baker, ca, california hiking, camping, death valley, geology, high desert, hiking, lava tubes, low desert, military veteran, mojave, mojave desert, ripped off by tow company, san bernadino, spiders, veteran's day, volcanic
title is a throwback to an Edgar Rice Burroughs Fantasy Novel of the same name
My good friend let me know a few months ago that he was going to be in Vegas for the weekend and suggested that we go out to the Mojave desert to explore some abandoned mine shafts over Veteran’s Day weekend. A fellow veteran of the Armed Forces and an all around good dude, I didn’t hesitate to agree to a camping trip – but the Mojave?
Getting to the desert is a pretty easy drive, nothing really to look at on the way out from Los Angeles, except San Bernadino County and it’s high desert boom towns of yesterday. San Bernardino currently has the highest unemployment in California at 10% and roughly 160,000 people receiving food stamps.
If you’ve ever had the urge to try a Trucker Shower, or pay over $5 a gallon for someone to pump your gas at the end of nowhere, be sure to check it out. At a train track stop, I literally got out of my car and walked around for a few moments while the endless train of box cars went by.
Very few people visit the Low Desert, in fact it is the least visited national park in America. 18.5 Million years ago in the Late Tertiary period large volcanic eruptions occurred fairly frequently in the Mojave Desert blanketing the area in volcanic ash, the most recent explosion was about 8,000 years ago.
Deep in the Mojave desert the landscape could not feel more alien, more dead – yet everywhere you look something is alive. At times you are standing at peaks 600 meters high, yet most of the area is almost 80 meters below the sea. I couldn’t help feeling like we were actually on some sea floor by the looks of the landscape.
Over 2000 different species thrive in this environment and the oldest rocks exposed are between 1.7 and 2.5 billion years old (the Early Proterozoic).
This is the living dead – utterly silent, blistering hot during the day and extremely windy and cold at night. A nice reset from the city life, we were tired around 6pm and woke up before dawn every day with the epic sky splitting sunrises. The whole universe filled the sky every night (we used google sky to check out constellations and planets)
Joshua trees scream at the skies; here they are far more dense than Joshua Tree National Forest. The Joshua tree lacks any rings, making it difficult to determine it’s true age. Many of the trees would crumble in my hands; eons must have passed by since they were seed. Long ago they were much further spread out, but the changing climate has relegated them to a small pocket in the south west. The trees are slowly going extinct, with their main ally in seed dispersal, a Giant Ground Sloth going extinct around 13,000 years ago.
Later, as we left the park a ranger stopped to chat, telling us that a hunter had fallen down a mine shaft a few days ago. Though experienced he fell down and broke his leg about half a mile from his car, only to die of exposure after three days. They found him dead on the seventh day, sort of like Jesus.
This certainly freaked us out, as only the day before we found ourselves in an extremely precarious situation, stuck in some deep sand. We ended up having to take a leap of faith and hike 7 miles in the direction we thought was correct ( which ended up being the case) to find help.
One of my favorite things on the trip were the lava tubes we found on a field of cinder cones. Not sure if I mentioned, but there were spiders everywhere you looked as we hiked, I turned a few over to find that they had some serious fangs.
We descended into the cold pitch black caves, filled with rats and brown spiders to find shards of light piercing the darkness, and ethereal clouds of sand rendered into smoke.
All in all, a great trip, though next time I would bring a 4 x 4, a GPS, and more water. The desert is not for the uninitiated, the squeamish, or the faint of heart.