The Mojave Road
March 14 - 146 , 2008
By Neal Johns
Woe is me; there were 18 vehicles to herd and too many people to name. Well, actually, it was more like Go! than Whoa! It was a great trip! In a couple of hours we went from snow to sand dunes covered with colorful flowers. I’ll make an exception for one new couple and name them, Cyrus Sarange and his lovely wife. This was their first trip with us and they were delightful company. But let us start from the beginning.
In the beginning.... there were Mojave Indians living along the Colorado River, the Great River of the West. It was no channelized toy for personal watercraft then, but a roaring flood in the springtime, fueled by snowmelt far away in the mountains. The rich soil deposited on the flat floodplain grew crops to feed the Mojave’s well. Many of them were over six feet tall. When former USN Captain Beale was sent by the government in 1860 to pioneer a wagon road westward, he enlisted the Mojave’s to guide him over their trade route from the Mojave villages (now Bullhead City area) to the coast.
This wagon route was known as the Government Road, later as the Old Government Road, and now, thanks to historian Dennis Casebier, the Mojave Road. Dennis popularized it as a four wheel recreation trail and over a thousand vehicles travel its 120 miles each year. Dennis wrote several learned monographs about the Road, but his Guidebook containing the History, Geology, Botany, and Archeology, mile by mile as you travel along the route, is a classic (and some parts were contributed by Desert Explorers).
I have a thing for historians so I hooked up with Dennis just before he published the Guidebook and became his gofer. This led to many friendships over the last two or three decades and many of these old friends were on the trip. Most had been over the Road before so it was nostalgia time.
After meeting at the Avi Casino, we started the trip from the west bank of the Colorado at Mojave Road Mile 0.0 across from old Fort Mojave. The Fort was soon abandoned and turned into an Indian School where the grandmother of one of our travelers (Ron Ross) taught. Only lonely foundations are there now. Our first stop in a few miles was Granite Springs where we all scampered around gapping at the petroglyphs and pictographs on the cliffs bordering the trickling stream. Then it was onward toward Fort Piute where only ruins remained. Water and more petroglyphs (which go together most of the time) were there, as both humans and draft animals must have water along a desert trail.
The old wagon road over the mountain is washed out, so a quick jog south and we were past the Piute Mountains and into Lanfair Valley where there was much homesteading starting in the early 1900’s. A few remaining desert shacks/vacation homes were all that was visible from this attempt at dry farming.
Along came another waterhole, Rock Springs. Its claim to fame is a well known inscription left by one of the military travelers over the road almost 150 years ago. Little else is known about him.
Saturday night we camped a couple of miles before Camp Marl Springs and it snowed on us! Interesting to see these silly kids of a very mature age running around sticking their tongues out catching snowflakes! The next morning we drove across the edge of Cima Dome (a great pimple on the earth’s surface several miles in diameter where the magma pushed up the earth’s thin crust) to the Mail Box. We all signed in the register and noted the famous statue of Bufo Casebiris, the Mojave Road Toad, was missing! The Lytle Creek Militia is investigating this felony.
Sunday, I noted that three leaves of my left rear springs were broken so I send poor wife Marian home early on the smooth pavement of Kelbaker road when we crossed it. A few other Quitters choose to leave then also. I bummed a ride with the Hansen’s and sat on Jean’s lap the rest of the trip. Sunny was talking petroglyphs and didn’t notice.
The mud trap known as Soda Lake, was dry and we were soon on the other side, wide eyed at the warm, flower covered dunes where we had lunch. Gorgeous! Through the flood plain of the Mojave River and up Afton Canyon’s trickling stream and we were nearing the end of our journey. Some bailed out at Willis Wash and took the freeway home and a few had dinner at Peggy Sue’s and the next morning hiked a few tenths of a mile to the site of Camp Cady, east of Barstow. Nothing but a few foundation rocks and memories left there, but don’t discount good memories, our trip goers brought a lot home with them.
If you have not been over the Mojave Road in recent years, get the Guidebook, Go. Do it. Again. Soon.
(see the photos taken by Allan Wicker, below)