Panamint Valley

Panamint Valley Days

Thursday 11/13/09: We arrived at about 6:30pm in Panamint Valley after a seven hour drive. We took 178 through Lake Isabella. It was a slightly longer drive, but a more scenic twisty road. We got there after dark, and waited in the long safety inspection line. But the line moved quickly. We were surprised by the “lack” of inspection compared to other automotive events like auto crossing. We somehow managed to find Richard Beard and his friends Richard and Anton after dark amongst the hundreds of campers, as well as Laurel and her camo Bronco. Shortly after we arrived, Gary and Danã, the other prospective members arrived. We ate dinner at the Ruff Rock café, which the PVD people prepared for us. Then we set up camp in very heavy winds…a trying experience…stakes are necessary. Friday 11/14/09: We luckily all chose to take the same runs in the mornings. Among a convoy of about 40 vehicles for the Jail Canyon run were our YJ, Gary’s JK, RB’s TJ, Richard’s CJ, and Laurel’s camo Bronco. It’s quite amazing how long it takes to get a convoy of 40 started. By the time we were at the trail head the back of the convoy was hardly moving. While we were waiting for the convoy the move we had the opportunity to meet an interesting dog named Toby…but we like to call him the rock dog. He would hunt through his surroundings and find the perfect rock. After he had found said rock, he would bite it, roll it, push it, and play with it in any way he could find while making sounds like a monkey.

Jail canyon was a pretty mellow run, that took us up to an abandoned mine. Although the run was easy for our jeep, the CJ in our group sustained damage. We stopped for a bit to explore the mines, abandoned vehicles, and cabins. None of us were brave enough to go more than 100 ft into the mine. After one of us fell into the water on the ‘treacherous’ hike to the mine, we returned to our vehicles and went back to camp. The CJ was shortly thereafter put up for sale.

We ate lunch, and then Gary/Danà and we went on an easy sunset run to Lookout City. On the way there we were repeatedly buzzed by an F-16 who was showing off for our convoy… ‘free air show with the price of registration’ the trail leader told us. Once we got there the view was nice. Clouds obscured the view some, but not all. There was a village at the top in the form of ruins (the remains of lookout city). On the way back we got pretty annoyed because the people in front took off instead of waiting for those behind them. By the time we were on the road back to camp we could still se the headlights of those still on the trail. We returned to camp, ate, and took a slow drive down the highway to gas up at the overly priced gas station with a strangely empty convenience store in Panamint Springs, where one can also take a shower for a mere $3.00…less than one gallon of $3.99 gas.

Saturday 11/15/09: Once again we all chose to take the same trail…Pleasant canyon. We stopped in a strange little ghost town called Ballarat with an interesting fellow at the “gift shop”. About 20 ft into the run a Suzuki locked up its t-case. It eventually caught up with us later on. Pleasant Canyon itself was quite pleasant…water = mud and plants. We stopped briefly at a mine only to find the hissing sound we heard was our air line getting a hole melted into it by our exhaust. Good thing we didn’t really need to use our rear locker. The trail went up more and more, until we found ourselves strangely enough in the middle of a forest in Death Valley…imagine that. The person two cars in front of us did not wait and we got stopped at multiple forks in the road…feeling quite like Hansel and Gretel with no bread crumbs. When we contacted the trail leader on the CB and said we were at a fork…he said he didn’t know which fork so he couldn’t tell us where to goJ. Eventually we caught up with everyone else and proceeded up and down the ridgeline to a vista point where we ate lunch. We had a show there because one of our convoy decided to get a flat on a very steep downhill/off camber section of the trail, and had to tie his vehicle to the two jeeps behind him to change it.

After lunch we proceeded to Chicken Corner, so named, because the Jeep-and-a-foot wide corner is held together with chicken wire with a deep drop directly outside the passenger window (or driver’s window depending on the direction travelled). The previous day a lovely pink-camo Cherokee XJ rolled off the cliff at chicken corner. Right when we were approaching and rounding the corner, a crew was pulling the now convertible Cherokee out of the ravine. So as the passenger, one gets a nice up and close view of the chicken wire support system holding up a 4000lb vehicle. That was quite exhilarating. Luckily everyone survived including the person that had rolled the previous day. There were nice cabins at the bottom of the hill, that anyone can use…first come first serve, and a nasty outhouse, with a sign on the door that says “warning, toxic fumes.” The rest of the trail was pleasant with a few waterless waterfalls to drive down and a very steep descent to the valley floor.

We went back to camp and bought raffle tickets. We then ate a wonderful dinner provided by the Ruff Rock café, and proceeded to freeze our butts off for about 2 hours during the raffle. We didn’t win. R.B. won twice. Next time we’re bringing chairs…it is a big mistake not to.

Sunday 11/16/09: We packed up camp, ate, aired up, and left for a lovely 7 hour ride home.

All in all it was a fun trip: Dusty, cold, sunny, windy, but fun. Its great not having to worry about 60% of your meals…mostly ones you cook. We had to bring lunches though. Bring chairs. Bring tent stakes. Bring cash. Bring warm clothes. We will definitely consider going back next year to PVD 2010. And if the person whose car alarm went off 4 times Friday night/Saturday morning and twice more Saturday night/Sunday morning …waking up the entire camp at all hours of the night (and we mean all hours) is reading this, you’d better shut off your alarm the next time or a break-in will be the least of your vehicle’s problems!

Does anyone have somewere on line where i can post the photos?

Panamint Valley Days

This year I was able to attend my 1st PVD Nov 7-9. Richard Beard was the trail lead and his friend Anton & Anton’s brother were already set up in the Panamint Valley camping out in the desert on BLM land that CA Assoc. uses for their 23rd annual PVD. I arrived just before dark & set up my tent right away. Rich brought me over a nice hot dinner that the other Rich, Anton’s brother had just cooked up. After dinner we had our rigs safety inspected & then signed up for Friday runs. We all decided to sign up for the Jail Canyon run. It was a nice drive in and above a desert wash in Death Valley National Park and ended at an old mining area where we walked up a creek to the actual mine. Lots of neat mining equipment was still around & you could even walk back into the mine. Friday afternoon I made a drive into Panamint Springs to take a shower & buy some more water for our camp. When I returned to the camping area Carlos & his family had arrived & were camped near us. We had another nice dinner together & campfire & Sierra & Alpine & I went for a night hike in the desert.

Sat Sierra & Alpine & I enjoyed the company of Anton riding in the Bronco with us on the “Back door to Darwin” trip. Rich B & Anton’s brother Rich also went on the tour, along with about 40 other rigs. Scenic day trip up to another couple of mine sites & then into Darwin where we were greeted by locals & had live music & bake sale goodies.

Sat evening we had signed up for the group meal & after that attended raffle drawing but only one of us (Rich M) won any of the drawings. He won about 150$ worth of cash & prises. During the drawing a very strong wind came up & when we returned to our site my tent was about halfway bent over & would have blown away if I hadn’t followed Rich’s suggestion to buy very big heavy metal tent stakes. Rich & Anton had to remove Rich’s tent fly to keep it from ripping off. We retreated to Rich M’s RV to visit before going to bed in the howling wind. It was windy but still 68 out at 10PM. Early the next morning most everyone was up and packing up quickly to beat the incoming storm. It started to rain right after I put the last of my gear into my Bronco. Rich had called road info and found that chains were required on 395 so he decided to leave via the S route that I had taken going through Trona. The wind was blowing at 40-50MPH (I checked on web when I got home). Wind ripped my drivers side wiper loose on the Tehachapi Pass (Hwy 58). Rich & Anton & I had breakfast in Tehachapi and then with some help (loan of a step & consultation with Rich) I moved passenger side wiper to drivers side & we all headed back to bay area.

I really enjoyed the trip. It was fun to get down to the desert again & have the chance to choose from a wide range of trips. It was nice to see so many family groups from grandparents to a nursing baby and their dogs and at least one cat all out enjoying a fun trip together. Everyone seemed friendly & helpful too.

I especially appreciated Richard’s encouraging people to go and being trail boss for Ed4 group and choosing a nice site to camp. I also enjoyed meeting & visiting with Richard’s friend and his brother & being treated to meals too. Alpine & Sierra enjoyed meeting everyone they did & their dogs & the cat too. Loro


Panamint Valley Days

My friend, Anton, and I left Santa Clara on Sunday, Movember 2nd, 2008, and headed over the Sierras via Hwy 80.  We were enroute circuitously for the Panamint Valley Days off road wheeling event.  Snow at 7000 feet over Donner pass, but none on the road.  We overnighted in Minden, Nevada, where we visited Anton's brotrher, Richard, and marveled at his "gasoline alley" garage in his home.  Black and white floor tiles, custom muscle cars, and decor that made us feel like we were at Hot August Nights in Reno.  Richard is an old car lover who bought an old 1963 Jeep with a V-8 283 engine just for this run to the PVD with us.  He fixed it up nicely, and it looked great.
Towing my Rubicon on my trailer, we drove south.  We noted, but did not buy, diesel for $4.19 per gallon in Walker, on Hwy 395 (we did buy diesel for $3.09 in Nevada).  After a pit stop at the Chris Flats campground beside the trout-filled, beautiful Walker River (the shortest river in America according to a TV nature show I once watched), we pressed onwards.  Peewee snowflakes at the Conway summit (8318) above Mono Lake greeted us, yet none was on the road.  Atop the overlook above Mono Lake, we saw a bumper sticker on the guardrail saying,"Vegetarian: old Indian for poor hunter".  Poignant sticker in that no less than four deer stood in the slow lane of the descent to Mono Lake, and we had to both slow and steer to avoid meat on the hood for dinner.
We overnighted in Mammoth Lakes for the scenery and because I wanted to see the Devil's Postpile in person.  No luck as the road to the postpile was closed November 1st.  Instead, we drove the scenic Mammoth Loop road, and took a snow and ice-filled road off that to the Inyo Crater (which we never did find).  It snowed and froze in Mammoth Lakes in the night, leaving the road, Hwy 203, all covered in ice and snow in the morning.  We hooked back up to the trailer, and hit the trail in the morning.  All of Hwy 395 was free of snow (Whooopie!!), and we sailed southwards on election day, Anton's birthday.
November 4th!  A day of contrasts on our trip!  From 29 degrees in Mammoth Lakes to 80 degrees in Death Valley.  From our 60 mph to an F-16's 500 mph.  From Bush to Obama.  From 8,300 feet to -270 feet elevation.  We experienced it all!!
We were crossing the Panamint Valley from west to east, enroute beyond it, over the mountains to Death Valley for a few days prior to the PVD wheeler run.  I had stopped in the middle of the Panamint Valley to photograph the road sign indicating south at the juncture for folks to go to Trona and Ridgecrest.  An enormous blast of sound and energy suddenly hit us like an explosion of adrenalin, rocking not only our vehicles, but our very nerve centers.  Neither of us had a clue that it was coming!  Scared the peewattle out of me!!!  Totally unexpectedly, an F-16 fighter jet had just buzzed us (directly above our truck) from no more than 100 feet above our heads.  Anton yelled,"What was that?', and I knew immediately what it had bee.  Looking north, we watched it fly up to the end of the valley, U-turn, and head again right for us!!  The pilot scraped the desert floor until he shot over our truck again.  Anton was standing on top of my Jeep's front bumper pumping his fist in exhilaration while I tried to photograph the jet.  The jet flew south, did a u-turn, and came at us AGAIN!!!  We're now both pumping our fists for him or her, and again he flew over our truck and rig.  Just as he passed us this time, he upturned ninety degrees, and shot straight up into the atmosphere.  He looped over, doing a back roll/loop before continuing northto the upper end of the valley.  Not yet done with our personal air show, (HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANTON!!!), he again came at us hugging the ground.  It looked as if he was goint to put the tip of his jet through my driver's open window!  On this, his last pass, he zoomed right over us before doing a full 360 roll to his right before continuing south towards Nellis Air Base, and was gone.  WHEW!!!!  Better than the best Blue Angels show I have ever seen, and personalized just for us!  I sure wish I could have seen the you know what kind of grin that pilot had on his face as he did his maneuvers!  On thinking back, we were the ONLY vehicle on the whole expanse of highway 190 crossing the Panamint Valley as he flew northwards, and he thought we had seen his approach and stopped jut to watch him.  So---he decided to give us a show.  By the time he had finished, other vehicles had neared, and were stopping at the side of the road to see what crazy Anton and I were pumping our fists at.  YAHOOOOOOOOOOO!!!
We resumed our trip----at last.  Over the mountains and down the slope to Stovepipe Wells.  We saw several old vintage cars there (30s and 40s) that had been in a New York to San Francisco race many decades ago that were retracing their route with a detour to Death Valley.  We spent two days in Death Valley, seeing Titus Canyon and Scotty's Castle plus an art show in the Furnace Creek oasis.  We lodged in the Furnace Creek Inn where things were luxurious.  As we traveled the Death Valley area, animal life was evident.  A covey of quail crossed in front of us as we headed towards Beatty, Nevada, and an enterprising coyote (right near a don't feed the coyotes sign) walked from the side of the road out in front of us and blocked the road a few miles before we got to Scotty's Castle. He then proceded to walk all around our vehicle begging for handouts; he got nothing from us.  Big black shiny intelligent ravens were ever present and always opportunistic in the valley.
On tuesday, Anton's brother met us at the Panamint Valley Springs Shell gas station.  We then traveled together to the PVD campsite on its large alluvial fan site where we pitched camp before dark.  We were joined by Loro Patterson with her dogs, Sierra and Alpine.  Later, Carlos Fuchen and his family joined us and camped close by.  Having three Esprit de Four members present means that we can claim this as an official club run. 
With thursday night safety checks out of the way, we enjoyed a shripm and fixings dinner courtesy of Anton's brother, Richard.  Good vittles!!  Friday morning, we set off for Jail Canyon along with about 40 other rigs.  This was an easy run up a canyon to an old mine.  Alas, the old '63 gave up the ghost near the top of the hill as it overheated.  I towed it up the road until we found a spot where we could get it off the trail to let all other rigs proceed ahead of us.  We left the old Jeep to cool, and bringing our lunches, went to the top.  Loro made room to let Richard Morec ride with her, for which we thank her hugely. 
Old vehicles (an old Studebaker truck and an old International pickup), old cabins, old mining equipment, stone-built level areas where miners had erected buildings, and an old outhouse with a saguaro emblem instead of a half moon awaited our viewing pleasure.  The arroyo leading up to the mine tunnels had plenty of water and a jungle of stickery green growth that tried to capture and eat me as I worked my way upstream.  Cottonwood trees abounded, and the hike up to the mine workings was really fun.  God bless my new walking stick' it sure came in handy!  I photographed old rusty engines and mining structures as well as tracks for the old tram cars that moved the ore from tunnel to loading chute.  The old '63 was cooled and ready upon our return.  It drove just fine DOWNhill after a drink of radiator water, and made it back to camp with no other problems.
On saturday, we opted for the Backroad to Darwin run (lady's choice today).  The old Jeep was left in camp out of caution (Booooo!!!)  We enjoyed the old mine and the goldfish in the year round pool in the juncture of the three canyons on our way to Darwin.  We hiked, rested, and dallied at the pool with the goldfish, enjoying the great outdoors.  A myriad of animal trails were evident on the cliffs and hills adjacent to the year round pond, all leading down to the water.  What a place to photograph wildlife if one only had the time to set up at dawn or dusk and watch for the sheep, burros, coyotes, and whatever other life forms live in the desert.  All need water!
Darwin!  What a town!  A settlement out of the past.  On isn't a Darwin resident unless one chooses to be away---far away from everything.  It is dry and hot, with weathered homes and trailers.  Some homes are burrowed into the sides of gullies.  The town's most famous citizen is the madame burried in the local old cemetary.  Eccentric sculptors and builders abound in Darwin.  We partook of the offered bake sale goods at the old Darwin Dance Hall, and rested as Gram and Gramps sang and played for us on the washtub, jug, kazoo, and washboard.  The town had some real characters!  They came out to see us, and we in turn looked them over.  We mailed postcards from the Darwin, California post office.
Saturday night we ate at Andy's Ruff Rock Cafe, then watched as fifty really good raffle prizes went to other folks.  Antgon's brother, Richard, won a combo prize worth $150 which was neat.  The children's raffle preceeded the adult raffle, and there was something for all.  Strawberry shortcake for dessert topped the evening off. 
High winds arose as night fell.  Sleeping in a tent that's laying over on itself is tough.  We took shelter in Richard's RV, and endured the night.  Mean looking black clouds presaged the coming heavy storm as they rolled over the Panamint mountains towards us.  We struck camp in the morning as the rain bagan to fall, and hit the trail as fast as we could.  We elected to follow Loro south towards the Tehachapi pass after calling and learning that chains were required north of Mammoth Lakes on Hwy 395.  We drove to Hwy 99 and Hwy 5 on our way home, enduring heavy rain, but no snow. 
It was a totaslly enjoyable trip!  We loved the fellowship of like-minded wheeling enthusiasts, and saw that from 8 to 80, all had lots of fun.  Next Year!!!!
Rich Beard
p.s.  Three attached photos with my earlier-typed report caused the system to reject it as too dense.  So, no pics with this.  Sorry.  I'll bring my pics to the December Ed4 club meeting for your perusal.        

Panamint Valley Days

TRIP REPORT: Panamint Valley Days Run sgravestone-204_sm.jpg sgravestone-101_sm.jpg

My friend Anton Morec and I headed off to the PVD run via Reno on Wednesday, November 8th, 2006. After a delightful overnight with friends in Reno, we drove to the PVD campgrounds on Slate Range Road south of the settlement of Panamint Springs. We set up our tent home as dark was falling, and met old friends weGÇÖd seen there last year. No other Ed4 members made the trip to my knowledge, however we did see friends with whom I had wheeled and camped with in Hollister previously (Chuck and Linda Mobraton and their children in their modified Land Rover Discovery, and Barry Stergion with his son in his white TJ with its 37GÇ¥ tires and Dana 60 axles).

Friday morning we departed on the Full Defense Mine run. We worked our way up the canyonGÇÖs rock gardens and nooned at the mine. We explored within the mine, walking between the mine tram car rails, and shot photos at the GÇ£EXPLOSIVES - KEEP OFFGÇ¥ door. DonGÇÖt know why they didnGÇÖt write keep OUT , but it says keep OFF! The untimbered hardrock tunnels go forever into the mountain. Ladders led up to other levels of the mine where one could exit onto the slope above the main entrance. I did not go up as my artificial knee did not want me to have to climb down the steep slope of the hillside after exiting the upper levels.

On leaving the mine, our group leader offered us the option of returning to camp, or trying the very challenging Cummings Cutoff trail just down the road from the mine. Of course, I jumped in and tried it. It cost me three damaged plastic beauty fenders on my Rubicon Tomb Raider. My rear right one is tied in place with rope presently, and both the front right and rear left are battle damaged. I got sideways in a slot at a waterfall, and with sand on the bottom and my front lockers on, could not keep the front from sliding sideways into the side rock wall. Backing up then damaged my rear left area. Oh well, I guess it could not stay undamaged forever. With good spotting by our team leader, I got through the run. WHEW!!!!! I have done the Rubicon Trail run twice without damaging my Jeep, and NOTHING on the Rubicon Trail run was as difficult as the waterfall obstacles in the Cummins Cutoff run.

As we finished the Cummins Cutoff, a group of Jeeps were going up the canyon to Lookout Point to watch the sun set. We, with the OK from our trail leader, left and joined that group. The view from Lookout Point was spectacular. Mines were all over the mountain top as well as along the valley floor thousands of feet right below us. Near where we parked were a number of surprisingly well preserved rock walls of residential structures built by the miners who had worked the mines.

After the sunset run, Anton and I opted for a restaurant meal in Panamint Springs. We enjoyed both the steak dinner and Jessica, the waitress! We got back to the campgrounds well after dark, tired, but thrilled by the wonders we had observed. Talk went on late into the night around the campfires!

Early at night, the stars were bright and multitudinous. If only I knew more constellations! Desert skies show zillions of stars we never get to see in the cities in which we live. Late at night, the three quarter moon shined so brightly that you could almost read that magazine you should have taken with you as you answered the call of nature. The winds blew in earnest in the night and early mornings. And it was cold. Very cold in the mornings. About ten oGÇÖclock the winds died away and it became nice and warm (about 75 degrees) during the rest of the days.

Bright and early Saturday, we drove up the Pleasant Canyon loop run. While steep but not technically challenging, it was by far the most delightful of runs I have done in my two years of going to the Panamint Valley Days runs. We worked our way up a rocky canyon where we stopped at a well preserved major mining settlement whose name I cannot recall. Great photos! Lots of equipment, tunnels, and cabins to see. After this, we continued upwards until we encountered a thick and aromatic pinyon pine forest at about 6,000 feet elevation. The trail wound its way among the trees until we had climbed to the saddle at 7,160 foot Rogers Pass overlooking Death Valley to our east. We lunched on this ridge, and while we munched our sandwiches, nature favored us with a snowstorm in the desert. The snowflakes were more like snow specks, but they stuck to our clothing. I got photos of the snow on another travelerGÇÖs black sweater. Cool! Literally! (Get it?!)

My friend Anton drove the remainder of our dayGÇÖs trip, and as it was his first real wheeling, he was like a kid in a candy store. He negotiated several steep climbs and descents that took us to an overlook (Manley Lookout, 7478 Ft. ?) above Death Valley with a view of Striped Butte. The wind blew so hard, it seemed that someone would be lost to the 40MPH gusts. We next dropped down to and crossed an extremely dusty chaparral plain that looked right out of an old west cavalry movie. This led to a canyon descent with thick willow and tamarisk growth where a small stream flowed within it.

After awaiting the removal of an unfortunate Jeeper who had damaged his transfer case somewhere on the trail below us, we continued on to GÇ£Chickenwire CornerGÇ¥. This was a sharp, hair raising turn around the end of a rock escarpment with hundreds of feet of nothing below you if you went over. With your left side wheels of necessity (TRUST the spotter!!!!) up on a raised ledge of rock, your right front wheel in a deep hole, your Jeep tilted much to its its right with only about one foot of roadway between the right wheelsGÇÖ outsides and the dropoff, you tried desperately to keep your rig from jouncing into said hole and having control get away from you. The abyss called! It waited for you! You could FEEL it! Many dozens of rolls and hundreds of feet of drop awaited the unlucky.

Somehow, we all made it around Chicken Corner and across the pole bridge along the cliff that follows. Anton did a great job driving the Rubicon, Chickenwire Corner included! The descent then led us to a delightful Adopt a Cabin under a giant fig tree that was so well appointed and habitable it looked like a motel. This cabin, the Briggs Mine Cabin, had it all—stove, refrigerator, kitchen sink, shower, fancy outhouse, bathtub, horseshoe pit, water, an arbor with benches in the shade, beds with clean, useable mattresses for eight, displayed mining relics, etc, etc, etc. It was incredible, and anyone could use it cost free for up to four days at a time if it was unoccupied on oneGÇÖs arrival. All the proprietorGÇÖs sign asked is that one leave it as one finds it, clean and neat for the next person. My friends and I contemplate maybe trying to get a weekend at this beautiful place fairly soon.

Our return to the valley floor encampment was fun but uneventful except that we missed a steep descent down a ridge which short circuited about a dozen switchbacks in the long way route we had to take. I wanted to have gone down it like most of our group, but because the Jeep ahead of us was out of our sight quite a ways ahead of us and had dropped over it before we ever saw him do so, we were past it before our team leader announced it on the CB. BOO!!

Saturday night we enjoyed a prepared barbeque dinner that was tasty and satisfying. I sat all bundled up in the cold wind through the big raffle while Anton retired early with a pounding head and a toothache. Neither of us won anything.

Early Sunday AM, we struck camp and headed back up highway 395. The snow dusted saw-toothed eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains rises nearly vertically, and was spectacular as we journeyed north from Bishop along the flat valley floor. We stayed overnight in Minden, Nevada at a casino hotel, and had dinner with AntonGÇÖs brother who lives there. In the morning, we got Anton to a dentist who said he had cracked a tooth in two. With drugs for him, we traveled over the pass on Highway 88 where several inches of snow that had fallen during the night lay on the ground. We visited friends of ours in the Jackson area, then continued on through Stockton, and then on to Santa Clara where we arrived late Monday night. All in all it was a delightful trip. Anton really had a good time (despite his tooth pains), and says he is looking to buy one of the new four door Jeep JKs for next yearGÇÖs trip BACK TO THE PVDs!!!! Yahoooooo!


Panamint Valley Days

On Wednesday, November 9th, myself and my pal, Anton Morec, set off for the Panamint Valley Days (PVD) desert four wheel drive run set for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (11, 12, & 13 November, 2005). My ‘03 Rubicon was loaded to the gills with camping gear, tools, parts, and optimism as we drove highway 80 to Reno. We spent the night with friends in Reno, then headed down Hwy 395 behind Mammoth mountain. We marveled at the jagged, snow covered, zillion miles high crags of the Sierra Nevadas as we passed along their eastern flanks. At Lone Pine, we headed east on 136 and 190 until we refueled at Panamint Springs. Thank God for credit cards, because the only gas station there is unmanned, and only the plastic enabled one to get fuel. Turning south onto Panamint Valley Road, we turned right onto Slate Range Road, found the large PVD sign where we were to turn right. We then drove four miles up the “dirt road to infinity” where at last we came to the encampment. 300 rigs, tents, and campers of all types occupied this wide spot in the desert. Eighteen miles to Panamint Springs, thirty eight miles to Trona, no trees, no water, no facilities; just lots of creosote bushes. The Sierras were to our west and the Panamint range to the east (it separates the Panamint Valley from Death Valley). Wow! Big Sky became not just a Montana adjective!! I LOVE the desert.

We arrived about 4:00 PM; barely enough time to put up our tent and cots, and get in on the early birds vehicle safety checks. Darkness, and I mean DARKNESS, descends on you 30 minutes from sundown, like you’re a puppy under a blanket. I nearly did not erect the rain fly over my tent (hot sunny day, clear skies—didn’t think we’d need it), but put it up anyway for shade. At 3:00 AM, we awakened to thunderclaps that shook the ground and reverberated in your eardrums forever like a summons from Hades. The skies opened up and it rained like a cow on a flat rock for three hours. God bless my rain fly!!! I feared flash floods would take out twenty or so tents in the wash across the road from us, but although warned, all of them elected to remain where they were camped. No flash floods! The desert was as dry as a spoonge, and absorbed all the rain without even a trickle through camp.

Early Friday AM, we headed up Jackpot Canyon to the top of the Panamint Range, an all day run. Steep ascents of a very narrow jeep road ran along the spine of a ridge (500 feet down on the right, 1,000 feet down on the left), uphill, across the face of a cliff where the road was only about a foot or two wider than a jeep, and up around a knob onto which we pulled over to get out and watch the rest of the thirty or so jeeps serpentine their way up the mountain. There was abandoned mine equipment galore at the top of the climb where we lunched near the old miners’ shack. We were witness to the incredible ingenuity and perseverence of the miners of over a hundred years or so ago. A tramway that was seen to rise at a dramatic angle rose up the escarpment to the source of ore at the base of sheer rock cliffs, cliffs that seemed even today determined to fall on and crush these puny humans who dared invade their rocky sanctuaries or climb their alluvial fans.

On the descent, we veered off and up another canyon where ruins of a lost mine and its owners habitation were in a state of decay. This canyon was my favorite place of our whole trip. There was a year around supply of water somewhere under the gravel of the wash on which this miner had settled, lived, and worked the soil for gold. We exclaimed over the carcass of a USMC military equipment trailer that nature had interred in the wash. Buried in the gravel, one side , one wheel, part of the tow hitch bar, and the Marine Corps initials were all that lay exposed to view.

There were trees all up this wash—glorious trees. Desert Tamarisk trees abounded, and crows ruled the skies. Beside the old cabin grew four huge pomegranate trees that were laden with four and five inch diameter tree-ripe pomegranates!!! We knocked a few down and ate of the tree of knowledge! That is, I KNEW with total certainty that these were the sweetest and best pomegranates anyone had ever eaten. Near the pomegranate trees grew about five large fig trees (no figs—too late in the season). A veritable garden of eden in the desert. Tracks and scat of wild mountain sheep and wild burros along with rinds scattered on trails leading away from the wash convinced me that said desert creatures probably patrolled those trees nightly for the dropped fruit of the day! There was probably water at the surface somewhere farther up the canyon, however we did not have the time to explore for it.

On the Jackpot run, Esprit de Four did a good deed. My five gallon jerry can of gas saved the day for two jeepsters and their sons who’d started the all day run on half a tank of gas that, to their chagrin, they learned was not enough. Several groups of people commented positively on my bright red Ed4 T-shirt, and on our saving les miserables sans fuel.

On Saturday we tackled Goler wash. After a stop to airdown at the ghost town of Ballarat, we headed into the Panamints. Some waterfalls early in the trail presented problems for low vehicles, but all were helped as needed. At one of our stops, we discovered watermelons growing wild in the Goler wash. They were about five inches in diameter, and had an enormous taproot that was half exposed due to recent erosive torrents. We came to the famous Barker Ranch with its year around water after coming out of the Goler canyon. This was CHARLES MANSON’s (of Helter Skelter) hideout in the desert. He was arrested by the Feds while curling himself up within the small cabinet under the sink in the bathroom of the house there. I was photographed sitting in Charlie’s favorite (and only) folding chair on the south-facing veranda at the ranch. Cool!

Next we traveled over the Mengel Pass, and from its summit could see far. Parts of Death Valley, including Striped Butte, a triangular rock formation of alternating ebony and white rock layers lying at a fortyfive degree angle that jutted abruptly like a sail above the ocean up and out of the otherwise totally flat bottom of Death Valley were visible. It was somewhat eerie to learn from a placque that old man Mengel’s ramains are actually burried under a packrat infested six foot tall rock cairn atop the pass. Undoubtedly, he saw and did a lot in his time in the area under conditions in which we would not ever want to live.

We encountered two cabins in the Death Valley area that were possessed of year around water that are now controlled by the BLM. We were told that you or I or anyone could go to and stay in one of them for up to one week anytime we should find them vacant—for free—no charge!. Raising a flag up the flagpole at one of these cabins tells jeepers approaching from miles away that this particular cabin is occupied. What a getaway! We got back to camp after dark. A full and very satisfying day.

At camp, we dined at the Chef Andy’s Ruff Rock Cafe. Mesquite barbequed chicken and all the fixings!! Great grub. At the huge Saturday night raffle, yours truly managed to win a party basket of wines, candy, cheeses, etc, that I sold for $50 to a guy trying to impress his girlfriend or wife. All the people we met were true four wheelers. Willing to help anyone, and eager to talk the talk of off roaders. We both really enjoyed the comaraderie.

Sunday morning after breakfast, Anton and I headed back the route we had come by. We stopped at Mono Lake, and in the ghost town of Bodie on our return trip. We stayed in Gardnerville, Nevada where we enjoyed steak and lobster dinner. In the morning, we traveled over Highway 88 and back to Santa Clara. The trip was over before I knew it. I am already scheming on next year’s trip to Panamint Valley Days in November.

The only “experiences” of our trip I do NOT want to repeat (but to which I guess I’ll ‘fess up) involved my forgetting to use low gear descending one steep slope (it was wheeeee bumps on the way down), and having to fashion a gas cap from a water bottle top and duct tape because of leaving the real gas cap atop the taillight and driving off into the night during our Trona refueling trip Friday night. As my Dad used to say, “too soon old, too late smart”. By the way, the impromptu gas cap worked very well—no spillage even during steep, rough trail parts. My check engine light came on, and stayed on for fifty miles before resetting itself once we’d obtained a real gas cap. All’s well that ends well, I guess.

Here’s to next year!!!!!