Mojave WanderlustSolitude on the Beaten Path Windows down. Sunroof open. Summer air rushes through the cabin. Tires screech in protest as they fight against another turn they’re simply not designed for. The engine roars back up through the power band, and the heavy beast remembers what continent it was born on as it catapults out of another curve. Ulysses is happy today, she wants to run. A glance in the mirror before I enter the next turn reveals no sign of the stock Discovery 3 running with us, either I’m hauling ass or he’s dragging it. I glance at the speedometer—it’s me. 33-inch mud terrains wail in anguish once more as they’re pushed to the edge of traction. I push the accelerator down farther and smile with a joy that only comes from driving a slow car fast. The Escape I’m relieved the event is over. Don’t get me wrong, I love the community and visiting with the people that bring it together, I just wasn’t wired for large gatherings in fixed locations. Three days is just about right, then it’s time for my cure: an equal number of days wandering. Soaring. Eastbound above the smog along Rim of the World Highway. Chris catches up as I roll to a stop next to the old, long abandoned Cliffhanger. I’ve known him since I was 14, but never would I have guessed he’d want to race down this twisted tarmac, hopping from tavern to tavern, on a never-ending quest to find the world’s best tuna melt. So go our conversations and revelations over a pint at the first of two bars in the entire town of Crestline. We hit the next bar, so we can say we’ve hit every bar in town—tuna melt ordered, and we watch as the attractive brunette behind the bar grabs a muddler and sets about making a proper mojito. She’s lived here her entire life. She owns the place. It dawns on Chris what she’s making for me. He orders one too, and she skips through the back door again for another bundle of fresh-picked mint from the garden. The tuna melt arrives, and all is right with the world. Conversations with more of the locals reveal the location of an “edge of the world” campsite just outside town. The view on arrival does not disappoint, not a bad end to the first (half) day. With Abandon Rounding the next bend I’m blinded by the full force of the rising sun.…
Desert Rendezvous Last month we rolled out to southern California for American Adventurist’s annual Desert Rendezvous event. This time late February was chosen for the event, and with highs in the low 90s the change was much appreciated. Activities were as we’ve come to expect from an AAV event: smaller groups out exploring the area by day, followed by evenings filled with good food, great company, and plenty of cold beer. On Saturday, the volunteer clean-up removed 3.3 tons of trash from the desert…not counting the trash from DRV shenanigans. I enjoy catching up with old friends, making new ones, and partying in the desert for a good cause, but as always my main purpose for making the trek is the extra few days of wandering we get to enjoy taking the long way home. After an obligatory stop at my favorite desert taco stand, it was time to find a sunrise view. Salton View The Salton Sea Standard Oil   Desert Center Bill’s Town The U.S.-California Border Dinner Break…
Destinations: Dale Mining DistrictDiscovering an overlooked gem just outside Joshua Tree. Once upon a time I lived in California, moving every year in search of a place I liked enough to settle down (and expecting, perhaps hoping, never to find it). Before crossing the river into the Arid Zone I lived in Twentynine Palms, about 15 minutes from the northeast gate to Joshua Tree National Park. The Dale Mining District was stumbled upon during an outing that was one-part “Where’s that road go?” and two-parts not wanting to pay the entrance fee at Joshua Tree (a mere $10 at the time, I didn’t have a pass yet). Just outside of National Park boundaries, Dale can be reached (for free) via Gold Crown Road from Highway 62 to the north. Access from the south is within the park, via Old Dale / Eagle Mine Road from Pinto Basin Road. The region can be appreciated in a long weekend, but it’s just as easy to spend a week wandering through the various mines and abandoned structures. I leave discovering the rest to you, exploration is half the fun… Over the course of a few days we wandered to and fro, dazzled by the drastic color changes the desert experiences over a matter of hours, or a matter of mere yards. Old Dale is about as isolated as one can get in the south Mojave, particularly so while baking under the summer sun. The O.K. Mine, seen above, is one of two larger gatherings of abandoned structures, shafts, and equipment. Opportunities to explore the remains of this operation are ripe, but venture in at your own risk—help is many hours away, as is cellular service. Darkness swept in fast on approach to the National Park border, and with it another dramatic show of shifting colors and fading light. The decaying carcasses of dead classics litter the floor of Pinto Basin below the site of the abandoned Goldenrod mine, which was well worth the short climb to explore. Crossing the next ridge revealed the best campsite in the entire Joshua Tree region—Gold Rose Cabin features a huge raised patio, fire pit, chairs, tables, a fire place, cots, supplies, and no pesky roof to block out the night sky. The owners of the nearby claim have set this up adopt-a-cabin style, with a leave-it-if-you-can-spare-it, use-it-if-you-need-it policy for visitors passing through (we borrowed chairs for the night and left cases of water, fair trade). Morning required a swift, calm, creative evac—bees, thirsty in this parched terrain, arrived at…
So-Cal TeardropsWe head to California to see first-hand how teardrop trailers are built. There’s no disputing the cult-like following “teardrop” trailers have managed to achieve, and placing the little campers onto an off-road chassis for some backcountry fun seems only natural. So we headed out to California to pick up the next Expedition Portal camper project, spend the morning touring the So-Cal Teardrops facility, and chat with Gabe Pari to find out just what makes these little trailers so great. Q: When was So-Cal Teardrops started? A: We started the company back in 2004 and have been growing ever since Q: Who started the company? A: The Pari’s: being Mike, Gabe & Sierra Q: Why did you start it, and what were the driving factors? A: We wanted a teardrop trailer for camping, and we knew we had the skills and capability to build one. Building them for sale was not a part of the plan, until friends and family kept telling us how cool they were, and asking “How much to build a teardrop for me?” The rest is history. Q: How long did it take you to perfect your teardrop design, and how did that design change with the introduction into the off-road market? A: Our first teardrop took about 8 months to build, working nights and weekends. During that time we had to source a great many quality parts, and design and refine CAD programs for fabrication. Once we decided to produce an off-road teardrop, we started from the ground up. We knew our off-road teardrops had to be tough, rugged, and rival or exceed the capabilities of well equipped off-road tow machines, and our “Krawler” and “XS” models do just that. Q: I noticed you’re celebrating a decade in business, how has the company grown and changed in that time? A: Our company has grown to nine employes in our main facility, and we continue to do business as we started: on a personal basis, with a smile, a handshake, and a goal of perfection. Q: I’ve seen other teardrops that seem to be identical to yours, I assume these are part of your Regional Manufacturing plan. How many shops do you have and how many do you plan to expand to? A: We have four manufacturing facilities, including our primary plant in Upland and three RMF’s: Petaluma, CA; Phoenix, AZ; and Lowell, MI. Our plan is to have fourteen regional manufacturers nationally, enabling us to effectively service all areas of the USA with our top quality teardrops and service. Q: In your opinion what makes your products…
BorregoFest 2013 In mid-October each year, Outdoor Adventure USA’s BorregoFest brings together a small gathering of adventurers for a long weekend exploring the scenery and history of the Anza-Borrego region. Highlights of the event include trail runs from easy to intense, a delicious potluck, and the chance to visit with like-minded folks from all over. Most of the group arrives Friday afternoon to set up camp, take in a lecture on the history of the area, and enjoy the sharing of drinks and stories around the campfire before Saturday’s outings. This year we had the privilege of joining the OAUSA-exclusive Julian Mine Tour on Saturday for an up close look both around and inside the region’s most noteworthy mines with local historian and author Leland Fetzer. The “hike” was not the easiest, but the trail’s end was well worth the effort. Back at camp the scent of barbeque fills the air to signify the start of the official potluck. Wine and beer tastings make for the perfect refreshments after a long day in the field, and a wide variety of vehicles and equipment go on display for the ogling. Sunday morning caps off the event with a raffle of gear, tools, and swag, followed by an amateur radio testing session. For those that stick around after lunch, a short exit run offers one last taste of the region before heading back home. On-site camping for the three-day event runs $55-65, which includes access to the shower facilities, swimming pool, and one raffle ticket (additional tickets may be purchased). Swing by the OAUSA Forum to check out photos and stories from previous events, or to sign up for the next BorregoFest. Originally licensed to Expedition Portal for publishing on November 15th, 2013.…
Fetch the RRC This is the first time I’ve been in The People’s Republik since 2010… and then only off-pavement. When you’re subjected to a downward spiral on a daily basis it’s often easy to overlook just how far down things have gone. Remove yourself from the environment for a few years and the same fall jumps out in shocking detail. Such is the case on this brief excursion into California to fetch a Great Divide Edition Range Rover Classic as I travel east at a slowness well below the absurd state-mandated trailer speed limit of 55 MPH. The budget problems this state has been experiencing for the past decade are blatantly obvious with each pothole and stretch of completely missing pavement. Interstate 40 is in ruin. I’ve traveled better tarmac in Baja. As I cross the river into Arizona and throttle up to reach 75 MPH over the seemingly glass-smooth asphalt, I consider the freedoms we still have to flee a state fraught with corruption, mismanagement, and over-taxation for the greener pastures of a pro-liberty, pro-business society and it’s many benefits. Today, I am grateful to be in America.…
Death Valley to Black Lake Morning blasted through the open window, brighter and earlier than any civilized day ever should. At least, that was Danielle’s feeling on the matter. Moments later she had figured out how to work the blinds and gone back to sleep. Meanwhile, I took a pre-breakfast hike to explore the abandoned RV park we pulled into not 5 hours earlier. I’m not sure what it is that makes me this way, but now I do know it isn’t the tent. Despite a very comfortable bed, we are “camping” so I am awake and ready to start the day before the sun. Death Valley Since I know we’ll be back on a future Death Valley trip, we moved quickly through Death Valley, stopping only for some much needed sarsaparilla in Panamint Springs. Owens Lake There isn’t much left of Owens Lake. Hot, powder-soft, wind-driven sand casts a gray haze over the valley—a relic from another ill-considered Los Angeles Department of Water and Power project. After a brief stop to admire the barren landscape, we rolled into Lone Pine on fumes and finally began our exploration in earnest… for diesel fuel. At first I was impressed—the GMC had hauled the Bigfoot over 460 miles on less than one tank of fuel. Then I realized this beast holds 40 gallons. Still, the Discovery couldn’t make that kind of range, and our faith was rewarded with prices a full two dollars per gallon lower. With a full tank and ahead of schedule it was time to wander. Manzanar Manzanar is a sad chapter in American history, which takes place in a breathtakingly beautiful valley bordered on either side by snow-capped mountains. This site was once an internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II. Much effort has been spent documenting, preserving, and in some cases, rebuilding the history. The compound is massive, and the self-tour is done by auto—a good thing given the freezing wind bearing down on us. Erick Schat’s Bakkerÿ Arriving in the town of Bishop, we set about finding the world-famous Erick Schat’s Bakkerÿ. It didn’t take long: it’s the building in the center of town with a line of people stretching out to the sidewalk. Next we began the search for parking. This took longer (tip: park in the park, across the street). Of course, by the time we parked and crossed the highway the crowd was gone and there was plenty…
Prescott to Death Valley My first “assignment” in my new position with the Journal is to move a Bigfoot up to San Francisco. A Bigfoot is a well-insulated, 3,000-pound “cabin” that sits in the back of a pickup truck, in this case a GMC 2500 Diesel. It needs to be there by the morning of June 3rd. Dani has joined me on this 1,200-mile test drive so we can evaluate the pros and cons of an “overlander” this large, though we will be sticking to tarmac for the most part. The plan is to retrace part of a trip we did back in June of 2000, and hit a few of the little places we missed last time—like Bodie and Yosemite. For sentimental reasons (and a luggage-free return flight) we’ve left most of our gear behind, and will figure the route out as we go using a paper map and our open eyes. We pulled out of Prescott far later than planned this morning afternoon, but we had already decided to skip the Route 66 part of the trip since we live right next to it. The campsites I picked out on Lake Mead and the Colorado didn’t look too appealing either so we pushed onward into the sunset. The first “pro” we’ve noticed with the Bigfoot is that no matter where we are, all we have to do is pull off the road and open the door—the kitchen, dining room and bathroom are always ready to use. After a quick bite to eat in the foothills northwest of Las Vegas, we made for the eastern border of Death Valley and an abandoned RV park I had only read about. What it lacks in shoreline, it more than makes up for in eerie silence and desolate beauty.…
Old Dale Mining District I finally got a few minutes to go through the pictures from our visit to the Old Dale Mining District last weekend. The area is one of many overlooked southern Mojave gems, free of the crowds and nanny-state interventions often found in National Parks. This area sweeps from the rocky mountains at the edge of the Mojave, southward into the Sonoran desert and the Pinto Basin area of Joshua Tree NP, and is filled with mine sites and remains galore. We were joined by a small group of friends from OAUSA—Larry in the Crazy FJ, Jon in a 4Runner, and Nick in another FJ Cruiser. After a night of last minute installing, death-by-chocolate cake, and a sheltered “camp” at my folk’s place we headed out into the desert.…
Mojave National Preserve Off to Vegas for a celebration of our good friend Kay Passa’s 30th, but of course my best possible route to Sin City involves an extra three days zig-zagging over dirt track through Mojave National Preserve. Monsoon season has come late to the Mojave Desert this year, and has so far been somewhat disappointing for folks like us that are actually seeking thunderstorms. Still, the trip was well worth it and the clouds were beautiful… We also made a stop by Kelso Depot to visit The Beanery, and visited the still-missing Mojave Cross. The Beanery, the lunch room at the Kelso Depot, is once again open and serving food to hungry travelers. The smoothies alone are worth a detour. The food is ok… not great, but it beats a sack lunch.…