no one there and there was a sandy spot in the back where you could back up to some cool-looking volcanic slag. I continued to the parking lot where there was only one car. The crater was at least a mile hike away from this point. Supposedly the trail goes all the way to the top as well so you can see down into the thing. I wasn’t about to attempt that now, so I took a couple pictures and headed back to set up camp.
Glad I got back to the spot when I did. Right as I got parked, some guy in a camper van pulled up and stopped. I could tell he wanted to park, but to his credit he went to the main parking lot and I never saw him or anyone else the rest of the night. As I got everything unloaded, the first of many trains came roaring by. I was only about a quarter mile from the track, so it was crazy loud! For some reason, it didn’t bother me as much as vehicle traffic does for some reason. Perhaps because the noise is more rhythmic? I’m not sure. I would definitely would have preferred to do without it, but what can you do?
The winds were pretty gusty when I got there, but around sundown it completely stopped. Usually when the wind dies in the desert all the bugs come out to play, but this spot was remarkably bug-free! The conditions were just perfect. It stayed in the 70’s until long after dark. Since it’s so comfortable here, I thought that I might sacrifice one of my 5 remaining days to spend another night somewhere in the surrounding Mojave National Trails area.
After a whole lot of thinking, I decided I was going to proceed with my original plan to go up north. I’ve done enough sitting and chilling in places that I liked, now it was time to put some miles under the tires! I haven’t explored Death Valley in 5-6 years (I did drive through back in July 2018 and temps were 127 degrees, the hottest I’ve ever been) so I felt that visiting there would be the best way to end this trip. I had to drive all the way to the north end of the park to get a park pass to legally explore the southern end of the park. It would be a full day of driving to get up there, so I needed to get on it as quickly as possible. I’m looking forward to checking out what is called ‘The Henry Wade Exit Route’. It’s the way the 49’ers who gave the valley its name managed to get out when they first found themselves marooned there. It’s a new trail for me, so I’m ready to check it out!
Altitude: 880 ft. Stoke level: 9 Temperature: 86-59 degrees Conditions: sunny, clear, light wind
I only had a couple beers and went to bed early, so I was able to get up around 8 feeling good about the day’s travels. I slept amazingly well despite the roaring of the trains. Good ‘ol earplugs come to the rescue again! I had thought that it would be cool to hike over to the top of the crater and take a look around, but I was ready to hit the road when I got up. I figured it would take at least 3 hours to go there and back, that’s a half day’s driving! At this point in the expedition, time is of the essence. I needed to get on down the road.
I got back on Route 66 and headed over to Kelbaker Road. Kelbaker Road is an old friend of mine. It goes up through the middle of the Mojave National Preserve and cuts over towards Baker. When I’ve explored the preserve in the past, this road would be my main re-supply route, so I knew it well. I drove north through the desert until I went under the I-40 underpass. After this point, I was back in the preserve. I had to holler! It was so good to be back. I wish I could have had more time or I would have stayed, I’m so fond of this place.
About 20 miles in off to the left, you see the Kelso Dunes. They kind of look out of place, it’s like you took a detour into the Sahara or something! Like the Amboy Crater, this is something I’ve passed by a few times but never checked out. I decided to turn down the road towards the dunes to get a closer look. I drove about 3 miles in, and decided that was enough to get a decent picture. It looks like an amazing natural feature to hike up, again, like the crater. It would have been a cool thing to do if I had the time, but I just satisfied myself with a picture.
After I returned to the main road, it was a short distance to the old train depot at Kelso. It’s been there for a hundred years and used to be very important for freight being shipped up and down the line. It’s been restored in recent years and it is the Visitor Center for the preserve. It’s always been closed every time I’ve come through though, and this time was no exception. This time it wasn’t scheduled to re-open until 2023! Maybe someday I’ll get to check it out from the inside. Right as I was getting ready to leave Kelso, I messed around and broke my phone mount again! This is like the 4th or 5th time, it’s so bad. I guess it’s time to break out the Gorilla Glue again! I really need to break down and just buy a new one.
Continuing on my journey, I eventually made my way to the odd little town of Baker. It’s a weird crossroads of a place off the 15 between LA and Vegas. It’s always going off everytime I’ve been there, lots of folks are always coming and going. I pulled into the 76 station for gas and I saw this insane looking craft parked beside the gas pump. It looked like a jet aircraft without wings! I pulled in close to the thing and got out to take a look at it. This guy who was sitting in a truck attached to the craft’s trailer jumps up and I ask him if I can take a picture. He agrees and we start talking.
The guy tells me that he is a 4 time world champion land speed racer by the name of Jim “Jet” Neilson, and he’s been marooned with his jet car in Baker after his last race this past summer. He doesn’t have anywhere to go until his next race in Dubai in a few weeks. When he’s not racing, he lives down in Panama. Something must have gone seriously gone sideways in his life I gather, but he’s making the best of it. He can’t leave his rocket car, the same as I couldn’t leave my Beast out in the middle of nowhere. In the meantime, he is just hanging out at the gas station in Baker selling autographed t-shirts and talking to people. I imagine he’s had to cut some kind of deal with whoever owns the gas station.
The dude is pretty cool, he starts dropping names immediately. He claims to have grown up with Kurt Russell and acted in one of his movies. He’s also good friends with Vince Neil and some other rock n’ roll guys and actors. I guess jet car racers are just another kind of entertainer, they all run in the same circles…especially in this part of California. He told me that John Fogerty and Steven Tyler had both stopped to get gas and wound up buying shirts from him. The guy pulled out his phone and showed me pictures, and he wasn’t lying! John looked healthy, but Steven is looking pretty skinny these days. Steve was also holding a couple of Yorkie dogs in his arms, it was pretty funny! Jim said they were both super cool, and really admired his rocket racer. I liked the guy so I bought a t-shirt from him for 20 bucks. The shirt was pretty badass, and he even signed it to boot. I could have talked to that dude for a while, but I was already behind so I hopped back on the road.
I still had another hour and a half journey up to my destination. Needing to get a pass for the park, I was going to have to drive a long ways up Highway 127 to get to Death Valley Junction. From there, I was going to have to enter from the east side of the park on the 190 and find a kiosk to print me out a paper pass. I’d have to then double back and re-enter the park on the southeast border. It’s a pain in the ass, but all the infrastructure for permits is in the north of the park. When you are on park property you’ve got to have it. It’s pretty expensive as well, 30 bucks! It is what it is though, sometimes you’ve got to pay the troll his toll.
I was running low on smoke, so I saw that there was a dispensary up at Death Valley Junction. I was intrigued that there was a dispensary out in the middle of nowhere so I had to go check it out. It’s called ‘DVJ Fine Cannabis’ and it is a huge grow house complex out in the middle of the desert. I pull up and it is surrounded by high fences like it is a government building of some sort. There is a tiny trailer out front so I assume that’s the business end of the place. When I step out of the truck, I get a big whiff of ganja. I’m a couple hundred yards away and it is thick! They must have mad crops in there!
I go in and it’s pretty casual. Nothing is out on display, you have a whiteboard featuring the menu options and you order from there. You say what you want and the gal goes and gets it from the next room. The prices are really reasonable, particularly to be that far out in the desert. When I mentioned this to the budtender, she told me that it was because they grow on site and cut out the middleman. I got an 1/8th of small bud Wedding Crasher for 27 bucks. It’s usually 30, but I got 10 percent off because it’s Veteran’s Day. Right on!
After picking up the produce, I headed into the park. I knew that there was an automated kiosk about 20 miles down the road where I could pick up a pass. When I reached the spot where I could get it, there was a sign on the machine that said since it was Veteran’s Day, no fees were required that day. That’s cool and all, but I’m still going to need a pass for tomorrow and the days after. Since it was 3 o’clock already and I needed to stick around to get a pass anyway, I decided to go a few miles down the road to a spot where I had camped before.
It’s up a rough 4×4 road called ‘Inyo Mine Road’. The road is a 6/10 difficulty on my OnX so it’s beyond my capability to drive it fully, but the first couple of miles going in is pretty tame. There’s a lot of places to camp that gives great views of the valley below. Way back 5 or 6 years ago I almost got bit by a sidewinder up here, so that’s why I informally call this place ‘Sidewinder Camp’. Also the last time I was here I found myself in a biblical horde of flying grasshoppers, so the spot has a pretty interesting history for me. I have a soft spot in my heart for the place, I’ve had good times here back in the day.
I turned off on the road and drove up. You can’t camp a mile coming in from the highway, so I had to go up a bit. I looked around and found a spot that looked reasonably flat. I got camp set up and wrote on the blog for a while before I got around to making dinner. Tonight I was going to put some effort into supper and make some red beans and rice! As the sun set I broke out the camp kitchen and got to work prepping yellow and green onions, bell pepper and andouille sausage. I remarked on just how nice it was here in Death Valley as I cooked. There was a very light wind, hardly any bugs, and it was warm enough to be comfortable in shorts and a t-shirt after the sun went down.
For the first time on this trip, I wasn’t setting up in a sand pit. This area is very rocky, so not having sand get into everything was a plus. I got everything cooked up and sat down to eat in the moonlight, and let me tell you it was amazing! It was probably the best meal and locale I’ve enjoyed on this whole expedition. It’s rare that everything just lines up perfectly on a trip such as this. Good food and great surroundings are always something to celebrate when you’re out roughing it in the wilderness!
It was a very interesting day all around. I’m right where I want to be at the moment. After I get my pass tomorrow, I can either go over towards Pahrump and run this trail over on BLM land, or I can just go ahead and jump on down to the south end of the park and get started on that trail down there I want to do. Decisions, decisions! I’ll have to sleep on it. I’m down to four nights left so I have to really make my days count. Wherever I wind up, I’m glad I came up here. Death Valley has such a raw beauty that you can’t find anywhere else. It’s actually comfortable this time of the year, which is something I can’t get over. I feel I’m at where I need to be, glad I made the effort to return here.