The lure of the desert to me is a siren’s song. I cannot resist, and so off I went again between 12 and 26 April, 2010. The search for desert solitude, the mystery of the far away unseen places, and the thrill of the trail drew me back to the Utah area yet again. With my friend, Anton, along in my Dodge truck and my Rubicon safely atop its comfort trailer, we headed east. Happy in the expectation of sights we’d see, and comforted by the best C&W radio station in Nevada (KHWG, 750 AM) we rolled across central Nevada.
After crossing the Sierra Nevada mountains and after having been robbed by the chain installer/CalTrans collusionists at Applegate, we overnighted in Reno with good friends Paul and Nancy. With snow falling and some slush on the roadway at the Cal Trans mandatory chains required inspection station, we were forced to chain up. We paid the chain installers there who I am convinced are related to or in cahoots with Cal Trans, then drove on up the mountain. Within half a mile, ALL SNOW WAS GONE from the road, and it was clear all the way to the Donner summit (where we unchained at the OK to remove chains sign) and beyond!!!
We chose to travel across Nevada on highway 50, which was called the lonliest road in America by Life magazine in 1996. I really love to drive along roads on which I have never gone, and this route was well worth our time. Treeless flat desert terrain with desert scrub bushes and occasional structural skeletons giving evidence of past human habitants, their struggles, dreams and failures. We are reminded that we are SO very briefly here on this planet.
As we passed by Sand Mountain and began long straight stretches of Hwy 50 across the flats, I was reminded of an account of our friend Paul. He described himself and eight other Porsche club members driving east on Hwy 50 at 100 MPH, and being “eaten up” by a horn blaring semi pulling a flatbed with a load at 120 MPH who flew by them like they were standing still. Whooooooeeeeeee!!! On this road, I could surely see something like that happening.
We lunched in Austin, Nevada, at 6,500 feet, where show was blowing on our arrival. White bean soup with ham felt very nice in the old tummy! On up the slope to 7,484 foot Austin Pass, over the mountain, and again across vast expanses of desert straightaway we rolled. We saw a herd of antelope no more than 100 yards from the highway. A first for me, and totally cool!! Night found us in Ely, Nevada where we saw an old Model A Ford (original engine still in place) converted into a snowmobile. It had skis on struts under its front hubs, and tracks from an old WWI military vehicle as its rear drive mechanism.
Across the forever flats we went. Roads to infinity across the great lands of emptiness as we crossed the great basin . So empty that even the rare range cattle were lonely. At the Nevada/Utah line, we stopped at the Border Inn (imaginatively named, don’t you think?), then continued on. Next services 83 miles. This land impressed me. It is a wide, great and vast land, and I felt privileged to see it. Makes me feel proud to be an American.
In Aurora, Utah, we saw two huge Texas longhorn steers with four foot long grizzly fending weapons on each side of their heads. We saw a nice herd of buffalo just before we arrived in Torrey, Utah, at the edge of the Capitol Reef National Park. We were told that Capitol Reef got its name for a mountain range that settlers thought looked like an ocean reef, and because of a round, pointed limestone formation that looks just like the White House dome in our nation’s capitol.
We visited Gooseneck Point, an overlook into a river canyon near where a sign brags of the cleanest air anywhere in America. The next day, we entered the park to visit the old Mormon settlement in awe. They had planted fruit trees on nearly every flat acre in the valley, and all were in bloom as we visited. From an old blacksmith shop to a “barn raising” barn (still in great shape) to ancient huge cottonwood trees to an RV park among the fruit orchard (a great place to get reservations and stay a week), it had it all!
We drove through the Park, past the stone one room settlers Behunin cabin, and followed the Fremont River downstream. As we did so, whomsoever was driving the Jeep paced a duck at 51 MPH for miles down the river as he flew his fastest to avoid being eaten by the jeep monsters. Honest! We weren’t actually after him. Out paths of travel coincidentally just happened to be the same. After leaving the duck to his own devices, we ventured across the river ford where the scare-as-many-tourists-away-from- the-back-country-as-we-can ranger had told us it was running 16 inches deep and could carry away a low vehicle. We found it to be only 7 or 8 inches in depth!! We then set off to explore the Cathedral Valley Loop trail in the back country of the Park.
On an easy dirt road, we followed across dry mud terrain with very little vegetation and only a few range cattle. We found at the very lowest end of a curving arroyo where ranchers had carefully piped and routed water underground to a lone crystal clear, cattle-love-it, life giving trough in the wilderness many miles from any other water. Stuck in the ground there by the cattle waterer was an old International truck that had been bogged down at some time when the area had been a quagmire. Hub deep and abandoned, its bed had a home made crane setup using timbers, wooden pulleys, and an old engine of unknown make. Great vintage tin photos!
We traveled through the bentonite mounds (maroon and green colored clay hills) and stopped at Courthouse Rock. An old gypsy type sheepherder’s home on wheels, complete with stovepipe and rounded roof provided some photo ops. At the very north end of the valley, the vistas from 7,011 feet were spectacular. After driving through a small campground at the top of the mountain (great for solitude), we descended the edge of the mountain and visited the old Morrel cabin. Only packrats live in it now.
Our journey took us to the great gypsum sinkhole, to the Temple of the Moon (rock formation), and to the Glass Mountain. The latter is a mound about 30 feet across and twenty feet high that rises out of the dull sandstone desert around it. It is composed of gypsum glass and micah. It shone brightly in the afternoon sun, and was fascinating to me. We climbed atop it for the obligatory photos, of course! After our loop trail took us back to Hwy 24 and back into the Park, we saw the capitol dome formation, now called Navajo Dome. It truly is well named. Just outside the Mormon settlement, we took a drive along a road and saw Cottonmouth Rock and the Egyptian Temple.
On Friday, we drove out of the Park on Hwy 24, and traveled up the Noton Valley Road. Eight paved and two dirt miles later, we opted for a 4WD road to McMillan Springs. We never found it! We followed two signs indicating McMillan Springs, then the signs petered out. Six other destinations were signed, but not McMillan Springs. So, we opted for Birch Spring 0.6 miles up a spur road. Two miles later and 8,000 feet up, there was no spring. There was, however, wet mud road and snow half covering it. Caution prevailing, we turned around and returned to the Torrey area and set off for Moab.
In Moab, we met up with Andy Cardenas (Ed4 prosp.), CJ (Ed4 member), Jono (CJ’s friend), and Terry Reiss (Ed4 prosp.?) plus four rigs from Colorado that Andy knew through the internet and a couple from Alaska who live permanently in their motor home while towing their Jeep behind it, Henry and Cindy. Our group; chose to do Cliff Hanger as our first run. Down the hill off Kane Creek Road we went. The first descent was over a hill of ledges and over some huge rock areas to the creek. Up the mesa we worked our way, overcoming ledges and waterfalls of significant size. On top we overlooked the Colorado river loop and the potash ponds beyond the river as we looked north towards Dead Horse Mesa. Along the cliff’s edge, one certain “waterfall” was hard to get up. Many rigs had to be winched up this. When we ascended the final hill of ledges below Kane Creek, I got stuck in a hole and was standing nearly on end. I can tell you, it felt MIGHTY GOOD when we got my winch line attached to a rig above me and I began pulling myself out of the hole. In its first seven years, that was the first time my winch was used to save ME!!! Every dollar spent was instantly justified!!
The next day we took on the DOME PLATEAU! The run on which we had become totally lost last year, and which failure had prompted me to go buy a Garmin 550t navigation device. With its waypoints preset into its route planner, we set off to conquer the Dome Plateau once and for all. Henry also had a GPS device, and we found every point of interest flawlessly. Felt Great!
Up the Colorado River to the Dewey Bridge we went (Anton and I, CJ and Jono, Andy, Tommy and Charlie, Henry and Cindy) only to be saddened at seeing that vandals had fired the old wood bridge and burned it completely across the river’s width.
Up the first hill, through the private property gate, and out onto the plateau we drove. In a ravine not far from La Boca Arch, we found the fork in the road where we had taken the wrong turn last year. NOT THIS YEAR! On to the Arch with no problem, and a nice lunch there was had by all. On the trail again, we went down a long fence line down some good ledges, and onto an overlook above the Professor Valley. The river was 1600 feet below us, and the cliff edge allowed all the view one could stand! Tommy wouldn’t go within thirty feet of the edge. As for myself, the abyss called to me, willing me to lean over, turning my knees to jelly and stopping the breath in my throat. With one trip or misstep, I too could have learned to soar like the red hawk-----for a few seconds anyway.
Next up, we found some huge natural sand bottomed caves in a tall soft sandstone cliff. Numerous caves that went back and up until each ended in a rounded chamber where many folks had graffiti written to brag of their passing. I wondered how many high school senior skip day parties had been held in those caves! From the caves, we continued on and enjoyed two cabins built long ago of railroad ties. Still strong, they will stand many more years before succumbing to nature. We entered a tunnel and enjoyed its coolness. We did not know what ore the miners had been after. Down and around a corner of the hill, I found six tunnels, replete with shoring timbers, not too far from an ore loading chute. Great photos! On we went, ending back to Hwy 128 along the Colorado River. We visited the cliff house where some souls had carved a four room home into the stone cliff. Windows, a fireplace, and stone spiraling staircase to the upper rooms bore testament to how much effort went into the building of the cliff home. All vacant now.
Monday, we did laundry and slept in. We attended the noon meeting of the Moab Rotary (Anton is the incoming president of the Santa Clara Rotary Club), then drove out 313 and down Long Canyon where scenery abounded. We then drove past the potash factory and ponds, and across the 16 miles of valley trail to the steep and sharp Schaffer switchbacks that ascend 1500 vertical feet up to the Dead Horse Mesa. At the foot of the cliff and atop the scree, two young wild mountain sheep graciously allowed us many good photos of themselves.
Tuesday, April 20th, we all met at the City Market and decided to do the Top of the World trail . The whole of the mountain back rose sharply (no falloff to one side or another) for miles. After climbing many ledges, we arrived at the TOP OF THE WORLD!!! W0000000HOOOOOOO!!!! Was it ever worth it! By far the most spectacular overlook I have seen anywhere. We drove our rigs one at a time out onto a large overhanging rock piece under which 3000 feet of nothing awaited. Photos!!! It is just like the scene in The Lion King where the grizzled old baboon shaman held young Simba up on his two hands atop a high rock overlooking the entire valley and assemblage below. 7,053 feet up!!!
We opted to do one loop of Fins and Things before calling it a day. It is a nice little run, and was fun until I felt a metallic thumping in my rig’s rear end. Inspection showed that three of its four longarm suspension kit bolts had broken and the arms had worked themselves out of their sockets. It seems that a metallic crunch while swooping in a gully on the Dome Plateau had in fact done breakage even though it had not been immediately apparent. The driveline had angled up, and all was a mess. Not to fear, CJ and Andy were there! We jacked it up and backed it up until the drive shaft angle was correct, jury rigged three wrong size bolts plus an allen screw held in place with vise grips that allowed me to limp into town. The Moab 4x4 Outpost replaced all the suspension arm bolts with proper ones, and we were on our way.
South to Monument Valley Anton and I went. After overnighting in the new Indian owned Navajo Nation View Hotel, we toured the scenic drive of the valley. We stopped for photos of Fort Bluff (lots of old wagons and history there) and of an old vintage tin truck in the town of Bluff. We headed for the Joshua Tree National Monument via Kingman, Arizona and Tuba City. Enroute, we enjoyed 100,000 watts of FM91.3 KGHR radio, the voice of the Navajo Nation. Oldies and goodies galore! They sure do know good music (Crying, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Viva Las Vegas, Strangers in the Night, Soldier Boy, Under the Boardwalk, Sha Na Na-Get a Job, Louie Louie, Baby, My Girl, Earth Angel, Stand by Me, Johnny B. Good, just to list a few)!! To them we said a heartfelt Ahe Hee, which means Thank You in Navajo.
While traveling up from 5,500 feet to Flagstaff, Arizona at 7,000 feet, as it snowed, we personally saw for twenty miles or more, the three dumbest yet still living guys on earth. Two Harley Davidson motorcycles, one carrying double, ridden by men whose helmets were strapped onto the rear of their cycles. They had bandanas over their faces, nothing atop their heads, and both windshields packed with snow. Can you say stupid macho? Nobody wanted to be the wimp to say he needed his helmet for warmth and safety should they go down in the snowstorm!
From Kingman to Twentynine Palms and the Joshua Tree area we went. Out of Twentynine Palms we entered the Joshua Tree National Monument. We saw many cool campsites among the large sandstone boulders that were present. One such boulder was named Skull Rock; appropriately named. We drove out to Keys’ View for a lookout toward the LA basin, but saw nothing but an ocean of smog trying to work its way up into the mountains where we stood. Booo Los Angeles!! Lots of great Joshua Trees along the way!
On Saturday, we set out to run the four 4WD trails on the Park’s maps. All were SUV trails except for Old Dale Road which had about a mile of real four wheel road in its 32 mile length. We ran the Geology Road, Berdoo Canyon (some mining operation foundations to visit), Pinkham Canyon (great desert flowers), and Old Dale Road trails and were done by 4 PM, even including our frequent photo stops and lunch at a Ranger Station. After the Berdoo trail, we headed into the Coachella valley for fuel. We saw a vast dead citrus grove, its last crop withered and still on the trees that had been abandoned, and which had died for lack of water. Thousands of trees. Very sad!
Back at the Nature Center in Twentynine Palms, I happily took photos of a roadrunner with a lizard in its mouth and of a Gambel’s Quail atop a tree calling for its mate.
WELL, it was an enjoyable two week trip into the desert. I REALLY enjoyed wheeling with the folks there, and plan to go again in the future. Unfortunately, the Moab trip did not qualify as an official Club run since only two Esprit de Four members were present. Maybe next year!!
Keep on Wheeling!