Hit up Valley of Fire again, basing out of Las Vegas, and spent the day there. Hiked a bunch, climbed up rock walls to explore tiny caves, found lots of petroglyphs, and ran around trying to ID plants. Desert mallow is my favorite, at the moment, with lots of tiny flame-orange flowers, appropriate for the Valley of Fire. There were lots of fuzzy caterpillars of various sorts munching vegetation while they could. I've now been down to the white domes south of Mouse's Tank, which was closed off the previous time I was there. Still lots of park to explore for next time.
Two days in Las Vegas, hitting up the Paris buffet as always, checking the conservatory at the Bellagio, etc. Watched the sunset from the top of the Eiffel Tower, and got the silly commemorative picture of Andrew and myself.
Down to Mojave National Preserve. The old railroad station at Kelso is now park headquarters. We poked around there for a while, and drove through more scenic desert. Salt flats, lava domes, dunes, good stuff. The Joshua trees were coming into bloom, a rare occurrance, but there was a lot of rain this year. The town of Amboy, which seems sustained by salt mining, is now mostly ghost town, even the school boarded up, as was the church. Outside town was a tree festooned with shoes, many inscribed with names and dates. There were even cowboy boots and swim fins (swim fins??). Andrew took a video of it. I guess that's what you do in the desert when you're bored--go pitch old shoes into a tree by the wash.
We stopped at the north entrance to Joshua Tree to pick up a map and discuss the...ahem, jeep trails. Oh sure, it's marked "geological tour route" on the map, but it's a jeep trail. 4WD and high clearance recommended. They weren't whistling Dixie on that one. Went past a lot of interesting rock piles, blooming cactus, and of course, Joshua trees in bloom. Through deep sand. Heh, I said, I've driven on worse in the Monster Pickup, and that had two wheel drive. Be careful what you say before you hit the second half of the road.
The second half went down Berduin Canyon. Jeep trail? Heck, we came around one curve, and I'm looking at a bouldery stream bottom that's cascading down like irregular steps. Oh, and did I mention it was really narrow, and made a figure-S? Not a lot of options, just go for it. Fortunately, I was in first gear and 4WD low already. Ironically, I hadn't even kicked into 4WD until about a half mile before that. It was just sand, after all. The rocky part was different. But not like something I hadn't done before. But with a shorter vehicle (the Jimmy). Well, from there on, it just wasn't real pretty, to quote C.W. McCall. And unless we had drove the Black Bear Road before, we'd be better off to stay in bed and sleep late... Well, C.W. aside, it was really pretty, and really remote, and VERY challenging. Andrew would be seeing some interesting bush or something and ask if we could stop, and I'd be negociating a patch of boulders, or sand, or sharp rock benches, and I'd say "I'm a little busy here, at the moment!" We did stop a couple times, when I figured it was okay to do so. Found a huge sage bush that smelled almost like lavender, which we couldn't find in any of the books, that was up and down the wash for quite a ways. I started watching the sun sinking, and thinking "just let me get out of this canyon before it starts getting dark down here..." I would NOT want to be stuck or have to change a tire in the dark.
On the lower end was an old mine, and the remains of a road. It was about fifteen feet above the level of the creek that had cut through it repeatedly in a flash flood (or several flash floods). Finally, the jeep trail hove itself up onto what had once been a paved surface. Smooth sailing, Andrew said. Yeah, until it falls off into space, I said. No sooner had I said that than we came around a curve and yep, it fell into space. I stopped and backed up, looking for a way down. It was not promising, though it looked like some number of people had launched themselves off the edge on the left side. I assessed, and went for it. Nope. I knew when the tires started spinning that I hadn't made it. Crap, I said. Got out. Front right wheel wedged against vertical boulder. Rear right hanging in space about 8 inches above the rocks. Whee. Checked everything else. Okay, the only way out is through. We just need to get something under the rear tire, back up, cramp the wheel hard right, then let her down easy. Got Andrew putting big rocks under and behind the tire. Made sure the front had traction. Put her into reverse and had him push from the front. We climbed back a couple feet and I waved him out of the way as I cramped hard right and prayed I'd estimated my clearances correctly. We made it, and were out of the tight spot in less than 10 minutes all told. The sun was almost behind the canyon walls, and I was hoping we would soon be out of this. Then we started hearing gunfire. It seems that everyone comes up from Indio or somewhere to go plinking, near sunset. On the lower end of the road, we passed three people out shooting, with 4WD vehicles. The last trial was a 30 degree climb up the river bank and over a sharp lip. Nightwind (my truck) took it like a champ. I love that truck. Shortly after that, we were back on pavement, and on our way down to Highway 10, which would take us to Indio.
Next, the lower Mojave, land of resort developments!