South Through Southern California

Death Valley

Continuing south, my first stop in California was Death Valley. I visited Badwater, 282 feet below sea level, where I was met by crowds of international tourists emerging from their buses. Tourists were filming everything (including the text on the signs) with their camcorders. I paid my $20 park fee at an automated pay station. See in Google Maps See on a USGS topographic map See in Google Earth 36.2285, -116.7692 

Entering Death Valley - Heading Southwest on Daylight Pass (May 28, 2006 2:13 PM)Death Valley - Badwater (May 28, 2006 2:59 PM)Death Valley - Badwater - Automated Pay Station (May 28, 2006 3:10 PM)

One tourist spotted a sickly looking (but alive) Chuckwalla lizard sprawled out on the hot pavement. A park ranger was alerted, and he used a sign to relocate the unfortunate creature to the shade of a nearby sagebrush.

Death Valley - Badwater - Chuckwalla (May 28, 2006 3:13 PM)Death Valley - Badwater - Chuckwalla - Ranger moving lizard with sign (May 28, 2006 3:13 PM)

Mojave National Preserve

My next destination was the Mojave National Preserve. After refueling in Baker, CA on Interstate 15, I wasted an hour trying to enter Mojave via Zzyzx Road. (What a name!) But, you can't. Zzyzx is now a California State Universities Desert Studies Area. After a few more mistakes, including encountering the Baker town landfill, I found an unpaved track south from Baker, and camped at the mines just south of Little Cowhole Mountain, on the east side of the dry Soda Lake. See in Google Maps See on a USGS topographic map See in Google Earth 35.16106, -116.0294 

Mojave Desert - Camping south of Little Cowhole Mountain (May 28, 2006 7:07 PM)Mojave Desert - Camping south of Little Cowhole Mountain - Horned Lizard on my map (May 28, 2006 7:26 PM)Mojave Desert - Camping south of Little Cowhole Mountain - Sunset Moon (May 28, 2006 8:20 PM)

The next morning I drove a few miles west out the only open road crossing Soda Lake to a huge pile of rocks known as Government Cairn. See in Google Maps See on a USGS topographic map See in Google Earth 35.1324, -116.0921 

Mojave Desert - Soda Lake - Zzyzx Springs (May 29, 2006 8:05 AM)Mojave Desert - Soda Lake - Government Cairn (May 29, 2006 8:08 AM)Mojave Desert - Soda Lake (May 29, 2006 8:11 AM)Mojave Desert - Soda Lake (May 29, 2006 8:35 AM)

Wandering east from Soda Lake, exploring the Mojave Desert.... The Cima Dome is a forest of Joshua Trees. Years ago I had marked on my map the infamous Mojave Telephone Booth (now removed), and had to visit the site. See in Google Maps See on a USGS topographic map See in Google Earth 35.2858, -115.6844 

Mojave Desert - Dunes (May 29, 2006 9:12 AM)Mojave Desert (May 29, 2006 9:48 AM)Mojave Desert - Joshua Tree - Geoff (May 29, 2006 10:17 AM)Mojave Desert - Joshua Tree (May 29, 2006 10:53 AM)Mojave Desert - Windmill Water Pump - "Aermotor" (May 29, 2006 11:08 AM)Mojave Desert - Cima Dome - Joshua Trees (May 29, 2006 12:15 PM)Mojave Desert - Cima Dome - Joshua Trees (May 29, 2006 12:26 PM)Mojave Desert - Cima Dome - Cactus (May 29, 2006 12:29 PM)Mojave Desert - Site of Telephone Booth (May 29, 2006 11:28 AM)

Heading south from Mojave, I crossed the famous former Route 66. The road was crowded with traffic — nostalgic tourists, motorcycles, and pickup trucks pulling recreational boats and ATV trailers. This remote road through the desert was dotted with a few abandoned businesses, like Roys Hotel in Amboy, which withered away after most of the traffic had moved to the parallel Interstate 40.

Route 66 - Amboy Site - Roys Hotel (May 29, 2006 3:24 PM)

Joshua Tree National Park

I picked a lesser-used entrance to Joshua Tree National Park, Gold Crown Road, a rugged trail entering from the north. I camped in the Gold Crown Mine area, just north of the Park, and explored the gold mines — many of which were still active. See in Google Maps See on a USGS topographic map See in Google Earth 33.9954, -115.6981  That evening, my camper van was plagued by a swarm of bees which seemed to be attracted to moisture. Except for one bee that got in with me (I noticed when I sat on it), the van's screens did a great job of keeping the bees out. After I finally convinced myself I was safe, I turned up my music to drown out the buzzing sound, and watched the bees investigate my grey water tank vent on the side of the van. (I was pleased that no bees crawled into the van through the drain of the sink.)

Camping - Gold Crown Mine - North of Joshua Tree Park (May 29, 2006 5:28 PM)Camping - Gold Crown Mine - North of Joshua Tree Park (May 29, 2006 5:29 PM)Sign: "Mining Claim - No Prospecting, Panning, Sluicing, Dredging, Sniping, Metal Detecting" - Gold Crown Mine - North of Joshua Tree Park (May 29, 2006 5:56 PM)Camping - Gold Crown Mine - North of Joshua Tree Park - Mine (May 29, 2006 5:57 PM)Camping - Gold Crown Mine - North of Joshua Tree Park - Bees - Sportsmobile (May 29, 2006 7:21 PM)Gold Crown Road - Sportsmobile (May 30, 2006 6:52 AM)Gold Crown Road - Sportsmobile (May 30, 2006 6:56 AM)

Orocopia Mountains

From Joshua Tree to the Salton Sea, I followed a 4WD trail through the Orocopia Mountains along the Red Canyon, and then west along the Bradshaw Trail. See in Google Maps See on a USGS topographic map See in Google Earth 33.55218, -115.6204  Signs warned to not enter the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range to the south. The Bradshaw Trail ended at the Coachella Canal, which was a site of furious construction. As I dodged construction trucks, I watched grading equipment smooth the sides of the canal — chained to a bulldozer so it wouldn't fall in!

Orocopia Mountains - Yucca Flower (May 30, 2006 10:01 AM)Orocopia Mountains - Teddybear Cholla (May 30, 2006 10:09 AM)Orocopia Mountains - Sportsmobile (May 30, 2006 10:16 AM)Orocopia Mountains - Ocotillo (May 30, 2006 11:23 AM)Orocopia Mountains - Bradshaw Trail - Under Train Tracks (May 30, 2006 11:55 AM)Orocopia Mountains - Bradshaw Trail - Under Train Tracks (May 30, 2006 11:57 AM)Sign - "Danger Military Reservation" - Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range (May 30, 2006 12:07 PM)Coachella Canal Construction - Grader chained to a Bulldozer so it won't fall in (May 30, 2006 12:28 PM)

Salton Sea

I stopped for a swim in the almost empty Salton Sea State Recreation Area. The salty water is very shallow, and except for some white sand placed along the shore, the lake bottom is mud and very sharp volcanic rocks. (Ouch!) See in Google Maps See on a USGS topographic map See in Google Earth 33.5047, -115.915 

Salton Sea - State Recreation Area - Beach (May 30, 2006 2:04 PM)

Anza Borrego State Park

West of the Salton Sea is the Anza Borrego State Park. I explored the Borrego Badlands, and camped at "Inspiration Point". See in Google Maps See on a USGS topographic map See in Google Earth 33.2704, -116.2396  With temperatures over 100 °F, the park was pretty empty in late May, so I had it almost completely to myself. Apparently Anza Borrego is a popular winter destination. I also checked out the views from Montezuma Valley Road, and the vegetation (including desert palm trees) of San Felipe Road. Water barrels were placed along this desert road.

Anza Borrego State Park - Fonts Point (May 30, 2006 4:23 PM)Anza Borrego State Park - Borrego Badlands - Fonts Point (May 30, 2006 4:48 PM)Anza Borrego State Park - Borrego Badlands - Camping at Inspiration Point - Sportsmobile (May 30, 2006 6:21 PM)Anza Borrego State Park - Borrego Badlands - Camping at Inspiration Point (May 31, 2006 7:18 AM)Anza Borrego State Park - Montezuma Valley Road (May 31, 2006 8:36 AM)Anza Borrego State Park - Beavertail Cactus (May 31, 2006 9:38 AM)Anza Borrego State Park - Teddybear Cholla (May 31, 2006 9:39 AM)Anza Borrego State Park - Ocotillo Flowers (May 31, 2006 9:42 AM)Anza Borrego State Park - Palm Trees (May 31, 2006 10:13 AM)Anza Borrego State Park - Water Barrels (May 31, 2006 9:58 AM)