In April 23, 2012, my wife and I woke up early and packed the family into our jeep for a day of back country exploring in the Mojave desert. On this day, our destination was the middle leg of the historic Old Mojave Road.
The Old Mojave Road was originally a series of trails used by the Native Americans of the Mojave desert to connect the Colorado River with the Pacific coast. Native Americans developed the trail over time, which was later used by Spanish Missionary’s, U. S. Army, and stage operators. The Mojave Road fell into disuse when the railroads came into the area in the 1880’s. Dennis Casebier, and his Friends of the Mojave Road, ‘rediscovered’, mapped and documented the Mojave Road. Our trip on this day, is possible due to their hard work and dedication, which follows centuries of history.
As we left Las Vegas early Sunday morning we drove past Primm, Nevada and continued into California we watched the temperature climb from 75 to 85 degrees. We exited interstate at Nipton Road and drove East into the southern California desert. A quick right turn at Ivanpah Road and we were on our way into the Mojave National Preserve.
We ran into a slight delay when we hit the train crossing as a train slowly crossed from horizon to horizon. With Primm on the horizon, we left the pavement and decided to air down the tires and disconnect the sway bar. I didn’t really need to do this for this trail, however an earlier experience in Death Valley with a broken a sway bar disconnect which caused for a long drive home. We spotted a few deer as we drove through the New York Mountains and dropped into the valley beyond.
Following Ivanpah Road south we soon intersected with Cedar Canyon Road. After 85 miles and a quick turn to the West on to Cedar Canyon exposed us to the Old Mojave Trail. Where Ivanpah is a three lane dirt highway, the Old Mojave Trail is a rutted path that is just slightly wider than our Jeep JK. The tail essentially runs directly west and more or less straight with a few minor variances to avoid the odd Joshua tree. We delighted to find a covey of quail running down the road and shading under some of the Joshua trees which cover the valley. Dispersed across the family are a variety of small homesteads and ranches.
After a new miles of driving we came to intersection of Cedar Canyon Road and Caruthers Canyon. Just of the road to the North is an old abandoned house. Or at least a three room structure which was abandoned years ago. Chain link fence surrounds the compound, however the fence is wide open to entry. Behind the home is what appears at incinerator for trash. A very cool place and apparently people have camped here.
Back on the trail and heading west again, you cross a side open plain. During this section for whatever reason, we ran into a bunch of motorcycles, which sped past when I made room for them. Soon you approach about the only four by four obstacle with any degree of difficultly, which is a steep drop off into Watson wash. The steep drop off is very easy to go down. I just dropped into low range and touched the brake as needed and let the suspension take care of the rest.
Once into Watson wash, it is a very short drive to Rock Springs. Rock Springs is a small oasis with a shallow spring and old military outpost which is mostly gone now. Driving up and around the hill, we came across Bert Smith’s cabin. Bert Smith was a World War I vet, who survived the mustard gas attacks. As with many WWI survivors, the gas shells damaged his lungs and he was given a short time to live. He moved to the Mojave to seek the clean dry air and built a homestead. Bert Smith had a great pick in land, his homestead overlooks Rock Springs and the Watson Wash valley, and the view is almost 360 degrees.
Travelling West from Bert Smith’s Cabin, we ran into a vast network of roads on the way to the Government holes, which is another water source and windmill. Navigation in this road network was really easy thanks to the cairn’s place by Mr Caisbier and his dedication group. Due to a sleeping little boy, and slightly neurotic dog, we didn’t stop at the Government holes and continued on our way. Once again on Cedar Canyon Road, we made quick work on the eleven mile run to the Kelso-Cima Road.
Our guide-book, the “Guide to Southern California Backroads & 4-Wheel Drive Trails” describes the next section. “Continue west across remote, beautiful desert. The road is very sandy with continuous whoop-ti-doos.” This description is woefully inadequate. The desert was amazing with wildflowers, monster panoramic views to the desert and the Kelso Dunes. Large rock out croppings break the valley floor and really create a wonderful experience.
The road, on the other hand is a different story. “Continuous whoop-ti-doos” is a euphemism for about 10 miles of whoop-ti-doos running, which when running with 18 lbs of pressure in the tires and a speed of about 6 miles per hour, virtually rocks you to sleep. After lunch we ran into some fellow jeepers, at the infamous mailbox / frog sanctuary, who shared by observations on a nap.
For the majority of our trip, we traveled at about 4ooo ft in elevation and enjoyed temperatures in the low 90’s. As we drove down from the mailbox, we dropped down to the Kelbaker Road and into Baker. While in Baker we aired up the tires, enjoyed a nice shake from Dairy Queen and an air temperature of 107.
On the way home, we started planning for the Western section of the Old Mojave Road. We will be back to this section one day. A one day drive and a few words written on a website are not enough to explore, enjoy or describe this vast wilderness. Once we have done the western edge, I think I will be taking the family down the length of the trail, from West to East, on a multi-day expedition. In each area there is more to discover and I want to see it all.
Download our trip route into Google Earth: Google Earth KMZ
Next Stop… Mojave Road West!