Cadillac-smooth down low, but take it slowly higher up.
Not many buildings or mine shafts, but lots of miner trash.
Too much deep sand for us -- we gave up and turned around.
Aiken Mine Road:
A lovely beginner 4WD road: scenic and weird, from slightly challenging rocky basalt to deep (but not dangerously so) sand.
Our first goal of the morning was Morningstar Mine, a set of abandoned mines in the northern part of the preserve.
Two wide, smooth dirt roads leave paved Morningstar Mine Rd to climb the alluvial fan, but the quality of the roads gradually deteriorate over the short distance to the mines.
Morningstar Mine turns out to be a private, going concern, fenced off with NO TRESSPASSING signs. But there are plenty of older, abandoned mines nearby. Very few buildings or mine shafts, but lots of rusting cans and other trash. Really, not much to see, and Dave was in a hurry to move on, so we did.
The Contentious Memorial
Down on Cima Road near the Teutonia Peak trailhead, I wanted to see the famous WWII monument, about which a Supreme Court case is currently raging. (The monument is a cross, a religous symbol, which federal law says should not be supported by government funds or stand on government land.)
I couldn't find anything on the web that gave the location of the monument, so we had to look for it. It turns out that it's easily spotted from the road, atop one of the granite outcrops on the north side of the road, just east of the Teutonia Peak trailhead. (Or see the GPS waypoint file linked at the end of this article.)
In fact, we'd almost certainly seen it before, and shrugged it off
as another of those weird inexplicable things you see in the Mojave.
The upper part of the cross is currently covered with a box, so
it looks like a small sign that says nothing.
Several people have put up small flags nearby.
Jackass Canyon -- not to be
The next goal was Jackass Canyon, down in the south part of the preserve west of Kelso.
For quite a while the road is in great shape, hard packed and not badly washboarded. There are lots of curious red anthill-like formations right in the road that turned out to be built not of sand but of some sort of dried plant matter. (Did I mention the curious things you see in the Mojave?)
But then the road descends into a wash full of deep sand with occasional buried rocks. After smacking our undercarriage a couple of times on hidden obstacles while fishtailing around in the sand, we decided retreat was the better part of valor. We'll try Jackass Canyon from the south some time -- maybe it's easier from that direction.
Mojave Rd from 17-Mile Pt to Aiken Mine Rd
Returning to Kelbaker Road, we proceeded a few miles west to 17-Mile Point, where we'd exited the Mojave Road a few days ago, and turned north to complete a section of the Mojave Rd. we hadn't done yet. From Kelbaker to Aiken Mine, the road is quite sandy, with lots of fishtailing, but not a problem for the Rav.
Aiken Mine Rd
This was our second time on Aiken Mine Rd, one of our favorite routes in the preserve.
The lower section of Aiken Mine, from the paved road to the lava tube, is brutally washboarded, like most park dirt roads that get a lot of 2WD traffic.
We didn't stop at the lava tube today, since we'd explored it fairly thoroughly the last time (it's lovely, and provided several of my favorite desktop wallpaper images) but continued straight past it into the basalt.
The ascent from the lower lava fields up to Aiken Mine is weird and wonderful. The road is entirely basalt cinders (Aiken mine is a cinder mine located on a large cinder cone), a mixture of black and red and a little white sand here and there. It's like driving on Mars. The ascent is steep and slightly slippery, but it looks scarier than it is -- there's really no danger here for anything with reasonable clearance, and although 4WD is probably helpful I doubt it's required. The mine, an active cinder mine, is at the top, along with some hiking trails up one of the cinder cones.
Past Aiken, the road descends into the Joshua tree forest on the side of Cima Dome, supposedly the densest Joshua tree forest in the world. ("In the world" should be viewed in light of the fact that Joshua trees don't really exist anywhere outside the Mojave desert of California and Nevada.) More fishtailing in deep sand with a high center groove. The Rav4 never bottomed, but this is definitely not a road to take a 2WD street car of normal ride height.
The melon patch
At some point, the road forks and the left fork seems to be the main one -- but it's a sham. The left fork is actually a power line maintenance road that cuts across to I-15. (We knew this because we'd gotten caught by it the last time, followed the power lines then eventually figured it out and cut back to the more interesting Aiken Mine Rd.)
A few miles afer the powerline fork the road passes a water tank and corral, goes back into sandy Joshua tree forest for a while, then comes out at a strange clearing. What's strange about it? It's a patch of coyote melons. These delicious looking, softball-sized melons apparently grow wild in the Mojave -- but I've never seen them anywhere but this spot. They're apparently all but inedible by humans ... but something eats them, because you can see broken, emptied and dessicated melon rinds lying everywhere.
Did I mention "strange things you see in the Mojave"? Coming on a melon patch in the middle of the desert is one of the things I love about this place.
Alas, the melon patch is almost at the end of the road. Not long after it,, there's a house (I hear one of the rangers lives there) and an intersection, and the road suddenly turns posh for its last mile or two to paved Cima Road.
Photos and GPS LogsPhotos Track log, Waypoints
[ 10:34 Nov 18, 2009 More travel/mojave | permalink to this entry | ]