Reports on trips taken in 2020.
DE Meeting Minutes
Saturday, February 1, 2020
We had a brief meeting after Neal Johns’ memorial gathering in Lytle Creek:
Previous Minutes Approved
Treasurer Bill Smith reported that we have a current bank balance of $4,174.14, 66 families and 107 members.
Newsletter All good, please keep sending
in your stories and photos. Rondy Meal information updated and new registration form is in this newsletter. Saturday night dinner will be spare ribs, BBQ chicken or vegetarian empanadas.
It was noted that the Baker to Vegas law enforcement relay race will be held on April 4th,
from Baker on Highway 127. If you are traveling to the Rondy, avoid 127 on Saturday, as teams and support vehicles will slow traffic to a crawl.
Website Deb reported website is being worked on bit by bit. She is currently bringing the newsletter archive up to date. Museum No new MRVM news to report. Trips We have two inbound Rondy trips, all Rondy trip info is updated on the registration form in the February newsletter.
New Business Tabled
Next Meeting We would like to have another meeting mid-March before the Rendezvous at Marian’s in Lytle Creek. Location and date will be announced by email blast.
2019 Baja 1000 Race Watch and Mud Fest Trip Report
November 21-24, 2019 • by Jay Lawrence • Photos by Stan Sholik
I believe it is a basic truth that you never actually need an excuse to go to Mexico, and Baja California is right there within easy striking distance for most of us. Beautiful countryside, friendly people, outstanding food and quite a bit less of the urban blight that has been creeping in on most of the southwestern United States.
Just to be extra diligent in our planning, Stan Sholik and I really did have a good excuse to go to Baja – to see the 52nd running of the Baja 1000 off road race.
Sometimes the race is run down the length of the peninsula from Ensenada to La Paz, other years it is run in a loop, starting and ending in Ensenada. This year it was a loop. The loop version allows race teams to pit and service their vehicles more easily with fewer pit crews. Obviously, the logistics of having pit crews and equipment strung out over the thousand mile length of the Baja peninsula makes the loop version much more attractive to racers.
By extension, it also makes spectating the race a little easier as well. With some judicious planning, you could see the racers early in the race, say Race Mile 100, then pull up stakes and travel cross-country and catch the racers later on the course, say Race Mile 700. That was our plan, but you know all those sayings about plans...
Our plan was simple. Cross the border on Thursday morning, lunch in Ensenada, motor another 70 or so miles to Erendira, camp overnight on the beach around Race Mile 102. In theory, the first motorcycles would be there Friday morning about 4-5 a.m. and the fastest trucks would arrive around noon.
We found the perfect spot about 30 feet from the ocean, set up camp and had a ‘safe arrival’ beer. As predicted, loud race motorcycles hitting 90-100 miles per hour with lights blazing turned up at the appointed hour. But only three or four of them. What was up? A few more bikes dribbled in over the next few hours, but nothing like the fifty or more bike and ATV entrants we expected.
After several hours and no racers, we talked to some folks who had a house nearby and a really good radio who told us “the course was deemed too muddy to run safely and the race was postponed for a day” for the first time in over 50 years. This was also a first for us, so we needed a new plan: Go off in search of a great seafood lunch, see new stuff and reconvene at Erendira for the race later that night.
We found the great seafood in San Quintin and went out to see more of the southern end of the west coast race route. It WAS muddy! Like, packed your wheel wells with so much mud you could not steer the truck muddy. We headed north on the race route until the course crossed an uncrossable ravine. Had we attempted it, we would still be there today. I have no idea how the racers were going to negotiate it, but we rerouted east and north to get back to the Mexico 1 pavement and Erendira.
Another camp setup and safe arrival beer and we were ready for the race.
Saturday morning arrived well before dawn with the fastest bikes blowing by us in the dark at 90-100 mph. Since it would be after noon before the Trophy Truck class vehicles (900 horsepower, 160 mph “trucks”) would be there, we waited out the bikes then headed to the arroyo east of Erendira where the trucks would be guaranteed to be going flat out. Co-pilot and professional photographer Stan would be at the ready for some seriously great action shots.
Local fans stationed themselves in the arroyo with cameras, camp chairs and picnics and the racers blasted down the narrow course with their gas pedals pinned to the floor, their vehicles on the extreme edge of control. Loud doesn’t begin to describe the noise. Huge engines pounded the air. Tires pounded the ground and dust and rocks were going everywhere. Every spectator could feel each pulse of energy and drivers were pushing for any advantage they could gain. They were there and gone in a flash. It was spectacle up close.
Once the fastest classes were by, it was time to get on with our mission. First, find another great meal. This took the form of a wonderful homemade soup followed by chiles rellenos, rice, beans, tortillas and a soda.
Next, top up our gas, head south to our cross country turnoff and turn toward Valle de Trinidad. This is a long, narrow 4WD back road with washouts and dropoffs that we would be negotiating as the sun was setting. We needed to cover some ground and we knew that some of the team pit crews would be using the same route, probably in much more of a rush than we were. This route needed a high level of attention. We were passed by support crews and everybody looked out for each other. We came across one crew truck in a rough place with a broken ball joint on their front suspension, but they assured us they had the problem handled so we pressed on. The sun set in our rear view mirror with Venus and Saturn and the moon on the horizon as darkness fell. After another hour we finally saw the lights of Valle de Trinidad and both breathed a bit easier. Little did we know the night was just going to get a lot weirder.
Now that we had reached pavement again, we headed west for a couple of dozen miles, then turned north on dirt backroads heading toward our destination, Race Mile 695. We found mud. Everywhere. Deep mud, slippery mud, dips with mud, pond sized dips with mud, deep muddy ruts and ravines. This was territory we had covered many times over the years, but the mud made it a whole new ballgame. Finally we came to a ravine too deep and steep to dare crossing lest we end up spending the night in it.
For hours we tried different routes, plotted new tracks and got stumped every time. Finally, we decided to do an end around by heading further west on the pavement, then take a paved spur north toward Santa Catalina and double back east off road. After a few dead ends we found a perfect camp spot about fifty feet from where the racers would come down the course, set up camp and cracked another safe arrival beer. We built a great campfire, pulled out the camp chairs, some food and an excellent bottle of ajo tequila. The racers would arrive sometime after midnight and we would have ringside seats.
We honestly didn’t last that long. After the long day, we were beat and when the firewood burned down, we called it a day.
The big Trophy Trucks did fly by, each one with lights that looked like the sun was coming at you, each one thundering through the night at a fantastic speed having driven almost 700 miles and over fourteen hours at women to compete.
Once the sun was back up, we spectated a bit more and took pictures and agreed it had been a terrific couple of days. After breaking camp we headed back to pavement and Ensenada.
First things first when we hit Ensenada. We needed to find a carwash in the worst way. Muddy episodes in years past had taught us (the hard way) that you will get turned back at the U.S. Border if your muddy vehicle is deemed to be bringing too much “foreign soil” back into the country. We had this happen in 2007 and did not want a repeat performance.
After an hour or more looking for a carwash in Ensenada and striking out miserably, we pulled into a gas station and asked. It turned out a HUGE modern carwash was right next door. For the princely sum of eleven dollars, mud was blasted off, floor mats washed, soap applied, truck scrubbed, rinsed and dried. Mission accomplished.
By now it was mid afternoon and some more super fresh seafood was in order. Fortunate.ly we knew just the place – El Trailero just north of Ensenada. We went, we filled up on shrimp tacos with avocado, crema, pickled red onions and pico de gallo, and then we were official.ly ready to head for home.
We headed to Tecate with the goal of having a quicker border crossing than the mess that is Tijuana. An hour or so in line, some conversation with armed, uniformed agents of the U.S. government, passports shown, a secondary inspection of the truck and presto! We were back in the United States. It was a great trip.
by Marian Johns
December 27, 2019
This is a sad day for me; I lost Neal, last night – actually he died early this morning. Even though his death was expected, it doesn’t make it any easier for me now that he’s actually gone. Looking back, I wish I had had more empathy for Neal and the ordeal of dementia and prostate cancer that he endured. Dealing with someone who was once so independent and self-sufficient was frustrating and I was too impatient at times because of his limitations and need for help.
Neal’s last four days were peacefully spent in a coma; he appeared to be comfortable and not suffering when the end finally came.
I read that hearing is the last sense a dying person retains even though they can’t answer, so I talked to him a lot and told him how much I loved him. We were married almost 30 years and I have no regrets that I picked him to be my partner. We had many wonderful times and adventures together and now I have some wonderful memories. I will miss him terribly. The house is so empty without him.
I have planned to have a memorial get together for his family, for our Desert Explorer friends and for our Lytle Creek friends and acquaintances at the Lytle Creek Community Center on Feb.1 at 11:00 a.m. followed by a catered lunch – so don’t bother to bring a potluck dish.
Richard Neal Johns
1/19/1931 – 12/27/2019
Neal was born in West Plains, Missouri. He was only three when his dad died and his mother remarried a railroad employee. Neal hated his step-father because he was a mean drunk. Consequently Neal never drank – nor did he ever smoke.
When Neal was about eleven, his step-father was transferred to a godforsaken place near the Glamis sand dunes in Imperial County. His mother thought she was in hell because the summer temperatures were unbearable.
Even though he wasn’t motivated to do well in high school, Neal was no dummy. He found his calling in the Navy which he joined right after graduating from Palm Springs High School in 1948. The electronic and radar classes he took in the Navy peaked his interest and provided the motivation he needed to excel.
During the Korean War, he was sent to Japan. Then, in 1954, he was sent to the China Lake Naval Weapons Base (north of Ridgecrest, California) where he was a first class electronic technician. He met and married his first wife, Louise, while there. In 1955 he became a Chief Petty Officer – the youngest Chief in the Navy. In 1956 he was sent to Boston where he worked on outfitting the Navy’s first guided missile destroyer – the Gyatt. He was responsible for the guidance radar system on that ship. He went with the ship when it was sent on a trial run down to Guadalupe in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, he was not a happy sailor – he was sea sick and didn’t swim well. Luckily that was the only time he was on a ship “at sea.”
In 1958, after two stints in the Navy, he and Louise moved back to California where he went to work for General Dynamics as a guidance radar systems engineer. And although he had not gone to college, he passed the graduate engineering exam for professional engineers.
In 1977, Louise divorced him. He once told me that he was devastated and thought he might go crazy. So in order to keep his sanity he bought a new Toyota Landcruiser and began his love affair with the desert and 4 wheeling.
From General Dynamics, he went to work for the Navy as a civilian in Oxnard at Port Hueneme’s Naval Nemesis facility; he worked at the Naval Ordnance Test Station on the Terrier (radar) Missile System there.
When I met Neal on a Backroad Explorer trip in 1988, I had an old CJ5 Jeep that was “locked” front and rear. I guess that Jeep and its driver (me) impressed him because he became rather attentive, helping me (a damsel in distress) when my Jeep broke down. By 1988 he had traded in his Landcruiser (and sleeping in a tent) for a Toyota pick-up with a camper shell – so he could sleep in it out of the weather.
So, in 1990, I ditched the Jeep and married him - and his cozy camper.
Neal Johns’ passing marks the end of an era, a free and beautiful era on the desert that will never be again, a time when one could see a dirt road leading off into the desert and follow it just to see where it led. And Neal did that. I don’t believe there was a road in the East Mojave that Neal had not been on.
If only we could follow Neal into the desert again.
Sue and I met Neal at the “Friends of the Mojave Road” gathering in Nipton in 1985. Yikes, how did 35 years go by so fast? Anyway, as fate would have it Neal was the ﬁrst person we met after we arrived in Nipton that day. Neal wanted to introduce Sue to Dennis Casebier so he took her into the Nipton Schoolhouse, where Dennis was holding court, and proclaimed, “Dennis, look what I found on the desert. Can I keep it?”
Originally Neal had a Toyota Landcruiser that had been extremely well used and he was living and working in Oxnard, or as he called it, the “West Edge of the East Mojave.” His Landcruiser was so well used that navigating it down the road was a bit like navigating a very
large ship. It required a lot of anticipating which direction you would like to go. Fortunately though, it did quite well on dirt roads as the ruts helped to keep it on track. And… Neal’s Landcruiser “cuisine” was unique. Instead of just eating cold food straight out of cans, Neal would take the labels off the cans and mix them up before throwing them in the cruiser. This seemed to add an element of surprise to his meals.
Neal loved Baja. Our trips to Baja were many. On those trips Neal would get up early and have a “Mountain Dew” for breakfast. Then he would drive circles around us honking his horn to get us moving. He even did this one afternoon when we were sipping beer in the hot spring at Puertecitos. Neal hated getting in water and wanted to move on. We were forced to abandon our idyllic spot late in the day and drive a torturous road to Gonzaga Bay. Such was my relationship with Neal in Baja that we almost always came home at extreme odds with each other. Time and the desert would soothe the nerves and our friendship would survive, but we always joked that when things between us were going too swimmingly, it was time for a Baja trip.
When Neal met Marian his life moved beyond “Hope” and his “Indian Guide” (campﬁre stories). Though he still maintained a list of “wives in waiting”, he had been totally smitten. I believe it all started on a 1987 trip in the Providence Mountains when Marian’s Jeep lost its rear driveshaft and yet she still continued on, using only the front wheel drive. At one point she even backed her Jeep up a steep, rutted hill rather than allowing herself to be towed. On a subsequent trip into the Panamint Mountains, the same Jeep’s chassis broke and the engine fan chewed up the radiator. After ﬁeld repairs to the radiator and using a come-along to hold the chassis together, she managed to drive the Jeep out and became Neal’s “woman of considerable will.”
Aw Neal, we will miss your outrageous and risqué sense of humor. We will miss your voice on the CB and your unique way with words. We will miss your desert wisdom. We will miss what made you Neal. You can “Trust me”
on this. ~ Bob Jaussaud
There is so much to say about Neal Johns that it is difficult to know even where to begin. He was one of the founding members of our club and throughout the years he has been the voice of the Desert Explorers. I think our club membership will be writing and talking about Neal for a long time. He was that unique.
I would just like to share with you a couple of my observations regarding Neal and my direct experience and interaction with him. The first thing that comes to mind is that Neal was a teacher. For instance, he took the time on several occasions to teach me the proper use of a GPS device. This might not sound like a big deal but it required considerable time on Neal’s part. He also tutored me in other areas also. Neal was willing to take the time to help so many other people as well.
Another aspect of Neal that comes to mind immediately for me is his sense of humor. You probably all experienced this. He was one of the funniest people I have ever encountered. Neal was the kind of a guy that as soon as you laid eyes on him, you started laughing. Mr. Johns could get away with stuff that was outrageously funny. He was quite unique in that regard.
One other thing I would like to mention right now regarding Neal was his outstanding book collection. I thought I had a good collection of books on Western History but it pales by comparison to Neal’s collection. I can only remember one time when I was able to share a book that Neal didn’t have!
One final thing about Neal that also needs to be said was his ability to find a great wife, namely Marian Johns. Her devotion to Neal and his devotion to her was very touching over the years.
I could write about Neal for a long, long time. There is so much to say. However, I think others can do it more eloquently than I. Nevertheless, I would like to close by saying that the heart and soul of the Desert Explorers is Neal Johns. ~ Bob Jacoby
I always enjoyed listening to him and following him on his “This will be easy” 4WD trips in the Backroad Explorer days. ~ Bob Pelzman
Please extend my condolences to Marian — And well said, he truly was one of a kind and will be remembered by all who knew him around the campfires to come. ~ Dan Messersmith
So sorry to hear of Neal’s passing.
He will be sorely missed. We treasure our memories of traveling all over the desert and beyond with Neal and Marian over a period of almost 30 years. Neal was both knowledgeable and entertaining. Always looked forward to his antics. ~ Ted and Joan Berger
At dawn on my first outing with the Backroad Explorers, I woke to the sound of a revving engine and a honking horn — inches from the door of my tent.
Neal Johns was ready to hit the trail and he wanted to make sure nobody would be holding up the trip.
He loved to be exploring, and going with him was a pleasure and a wonder and always an adventure. Sure, there were breakdowns, some time spent lost and chasing down sketchy
directions, fixing damaged trails so we could continue on, but those were hardly a blip on Neal’s radar. He had to go there, see the place, walk the trails, know the story. And he did this with an uncommon grace, unassuming, and with a fun kind of craziness that was completely infectious. As fellow Desert Explorer Stan Sholik put it, “Neat guy. Never led us anyplace he was sure we could return from. I admire that.” I agree.
After all these years, Neal is in my thoughts and memories on every trip and every trail. I will remember him when things go sideways and when new vistas and formerly hidden pieces of history and natural beauty unfold unexpectedly.
He never let a dragon pass by without pulling its tail. What a great guy. He will be missed by all who knew him.
~ Jay Lawrence
Route 66 Got Federal Recognition...And Got Closed
by Bob Jaussaud
In 1914 the Automobile Club of Southern California erected signs along National Old Trails across the Mojave Desert. In 1927 this route evolved to become Route 66, or the “Mother Road.” Sue and I traveled Route 66 on our honeymoon in 1968. In 1970 we bought our place on the Colorado River and Route 66 carried us back and forth for innumerable river weekends. In those years Route 66 was still booming and traveling it was our wonderful introduction to the desert. We were so lucky to experience things like dining on Buster’s beans at Amboy or getting a burger at the Roadrunner or eating pickled pigs feet in the shade at Chabless or downing a frosty beer around the pool table at Cadiz Summit or, yes, even driving slowly through the speed trap set up near the Danby Court House. Unfortunately everything changed when Route 66 was bypassed in 1973. Even so, Route 66 continues to be a popular historic byway, a beautiful gateway to a gentler time. So why has it been closed?
According to Robert Lovingood, San Bernardino County Supervisor,there are 127 bridges on old Route 66. Many of these bridges saw service from the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s through the roaring 40s,50s, 60s, 70s… right up to the present. Most of the original bridges were of timber construction and many need repair or replacement. There were several bridges damaged by August 2014 flash flooding,but these were quickly repaired by the County of San Bernardino and the road reopened. Unfortunately, Route 66 was closed again after another flash flood in July of 2017. The quandary is that repair of the 2017 damage has not even begun yet. So what is the holdup? One would think that a National Trails Highway in a National Monument would be a priority.
Here’s the snafu. The Presidential Proclamation designating Mojave Trails National Monument also required that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) prepare a management plan for the area within three years of its designation. The BLM has not done this. They are stalling because President Trump issued an Executive Order for the Interior Secretary to review most of the national monuments designated since1996 to determine if they should be reduced in size or eliminated. So, no management plan, no bridge repair.
Also, Route 66 is now a historic highway inside a National Monument. That means that any bridge repair or construction must satisfy the cultural and biological issues raised by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act of 1970 (CEQA). According to Andy Silva, San Bernardino Policy Analyst, “Getting through NEPA and CEQA, even for a project within the right-of-way, is difficult. And these bridges are historic, so you can’t just go in and throw in a concrete bridge. They have to be historically appropriate and still engineered correctly.” And… Who’s going to pay for all these new requirements? Certainly not the Federal Government. They are just making it difficult for San Bernardino to move ahead and repair the bridges.
It seems that in 2016, at California Senator Feinstein’s urging, the route was designated part of Mojave Trails National Monument by a Presidential Proclamation signed by President Barack Obama. Just a year later Route 66 was closed due to bridge washouts and remains closed today. But why can’t the bridges be repaired as they had been for over 100 years? Well, it’s evidently because Route 66 is now inside Mojave Trails National Monument.
Alas, the sad and frustrating bottom line is that much of Route 66 is closed and will remain closed largely because it is within Mojave Trails National Monument. We wish it weren’t so.
A Little Desert Music?
By Debbie Miller Marschke
Steve and I have seen a lot of odd abandoned objects in our desert travels, so this one had us intrigued. We were in Anza Borrego in March 2019 enjoying the superbloom of flowers. We decided to run the Canyon Sin Nombre, when something caught us by surprise and we had to turn the Jeep around to get a closer look. It was shielded by plywood to protect it from the sun, and, yep, someone left a piano in the canyon. It was not a junky piano either, it was in great shape and seemed to be fully in tune. Further down the canyon we could see a campsite, but it was far enough away for us to question whether the piano belonged to this group or not. No one was occupying the camp, so we could not satisfy our curiosity and ask questions. So for the rest of the weekend we made up scenarios (nowadays I guess these clever comments are called “memes”) that would have brought that piano to a remote desert wash and discarded. Let us know if you see it next time you are in Anza Borrego! ~ Debbie