The Mojave Road - A Newbie's Tale Pt 1 - Pic Heavy

This is my first trip report recapping our first ever multi-day adventure trip - so be gentle, it's my first time. But, before we delve into that little tale, a bit of background is in order.

We are completely new to this multi-day mobility gig. We are well versed at base camping with our pop up trailer at established campgrounds - not necessarily hookups or showers, but always a toilet and always with the trailer. After a trip to Death Valley in which the offroad limitations of my Avalanche became painfully obvious, I started modifying it to be more capable. Then, about a year ago, while at Barnes and Noble - I discover Overland Journal, and thought, "What is Overlanding?" I peeled it open and instantly got sucked in. I started reading the mods and trips and gear reports and thinking about true reliability and focusing on my vehicle's weakpoints with an aim to eliminating them and increasing both my capability and my ability to self recover.


Then, I came across Expedition Portal and started reading the adventures of others - right here in my own Southern California backyard - and what is this Mojave Road gig? (note - I've gone up and down both I15 and I40 and all around Mojave road in Needles and Barstow - but never even knew it was there). This trip became the focal point for a first multi-day truly mobile experience. We started working our way up to this trip - though my girlfriend didn't know it. Progressively longer trails, overnight in a campground, but in the tent made for my Av rather than the trailer. All of it was successful - then I announced The Mojave Road to my girlfriend and the concept of multiple days in remote territory covering a long distance completely self-supported. Her reply, "And exactly what am I supposed to do when I have to go to the bathroom? I can't hold it for three days buddy". NOTE to newbies - The proper response is NOT to take your girlfriend out to your rig and point out the shovel attached to the roof rack. Ask me how I know.
About this same time, I reconnected with a college football buddy whom I haven't seen or spoken to in 20 years and it turns out they are just like us - base camp and hike, but getting into the mobility aspect. So, we planned a BBQ get together with the families and one of his work partners who is getting into it as well - and we planned out a Mojave Road trip - all of our first experience. Their wives convinced my girlfriend that a Luggable Loo is doable - so the BBQ was a huge success. Now, after that long-winded opening, without further adieu - the trip report.
Planning - The 7Ps

I have a background that emphasizes planning - the 7Ps to be exact: Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. With that in mind combined with this not only being everyone's first trip, but also my idea, I felt responsible for it to go as well as possible for everyone. We would have 5 vehicles - which due to an electrical issue and an illness dropped us down to 3 vehicles (with one very upset 17 year old girl who owns her Jeep and was seriously looking forward to this being the first trip in which she could drive - she would end up riding in my backseat - oh the joy of teenage female emotions mixed with hormones. But I digress). The plan called for a 3 day / 2 night pace and I did all of the research I could, seeking out opinions on this site from you all, Google Earth (flew the road virtually a bunch), books, maps, etc. Night 1 target: Hole in the Wall campground (toilet there - I'm not a dummy) and the night 2 target would be somewhere near 17 Mile Point. My research had led me to a place off the beaten path as my goal. I had everyone in the group buy Dennis Casebier's book The Mojave Road Guide and read it to get sense of the history for what we were about to undertake.
Day 1
The group met at 5:00am in Riverside and traveled to Avi Casino in Needles to top off with fuel. We reached mile 0.0 at the Colorado River at 8:30am to begin our trek. When I turned my truck around and reset my odometer and Lowrance to 0 - a complete feeling of adventure and excitement crept over me. Whatever it was, I loved it. After all this time, getting to go somewhere that relatively few people have gone - I felt it in my soul.

The early part of the road varies in terrain hard dirt, soft sand, some rock, then a lot of rock as we did the last few miles to Ft. Piute, our first stop of the day. I was really impressed with the new 35" General Grabber x3s as they were not spinning on anything. The last few miles to Ft. Piute are slow going due to the rocky road - it takes a bit of time.


Then, we headed south for the alternate route because the normal Road is closed. A little over 8 miles into the alternate route is the Leiser Ray Mine - about 300 yds or so off to the left. Our three vehicles on this trip: my 2002 Avalanche, 2011 Jeep JK, 2014 Ford Raptor

Leiser Ray Mine.jpg

This is US!!!!! my girlfriend and I - notice the hat. This is my nod to Chris Collard. After reading his story about his many hats over the years and how they essentially anchor his adventures - I figured every great adventure needs a cool adventure hat.

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After looking around the mine, I was surprised at how long it took us to get there - it was lunch time. I now started getting concerned about my planned pace and whether we could make Hole in the Wall before dark. With that in mind, and dicey weather, we decided to skip the corral and get on down the road - no pun intended. Our next stop was the Magic School Bus.


Notice the skies - it was cold and windy as it had been raining earlier and storming the few days before. The high temp we saw this day was 42F. We decided to bypass Indian Hill/Well and our next planned stop would be at the Penny Can tree. I wonder if this is America's first toll road? The kids loved this.

Penny Can Tree.jpg

A quick stop at the railroad marker and then the road gets pretty rough, rutted, and narrow. My Av now has some serious pinstriping on it. But I'm OK with it, it's 15 years old (even though I take great care of it), but my buddy with his much wider and newer 2014 Raptor - had a completely different expression on his face when looking at the sides of his truck. I told him that at least it's white and the stripes tell a story that most others will never know. At the drop into the wash to get to Rock Spring, we backed out of this. While it was steep and moguled, my bigger concern was the width of the wash at the bottom. I was convinced my buddy's Raptor would have an issue because I was pretty sure it would be tight for my Av. With a perfectly good bypass available, and keeping in mind that I was on an adventure and not offroading, we skipped this. Besides, his wife in her Jeep was refusing to do it, so I wouldn't want to split the group for the sake of saying I went down a dirt hill.

Drop to Rock Spring.jpg

Our next stop was Bert Smith's cabin. Pretty cool place with a neat story behind it. Bert was a WWI vet and had been exposed to poison gas in the war. The Army built this house and sent him out here to have the arid air help his lungs - but they essentially sent him out here to die. Well Bert lived, 25 more years. And in that time he encased the original wood frame house in rock. My buddy's future retirement home (he does work for the government afterall - so it's in the cards).

Rock Cabin.jpg

From there we did the trail to Government Holes and then once back on Cedar Canyon Rd we picked up the pace because it was 3:30 and the sky was getting black. At this point it was a faster pace to Black Canyon Rd and 10 miles to Hole in the Wall. We pulled in at 4:30 and made camp. For newbies like me, it's $12 per site and cash only - first come first served. Pitched camp, built a fire, and made dinner. But by the time we were eating, the temps were down into the 30s and would keep plunging while the wind started howling. Sunset was pretty spectacular.

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No better way to cap off the evening around a campfire than with the perfectly cooked S'More. Our recipe: Ditch the Graham Cracker. Use 2 Girl Scout "Thanks-A-Lot cookies (shortbread with milk chocolate on one side). Roast 2 large marshmallows until golden brown, slide between the two cookies (chocolate side in) and squeeze a bit. Count to 5 to let the chocolate melt - and dig in.


Day 1 ended cold and windy, but as I laid in the tent with my girlfriend snuggled up to me and reflected on everything I had seen and experienced this day, it was a little overwhelming. Reconnecting with one of my best childhood friends and modifying my Avalanche with him, reconnecting with a college buddy to do these trips with, making new friends, the history of The Mojave Road, the sites of it, the feeling of being able to do and see things most others won't do or see, everything I had learned - playing it all back in my mind, a feeling came over me that all is as it is supposed to be. And as I nodded off to sleep under the brightest Milky Way I had ever seen, a smile crept over my face. Good night Pt 2 / Day 2 tomorrow.


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Well - I don't know how to get the spaces between the paragraphs to stay when it actually posts, nor do I know why the pics posted as links. I also can't figure out how to delete a pic that then turns into a thumbnail. Any help is appreciated.
Did you say you're driving a Chevy Avalanche?

I too used to have an Avalanche - a 2500 with the monster motor - great but heavy vehicle which we off roaded in Anza Borrego Desert State Park and Death Valley. Years ago.
Did you say you're driving a Chevy Avalanche?

I too used to have an Avalanche - a 2500 with the monster motor - great but heavy vehicle which we off roaded in Anza Borrego Desert State Park and Death Valley. Years ago.
Yes - and nice!!!! Mine is an 02 NFE 1500 5.3L. I'm the original owner - lot's of mods. If you want to see the build thread on it (I don't know how to shortcut a link in this site) it's in the Domestic Full Size Forum titled "My 02 Chevy Avalanche NFE". Here's a pic of it.

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Wiffleball Batter
Great write-up, can't wait to see more. Mojave Road is a special place, for sure. I'm itching to go back there.
Also great seeing some full-sized vehicle adventures!
Trip Report continued.............
Day 2
Something to note: Black Canyon Rd is paved from the campground heading south all the way to I40. So, there are RVs in the campground. Other than those, we had not seen a single vehicle or person in our entire first day on the Mojave Road.
I woke up well before sunrise (I'm an early riser) and watched the sun come up over the desert and begin to light the rocks around the campground. It was completely serene and spectacular. The pictures don't do it justice.

Sunrise Hole in the Wall 4.jpg

Sunrise Hole in the Wall.jpg

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After everyone got up, cooked breakfast, and packed up - our first stop for the day was right outside of our campground - Hole in the Wall Ring Loop Trail Hike. The hike is short (1.5 miles), but given that we rolled in to camp the night before with minimal time to spare, the plan was to just go straight to the exit point and look at the wall and rings. Well, we got there and decided we had to go down them just because it was really cool. Then, around the corner was a spectacular view, and on and on - until we decided we may as well just do the entire hike - backwards.

Hole in the Wall Hike 3.jpg

The backside of the wall really illustrates how it got its name. I definitely recommend those who hike, to do this one. It is very rewarding, but it will add some time to your itinerary - especially if you have kids. There are a lot of opportunities for climbing and scrambling on the rocks.

Hole in the Wall Hike 2.jpg

By the time we were done, it was pushing 11:00 so we opted to not take Wild Horse Canyon Rd backup to the Mojave Road. Rather, we shot straight back up Black Canyon Rd as we knew it was fast and we could regain some lost time. NOTE: I did not want to miss any of the actual Mojave Road, so I opted to NOT plan to go to the Kelso Visitor Center - thinking we would not have enough time to do that, the other side trips we had planned, and make the night 2 camping target. I was wrong - if you are reading this and planning to do the trip - go do the Kelso Depot. I'm sorry I skipped it.
Once back on Mojave Road, we again picked up our pace as we were on the wide flat Cedar Canyon Rd which can be driven at a relatively fast pace all the way to Kelso-Cima Rd. Once you cross over that - there are whoops and roughness for miles - it's a slow pace, but not as slow as I was told. I was told 3-5MPH, the Av was in a nice rhythm at 5-15 - mostly 10+ - for the bulk of the time.
Our first stop for the day was Marl Springs, just a quick one to take in the history of the location knowing that EVERYONE who had traveled this road stopped here. Then it was on to one of the most anticipated stops of the trip - The Mailbox. I have to admit, my excitement level went up considerably knowing this was the next location.

The Mailbox.jpg

While I was signing the book, we heard this strange noise coming from the West and definitely headed East - straight towards us. But, we could really see anything on the horizon, just this constant sound - that was growing louder, but doing so agonizingly slowly. I stopped paying attention to it and started thinking about how all of the effort and expense that went into modifying my Avalanche to be able to do this sort of stuff was really paying off and that I now had a real overlanding/expedition vehicle. And then, the sound materialized into a sight. Yah - this guy showed up and burst my overlanding vehicle bubble toot-sweet.

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Talk about instilling a feeling of inadequacy in a fella. Kinda like standing next to John Holmes in a public urinal.................................

Baja 6x6 2.jpg

As it pulled past us and stopped, looking up at it and through the side windows, we could see four martini glasses hanging from the bar rack inside. My girlfriend looked at me and said, "Now THAT is a 'rig'". Apparently, size DOES matter in many aspects of life.

Baja 6x6 2.jpg

They got out and were among the nicest people I've ever met. Completely awesome rig. The guy even took a picture of our entire group - on our camera and his. If anyone recognizes his rig, I would love to know who he is. I have the CA plate number on it, don't want to post the whole thing to respect his privacy, but it starts with BAJA. Note - this rig and his spotter vehicle were the only two vehicles we encountered during our 3 days on the actual Mojave Road.


Located behind the Mailbox, are several quirky little shrines to various things: Frog, Gnome, Bobblehead, Jeep. We only knew about the Frog Shrine, so we had only brought a frog. Everyone in the group signed the cute little fella and we put him front and center.

Our Frog.jpg

Frog Monument.jpg

Finished with the Mailbox and the shrines, it was time to load up and head for our next stop - The Penny Can Tree.
We made it to the Penny Can Tree in fairly short order. We all put our pennies in and took pics. The kids loved it, but I couldn't help but wonder if this is America's first toll road?

Penny Can Tree.jpg

Upon leaving there, our next stop was actually a side trip North to the Lava Tube. Upon arrival, it was lunch time, so we decided to eat before we did the "hike" to the Lava Tube. Perhaps we parked in the wrong spot, but it was only a few hundred feet to the tube. Going down.............

Lava Tube 2.jpg

Note - it gets REALLY dusty down inside just from the foot movement - bring something to put over your mouth and nose - especially if you or people you are with have asthma or dust sensitivities. My girlfriend does not like closed in places, but she was able to do this. There is a small part that you need to duck walk through, but then it opens up inside.

Lava Tube.jpg

Leaving the Lava Tube, we continued our northerly side trip out to the Aiken Mine. The road starts off as sand, but then gets harder, then gets rocky and rough - mind your tires for sharp rocks. Arriving at the Aiken Mine, it was very cool - and eery. First, it's completely red cinder. So, I couldn't help myself but take a picture - Mars Exploration Vehicles?

Aiken Mine.jpg

The Aiken Mine was shutdown by NPS, so they just walked off the site - and literally left EVERYTHING behind.

Aiken Mine 2.jpg

Aiken Mine 3.jpg

Once done checking out the site, we piled back in and had to retrace our tracks all the way back to Mojave Road. We were looking pretty good on time, so we would make our next camping site in plenty of time (it was about this time that I started regretting not sidetripping to Kelso Depot - oh well - another trip. With all of my research, I knew about a cabin that is a little jaunt off the Mojave Road, assuming it is unoccupied that would be our stop for night 2. If occupied, well, my girlfriend would get to tryout the brand new Luggable Loo at some on the trail site.
I got out to open the gate and told her to drive through. Well, she did, all the way up the hill. Sheesh..........I had to hoof it until I jumped on the sidestep of my buddy's wife's JK to ride up the remainder of the hill. But, success - it was available. This would be our spot for the night.

Brannigan 3.jpg
Thanks for sharing. Nice write up so far. I just did the Mojave Rd for the first time last week. We did it west to east so it's nice to have your perspective going the other way. Looking forward to the rest of the trip report.
This place is beautiful and maintained by the family of the original owner and a 4WD group. It has supplies in it - take what you need, leave what you don't for the next person. Well kept and much appreciated. It had the BEST outhouse - you can't tell from this angle, but it had a really nice view. Yah - she was happy, I scored major points.
Brannigan 2.jpg

Some pics of another great desert sunset.
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Brannigan 4.JPG
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Sitting by the fire, cooking some carne asada quesadillas and having a Moscow Mule with friends made for a really pleasant and enjoyable evening. It is also at a much lower elevation than our previous night's spot and the day overall was about 10 degrees warmer than Day 1 which made it very nice to sit by the fire for awhile without seeing a bunch of faces with blue tinged lips staring back at me. The wind did pick up again though, but nowhere near what it was on Night 1. As we headed off to sleep on our 2nd and last night, the memories of the two days travels, adventures, and sites danced in my head like the effeminate dude from River Dance - loud aggressive and in your face powerful, yet simultaneously delicate and graceful.
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Day 3 - the final day.
Up before the sun, fed, packed and back on the Road at 9am. We had picked up rocks at the Lava Tube to place on what would be our first stop of the day - Traveler's Monument. We also aired down just a tad (from the 30 psi we had run the entire Road at) to 25psi just in case because of the warnings of muck on Soda Lake, deep sand from that point on, and then potential mud on the bottom of the Mojave River. We made sure that our host spot for the night was in better shape than when we found it and left some stuff for the next folks who happen upon it. With the sun at our backs, I put the Avalanche into gear and we headed Southwest for the last day of our adventure.
Brannigan 1.jpg
As we approached Soda Lake, the terrain takes a noticeable turn for the worse, it changes rather abruptly from sand to rough, deep rut, hard, yet wet silt (not the dried out style - but the still wet stick to everything style). Now, I had been at Bonneville Salt Flats for Speed Week during the summer, so the temptation to open her up and let her eat was very tempting, but I heeded the warnings in The Mojave Road Guide about the drops that are present - so I restrained my testosterone and just cruised along across the lake bed - it was wet, but tacky and not sloggy - all good to go. We spaced the vehicles out and worked our way across.
Soda Lake1.jpg
In the distance, and growing larger, we see it growing as we draw nearer - Traveler's Monument. If driving on the Aiken Mine was like being on Mars, then driving on Soda Lake and seeing the flag on the monument was like being on the Moon.
Travelers Monument.jpg
Had. To. Do. It.
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We placed our rocks, read the plaque, and enjoyed the moment.
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Time to head out for Shaw Pass and the deep sand of Rasor and Afton Canyon.
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