By Marianne Hyland
Sometimes a much needed but unexpected experience happens, fulfilling needs on so many levels. This was my very short Mojave Road trip.
We love rough-camping in the bush but it had not happened as an entire family for a long time. We cover over 10,000km "overlanding" each year, but sometimes this involves staying at campsites, or overnighting in a small field just off the road, since we are often trying to reach a destination by a certain date. It doesn't compare with being far out in the bush, away from people, and just enjoying the peace of isolation.
This in fact, led to one of our sons specifically requesting that we camp in the bush as much as possible. I agreed to it in the middle of a cold Canadian winter and gave it no more thought, mentally postponing thinking about it till summer. Fortuitously, good friends of ours asked us to go camping with them. Good friends and "wilderness" camping, it doesn't get better than that. Many of our happiest memories come from camping with friends in Canada, Singapore, and Malaysia. In this case, I didn't even have to think of a location as it was suggested that we drive the Mojave Road in California, after the Overland Expo. The busy-ness of my life got in the way of my finding out more about the Mojave Road and this was a good thing, as I went with no expectations.
What a joy it was to drive the short distance of Mojave Road that we did.
We drove in through the town of Goffs. It was a lovely time to do so as the sun had just begun to set and the view was getting prettier and the temperature cooler. Anticipation and the feeling of peace grew the further we drove in. I vividly recall the sense of relief I felt the moment we turned off the graded surface of Lanfair Road and on to the Mojave Road. I wonder if all who travel off-highway get that feeling. It is a feeling that says, "All will be good again. You can put the cares of the world behind you because you are now in the wild." I felt that intensely when we used to live in Singapore and frequently camped in the rain-forests of Malaysia. Friends who don't camp would sometimes ask me about towns in Malaysia that we drove through and honestly, I did not know a thing about many of them. We had a destination and that was the jungle. I did not feel any sense of relief till we got to the jungle. Only after the ritual of airing down the tires did our vacation begin.
As darkness was falling soon, we found a "campsite" quickly - a large open area on the side of a wash where we could stop along the trail's edge and not block anyone who came through in the night. With not a cloud in the sky, including over the distant hills, we were fairly safe from being washed away.
This is where we are happiest. Camping in a secluded spot; and it was a beautiful spot with mountains in the distance. We set up the tents quickly and dinner was prepared and cooked. I was lucky to find steak on "Reduced For Quick Sale" at a Safeway in Flagstaff earlier in the day. Ray cooked it up on our ancient Coleman stove, and this fed the 2 families with a bit left over, which was given as a treat to our Shepherd. After that, it was sitting around the campfire with red wine for the adults and San Pellegrino bubbly juice for the kids. The following morning was perfect for photo taking given the beautiful light.
What followed next was a series of short drives accompanied by short stops; I didn't know there was so much to see in the desert! We would drive a bit and go "Oh, that looks interesting. Let's go check it out."
First was a rock outcrop that just looked cool. Sorry, I can't give any geological explanation of it - I was a doofus in school at geography and the sciences. I leave all such explanations to the boys to my dear husband who thankfully took geography in University. The boys enjoyed climbing on the rocks and taking photos. We also observed that the pear cacti in the area had bite marks on the top and only on the very top. The hypothesis by the Hyland boys was that the creature responsible for the bite marks only liked the tops as it was the youngest and juiciest. The assumed facts still need to be validated.
Next, was an abandoned house. "You mean someone actually, in contemporary time (from the looks of the stove left behind), lived in the desert?" was the thought that ran through my head. "How cool is that?" The boys were cautioned - snakes like abandoned houses. They were not to pick up bits of furniture or other scraps. It was interesting to envision what life might have been like in that abode. There was an outdoor stove - the kind made of stone and looked perfect for pizza- and a chicken wire enclosure out back (looks like they kept poultry).
Then we saw the Rock House, that was built by a World War I soldier who came back with scarred lungs. He was only given 2 years to live but the dry air helped him live in the Mojave Desert for 25 years. The house looked like it had been recently restored. It was locked up so we peered through the windows.
On the drive to our next stop, we stopped to watch a road runner catch a lizard and eat it beside the trail. Peering out the windows of our Land Rover, watching this unfold a dozen feet away was like being on the set of the Wild Kingdom.
Our next stop was literally our coolest. It was the small windmill that caught our eye. It was used to pump water out of a well. We followed the pipe and it led to a watering hole. Off came the shoes and socks of the adults and the clothes of the children. It was just what we needed. Next to the watering hole, known as Government Hole, was what used to be a corral. It was interesting to see how the corral had sections in different sizes.
We decided that as our time was limited, we would head out of the Mojave Desert and that Mitchell Caverns would be our last stop. Enroute to the Mitchell Caverns, we stopped at the the Visitor Centre where we learned that the Mitchell Caverns had been closed indefinitely due to state budget cuts. The boys were already having a fine time scaling the rock cliff that was at the Visitor Centre. It was about 200 feet high and they kept climbing up and down it, at least 3 times. We made lunch under a ramada at the Visitor Centre and the boys busied themselves playing soldiers and forts among the rocks.
"Mom, come look at our hideout," my middle son said to me. I said I would as soon as I had tidied up after lunch. It was about half an hour before I followed him up the windy path. At a point, about 60 feet from the ramada, he stopped and in the most placid voice said, "Oh, there's a rattlesnake." I snuck a look over his shoulder to visually confirm the statement and then did an about-face, screaming in hysterics, "Snake! Snake!" Meanwhile, my son calmly followed behind me.
I explained to my husband and 2 other sons that there was a rattlesnake on the rock, on the path to get to this soon-to-be-abandoned hideout. Ray grabbed his camera and he and the boys calmly walked back up the path, with me yelling words of advice and caution.
Ray filmed the rattlesnake and on the clip of it you can hear the observations the boys made about the snake's length, and hear its rattle. When the snake approached its spectators, Ray and the boys backed away and eventually it slithered off into the bushes.
Later, from the the Mojave Desert pamphlet, we identified the snake as a Mojave Green snake. We later learned from friends that it has 2 types of venom; one, a neurotoxin which shuts down the nervous system and another which causes the flesh to rot. My sons all thought that was pretty cool.
The Mojave Road (the bit we traveled) worked for my family. I would recommend it as a fun family trip for those who are experienced rough-campers. A standard 4x4 will do fine on the sections we did.
On reflecting, 3 thoughts spring from this trip:
The first is to just do it. We wouldn't have had this experience if we didn't just say yes to it when it was suggested. Don't worry too much about the vehicle, or what gear you have, or if you have enough. When I was at the Overland Expo in May this year there were so many cool things being sold. Although it would have been nice to have some of those products, when I thought about it, our family didn't really need them. We have been family-camping and overlanding for 8 years and have found that good-quality but basic equipment is all we need. A decent tent, a reliable 30 yr old Coleman Stove, and a reliable old truck with a cooler or 12V fridge in the back. Our setup could be more comfortable, or more convenient, no doubt about that, but we really don't need to "upgrade". We have reached the point where we are comfortable traveling overland for extended periods. All that is missing at this point is the departure date. As they say in Malaysia, "Akan Datang" (meaning "coming soon").
The second is to enjoy what comes our way. The Mitchell Caverns were unexpectedly closed but instead we hung out at the Visitor Centre where the boys had a blast scaling the rock wall and we encountered the rattlesnake. The boys and I (as long as no harm comes our way) consider encountering fauna in the wild a privilege.
The last is to not sweat the small stuff, (like the truck overheating a bit on the highway since it was 45 C and we were hauling a trailer with a big motorbike on it). We stopped more frequently than we usually do on a trip of that distance and one of the stops just happened to be a diner in Kingman with great milkshakes. All of us enjoyed that, Shepherd included, because she got ice with her water.
So if you have the chance to go on a short trip, even somewhere you know nothing about, like us on the Mojave Road, go ahead and have fun.