A long time ago, Tone and I met WLD at Joshua Tree. He told us about a Yahoo group of hikers who do trips. Once I got home I signed up, but didn't do anything besides occasionally read trip reports. Tone took to it much more and went on a lot of trips. He organized a trip to Mojave National Preserve and invited me. Since I love that park and hadn't gone anywhere in a while, I decided to go.
People went up as early as Wednesday, but since I made my decision to go kind of late I didn't shift one of my Mondays to the Friday. So at 5pm, Friday March 19, 2004, I left work. After a quick stop at the grocery store, I was on the 101 at 5:15. It took 40 minutes to get to Carpinteria, where I stopped at home to use the restroom. At a little before 6 I stopped at a vegetable stand that has good bread. They were out of bread. Back on the 101, I stopped at the Vons in Oxnard for bread, and some other things I'd forgotten. I had done a very poor job packing for this trip. Clothes I was OK on, but I just grabbed the stuff box and assumed everything was in there. I briefly panicked when I didn't see my fuel bottle in the box, but luckily it was just hiding. At 7 I finally started driving for real, south towards LA. At the bottom of the Conejo grade there was an old VW beetle sitting parked in the 2nd lane from the left, which made for some interesting traffic flow. Pretty much as soon as I entered LA county traffic slowed to stop and go. Past the turnoff for the 405 I had enough, and got off the road for dinner. At the corner of Woodman and Moorpark, I found a decent Mexican place. It was a little more expensive and a little slower than a standard fast food, but just what I needed.
After dinner, traffic was still slow but it was moving. Just before the 215 joined the 15 there was another big slow-down. I filled up in Barstow and, leaving the Vegas traffic, sped east on the 40. I arrived at Kelso Dunes without any further annoyances, but it was 12:15am by then. I recognized Tone's tent, but nobody was out and about. There was a campfire going a quarter mile away. I walked over there to find a group of teenagers doing teenager things. Clearly they weren't my group, so I went back to our camp and pitched my tent. Sleeping was tricky since the kids in the other camp were engaged in a loud game of capture the flag. Eventually they gave up and I fell asleep. The campsite was nice. No water or toilets, although there were pit toilets a mile down the road at the Kelso Dunes trailhead. A ring of trees provided shade during the day.
I got up a little bit before the sun did, and dragged my chair to the fire pit, where I sat and cooked some breakfast. I quickly met Tom and Rob. Tone woke up at some point. Later on I would meet Gary, Joe, Bill, and Jay. The plan was to leave at 8am, and amazingly this actually happened. We all piled into Joe and Rob's 4WD vehicles and drove east. We stopped at a scenic spot for photos and group shots. After some road and "improved" dirt road driving, we drove along the Mojave Road towards Fort Piute. On the way there Rob dropped some spare change in a rusty can hanging from a wire besides the road. We saw several jackrabbits, and some blooming Joshua Trees. Getting close to our destination, suddenly we were besides a large gorge which had some interesting mud formations in it. This called for a small break to explore the gorge.
Almost everybody went into the canyon. I went down and turned off at the mud formations a little ways down with some of the people. After looking around a bit, we went up the mud to the rim, and walked back to the cars from there. Everybody was there except Tom. Some people located him in the canyon, already on his way back up. A couple minutes later he emerged, carrying with him part of a tortoise shell. Proof that at one point they did exist out here, although we never got to see a live one.
We drove a little further to the trailhead, where we deduced that our planned hike would actually take us through the gorge we'd just explored. We set off going around a cactus-covered hill. There was a beavertail cactus with a flower on it that everybody took a picture of. Then a bit further down we saw a massive barrel cactus. Hiking further down the gorge, it became greener and we also saw some petroglyphs. Eventually we reached the fort, which wasn't very exciting. It was our lunch spot, though. Everybody sat next to each other in the shade of a low wall.
We backtracked a little bit, and then returned through a different canyon. First the trail went up a while, then back down. We scrambled down some dry falls. Finally the trail took us up the gorge that we had explored the other side of already. It was a pleasant walk up. When it widened, some of us (including me) lost the trail and ended up going up steeply on a loose hill. Those who found the trail went up a little less steeply. We all met on the rim, and walked back to the cars. We got a little lost driving back, but it was discovered on time. At Fenner, we stopped for gas and ice cream ($1.50, don't complain about the prices). By the time we got back to camp it was getting dark. People cooked dinner, and then there was a fire. A good part of a railroad tie was burned, and an orange was charred. That night David arrived, as well as Ken, who'd brought a 3-week old white German Shepherd puppy. Rob left to study for a test.
Sunday morning everybody packed up. Then some time was spent discussing what to do, since many people wanted to leave early in the afternoon. We decided on hiking around Hole in the Wall. Everybody drove over there, meeting at the ranger station. I'd been on this trail before, but it was still fun to see it again. Ken was having a good time carrying his puppy down the dry falls. Some people attempted, and eventually succeeded, climbing up a dry fall without rings. We continued hiking the trail towards Midhills Campground, which I hadn't been on before. Jay, Gary, Tone and I climbed a butte close to hole in the wall. Further along the trail, everybody took a break sitting in the shadow of a large yucca. Just after this break a number of people decided to turn back so they could get home early in the evening. Dave and Ken went to check out some petroglyphs that Dave knew of.
Gary, Tone and I continued on to explore some white cliffs we could see ahead. First we walked around them, and with the aid of some logs that were lying around we climbed up some tricky rocks. Atop the cliffs we found a couple of neat holes so big that they were almost shallow caves. One in particular looked like it would make an ideal camping spot, and we relaxed there for some time. Then we made our way to the top of the hill. There we found a sign in book whose earliest entry was in 1978, and the last one was exactly 1 year ago. Looking down we saw some interesting popcorn formations as well. At this point Tone and I were running low on water and were ready to be done. Gary was determined to stay out until dark to maximize his enjoyment of the day. After hiking down, we parted ways.
Tone and I got back to the ranger station in good time, and asked Ruby the ranger where we could road-side camp. She said there were several sites off the dirt road that circled Hole in the Wall. We found one close by and parked. After dinner we tried pretty hard to get the logs we found in the fire pit to light, but they just wouldn't do more than smolder. Since it hadn't been that cold at night we decided against pitching tents, and just spread our beds out on the ground. This didn't work out too well. In the morning we both said we'd been cold, but sweating at the same time.
On Monday we got up early. Tone decided to leave. He'd been in the desert since Thursday and was ready for some civilization. I decided to climb the hill/mesa/butte/whatever closest to our camp. The beginning was pretty straightforward. Further up I scrambled up and down some trickier rocks. I did not make it to the top. It looked possible but fairly hairy, and I didn't want to do something excessively stupid with nobody there to run for help. From up above I noticed that there was a large flat area below me from where I should be able to look down into Hole in the Wall. That looked fun so I made my way over there. I ended up looking down into the overlook area. In the shadow I noticed the bright spot, reminding me of the big window in the rock. Since I was close I tried for a little while to get there. I got to stand on the same piece of rock, a few yards above it, and on some rocks several yards below it, but I didn't manage to poke my head through. Since I did want to get home fairly early, I started heading back. On the way down I found a nice blue
flower, and watched some swallow-like birds chase each other around.
My drive back was fairly uneventful. The radio kindly let me know there was a big accident on the 15, which I avoided by taking the 215 to the 30. I didn't go through Palmdale because I wanted to stop at REI. Made it home at around 3pm.
Don't take the MapQuest route to Barstow when LA traffic might be heavy. Wheat thins might make good backpacking food, as a substitute for bread which will go stale.