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2021 - Trip Report - A Trifecta

A Trifecta

 (sort of)

by Ed Jack

Disclaimer: I’m not an expert at much of anything and any quirky facts shared were merely the result of some creative Googling. As you know, everything you find on the internet is true. Right?

The idea of a winter trek started as a notiosn to traverse the California Backcountry Discovery Route (CABDR) from Yuma to Bishop. Shoot down to Yuma in the middle of winter and see how far north we could get before we had to return home. After talking to my desert explorer buddy Pat we decided we’d head out on the 4th of February and spend the next eleven days traversing the deserts from Joshua Tree NP, to Yuma and back north to the Mojave. Call it a Trifecta (sort of) as we’d be exploring the Colorado Desert (a subsection of the Sonoran desert making it a “sort of”), then a bit of the Sonoran Desert as we head over to Quartzsite for a little respite and then on to the Mojave Desert.

We started the trip by heading over to Indio and then swearing off as much blacktop as we could for the next eleven days. What better way to kick off the trip then a short loop up Thermal Canyon and then back down Pinkham Canyon. This gave us a taste of the lower Colorado Desert and a bit of the Mojave in one quick trip. Even on this short loop you could see the Ocotillo slowly disappear as we climbed north and then reappear as we headed back south. Leaving Joshua Trees behind we headed south under the 10 and across the expanse to the Orocopia Mountains searching for camp. There was a bit of wind but we lucked out by finding a nice spot tucked up into a box canyon.

Pat’s plan for the trip was to limit driving to around four hours a day with a nice break each hour. This worked out perfectly and turned our days into wonderful exploring events as opposed to a mad dash from one point to another. Day 2 found us back on the trail around 9:30 a.m. and picking our way south. We started on the Meccacopia Jeep trail and headed toward the Coachella Canal. The canal would be a familiar traveling companion as we worked our way south toward Ogilby and eventually Yuma. When the jeep trail eventually started to turn back north we found another trail that took us all the way down to the canal. Traveling along the canal we passed the trailhead for the Bradshaw trail, past an RV park on Spa Road and eventually to the infamous Slab City. We’ve been through there before so we didn’t stick around for too long and started looking for a campsite a few miles down the trail from the Slab. Camp ended up right next to the shoreline of an ancient lake (Cahuilla Lake). White sea shells dotted the berm that served as the last indication of an ancient body of water.  

Onward and southward past the Algodones Dunes to Glamis where Pat purchased a $7 box of butter so he could continue to cook his damper (bread) while driving. The little “truckers’’ oven he uses is an ingenious piece of kit. A quick stop at Olgilby to air up the tires. Olgilby doesn’t look like much on the map and proved to simply be an intersection with Ted Kipf road and Olgilby road. Didn’t take long at all to cover the few miles of pavement and a short section of I8 before we were gassing up at the Circle K in Yuma. This being the official start of the CABDR. Less than a half hour later and we were airing up and heading north toward Picacho State Recreation Area. Camp found us at the base of Pebble Mountain not far off the main trail north.  

By now you’d figure we’d be plumb tuckered out but the pace we were setting was quite pleasant. The next morning we headed north past the Picacho Mines and I’m a sucker for obscure plaques in out of the way places so I took a picture. Pat likes to refer to them as “propaganda.” Picacho State Recreation Area turned out to be a jewel as it stretched northward along the Colorado River. There were plenty of spots along the trail to pull over and get a view of the river and of Taylor Lake. With the last of the river pictures safely stored away on our cameras we swung west through Indian Pass Road. 

It’s here where I really started to feel sorry for the motorcycles this route was created for, as this “road” was really a seven mile sandy trail that would make motorcyclists feel like they were playing a game with the devil. Easy stuff for our four wheeled vehicles though. Unfortunately this route terminated back on Ogilby road where we decided to keep the tires aired down and drove “slowly” north to the intersection of 78. Lucky for us there’s dirt that pretty much parallels the 78 all the way to Milpitas Wash Road. Note though, there’s a Border Patrol checkpoint on 78 and you really should leave the dirt and drive through the checkpoint. If you don’t you are almost guaranteed to be chased down by the border patrol so they can say Hi. Trust me. I can say though that Officer Blair was a really pleasant gentleman once he realized we weren’t smugglers and we weren’t up to anything nefarious. Once we reached Milpitas Wash Road and headed northwest until we found a great camping spot at the base of the Palo Verde mountains. Rumor had it there was a Saguaro cactus someplace in the vicinity at one point in time but we certainly didn’t see it. Lots of Ocotillo but we only espied three blooms on the entire trip. Just a little too early I suppose.

We decided to make it a short driving day given I had a lunch date with my folks in Quartzsite on Wednesday. Hodge Mine, along the Bradshaw Trail, turned out to be a great campsite and an easy place to stage for our drive into Blythe and eventually Quartzsite the next day. Lunch at Rebel BBQ was weighing heavy on my mind all night long. It had been a couple of years since I’d eaten there so anticipation was running high.  

We made a late start the next day so we’d be able to drive right over to Rebel and have lunch. It was a good decision and provided three hearty meals over the next several days. Stopped at Albertsons to stock up on groceries and then we headed over to Queshan Park to spend some lazy time watching the Colorado River flow by. After a short break we headed up to the highway and we were on our way to Quartzsite. It took about two seconds on the highway to remember why I like to seek out the quiet places. iOverlander (a handy phone app) showed us a good place to fill up on water was the rest stop on the 10 as we drove to Quartzsite. Sure enough there was a water spigot with some nice cold water. Everyone’s been to QZ so I won’t go into too many details. Polmosa Camping Area was sort of a dud because of the loud traffic driving through the area on the paved road. Some nice Saguaro to see though. Lunch at Silly Al’s Pizza with my parents and a quick stop at the Tom Wells market as I looked for a piece of vinyl tubing to replace a silicone tube I blew up with my water pump. No luck on the tube but we found an Ace hardware in Blythe later in the afternoon as we headed back to the BDR. It took a bit of pavement north of Blythe before we could finally turn off on dirt - the Old Blythe-Vidal road. What a treat to be back on dirt. It took about 9 miles of dirt before we were ready for another camp site. It felt good to get back into the groove again.

The next morning we headed north and stumbled upon another one of the curious plaques. Camp Rice - Desert Training Center. Amazing how they would use these desert training camps to harden troops before sending them overseas. More north to Chubbuck and onto Skeleton Pass Road where we ran across a very photogenic Desert Tortoise. Amazing creatures to say the least. Glad I had a camera with a long lens as it kept us from disturbing him (or her?) too much. We just made it through Skeleton Pass and pulled up well short of the railway to set up camp for the evening.  

We woke up to rainbows over the Mojave. You could tell there was a lot of rain being dumped in the high desert. We held off a while in the morning to let the storm pass as we stayed very dry watching things unfold over the Mojave. Onward to Sahara Oasis which must be the most expensive gas for miles and miles. Then north to Goffs where Pat was able to sweet talk the hosts to let us spend an hour walking around the grounds of the old Goffs school house and outdoor museum. What a treat that was. Sort of somber though as we had just heard the day before of the passing of Dennis Casebier. 

Hats off to the hosts for letting us spend some time looking around. We continued north and headed into some elevation for a cold night camping along the Mojave Road.

The next day found us travelling west along the Mojave Road and some unfortunate wind storms. We made our way south to Kelso Depot, around the Kelso Dune then west to Broadwell. It was here I said adios to Pat and made my way home. 60mph winds are no place to be camping in a roof top tent. Overall a great wintertime trip and an excellent time of year to explore some areas that are fairly inhospitable at other times of the year. ~ Ed