24 December 2014

The Desert Trail

We set out to hike from the Mecca Hills, near Salton Sea up to Last Chance Mountain, at the very northern edge of Death Valley National Park, a journey of over 500 miles, entirely self-supplied. The hike was mostly overland, with the occasional dirt road remnant from days gone by.  Because you're wondering, we saw 4 snakes, tons of tarantulas, and 1 scorpion.  We saw wild burros, coyote, kit fox, bighorn sheep, mule deer, kangaroo rats, lizards, ravens, hawks, jackrabbits and cottontails, and many different birds and bugs.

The desert is known for its skies, and it didn't disappoint.  Sunrises, sunsets, stars, crazy cloudscapes, etc.  were spectacular. Mojave National Preserve and Death Valley National Park were definitely highlights in their scale, variety, and undeniable beauty, from starkness to intricate succulent gardens, from windswept dunes, to brilliantly colored canyons laden with veins of ore.

It's not an official trail, but we can make it look that way by standing at a BLM map kiosk!

Hoo-ah, it's happening!  We are going for a walk in the desert-- cannot find ourselves on the map within 20 minutes of leaving the road.  This is gonna be good.

Still in search of the route we found a nice steep 750-foot face to climb

Finally up on the ridgeline of Orocopia Mountain, with Salton Sea (and Slab City) in the background.

Hydration... we had about a 5 gallon carry capacity, and used it.
continuing with my series of out-of-focus pictures of pastries and mountain vistas...

yeah, we have some food and tequila buried riiiiiiight abooooout here.

I brought along this car door so if I got too hot, I could roll down the window

wiped out in the only shade for miles.

waiiit, what's underneath that old head gasket?


first in a series of Sherman reflecting floral expressions.  OCOTILLO!!

Sunrise in Joshua Tree NP

Fan palm oasis is welcome shade, but full of snakes and tarantulas, FYI

desert bighorn

i never get tired of seeing these little cacti, bursting from the rock in hot pink "elbows out" style

using your fleece pullover as pants is a classic move in the art of "cozification."  note taped toes

getting an education on orienteering 

come out with you paws up!  burrows are EVERYWHERE out here, making a cool and humid, shady spot.  we always wondered who lived in each one.

this is what mistletoe does to a tree

welcome shade in Joshua Tree

emerging from the bushes with a food cache and 6 gallons of h2o.

Abandoned rail line to Eagle Mountain Iron Mine

blister popping and taping time

tomorrows destination: Coxcomb Mtns.

tracks of visitors to the dried up watering hole

migrating butterflies pass through Joshua Tree on their way to Morelia, Mexico

many climbs had the same pattern, which was sand, brambles, boulders, cacti, summit.

10,000 years ago, Joshua Tree had a forest surrounding a big lake, which was heavily inhabited by humans.  small traces remain after the artifact scavenging boom of the 1920s (when everyday people could first afford to drive out into the countryside and haul a bunch of junk home)

find sherman

the Coxcombs are definitely Joshua Tree's best kept secret.  

in between the mountain ranges are wide open valleys, with 10-40 miles of sand, rocks, and the resilient creosote bush.

these sandy places are home to the kangaroo rat, which digs burrows that you can collapse into over and over again.

despite how featureless it looks from the window of an airplane or car, the desert floor is perpetually changing.  this section was covered in pebbly remnants of a volcanic blast.

creosote flats, in front of a freight train, in front of the marble mountains, in front of the providence mountains. -- a week's work lay before us.

it keeps going

and going

to the rails at last, after hearing them rumble through the desert silence over the last 30 miles

an old tricycle, mangled by a train and left to die

this would be fun to resuscitate! 

getting our kicks on route 66

after miles and miles of creosote bushes, one blue bush stood out, and 15 feet away was buried our cache...

found this note in a glass jar on top of a lonely peak in the trilobite wilderness. he's probably well into the 600s by now.  There's 756 for those of you scoring at home.

not too many snakes out at this time of year

these Arkansan ladies were walking coast to coast on a 3800 mile route.  Only 8 days from completion.

we crossed paths at an I-40 underpass.  just 2 ladies with a stroller, walking through the desert...  and i thought unicyclists got strange looks from motorists!

this cache was marked by a yucca stump

luckily this trap was too rusty to be dangerous.  

more floral impersonations

where's matt?

i think this moth was trying to mate with my gaiters

the nice thing about getting stabbed with cholla is that the spines are strong enough that they don't break off when you pull them out

upside down tree in the granite mountains

pinyon pine sunset at 5800 feet

Granite Mountains in Mohave National Preserve

our first look at the Kelso dunes

hidey camp spot nestled in the rocks

Bull Canyon was so brushy and cliffy it took about 10 hours to go 5 miles.

quartz veins

any canyon with springs is bound to have lush vegetation

finally, an excuse to use the p-cord we brought

diggin up dinner

the largest creosote bush ever.

demonstrating proper technique for standing up with your pack already on

the wind and black sand made some nice patterns in the sand

dirt tattoo!  just add dirt, then wipe away!

Kelso Depot is a restored Union Pacific whistle stop and now park service visitor center and museum.  good place to chill out and wave to passing train riders

horseshoe mesa


these rings were handy

foot bath at the campground

we watched this fearless bunny hop around and munch leaves for about 10 minutes.  we had to leave before death by cuteness

hollow tree

once upon a time, the mojave road linked crucial watering holes and springs in a path from the Colorado River to the San Bernadino Mountains.  now a graded dirt road is a relative highway

joshua tree impersonation

lunch on the porch of an old mine / homestead

old conveyor belt was still in place

we didn't see any tortoises, but they are normally hiding in their burrows this time of year.  lots of carapaces though

caught in the act!!! 

old boxcar

canned salmon party tray

as a result of the race to complete the railroads in the west, many unsuccessful attempts were later scavenged for lumber and scrap metal.  this is one of many corrals in the preserve

a real energy bar

these are called coyote melons.  unfortunately, not edible.  they look so delicious though

inside a cholla is a good place to build a nest

volcanic rim
a 13-year-old's dream road schwag

the Crusty Bunny Ranch

not impressed with Eugene weather in the Mojave
fog storm's a comin

birdcage primrose

the great thing about a rainstorm, is that all tracks are fresh the next morning.  these are ant trails

first flowing water in a month on the trail.  the mighty Amargosa River

Tamarisk and Mesquite in the Amargosa Canyon

rocks of every color

subtle rainbow

China Ranch date farm was a welcome oasis

the first and only "town" of the trip is Tecopa, with the festive Death Valley Brewing Company lighting up the night.

I thought so hard about beer and burgers over the last few days that they manifested!

Then these guys were parked by the road.  Gypsy time travelers

good excuse for a zero-day!


local hot springs known as the "mud hole"


downtown Tecopa

live blacksmithing and storytelling

good sign for a road-side hotspring

shade and tent-drying at the same time!

Death Valley NP boundary

metal canisters are handy for caching food

the full moon brought us a visit from the legendary Jeff Larson

Jeff scouts the brutal terrain we took him through.  He was tough as nails to take on that section trail-fresh

detailed navigation on a large scale map is always "fun"

Alex's blackberry wine "Yeti's Reserve," was a sweet reward to our first vista of Death Valley and Telescope Peak

straight up glampin'

the final saddle above Sheep Canyon

that's a lot of inner thigh

makes for a hearty stew

recent rains saw tiny green sprouts pushing up everywhere

Death Valley!!!!

hey guys i found the cache!

crossing Badwater when it's wet and muddy is surreal.  The mud and alkali take on every kind of shape and texture

sometimes it can be very slow going

especially when the next 40 miles are along the valley floor

we sought out gravel as much as possible to ease the mud walking


STORM'S A COMIN!!! and nary a shrub for shelter

a wall of rain approaches, blocking out 7000' peaks immediately behind

and the mudwalking continues... on and on...

i thought we came to the driest, hottest place in north america to avoid this crap!

crystals of so many formations that the mind could never imagine, some as high as 2 feet, cover the landscape

and then a cold norther swept it away, delivering several feet of snow to the higher peaks.  shade was once again required

after hundreds of miles without a cell signal, it was time to call home from the lone gas station at stovepipe wells

marble canyon narrows

lemme just clear this outta the way

Biscoff Cookie Spread!  Say no more.

we found the ancient equivalent of a Denny's placemat

a recent flash flood left a food of mud on the canyon floor, and a water line 4 feet high.

you can see where a second, smaller flood event laid a narrower swath of mud on top of the first layer.  it cracks as it dries.  then water has carved a creekbed down the middle

diggin up another cache

old seabed

Hidden Valley playa

Sherman stands on the famous Racetrack playa, marking the spot where this rock started leaving a track.  when the playa floods and wind blows on the ice, the rock slides along, leaving a trail and mystery behind.

each rock pushes up a pile of mud in front of it as it goes along

unfortunately, many of the rocks have been stolen, leaving behind these lonely tracks in the mud


desert pavement

time for dead reckoning in the fog

black and white volcanic debris makes an interesting contrast

all the sun we saw for several days

Eureka Dunes

Raven tracks

toxic waste dump... an abandoned open-pit sulfur mine

i went down into the mine to check it out and about 100 yards in only found one set of tracks.  mountain lion.  going in... that was a good time to mosey

if you've done much desert trekking, you know that mylar balloons are almost the only modern litter

cut a hole and put your insole inside it, then stuff it into the shoe

waterproof shoe liners for the snow

high elevation was a winter wonderland

ammo can poking out of the snow on Last Chance Mountain

Atop Last Chance Mountain, our goal, more than 500 miles and 6 weeks from Salton Sea

looking at the Inyos

glad to have waterproof sneakers now

dropping back down into the snowless Cucomungo Canyon and a dirt road out to the highway

Wintertime desert hazard...  snow-covered cacti

just putting some ornaments on the tree...

plastic bags!  perfect when your boots are soaked and you want to leave the tent to pee

just another few miles of snowy trudging to top it off

thanks to the SPOT!, Sherman's folks picked us up at the highway

we swung by the ghost town of Rhyolite to check out the open air art museum

the best rendition of "the last supper" ever.