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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tustin, California, United States
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    233

    Default Roadtrip #6A: The CA Mojave Desert and back

    It's time for a sub roadtrip!

    We've decided to keep it simple this year and take a smaller 6-day trip to the neighboring Mojave Desert before the heat of Summer arrives. We embark Tuesday, April 24th at 5:00am from Orange County and head up to Death Valley, CA for a more in-depth visit (as opposed to the quickie drive-through from Roadtrip #3). After a few days there and exploring around Ridgecrest, CA, we'll be staying the rest of the time at the Las Vegas Hilton (courtesy of some earned free nights) and use as a base camp for exploring the rugged Mojave National Preserve.

    Instead of a daily blog, I may do more summarized posts depending on the time available. With the exception of a day here and there, I've tried to put aside the speed run trademark and keep it pretty light in terms of sight-seeing so all the rushing around is kept to a minimum.

    Itinerary:

    Day 1 (Tues, Apr 24) - Hwy 395 to Lone Pine, then over to Death Valley - 1st run (Scotty's Castle, Ubehebe Crater, Stovepipe Wells, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Mosaic Canyon) then to Ridgecrest, CA
    Day 2 (Wed, Apr 25) - Ridgecrest surrounding locale (Randsburg, Johannesburg, Red Rock Canyon SP, Trona Pinnacles)
    Day 3 (Thur, Apr 26) - Death Valley - 2nd run (Furnace Creek, Dante's View, Artist's Drive, Devil's Golf Course, Badwater Basin) then to Las Vegas, NV
    Day 4 (Fri, Apr 27) - Red Rock Canyon (west Las Vegas), possible Hoover Dam
    Day 5 (Sat, Apr 28) - I-15 to Mojave National Preserve - 1st run (Cima Dome, Hole-in-the-Wall), back to Vegas
    Day 6 (Sun, Apr 29) - I-15 to Mojave National Preserve - 2nd run (Cinder Cones, Kelso Depot, Kelso Dunes) then home

    Last-minute ideas always welcome! See you on the road.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tustin, California, United States
    Posts
    233

    Default Day 1

    (All times are PDT)

    And off we go... at 5:00am once again. As much as I'm not an early riser, I always seem to wake up just fine for these excursions.

    We used the previous route from Roadtrip #6 to begin this trip, taking the metro freeways of Orange/Riverside, CA counties until we came back to our beloved Hwy 395 and once again made a bee-line for the Owens Valley and its towering Sierra Nevada range. After filling up the tank in Ridgecrest, we reached Lone Pine just in time for breakfast, and also took a gander at the nearby Visitor Center for the Eastern Sierra, although that was not our intended destination for the day.

    We headed east until we were on Hwy 190 which carried us to Death Valley National Park. Before we got there, however, I had to make a 30-minute stop for an unusual landmark. For those who are huge fans of U2's iconic Joshua Tree album, the actual tree they used on the cover is located off this highway. You can't see it from the road, and unless you've done your research on the internet, it is hard to find. Luckily my sleuthing paid off and I found it in about 10 minutes. Although the tree fell and died sometime in Y2K, many people have visited the dead tree and left their mark: rocks shaped into words and symbols, a storage bin of tributes to the U2 band, and a plaque that reads "Have you found what you're looking for?" (a play on one of the album's song titles) And of course it's out in the middle of nowhere, totally adding to the desolation and silence of the area. So worth the extra time for this.

    Onward we sped, until we unfortunately got stuck behind workers painting new stripes on the road. You couldn't exactly pass them since that would muck up the fresh paint. *sigh* Crawling along at 10MPH makes you shake your fists in the air. They finally quit at Father Crowley Vista (which we skipped because we're coming back this way later) and aimed for the north part of the park. But again the unlucky rain clouds swirled over our heads. We hit an under-construction 1-lane road and had to stop for at least 30 minutes. GRRRRRR... the memories of the last roadtrip's closures were sneaking back into my head. C'mon people, do that kind of stuff at night!

    We arrived at Scotty's Castle close to the 2:00 tour time, but it was sold out. We bought tickets for 3:00pm and headed back down the road to the nearby Ubehebe Crater, created from a volcanic explosion. It was very impressive, but so was the wind howling between 40-50MPH. I could hardly stand still to take shots. It was exhilarating all the while.

    Back to Scotty's Castle we went. Took the hour-long house tour and finally saw the castle we missed 5 years ago. Learned some new "stories" about that Scotty guy.

    Time to get outta here. We headed back the way we came, stopping at some key points (Devil's Cornfield and Mesquite Flat Dunes) before using the Panamint Valley Road as a shortcut to get back to Ridgecrest, where we are staying for 2 days. We used just about all the fuel from the morning's fill-up. Yikes.

    We'll be taking it easy for the next day and just checking out the locale of Ridgecrest. Not every day will (or should) be jam-packed like today was.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2000
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    9,552

    Default "Sped" is not part of the adventure!

    Got to remember that slow-downs are part and parcel of road trips.... There's so much to see in Death Valley, and most of it is on slow-moving roads. One day, you'll have to check out the mysterious sliding stones....

    Hey if you want to drive an exhilarating road... a side trip from Ridgecrest... take Nine Mile Canyon Road to Kennedy Meadows. Once in Kennedy Meadows stop at the Kennedy Meadows Store Chuckwagon BBQ -- say howdy to chef Al and sample his amazing sausage sandwiches.

    Mark

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tustin, California, United States
    Posts
    233

    Default Day 2

    It was a relatively easy day. We left after 9:00am and decided to hit up the Trona Pinnacles first thing to guarantee a decent outdoor temperature. The 5-mile dirt road was a little wash-boarded, but that didn't stop us from reaching the towering columns of tufa. We spent an hour or so circling the Pinnacles and taking pictures from all angles.

    Next stop, the small ghost town of Randsburg. Unfortunately being in the middle of the week, that's all it really was. The only thing we found open was the General Store, so we all had some ice cream for a snack. There wasn't much else to do here.

    Next stop, Red Rock Canyon State Park. We didn't know what to expect, but we headed over to Hwy 14 and then started north. Within the park borders we found some pretty fantastic formations, almost something like you'd see at Bryce Canyon in Utah, except these formations were all baked into the walls, kinda resembling apartment dwellings. We headed up to the Visitor Center, but alas, they were also closed. Taking pictures were enough for this sideshow.

    Finally, we decided to try Mark's suggestion and take the Nine Mile Canyon Road all the way up to Kennedy Meadows to have dinner at the Chuckwagon BBQ. Although the views looking back to the valley were stunning and I'm sure it's a sound suggestion for peak season, everything was closed and locked up tight (kinda like all our other destinations today). We would have asked where to find the Chuckwagon but we didn't see a single soul anywhere. Poops. I take it this is a summer weekend destination, or maybe everyone disappears by 4:00pm, which is about the time we got up there.

    Tomorrow is the 2nd run of Death Valley, visiting the southern part. I'm hoping for some isolated thunderstorms. That would put a big smile on my face.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2000
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    9,552

    Default Sorry about that

    Oops, I didn't have time to write back.

    The Chuckwagon is at the store, but it might not open until May 1st. I'm sorry I was working on an article about Kennedy Meadows for a June 1st publication date and forget we were still in April. No, the place is very lively during the week, (normally) I've never been there on a weekend.

    Mark

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tustin, California, United States
    Posts
    233

    Default Day 3

    (I'm a day behind, and the Las Vegas hotel doesn't have free Wi-Fi so bare with me)

    Today was another insanely full day, but we were able to pull it off. Don't we always? :)

    We left our Ridgecrest hotel early and again headed north on Hwy 395. It had rained the night before so there were plenty of low-hanging clouds to aid in the Kodak moments. Before hitting Lone Pine, we turned off on Hwy 190 and repeated the west entrance into Death Valley. We stopped at Father Crowley Vista this time and took in the sights before heading further east. We spent some time at Stovepipe Wells and also took a short hike inside Mosaic Canyon, both places we decided to skip on the first run.

    At the main junction, instead of turning left to Scotty's Castle, we headed right to Furnace Creek and set up the route for the southern features. On the way down we made brief stops at the Salt Creek and Harmony Borax Mill trails. Once reaching the Visitor Center and watching the presentation, we decided it would be more efficient to head south on Badwater Road to the lowest point in the U.S. and work our way back. So we headed to Badwater Basin first, where the wind was ferocious, enough to where we didn't want to brave that to the Salt Flats. We took our pic at the sign and headed back, stopping at Devil's Golf Course and strolling along Artists Drive.

    Back at Furnace Creek, we stopped at the General Store, then continued east on Hwy 190 up and out of the park. I made sure we hit Zabriskie Point, and of course made the journey to one of my main goals, Dante's View. The wind was still shrieking violently at the top, but it didn't stop us from taking a bunch of pics.

    It was getting to be early evening by the time we finally got out of the park and crossed state lines. We filled up in Pahrump, NV and travelled another hour to our 2nd base camp of Las Vegas. We're staying at the newly-named LVH for the weekend. Tomorrow is Red Rock Canyon and then the Preserve Saturday and Sunday. Half way done!

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tustin, California, United States
    Posts
    233

    Default Day 4

    Much easier day. We moseyed on out of the hotel after 9:00am and headed through to the west side of town to check out Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. We spent quite a while at the Visitor Center to look at all the exhibits and presentation, then took the 13-mile loop around the canyon. There weren't any easy hiking trails under a mile so no workouts for us today, but there were plenty of photo opportunities. It was pretty hazy but we made the best of it.

    We then visited some of Dad's old friends from Kentucky (who conveniently live right by Red Rock) and did some catching up for a few hours. It's been 20 years since I've seen them. Good times.

    We then headed to South Point for the Steak and Shake, then up to see the Fremont Experience (which was all new to me). I also won 15 cents playing the poker machine. I can retire in peace now.

    It's more Mojave in the coming days... looking forward to more solitude.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tustin, California, United States
    Posts
    233

    Default Day 5

    (Behind again, that's the desert for you)

    This weekend is dedicated to Mojave National Preserve. Today was the easier of the two. We left the LVH around 9:30am and headed back into California, and a little time later off I-15 and onto Cima Road, which is one of the north entrances to the park. Traveling down this road revealed the most dense forest of Joshua Trees found anywhere on the planet. Some were easily shooting 20 feet up in the air.

    Soon after came the turn onto Cedar Canyon Road (aka "the" Mojave Road). It was only a mile or so before the pavement ended, and a few miles later we turned right onto Black Canyon Road and made the drive all the way to Hole-in-the-Wall. Now we've been on plenty of dirt roads for this trip, but this one was by far the worst in terms of roughness and washboard. I'm sure the poor rental van, were it able to speak, might have had a thing or two to say to us. But we finally made it through to the asphalt 15 miles later.

    At Hole-in-the-Wall Visitor Center, we watched the 11-minute presentation, and then proceeded to do as much of the 1-mile-loop nature trail as possible. Since my folks aren't agile enough to climb the rings near the end, we had to backtrack once we reached the petroglyphs. We did however drive back around, over to where the trail ended and viewed the overlook into one of the mini-canyons, although accessibility to that one was a little rough. (Mom almost killed herself as we tried to help her get back down, and has the battle scars to prove it!)

    Enough's enough. We decided not to torture the minivan any further and took the long way around in order to ensure paved roads, using I-40 and Hwy 95 to slingshot back to Vegas. That used up the entire tank of fuel. Oh, but as a semi-train nerd, I did enjoy the busy Santa Fe and Union Pacific rail lines using this route to get back.

    We spent the evening hours going to the Rio and checking out the entertainment there, followed by some fine dining at our main hotel.

    Last day is on deck...

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tustin, California, United States
    Posts
    233

    Default Day 6 (Final)

    Time to leave our excellent LVH suite and make the final plunge. We crossed back into California for good and headed all the way to Baker before leaving I-15. I got in a single pic of the thermometer, but it appears to be out of order. (Does anyone know if that thing is permanently out of commission? Sad if true.) Heading south on Kelbaker Road, we passed the Cinder Cone lava beds (although you can't see much unless you take the high-clearance dirt road, which we unanimously declined).

    About 20 minutes later, the sight of more freight trains provided a nice backdrop for the Kelso Depot Visitor Center. Here were three floors of exhibits to check out, explaining the depot's use in its days of World War II. Here they sold Joshua Tree seeds so I bought some. What better way to own one of my favorite desert flora than by planting? (Now all I need are Saguaro seeds and I'm set for life.) After an hour of Kelso, we kept on heading south to our final feature, the Kelso Dunes. This was also a dirt road to the parking lot, but only 3 miles worth.

    It was a long way from the trailhead to the base of the dunes, so we only hiked a half-mile until the sand was getting too fine to easily walk on (gotta think of the folk's walking abilities here). We were close enough for some panoramic shots so we did that and walked back to the car. We saw plenty of other hikers making their way to the very top of the dunes (which has got to be strenuous!) but we also ran into other hikers who did turn back prematurely. Indeed, it seems to not be a hike for the unprepared!

    That's all for the Preserve. We continued south past some nifty rock cliff formations and out onto I-40 west. After a quick snack at the Barstow Station, another 2 hours passed as the familiar network of freeways brought us back home at 5:35pm. From the time we left Vegas, we did see quite a few cars that ran (or flipped upside-down) off the road today. What's up with the Sunday reckless driving, or maybe just falling asleep at the wheel?

    Short run, but covered quite a bit. I've gotta sort everything out and top off this thread. I'll be back...

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 2000
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    9,552

    Default The Baker Thermometer

    The Baker Thermometer is no longer being maintained. It was created by the original owner of Bun Boy Restaurants, and after he passed away, his family was not interested in spending money to keep it going. It's got some power, but I don't know of anyone who's actually working on it anymore.

    And I'm sorry again for not reaching you before you drove up to Kennedy Meadows...

    Mark

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