Spring Break 2004

How good a trip was it?

It was "this" awesome!

Okay, here we go...

Reveille!!  We stop by the Cookie Company in Fort Bragg for Lattes and croissants to go, then head East out of town.  7:30 AM.  E-Ha!  Even Lolli is awake and upright!

After thirty miles we break out of the miserable coastal marine layer into bright Spring sunshine.  The Red Bud already past its prime!  We see a flight of pelicans, some Buffalo, Suzanne spots some Elk.  An Osprey is flying with a fish near Clearlake.  Spring Break is definitely underway!

We decide to take Rumsey Canyon because it is always such a pretty drive.  And it is.  Down, then out into the Central Valley at Esparto, over to I-5 for the long grind south.  Ed has some cache sites lined up along the way and they help break up the monotony.  Lots of traffic.  Evidently folks are getting a jump on Easter weekend.

After hours of trouble-free motoring we arrive at the Buttonwillow turn-off to Bakersfield then find another cache hidden in an old abandoned house beside HWY 58.  We stopped at this house years ago and threw the stick for my dog Sarah.  It was hilarious watching her bound through the tall grass looking for the stick, her head popping up every now and then.  This time the place is over-run with rabbits and ground squirrels!  They run for it when we pull in.  We sit still for a moment and they hop up from their holes to see what we are up to!  Suzanne finds the cache.  Next stop, Harbor Freight and Garbage in Bakersfield, Eddies first time!

6:30 PM.  Harbor Freight and Garbage is open!  Into the isles and piles of goodies we go.  "Oh look!! Bungee Cord Special, $2.99!"  Ed and I each buy a container full.  A few more items, then up the road to Benjy’s Basque restaurant for our "Last Supper in Civilization".  The parking lot is not crowded and tables are available even though it is Easter Weekend!.  We tuck into a great dinner. 

Out of there, back onto 58 heading east, up over Tehachapi Pass, the orange blossoms smelling wonderful.  Down the other side into Mojave.  Around the town on the new by-pass, the coordinates for Sarah’s grave coming up.  We pull off into the desert, park near the grave and called it a day.  Sarah's dog dish with the red tennis ball is still there.  We toast Sarah, retell a few favorite "doggie stories" and fall into bed.  It was a 14 hour travel day but we are now in the desert!

We wake to a beautiful sunny morning, Happy Birthday to me!  I fly my electric RC wing and buzz the Vanagons a couple times while my travel mates have breakfast.  Cool!

Pack up and head for the first cache of the day, a "Confluence" cache which, when we find it, also happened to have two trains going opposite directions on the tracks just to the south of us!  A double whammy for Eddie (a train nut) because this cache was also Eddie’s 700th find!!   Two trains, 700th Cache, and Eddie!  It don't get much better!

Eventually we pull into Barstow for a stop at Vons to top off our groceries and ice.  Then top off our gas tanks.  A last minute conference and we decide to change plans and take HWY 40 out of Barstow rather than HWY 15.  We don't feel like hammering along with all the folks going to Vegas.  Also it will be a more natural progression to enter the Mojave Wilderness from the south and work our way north.

After miles and miles of HWY 40, with a cache stop now and then, we reach the Essex road turn off and head for "Hole in the Wall".  We arrive around 3:00 PM in the afternoon and check out the visitor’s center.  Suzanne buys some books; teachers get a twenty percent discount!  I show interest in, “The White Heart of the Mojave”, a book about two women who visit the Mojave in 1920!  Suzanne buys it for me!  It is my birthday after all!!

And, since it is my birthday I wrest control of the group and insist they follow me to a campsite of my choosing.

I consult my Topo USA map, backtrack from Hole in the Wall a couple miles, turn onto a two rut road into the creosote brush.  Soon I find a nice flat spot with green grass and fire ring!  Good enough!!  Time for hiking and exploring, a game of Petanque, and then, Ed and Suzanne's special Birthday Dinner, Nuoc-Mom barbequed chicken!!  Yum!

After dinner we sit around and note what we have seen so far:  Sage sparrows woke us up, a California King Bird, 2- red tailed kites trying to impress each other in a familiar way,  a Horned lark, profuse desert dandelion, Mojave aster, Desert Mallo, Beaver tail cactus (blooming), blooming creosote bush, Coreopsis, Woolly marigold, Phalecia, evening primrose, stack trains and pig trains.  Burlington Northern/Santa Fe in new colors.  GE dash 8’s and EMD’s.  (Eddie spotted a total of ten moving trains on my birthday.)  What we all agreed was a big day!  Happy Birthday to me.  I'm now 63!!

After a windy night at the "campsite of my choosing" we pack up and return to the Hole in the Wall visitor center, use the facilities, then walk a quarter mile up the road to the trailhead for Hole in the Wall. 


Rings were installed to help climb down, or up, the vertical rock slots.  We visited this place thirteen years ago.  Nothing different except more flowers and no visible Coach Whip snake!

We drive the loop through Horse Canyon on a freshly graded gravel road.  A nice drive that takes us up over 5,000 feet into the Junipers.  A beautiful area with great views but it is too cold and windy to camp.  Onward and down the other side into lower, warmer, desert.


We finally encounter the old Mojave Road.  In the photo you can see the road, the vertical wiggle, just to the right of Ed and Suzanne's Vanagon!  Yippee!  Away we go!  Quite loose sand and many many ups and downs.  First and second gear driving but the desert is absolutely lush.

We arrive at Marl Spring.  There is a well dug into the hillside!  A pipe from the well trails down the hill to a watering trough.  There are also the remains of a mill for grinding ore.  Suzanne’s Old Mojave Road book gives good information about the area.

Moving on we start thinking about a camp spot but the wind is quite strong.  The good news being we have dropped two thousand feet in altitude and it is warmer.

We come across a nice pile of rocks and check around them for a campsite.  There are fire rings in several places but no place to get out of the wind.  Onward.

We arrive at the "Mail Box" and this time there is an American flag flying from the pole.  The Mail Box is stuffed with stuff and a nice new log book.  We sign in.

Soon we enter an area of recent lava flows, lava flows that happened with-in the last thousand years.  There is a corral and a empty water tank.  We pull over and think about using the place as a campsite but, outside of a Raven sitting on the tank  watching us, it is not all that interesting.  We decide to continue up the side road.  Soon there is another side road going over and up onto a basalt hill that has some abandoned workings.  Ed drives up to it but says, via CB, that it isn't all that interesting.  He returns and we press on.  I take over the lead and in another mile or so I see a side road that “feels right” and take it.  A bit further we arrive near a lava flow.  There is a fire ring with a pile of split firewood waiting beside it.
What I call, "Good enough"!

In fact, Perfect!  We set up camp!  No wind.  Perfect temperature!!

In the late afternoon a young woman driving a Ford Explorer shows up and asks if we know where the Lave Tube is.  We tell her that we have seen mention of it in the Old Mojave Road Book but the location was very vague.  We don't know where it is.  She drives on up the road and half an hour later returns, Lava Tubeless.

The sleeping temperature is 58 during the night.  No wind.  We all sleep about ten hours!

Up to a beautiful sunny morning.  Time to deploy our Shady Boy awnings!  Breakfast, book reading, fly my model airplane, walk around the desert, bird song, lizards, blooming flowers.  A perfect Monday morning.  We decide to stay another night!!


We go for a walk to see if we can find the "Lava Tube".  There is a lava flow just north of our camp.  We walk up the road and discover a rock cairn.  I had just mentioned we ought to watch for a trail and by golly there is a sort of a trail going up the lava flow from the cairn.  Up the trail we go.  Soon we arrive at a hole in the ground!

We can see a dirt floor about 15 feet down but there is no way to get down there without a rope and climbing gear.  But Hey!, we found the Lava Tube!  I comment on how it is better to be an Explorer than drive one!

Back to camp for naps and a late afternoon game of Petanque.  Perfect.  Then... here come five guys on big dirt bikes!  They come roaring up the road, ripp, rrrip, rriip, give us a quick wave as they go past, on up the road they go...but then they stop by the cairn!  Oh Ho!!  They must know about the Lava Tube!!

From the comfort of our lounge chairs we watch them walk up the path.  They gather around the hole, just like we did, and look down into it, but then they walk on up the lava flow a bit further.  Suddenly, one by one, they all disappear into the ground!!

Hey!  What’s this??

We give them some time and then walk up the road to the cairn, then up the trail to the hole just as they reappear from the ground.  The leader of the group, who it turns out is giving the other four guys a tour, tells us that we can, "Get into the Lava Tube via a small ladder just up the hill!  Once in the tube there is a low place we will have to duck under but don’t be stopped by that; it gets better.  A lot better!!"

Off they go and up the hill we go and by golly, there is another hole but this one has a metal ladder!

Down we go and sure enough, the tube slopes sideways down hill and narrows down to a low ceiling about four feet high.  We crawl through and it opens back up into a big chamber with shafts of sunlight shining, cathedral like, through various holes, illuminating the chamber.  Excellent!

Unbelievable!  Beautiful!  And here we didn’t even know it was accessible!  The tour guy also answered our question about possible petroglyphs in the area.  He pointed towards a far off lava flow.  "About a two mile walk".  We returned to camp and decide to try and find the petroglyphs in the morning.

Ten hours of sleep, breakfast, gather together our hiking paraphernalia, slather on sunscreen and set out.  Eddie wants to go cross country rather than follow the road.  Fine.  Out across the desert we go and what a lush desert, Joshua Trees, Yucca,  lots of blooming flowers, lizards, and butterflies.  Amazing!


We eventually arrive at the edge of a lava flow and start hiking beside it looking for Petroglyphs.  In about a quarter of a mile we see a couple small ones.  Very faint.  They are almost as dark as the desert varnish they were pecked in.  They must be quite old.  Walk further on.  Nothing for a while and then a few more.  We finally run out of lava wall and decided to cross over to the other side and check.  Ed goes up a sandy rise.  Soon Ed called us on his FM transceiver, “I found ten on one rock!”.  We head for Ed!


By golly, we found them!  Over a hundred of them!  We take photos and return to camp.  It is time to have lunch, pack up, and head for the Bed Springs Mining Company, Ed and Suzanne want to see it.  Off to Baker we go.

White man petroglyph say $2.75.9 per gallon for regular.  Ah civilization!

Out of Baker and north to Tecopa to freshen ourselves at the hot springs.  A shower, a soak, and a stop at the Post Office. Then into the south end of Death Valley we go.  Off the blacktop we encounter some of the worse washboard yet!  Eight miles per hour or 38 miles per hour seems to work best.  It is what ever I think our nerves and the hardware can stand!!

But, we arrive at the cabin and it is all ours!  After barbequed chicken, my “World Famous Mashed Potatoes”, and Lolli’s excellent salad we spent the night sleeping in our Vanagons with the wind gusting and shaking our busses every now and then just enough to wake us but... it is not hot.

In the back of the book Suzanne bought me I happen upon a photo of the cabin taken in 1932.  The porch was added later by Bob and Ward.


In the morning the ladies are on the porch reading but it is time to pack, return to the blacktop, then head to Shoshone for gas and groceries and lattes at the Cyber Café!  We find a couple of cache in the Shoshone area then duck back into Death Valley via Salsberry Pass.  This time to show Ed and Suzanne Roades Cabin.  Or is it McKirks!  Ed and Suzanne like the place and, since the weather is not too hot, we decide to call it a day and stay.  Book reading, flower and bird watching, Ed and Suzanne doing dinner this time.


We have a wonderful time at Roades Cabin, Ed and Suzanne love it.  Lots of birds and flowers, quite different from Lolli's and my winter visit three months earlier.  We decide to stay another night rather than press on for the Alabama Hills; just lay around, read our books, watch the birds.  There are Mockingbirds for Eddie, doves cooing for me, the Hooded Oriole for Suzanne (An addition to her life list.)!


A bat flew into our Vanagon around 4:00AM and woke me with its fluttering sound.  I managed to get a photo of him.  He finally figured it out, flew out the open door, and I went back to sleep!!

We wake to another wonderful sunny morning, the temperature 58 and warming.

Breakfast and a leisurely break-down of camp start thinking of moving on.

We finish packing, head back to the highway, continue on down into Death Valley.

Approaching Bad Water in the bottom of Death Valley I stop for a photo op.  Around 280 feet below sea level.

Up over Emigrant Pass and down into Panamint Valley.  This is a look back after we climb out of Panamint Valley heading for Owens Valley.  Telescope Peak in the distance.

After stocking up our groceries and ice at Lone Pine we enter the Alabama Hills and find a campsite for the night.  Birds and interesting rocks but Spring Break is winding down.

In the morning Ed and Suzanne head for home.  Suzanne likes to get a jump on her coming week.  Lolli and I hang around and read our books but finally decide to mosey on up the road.  By the time we get to the hot spring area by Mammoth the weather turns worse.  Onward.  And onward.

We decide to push it and drive all the way to Reno.  I know of a camp site north of Reno off of 395.  We arrive before dark.  I barbeque rib eye steaks, do my world famous mashed potatoes, cook fresh sweet corn for the salad!  A great dinner but man is it cold!

We wake to 34 degrees "inside" the bus! and snow flakes on the front windshield!

Time to give it up and head for the barn.

Up Donner Pass and into four inches of freshly fallen snow.  I had to stop and build a snowman on the windshield wiper so Lolli could see it.  Lolli would not get out of the Vanagon for some reason!!

 Over Donner and down into the Central Valley.  The weather not too nice.

Here is a photo of the Sutter Buttes!

Finally we reach the coastal hills.  We are almost back to the barn!

A great 15th Annual spring Break.  All in all, it will be hard to top this one.


Back to Travel Stories