There are a few traditions that we celebrate each and every time the month of March rolls around. Things like St. Patrick's Day, Daylight Savings Time, and the annual March Mojave Road trip. Started many years ago and revived back in 2007 by a group of people on a Ford Ranger enthusiast website the annual pilgrimage to the Mojave desert has become somewhat of a time honored tradition with a core group of Southern California wheelers. In 2008 the Ford Ranger website closed down but luckily the annual trip did not go down with it.
For the Fifth Annual March Mojave Road Trip we had a total of ten vehicles and 19 people make the journey with a not so diverse group of vehicles including three Ford Rangers, Three Jeep Wrangler, a Jeep Cherokee, a Jeep Grand Cherokee, a Chevy Tahoe and a Toyota Tacoma. Of these ten vehicles only four completed the entire trail from Barstow CA to Laughlin NV, they were the slammed Ford Ranger of Jason Gonderman, the Ford Ranger of Jon VanDragt, the bodydropped Jeep Wrangler of Kevin Morgan, and the Jeep Wrangler of Justin Maddox. All the rest of the participants DNF’ed the trip thanks either to mechanical or mental issues.
Day 1 - Thursday March 10th 2011
We began the 2011 trip on a near perfect Thursday morning in the Mojave Desert. The group met at the Slash X bar in Barstow CA to drop the trailers and then head off to fuel up then to the trail head.
After a quick drive up the 15 freeway we made it to the start of the Mojave Road. The trail head is located off of Harvard Road and the I-15 freeway. Once we hit dirt it was time to air down for the 170 miles of dirt we were about to face off with.
The beginning of the Mojave Road trail is a seemingly endless sand wash that thanks to all the rain this past winter was now strewn with boulders and other debris. The sand wash claimed the first victims of the trip with Josh's Ranger overheating slightly, and George, Kevin, and Adam all getting stuck in the marsh near the end. Once out of the sand wash you come to the first real obstacle of the trail, the Mojave River crossing at the start of Afton Canyon. Again thanks to all the rain the crossing was filled with debris making the crossing easier and shallower than normal. Once everyone was through we regrouped before heading into Afton Canyon.
After the water crossing we headed along the railroad tracks and into Afton Canyon. Afton Canyon is a beautiful canyon created by the Mojave River with very high red rock walls on either side. This was the perfect setting for a quick lunch break before continuing on.
Continued on Page 2!
Afton Canyon is a mix of river bottom sand wash, and boulder field wheeling with many different routes you can take. Thankfully at the end of the canyon there is a large train trestle that is perfect for shade, photos, and regrouping.
After the trestle the trail really opens up into a half mile wide sand wash. This wash has tons of different lines, whoops, rocks, boulders, shrubs, and sand dunes. If you lose sight of the group here there is no need to worry, as long as you follow the wash, no matter which line you are on, it will all funnel down to the same point, a giant clump of trees in the middle of the desert. We took the time at this point to wait for the group before making the final push for Soda Dry Lake.
Soda Dry Lake is the next stop on our Mojave Road adventure. This dry lake can be far from dry at any time of the year and the white crust you see is not snow but salt. This mud is a very toxic (to trucks) acidic compound that will swallow and eat your vehicle alive if you wander too far out of the tracks. We were fortunate enough to come through on a warm dry day. After everyone had a chance to get a rock for the Travelers Monument it was time to cross.
Once across we waited for the entire group to finish (space between vehicles is necessary to see in the blinding silt dust) making their way before pushing on to our camping spot and the end of the first day on the trail.
Our camping spot on night one was our yearly top secret location just outside of the Mojave National Preserve. Once there we proceeded to quickly set up camp and get down to business cooking up a delicious carne asda dinner (thanks Kevin!) before a night around the camp fire with great friends and good drinks.
Continued on Page 3!
Day 2 - Friday March 11th 2011
The next morning we woke up to yet another beautiful day in the Mojave Desert! The weather was simply unreal. On the start of the second day we were now down to only eight of the original ten vehicles. The Jeep Cherokee returned home as they were only committed to running the first day of the trip, hopefully they can do the entire trail with us next year. And with the first breakage of the trip Josh had to limp his Ranger to the town of Kelso to get trailered to the meeting point in Laughlin after his upper link mounts decided to part ways with the vehicle.
Our first stop on day two of the trip was the Lava Tubes inside the Mojave National Preserve. Formed by ancient volcanoes these tubes and flows are a sight to see and we are fortunate enough that the forest service allows us in them and even provides a ladder into one of the larger lava tubes.
After the lava tubes the next stop on our trip is the Mailbox. The Mailbox is maintained by the Friends of the Mojave Road and contains a guest book that travelers along the road can sign. Also at the mail box are the Toads, the Gnome Tree, and a new addition of the Ornament Bush. We have no clue why these are here but hear it is good luck to leave the Toads a quarter and help the Gnomes back up onto their tree. Also you could leave something useful for fellow travelers in the mail box.
From the Mailbox the trail wanders on through the Preserve, across Kelso-Cima road, up to the Rock House, through the Joshua Tree forest, and eventually ends up over looking the Piute Gorge. This portion of our trip was relatively uneventful, fast, and fun with the only tense moment being Craig's stand off with an angry bull. Craig won.
Continued on Page 4!
As we were stopped at the Piute Gorge the trail claimed its second mechanical victim. Jake's Toyota Tacoma was making a horrible noise which turned out to be its cooling fan hitting the shroud thanks to a broken engine mount. He had no choice but to continue on. From here trail heads down a steep rocky section of the trail that will rattle your teeth and every bolt on your vehicle loose. As we reached the bottom and waited for the limping Tacoma a small group of us ventured over to the remains of Fort Piute, one of the original Army forts along the Mojave Road set up to protect mail riders on their journey.
After leaving the fort and returning to the group we found that the crippled Tacoma had caught up with the group, with a new issue, a bent knuckle. A quick and dirty alignment by Kevin, Anthony,and Craig got the truck in good enough shape to make it to highway 95 and into Laughlin on the pavement.
It was at highway 95 that we lost Anthony (Red TJ) as he headed home for Las Vegas, Adam (Tahoe) and George (White WJ) had enough of the trail and escorted Jake and the limping Tacoma into town leaving only myself (White Ranger), Jon (Silver Ranger), Kevin (Silver TJ), and Justin (Blue LJ) to finish the rest of the trail.
We all arrived at our night two camping spot, the River Palms Hotel, well before dark and in plenty of time for our victory dinner!
Concluded on Page 5!
Day 3 - Saturday March 12th 2011
The Return Trip
The third day of the annual trip has turned into a fast trip. While the rest of the group takes the highway home those crazy enough, fast enough and mechanically sound enough make the return trip on the Mojave Road, as quickly as possible. This year's return group was myself (White Ranger), Jon (Silver Ranger), Kevin (Silver TJ) and Justin (Blue LJ), the same four that finished the entire trip the day before.
After a quick jaunt to the Arizona side of the Colorado River for cheap(er) fuel and food it was back off to the trail! Justin had to bail out at Baker, a little over half way back to get home, and Kevin Jon and I finished the return trip in just over 7 hours. Our record stands a 5 hours, we'll beat it someday. The only issue we had on the return trip was Kevin getting stuck, again, in the same spot as two days before. We laughed.
And with that the March 2011 Mini Truckin' Mojave Road Trip was done. We all can't wait until next year and hope maybe some of you can join us. We have to thank everybody who came on this trip for making it a great one and for making it possible. We couldn't do it with out. See you all next year!