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Friday, 25 May 2018 22:05

Desert Explorers at Large -Baker to Vegas

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Desert Explorers at Large

The Smiths (Bill & Julie) have been out-and-about helping with the annual Baker To Vegas law enforcement run March 16-17. Law Enforcement agencies from around the world compete in this desert relay race every year. We were assigned with the Amateur Radio group at Stage Four of the race along Hwy 127 about 30 miles south of Shoshone. From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. we monitored race radio communications and kept track of the runners as they passed through our checkpoint. The teams were running the 120 mile course from Baker, CA through the night to reach the Finish in downtown Las Vegas. Each runner would run 5 to 10 miles and pass the baton to the next runner at each Stage along the demanding route. An exciting and inspirational event! For more info on this race:

Friday, 25 May 2018 21:54


Written by


By Claudia Heller

February 2018

It was a long-forgotten town along Route 66 in the Mojave Desert that tugged at his heartstrings and gave him a higher purpose. But his love for the Mother Road began long before the fateful day when he discovered that vanished town and its ghostly inhabitants.

He preferred to be known by his first name: Roland. He kept his identity secret though he communicated with a few Roadies on line where he was affectionately known by his first name. “I grew up in Northern Indiana not very far from good ‘ol Route 66” he said. “I moved to California in 1986 and have been back and forth over the Mother Road many, many times.”

He favored sections of the Road in Oklahoma, Arizona “and of course California.” Right after moving to California he confesses he became a “desert rat” and when he could find the time he’d hop on his motorcycle or climb into his truck and head out to the desert.

“I took quite a shine to many of the desert towns over the years,” he confessed, “like Ludlow, Twenty Nine Palms, Amboy, Needles, Kelso and Nipton to name a few.”

One fateful day, Roland left his home in Los Angeles and headed to Arizona on business. To make the drive enjoyable, which he often did, he took Route 66, opting to vacate the boring Interstate. “I had read a book about the Mojave desert,” he said, “and its small hidden treasures.” On one such trip he pulled over to take in some rest time and think about the Road and its historical past. The area where he stopped was barren 

of markings, but he had read about it and knew what secrets it held. From that point on he never talked about the town by name, not wanting to encourage tourists to stop and desecrate the quiet and mostly forgotten spot.

“What a lonely forgotten spot it was,” he recalls. He had heard a rumor that a cemetery had once been discovered there, and on one of his trips he climbed over the railroad tracks and scanned the area as far as his eyes could see. There he caught a glimpse of a disturbance on the desert floor and hiked out to investigate.

There Roland made a discovery that would change his life, give him purpose, and fill his imagination. “What a lonely, long-forgotten patch of desert it was” he thought as he approached what once was a cemetery. The area was obviously a casualty of the elements, and more disturbing, it was the victim of vandals. He noted that only a few of the graves had any rocks around them. He also noted that three graves had been dug up to some extent “like someone had been trying to find some hidden treasures or maybe some bones.” Grave markers were broken and tossed about.

Roland confesses that this “upset me no end, so I decided on my own that over time “I would do my best get the place back in shape.” And so began a labor of love. Each subsequent trip Roland would visit the spot and do a little work filling in and smoothing out the excavated graves and carefully lining each with rocks. He tread softly, replaced markers and replaced a small wire that had encased the spot. “I bought a rake at Home Depot in Barstow which I hide in a location near the cemetery so I don’t have to drag it with me each trip,” he said 

What made Roland feel so responsible for this little cemetery that had been so ill-treated? He explains:

“Why did I do this, and continue to do it? Probably because as a kid, my parents would drag me and my three older sisters to our family cemetery in northern Indiana. My parents would spend hours there, planting, weeding, and watering the graves of their parents and a few other close relatives. As a kid, I would usually get bored while my parents were doing their graveyard chores and wander around the place doing ‘boy things’ like exploring for gold or scratching my skinny little behind. But to this day I have never forgotten what my parents did, not because they had to, but because they wanted to.”

Living over two thousand miles away from where his parents are buried, Roland knew he could not tend their graves but “if I’m out in the desert and have extra time, I felt I could make a difference in this lonely little cemetery out in the middle of nowhere.”

There are few who know Roland’s story. He says he has not mentioned it to his family or friends. In his own words: “If you would like to write about this, that is OK by me, but please don’t use my last name or advertise the name of the town.” Roland did share his story with a trusted author whose writings about Route 66 in the California desert enthralled him. That person, Joe de Kehoe, is well known to Route 66 enthusiasts. He has authored several books including The Silence and the Sun.

Roland often wrote about his adventures on the Road and his emails were easy to spot, always bold, italic and centered on the page. Joe shared one of the emails he received:

I stopped out at the cemetery last night on my way home from Las Vegas and did my usual clean-up work until well after dark.... ....I love that place after dark when there’s a full moon.... So peaceful.... ....It’s like time stands still for me when I’m out there....

Roland’s emails stopped for a while and then, sadly, both Joe and I received word that Roland had died unexpectedly. His family had found his correspondence and was kind enough to inform us of his untimely passing.

We are so very sad to hear this news. His love for Route 66, his compassion for those buried in a lonely graveyard in the Mojave, his hard work to give respect to ghosts he never knew, and his poignant descriptions of his time in the vanished town are not lost. Rest in peace, Roland.

Anza Borrego State Park and Overland Stagecoach Trail

March 7-8 • Trip Report  By: Jerry & Dolly Dupree

Photos: Pete & Janet Austin, Julie & Bill Smith,  Allan Wicker

The trip covered the area around Borrego Springs, which is a very nice small town west of the Salton Sea in the Anza Borrego Desert. There is so much to see and do in the area although we could only cover a small amount of it, and it required all of the time allotted. It was an enjoyable trip without a problem, leisurely pace, and no uncomfortable roads. Members met at Jerry and Dolly’s house and wound through backroads crossing the sea level contour and where the ancient sea level is plainly visible   on the nearby mountains. We had perfect weather and no wind.

The members who attended were Jerry and Dolly Dupree, Frederick Rabb, Peter and Janet Austin, Bill and Julie Smith, Allan Wicker and his guest and former colleague, Adnon Aswad, Peter and Theres Browne. We were a lively group and several members of the party had researched many of the destinations online, which made it more interesting to have additional knowledge of the history and other information.

The first stop was Font’s Point, named after the navigator/cartographer and priest who went on the De Anza Expedition, which began in Sonora, Mexico through Alta California for three months and founded San Francisco. Font’s point overlooks the Borrego Badlands which were formed by sediments deposited from the Colorado River when its course flowed in this location. The land patterns were formed by water, followed by water and wind erosion. It is a spectacular view similar 

to the Grand Canyon and Bryce National Park.

The trip continued to Christmas Circle, so named because one of the De Anza expedition soldier’s wives delivered the first non Indian baby in California on Christmas Day. The circle is a large roundabout with a park, shade trees, tables, and restrooms. We relaxed and enjoyed the park visit.

We passed several of the famous Borrego Springs metal sculptures of dinosaurs, horses, and a friendly dragon. We stopped to examine and photograph them and then continued to Coyote Canyon to follow the route of the De Anza expedition, which parallels the San Jacinto earthquake fault, visible by the abrupt uplift. There are springs created by water seeping through the fissure in the earth with the water disappearing back into the sand a short distance below the source. We headed back to town and checked in to our hotels before dinner. We had made a reservation for a group campsite in the State Park, but none of us were camping, so my deposit was forfeited, <sigh>.

We had dinner at the Palm Canyon Hotel and had plenty of time to mix and mingle with each other and discuss each of our destinations and learned more about each other.

We had reservations for breakfast in a nice cafe and then headed for the state park visitor’s center for a very informative and well done video about the Anza Borrego Desert and its habitat. We also bought books, maps, and souvenirs.

We headed for the Overland Trail Butterfield stagecoach road and to the Vallecito stage station. There were stage stations every 20 miles to change horses, rest the passengers, spend the night, or have a meal. The building is made of adobe and was restored and is located within a San Diego County Park and campground.

We turned around and backtracked to Box Canyon where the Mormon Battalion were forced to chisel the rock walls wide enough to allow the passage of their wagons and cannons. They were en route to join in the Mexican American war and fight in the biggest battle of the war in California. The American army was surrounded and besieged and Kit Carson managed to slip through the Mexican lines to get reinforcements from San Diego to win the battle.

Our final destination was Blair Valley, with a short hike around an Indian encampment or village where there is evidence of their presence with grind stones, cooking area, and pictographs.

This marked the end of the trip and members left to the shortest way back to their homes. We had members spread out as far as La Jolla, Claremont, Joshua Tree, Arizona, and the Coachella Valley.

“May your moccasins only leave happy tracks”.

 ~ Jerry

Thursday, 24 May 2018 23:00

Something to think about?

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This just in -

Always a delight to get a DE newsletter – especially one that highlights this group at its best, doing things for the folks out in the desert. Want to correct one small blooper – the so-called “bird” glyph outside Inscription Canyon was the logo of the ASA (Archaeological Survey Association). I know because I was the last director of that group, before we disbanded. I’m attaching a piece I wrote on the history of the ASA, as recently printed in the CVAS December newsletter.    ~ Anne

Something to think about?

By Anne Q. Stoll

This is a true story about a man who loved rock art and archaeology and who believed in the power of legacy. This man was Charley Clayton Howe (1897–1987), a shopkeeper in Los Angeles by 

day and an avid photographer and amateur archaeologist in his heart. Charley was one of the early volunteer members of the Archaeological Survey Association (ASA). He joined in 1948, just a year after the group’s founding at a pivotal meeting at the Southwest Museum in Highland Park in January, 1947. The big thinkers of the day had the idea to divvy up the state of California and archaeologically survey “everything” within its borders. This monumental task is of course still far from complete but the point is, at that time they genuinely believed it could be done. The field crew were to be drafted from the ranks of volunteers already known to the local institutions, some of whom had been collecting and bringing in “treasures” to museums for years.

Charley Howe was just the kind of volunteer they were looking for – he loved the outdoors, had the needed skills and possessed a strong desire to help. Thus in the late 1940s the ASA was born and soon a dedicated group was out nearly every weekend conducting archaeological reconnaissance of the southern half of the state. Early field leaders included Stuart Peck, Freddie Curtis, Charles Rozaire, Edwin Walker, William Wallace, Ruth DeEtte (“Dee”) Simpson and Ben E. McCown. Charley Howe served as the ASA’s official photographer, helping with surveys and excavations whenever he could. Between 1948 and 1963, when the ASA’s headquarters were located at the Southwest Museum, Howe photo-documented ASA’s work at over 78 sites. Toward the end of 1963, Dee Simpson and the San Bernardino County Museum took over and the ASA’s orientation shifted to recording 

sites in the Mojave Desert. Charley Howe remained ASA photographer through 1972, and even served a term as organization president. When he retired, Charley transferred title to all of his negatives and images to the ASA, along with copyright, a very great gift. His photos were his legacy and he hoped they would prove useful someday.          

Fast forward to the 1990s -- Charley and most of the original ASA crew had passed on. The party celebrating ASA’s 50th anniversary in 1997 was a very small event and at the last general meeting on October 26, 2002 only 19 members attended. This is how the conversation about legacy formally began for the ASA. Those of us who remained realized we had a big job ahead of us. The ASA had valuable assets, paintings, photographs, tapes, site records, manuscripts, organizational records, artifact collections, maps, Super 8 movies, and many books, gifts and bequests from former members -- boxes and boxes of stuff, all being stored for “the future.”

The work of sorting, selling, giving and finding the right home for everything took several years. Charley Howe’s images became the star of the ASA legacy show and finding them the ideal new home was perhaps our greatest success. In 2008 we formally presented the Charley Clayton Howe Photograph Collection to Cal. State San Bernardino John M. Pfau Library Special Collections. One of our board members, Rosalind Srivastava, catalogued and created a finding aid for the collection and oversaw the restoration of much of the film that had been improperly stored and damaged over the years. Most importantly, all the images were 

digitized and placed online where they can be seen and used today. Although permission must be formally requested, there is no charge to use any of the Howe images. Go to to see the finding aid (bottom of the page). Once you get an image number you want to see, go to to check it out. Jill Vasailakos-Long in Special Collections (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) is the contact for the collection.

Charley Howe photographed many sites in California and Nevada. These images are now about 50 years old. Some of the perhaps better known sites he photographed include Black Canyon, Inscription Canyon, Burro Flats, Painted Cave, Mutau “Meadows,” Little Lake, Grapevine Canyon, and Coso Hot Springs. But there are many smaller, lesser known wonders in the collection as well, along with people and excavation shots and the inevitable mystery items. Charley seems to have enjoyed photographing native people. In the 1960s in Lone Pine, California he documented a meeting between ASA and the elders and children of the local Paiute tribe. In 1956 and 1957, he went with camera to Baja California and later did a series with the Tarahumara in Copper Canyon, Mexico. Not all the images are good quality but I invite you to check them out. And perhaps you will be inspired to find a good home for all your great shots of our amazing deserts!

Thursday, 24 May 2018 22:50

Desert Explorers at Large

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Desert Explorers at Large

Greetings! Grand Falls on the Navajo Nation is a unique spot to explore if you are ever near the Flagstaff, Arizona area in late February or the month of March. It is up the Leupp Road to the Reservation which is paved and then you travel about 10 miles NW on a fairly maintained dirt road to the Falls. They are chocolate in color and vary in flow capacity with the snowmelt/Spring rains and sometimes flow in July or August if the summer monsoons are abundant. Beautiful to view at the top (it is taller than Niagara Falls!) and interesting geology to examine if you take the short trail around the bottom. A very primitive area that takes a bit of examining (especially for Safety) as you make your way through the lava rocks and slippery areas. This is the Little Colorado River that flows over Grand Falls and through the Navajo Nation past Cameron into The Grand Canyon.   ~ Julie Smith

Thursday, 24 May 2018 22:41

Old Railroads of the West

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Old Railroads of the West

Michael Vermette - KI6JFU

I’ve been fortunate to travel with several people who are railroad history buffs and they always have great stories to tell about the early days of railroading.  While all I could see in front of me was some old track beds and the remains of 

some trestles, their stories brought their history to life and painted a picture of the efforts to settle the American West.

As I listened to the stories, I could see that there were a lot of common elements between the railroad companies.  It seemed as if every group of businessmen in the West were dead set on starting their own railroad and making money hand over fist.  In fact, many did just that.  Some of the big names in our country’s history owned railroads and made their fortunes that way.  Some famous names I’m sure you’ll recognize were railroad developers.  John D. Spreckels and the San Diego and Arizona Railway Company, Leland Stanford and the Central Pacific Railroad, Cornelius Vanderbilt and several eastern rail networks, and the list goes on and on.

The history of railroads in the U.S. was marked by extreme competition, cut-throat politics, and a patriotic belief that the nation’s destiny was to stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  The first rail network to develop in the U.S. was the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in about 1830.  From the famous B&O, hundreds of railroads developed and are too numerous to list.  Very quickly, railroad barons started consolidating small railroads into big railroads.  In the process, some tracks were built up and some tracks were abandoned.  Some tracks started in the middle of nowhere and ended in the middle of nowhere as civilization surged in unexpected directions.  We see the result of that consolidation today and to trace the history of a particular railroad can be a challenge.  I can’t begin to discuss all the famous names in this article, but there are some basic milestones in railroad history that are of interest to 

those of us who go off-road and explore the desert.

In 1862, President Lincoln approved the Pacific Railway Act.  The act authorized the federal government to financially back the construction of a transcontinental railroad.  The dream of a transcontinental railroad was the cornerstone of a national policy called “Manifest Destiny”, which is basically the belief that the United States should occupy all of North America.  Due to the Civil War, construction was delayed but by 1866, the Central Pacific Railroad started laying track east from Sacramento and the Union Pacific Railroad started laying track west from Omaha, Nebraska.  It was a race of sorts to see which railroad company could lay the most miles of track before they joined up.  While it is fun to think of railroad barons cheering their teams on, it was actually a significant financial benefit to lay each mile of track.  The federal government paid the railroads $16,000 for each mile of track plus giving them generous land grants along the track.  By the time they joined up at Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10, 1869, the Central Pacific had laid 690 miles of track and the Union Pacific had laid 1,087 miles of track.

Eventually, three other transcontinental links were in place by 1883:  The Northern Pacific Railroad stretched from Lake Superior to Portland, Oregon; the Santa Fe extended from Atchison, Kansas, to Los Angeles, and the Southern Pacific connected Los Angeles with New Orleans, Louisiana.  A fifth line, the Great Northern, was completed in 1893.  Each of these companies received extensive grants of land, although only the first received government loans.

In the four years following the joining of the first transcontinental rail line, the length of track in the U.S. doubled to over 70,000 miles.  By the turn of the century, virtually the entire country was accessible by rail, making a national economy possible for the first time -- and profits were huge!  While federal assistance with money and land was vital to the expansion, it amounted to only 8% of the total track laid making private investments responsible for the overwhelming majority of railroad construction.

It was the land grants that eventually made the most money for the railroads and shaped the development of the western movement.  At the same time that the federal government was giving away land to the homesteaders by means of the Homestead Act of 1862, the government was giving away huge sections of land to the railroad developers.  The government’s goal was to encourage the railroads to construct their tracks where few people lived in order to help settle the country.  For example, approximately 16% of Nebraska’s total land mass was given to various railroad companies, either by the federal government or by the state itself! 

Along the major rail lines, companies such as Union Pacific and the Burlington were given every other square mile of land (called a section).  This checkerboard of land extended back twenty miles on both sides of the track.  This means that the railroads owned a total of twenty sections of land for each mile of road constructed!  The accompanying map of Franklin County, Arkansas from 1893 is an example of just how much land was owned by the railroads. 

On top of the official federal land grants, states and towns would often give the railroads free land, buildings, or other concessions in order to lure the railroads to route tracks for their benefit.  The politics of where the tracks were laid was intense and often violent.  The proximity of the railroad was often the make-or-break element in a town’s survival.  Just like in the later years, the routing of a highway or freeway could make or break a city (remember Historic Route 66 and Amboy)?

The ideal plan for a railroad was to lay the track, get the land grants, get paid for cargo, promote development, and then sell the land.  This proved very profitable for the railroad companies and they heavily promoted land opportunities to farmers and ranchers.  Flyers in the east promised the sun, moon, and stars (and pre-fabricated houses) to anyone who wanted to buy passage to the west.  Economic fads such as ‘dry land farming’ lured people to the desert to try growing just about anything.  In fact, dry farming techniques were tried in the Mojave Desert in the Landfair Valley.  Despite abundant unscrupulous speculation, many fortunes were made and the incredibly rapid growth of the West was made possible.

All in all, the government was well compensated for their investment of money and land. By opening up new markets for eastern goods, and connecting mineral and fertile farming land, it is estimated that by the end of World War II that rail companies returned over $1 billion dollars, or over 8 times the value of the lands to the economy.  In terms of the western expansion, the principal commodity transported across the rails to California was people and a passenger could go 

coast to coast in as little as six days.  An important point often overlooked was that families could now accompany the workers with relative ease, forever changing the nature of the wild west.

Over time, the railroad barons and their railways grew by absorbing all the smaller railroads or by buying up their track and right-of-ways as they went broke.  Some of the more notable local railroads left remnants behind that we see in our explorations.  While there are too many to name, I’ll talk about about the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad, one of my favorites and one many of you will recognize. 

The Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad was started in 1905 and ran from the Santa Fe rails near Ludlow, CA north to Gold Center, NV near Tonopah.  Side spurs ran to Beatty and Rhyolite in Nevada and spurs in Death Valley to the Lila C Mine. It was completed in 1907, merging with the Bullfrog Goldfield line and also the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad.  It was originally intended to connect Las Vegas and Death Valley to Los Angeles but ran into competition problems with the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad.  I’ve heard stories that the name Tonopah and Tidewater gave the competition the idea that the T&T’s grand plan was to run track all the way to the ocean and compete with the Los Angeles lines, who therefore did everything possible to block their way.  As  there were no other ‘tide waters’ in the desert, this story may very well be true.  The T&T made money hauling minerals such as gold ore from Rhyolite but primarily by hauling borax from the mines in Death Valley and Boron.  The portion of track that runs through Broadwell Dry Lake, just north of Ludlow, CA was abandoned in 1933 

after major flooding.  At that point, operations for the T&T were run out of Crucero, located just east of Afton Canyon.  The flood of 1938 inundated the entire southern Mojave area and basically ended the future of the T&T.  By 1940, the entire line was out of service, and in 1942 the rails and supporting hardware were scrapped over the period of a year to support the war effort during World War II. 

If you’ve been to Afton Canyon near the western end of the Mojave Road, you’ve probably passed by Crucero, one of the ‘mystery’ towns you often run into.  By mystery town, I mean a town that shows street layouts on the maps, but there is nothing there to indicate it ever existed.  I found out that towns like Crucero are marked on the maps based on plans that were filed at some point with the county and they still persist today.  You’ll see them on your GPS and some map atlases but they never really existed -- as we all know, the desert is a place of busted dreams.  Of note, Crucero was the crossing place of the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad, now the Union Pacific.  Remnants of the bridge crossing can still be seen. 

For railroad history buffs, or just curious explorers, it is interesting to follow the track beds starting in Ludlow and heading north on Broadwell Dry Lake.  Starting at the Dairy Queen in Ludlow, you can follow the elevated track bed across the dry lake, through the hills and into Crucero at the souther edge of the Afton Canyon watershed.  From there, you’ll need to navigate west to find the nearest crossing for the U.P. tracks and work your way back east to Crucero on the north side of the tracks.  You can follow the track bed intermittently up to the western edge of Soda Lake and still 

see the elevated track bed in the sand dunes there.  If you use a topo map, the track bed is still marked as it passes over the mountains heading towards Silver Lake, Alamagosa Valley, and Death Valley, where parts of it can still be reached. I haven’t followed the route beyond Soda Lake, but I have found parts of the track bed that still exist near Tonopah, NV.  Little remains of the T&T’s terminus in Gold Center, NV except the foundations of a stamp mill and the remains of a cyanide plant (cyanide was used to leach gold from the ore).

Learning about the history of the des.ert is what keeps me going back to listen in the silence for the voices of the past.

   ~ Michael

Desert Explorers Go Nuclear!

Nevada National Security Site Tour

by Bob Jaussaud

Last January 30, four Desert Explorers were lucky enough to be included in a group visiting the Nevada Test Site (NTS), currently known as the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS), America’s nuclear proving ground. Several times a year, the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas hosts a tour to the site. These tours are filled almost as soon as they are announced and each person on a tour is security checked. People had come from as far away as Michigan and Florida just to be on our tour. 

Unfortunately, you won’t see any personal pictures of this trip, as cameras (including those on cell phones) are strictly forbidden.

The NTS is a 1350 square mile restricted area in Southern Nevada and was the location for nuclear weapons testing for the United States and the United Kingdom. It was established in 1950 by President Truman. Close to 1100 nuclear tests were preformed there until the Limited Test Ban Treaty took effect in 1962. The site has been used recently as a nuclear waste repository but, because of the North Korean threat, President Trump has instructed the NTS to be ready for a new nuclear test within 6 months of notification.

Our group, including Mignon Slentz, Ron Lipari and the Jaussauds arrived at the Atomic Testing Museum at 7 a.m., still sleepy but very excited. After a check of IDs, we were issued a security pass and allowed to board the bus to Mercury, the NTS townsite. Mercury at one time included a large  cafeteria (still in operation),  a steak house,  a movie theater, a 6 lane bowling alley, a liquor store and a Nye County Sheriff substation. The town is owned by the federal government and managed by the Department of Energy.

From Mercury, we were taken to Frenchman Flat, where the first tests took place. The Priscilla Test was a 37 kiloton bomb suspended from a balloon and detonated 700 feet above ground. A man- made forest of pine trees, buildings of numerous different construction techniques and even pigs dressed in various garments were in line with the blast as part of the test. Pigs were used because their skin is similar to humans. Railroad bridges constructed 

for the test were made of massive I-beams which had been contorted as if they were butter. Even bank vaults were constructed for the test. I should note here that it is my hope and understanding that the pigs were far enough away and dressed well enough that they survived with only emotional damage from being forced to wear clothes.

Tests at Yucca Lake included completely furnished homes constructed to test the effects of the blast from the 1955 Apple II nuclear bomb test. We were taken to the foreboding remains of one of the homes.

Sedan Crater is at the northeast end of the NTS and is very close to the infamous Area 51. Sedan Crater is the result of a shallow blast to test the feasibility of using nuclear bombs for peacetime excavation. It was part of the Plowshare Program.

The most interesting site, in my opinion, was Icecap. This is an underground test that was scheduled for the spring of 1993. Because of the 1992 moratorium on testing, Icecap remains intact. We were able to enter the massive 210 foot, 12 story tower that was needed to lower the bomb into its hole. On the 4th floor, we were able to see the rack that held the bomb that was to be lowered 1200 feet into the earth. This was a massive operation. The rack is 160 feet tall and has an 8 foot diameter. The 1200 foot deep hole it was to be lowered into was required to be drilled perfectly straight so the rack would not get stuck or twisted. There were 245 large cables attached to the canister and dressed out on the desert floor ready to be lowered, with the rack. 

Before returning to Mercury, we were taken to a radioactive waste management site. This is the current use for a portion of the NTS. We were extremely lucky to see a transport coffin being opened so its contents could be buried.

We were given a final break at the Mercury cafeteria before being bussed back to Las Vegas. It had been a very fun and informative day. Highly recommended!   ~ Bob

East Mojave Heritage Trail – Second Segment Ivanpah to Rocky Ridge

February 23-25, 2018

Trip Report  By: Nelson Miller

We had an adventure, following Dennis Casebier’s book. Neal was the “pathfinder” and developed the road log for all four of the Heritage Trail Books, so we had his recollections along the way. We met Friday at Yates Well Road, just south of Primm. There were Neal 

and Marian Johns, Nelson Miller, Bob and Sue Jaussaud, Dave Burdick, Dean Linder, Tracy Wood, Lindsay Wood, Dave Rehper, B.J. and Jerrod Keeling, Glenn Shaw, Ron Lipari, Bruce Barnett, Mignon Slentz, and Randy Peterson.

We headed off through the Solar Plant up to Old and New Ivanpah. I kept trying to picture and imagine the large mills they had at these sites in the early 1880’s. There are only a few rock foundations and flat spots left, so this is difficult to imagine. From Ivanpah, we headed up the mountain toward the huge Colosseum Mine and tailings. This funny white stuff began to float around us and we were soon caught in a brief snow flurry. Yes, it was cold. We stopped and had lunch at what Bob said was the Frank Curtis Cabin.

After crossing Excelsior Mine Road, we briefly stopped at Kelly Field a 1930’s era airfield along the Los Angeles to Salt Lake airmail route. We did not drive out the site of the wind sock, which is now a quarter mile inside the Wilderness boundary. Casebier relates that Ken Wilhelm, who with his wife Mabel operated Kelly Field, was one the first “off-roaders” in his modified Dodge, which he called “Leaping Lena.” Earle Stanley Gardner highlighted the Wilhelm brothers in his book, The Desert is Yours. I remember a Plymouth we had when I was growing up, which my Mom called Leapin’ Lena. Now I know where that came from!

Since the upper part of Kingston Wash is now in the Wilderness Area, we followed Excelsior Mine Road up to where it met the “Kingston Cut-off” along the old Salt Lake to Los Angeles Trail. The Kingston Cut-off is an 1850’s era road used by emigrants and freighters, which was a shortcut along the route of 

the Old Spanish Trail. We followed the Kingston Cut-off southwestward until we intersected Kingston Wash. This is a “cherry-stem” between two Wilderness Areas. We stopped at the “Mailbox” and Coyote Holes, which Neal was able to locate for us since these are no longer adjacent to the trail. At Kingston Spring, Neal related how he had followed a mule trail which leads directly from Coyote Holes to Kingston Spring.

Friday night camping, it got down to 23 degrees! It was chilly, but Glenn stayed toasty in his new pop-up camper, as did Neal and Marian in their new camper. The rest of us were a bit cold. Neal and Marian now have an old camper they want to get rid of.

Saturday, we drove along the old Tonopah and Tidewater (T&T) Railroad grade for over 5 miles, from Valjean to Riggs, two sidings along the T&T. It is a wonder to me how the T&T operated for over 30 years (1907-1940), with as many washouts as it must have had. We explored three cabins, the nicest of which is just east of Riggs. It has been fully cleaned up and restored and is a beautiful little cabin, complete with some really nice rock walkways and patio. In the interest of time, we bypassed the Silver Lake  Talc Mine.

At this point, we departed the Heritage Trail route to take a short cut around the north side of the Hollow Hills Wilderness Area. This saved thirty miles by avoiding driving into Baker along the powerline roads. However, it also began our misadventures, as Nelson repeatedly missed turns and took wrong turns. Dave, Bruce, Randy and Bob all tried to keep us on track. Bob lead us up to the microwave relay station on Turquoise Mountain. This has an awesome view in all directions, but was freezing cold, with 

the wind chill. After the microwave relay station, Nelson continued leading us astray, but Bob eventually was able to lead us to a nice campsite at an old inn/way station along one of the early auto roads near Halloran Springs. These misadventures means we missed what some have called the “UFO Site”, see photo, which is a short distance off the Heritage Trail. Dave and Dean had enough of the cold, so went off to stay at Dave’s place in Cottonwood Springs, but rejoined us Sunday morning.

Sunday, we took the freeway from Halloran Springs to Cima, where those that needed to, got gas. We rejoined the Heritage Trail at Valley Wells. From Valley Wells, we basically paralleled the powerline road, which comes from Hoover Dam, to Mountain Pass. We crossed the freeway at Mountain Pass and headed south. Our misadventures continued as Nelson made a couple more wrong turns. We stopped at the Riley Bembry grave site and then had lunch at Riley’s Camp, which has several nicely restored cabins.

Heading east from Riley’s Camp we reached Cima Road, where a number of people headed for home to beat Sunday traffic. A few had left earlier at Mountain Pass. We had to detour south around another Wilderness Area, but headed toward the Lava Tube. To end the day, Dave, Dean, Randy and I drove out to Kelbaker Road and went over to the Dry Falls. Once again, Randy had to get us there as we had taken another shortcut from the Heritage Trail. In my defense, I must have already been getting sick, as Monday through Wednesday, I was sicker than a dog.

Thus ended, our trip along Book 2 of the East Mojave Heritage Trail.               ~ Nelson

Thank you,  Nelson Miller!

I would like to give Nelson a big thank you for taking on the leadership of the Second Segment of the East Mojave Heritage trip, (Feb. 23-25). Since Neal and Dennis Casebier laid this route out some 30 years ago things have changed. Neal’s memory of all the turn lefts and turn rights is fuzzy after all these years. We have done some of this route since then, but not all of it. Then too some of the landmarks and other physical things on the ground have changed. Anyway, Nelson did an honorable job of guiding the group of 12 vehicles over the parts that Neal didn’t remember too well.

Thanks also to all the participants who came on this trip for their patience. It was nice to see some new (to me)  faces - and some old familiar faces too.

                                    Marian Johns

Thursday, 24 May 2018 22:12

2018 - Trip Report - Rainbow Basin Natural Area

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Rainbow Basin Natural Area

By Danny Siler

I enjoyed my day hiking and exploring Rainbow Basin in the Mojave Desert.

This fantastic area was chris.tened in 1966 as a National Nat.ural Landmark by the National Park Service. It is managed by the Bureau of Land Manage.ment (BLM) and has been designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). It is set aside for its colorful geological features and its wealth of fossil resources that do not exist anywhere else.

It is located in the Mud Hills about 8 miles north of Barstow by taking Irwin Road (not Fort Irwin Road). It should be easily found on any map. I’ve been seeing it on the AAA San Bernardino County map for most of my adult life - and finally I went out there for a play day.

It is best described as a mish/mash     landscape of multi-colored hills, canyons and washes. Badlands and sculpted formations of fantastic shapes and eroded into spires and narrow ravines. Huge slabs of red, orange, white, and green stone are tilted at crazy angles like ships about to capsize.

There is a one-way narrow dirt road that loops through Rainbow Basin. To go hiking and exploring was merely to pull the car over to the side of the road at a wide spot and get out and take off on foot. Some pullouts have been carved out of the road for this.

In the midst of it is a small parking lot and viewing deck. And once again, here, I got out of the car and wandered on foot for another two hours.

All in all I spent five hours on foot at Rainbow Basin. I climbed to the top and across the formations shown in all the photos. Thankfully I never slipped or fell. My favorite areas were the syncline and the tilted uplift layers of rock formations. I enjoyed being out of the car and traveling on foot - close to nature, the dirt, the rocks, the lizards, all the sizes and shapes around me, and the sound of the crunch underfoot. I went mid-week and I saw only one other vehicle pass through.

Nearby is the newly refurbished Owl Canyon Campground which any Desert Explorer would enjoy; conveniently it has the nearest toilet.

 I want to return here soon because I recently read that the nearby Owl Canyon is a great hike that narrows to a slot canyon and has cave-like side canyons. I’ve seen photos of fossil animal footprints in the county online archives. Also a place nearby I want to return to visit is the adjacent Fossil Canyon. I read you can drive your vehicle as far as possible up the wash, then get out on foot and continue up the interesting canyon.  ~ Danny

Tuesday, 20 February 2018 22:53

2018 - Trip Reports - Desert TOADS

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Desert TOADS

by Bob and Sue Jaussaud

The adventure began with a call from Marian Johns: “I know this is last minute, but can you meet us in Baker tomorrow? We are going with the Harders to try and find a cabin we have never seen in theMojave.” Sue and I couldn’t pass up an invitation like that.

A friend of a friend had told Neal and Marian about this wonderful cabin near the Old Dad Mountains and they wanted to find it. We didn’t know that such a thing existed, namely a cabin in the Mojave that Neal and Marian had never seen. We hadn’t heard of it either. Turns out that it does exist and is in fine shape due to the efforts of a jeep club that has adopted it.

The cabin is located near the Brannigan Mine, where gold was discovered in 1905. The mine wasn’t a big producer, but it seems the Herrod family occupied the cabin until the 1970s. Recently the cabin has been adopted by the Desert TOADS, “The Old As Dirt & Sand” jeep club. Many thanks to theTOADS for preserving this unique piece of Mojave history and to Marian for including us in this adventure.      ~ Bob & Sue



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