Desert Solitary

“You can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamn contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbrush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail, you’ll see something, maybe.”

― Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Edward Abbey would surely roll-over in his (illegally dug, hidden somewhere in a desert) grave if he saw us driving through the desert in our “contraption”. The Sportsmobile enables us to find some pretty amazing places we might otherwise never see – without crawling through the thornbush.

After leaving our Alaska traveling friend’s home near Bend, OR we began our solitary trip down the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada range to the deserts of southern California. Rough itinerary? Death Valley National Park, the Mojave National Preserve, and the Joshua Tree National Park. Fall in the desert should be warm and dry with few tourists.

We quickly crossed the high (cold) desert of western Oregon, Nevada and California’s eastern Sierra to get down to Bishop, CA – and relative warmth (70F).

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The view from atop the Mono Lake vista point.

Death Valley National Park

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Here again for the second time in two years. Now with a bit more off-road experience and time to explore.

Big Pine to Saline Valley Warm Springs

Big Pine was our launch-point to come into Death Valley via the northern Waucoba Springs road and into Saline Valley. It took about 3.5 hours to cover the 55 mile trip.

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The road conditions website indicated it was still washed out from some earlier storms. Fully expecting to turn back, we were pretty happy to find the road repaired and graded in the few days leading up to our attempt.
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An abandoned mining camp along the way.
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An antique mine derrick.

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Down the winding canyon road. We helped recover a Jeep that hung up on the wash cliff after taking the uphill corner too fast.

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The long straight descent into Saline Valley.
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An artsy entrance marker for the Saline Valley Warm Springs road.
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We set-up camp about half-way between the upper spring and the lower spring with a plan to hang out and relax for a few days.
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The lower springs – an oasis – as viewed from our campsite.
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Beautiful warm sunny days. Cool crisp nights. Quiet except for the daily dogfight practice.
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Our daily fly-by. The F18 hornets would dogfight for several hours each day right overhead.
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Not too fussed by the sonic booms of the F18s – watch an airshow or read a book? Our choice.
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And of course, some serious soak time in the upper spring.
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The Joshua Trees in Death Valley rival some of the vistas in Joshua Tree NP. Here we’re on our way out of the park – Panamint Springs first, then onto Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills.

All alone in the Alabama Hills

In 11 months of #VanLife, we’ve come full circle. This is the exact campsite where we spent last Thanksgiving with our friends Chris & Chris – but this time we’re all alone.

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A quiet day in camp. Solitary solitude.
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Mt. Whitney and the surrounding peaks are pretty amazing.
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Moonrise over monzogranite.
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Mt. Whitney and the Whitney Portal.
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Howdy pardner.
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Okay, not all alone? A small but fun disadvantage of camping right on a challenging 4WD trail – occasional visitors!

Death Valley – Cottonwood and Marble Canyons

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Heading back into Death Valley after re-provisioning in Lone Pine. We need to watch for rain and flash flooding, but this rain evaporates before it hits the ground.
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Our afternoon trip up Marble and Cottonwood Canyons.
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Objective: find a nice campsite in the canyon. For the day and night we explore these canyons, we are the only vehicle up here.
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Some pretty amazing cliffs and canyons as we make our way up the wash.
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We air down the tires to about half pressure so this washboard/corrugation is more comfortable.
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Good work Nature. Deep in the Canyon.

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Looking out from inside a “cave” carved in a bend in Cottonwood Canyon.
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Cautiously entering the “cave”. The roof looks like loose mud and stone and doesn’t go in very deep.
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Our campsite for the evening. A nice flat plateau just at the entrance to the canyons, with Stovepipe Wells under a full moon in the distance.

Furnace Creek, Furnace and Greenwater Valley

From Furnace Creek we will top-up fuel, have lunch at the fancy lodge, then head down the Furnace Creek Wash Road through Greenwater Valley. Our plan is to explore some old mine camps, find a nice place to camp for a night or two, then exit Death Valley out the southern exit near Shoshone.

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Down to Furnace Creek to refuel and spend a night.
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This diesel price sets the new highest-price record for us. Last year it was only $5.09 a gallon.

Greenwater Valley – Death Valley National Park

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Exploring abandoned mines near Furnace.
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Some of the prettier mine tailings. Maybe it should’ve been called Greenrock Valley?
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One of the nicest boondocking campsites we’ve discovered.
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Pre-sunset.
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Sun setting.
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Ta da! I bring you sun set. And later, a full moon. Nice.
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Sunset.

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Bye for now Death Valley.

The Mojave Preserve

We jumped out of Death Valley to the south and headed right for the Mojave Preserve.

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Yucca yuk yuk.
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Some tasty high elevation Juniper berries. Time to make some gin?
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2005 Hackberry Fire damage is still evident around the Mojave Mid Hills campground.
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The view from our campsite.
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Site 21 is the nicest spot in Mid Hills Campground. At 5600′, it gets quite cool at night and stays cooler in the daytime.

The Mojave Road

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The Mojave Road section we tackled. Great intro – about 30 miles of the 140 mile Mojave road.
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Aired down, the sandy whoops were a blast.
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The “Marl Private Garden” waypoint near Marl Spring – for a few nights more solitary camping. Thanks for sharing Rick & Corby!!!

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Lots of distant train traffic transiting the Mojave desert.

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Shower time.
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A nice feature of the site is early afternoon shade. From 85F down to 75F in about 20 minutes.
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Dinner prep on our last evening at Marl Spring.
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A freshly graded road made our exit a breeze (except for the small ding under the rear bumper when we/I popped up out of a wash too fast).

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The “mailbox” on the Mojave Road. Sign in. Leave a thing.
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The most traffic we’ve seen in weeks. A bachelor party from San Diego rocked on in.
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You can leave a gnome.
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Or a frog… or a Barbie doll… or a sticker… or a bottle of water… or…
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The beautiful old Kelso train station turned into a Mojave visitor center and museum.

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Granite Pass

With a Jumbo Rocks site reserved at Joshua Tree NP the next day we looked off-road for some primitive sites near Granite mountain and Granite Pass to spend one night.

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Another beautiful campsite is down this road.
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This will do nicely.
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Our front yard.
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Our back yard.
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Our neighbors at the Granite Mountain Desert Research Center.

On to Joshua Tree

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After a quick stop on an old segment of Route 66.
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Filling up at Roy’s.
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Now, for a few relaxing nights in Jumbo Rocks Campground.
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A fun trek around the Skull Rock loop.
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We never take this kind of beauty for granite 😉

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A very happy, healthy and green Ocotillo plant.

Enough Desert Solitary – Emerald Desert RV Resort – Palm Desert, CA

Time to reenter society. Time to plan our Baja trip with Chris & Chris in a month. Time to get ready to go to Mexico! What will we need for this? A month relaxing in an RV resort of course. Wi-Fi. Amazon delivery. Grocery stores and wine shops nearby. Movies to catch up on. Restaurants. A rental car for getting around easily. Check, check and check.

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Emerald Desert RV Park in Palm Desert is quite civilized.

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Dinner under the stars.
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A Jake Shimabukuro concert at the McCallum theater.
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An all-round great way to wrap up six weeks alone in the desert.

Thus ends our solo desert sojourn. Now we’ll spend the next few weeks getting ready to travel down Baja California with our friends Chris & Chris.

3 thoughts on “Desert Solitary

  1. There is no better art form than natural beauty. Incredible adventure. Thank you for sharing your pics and how beautiful they are it doesn’t do the sunsets, landscape and adventure justice. Can’t wait to hear the stories.

    Like

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