Eureka Dunes. One of the few sand dunes in the world that hums, or sings, or booms, or just makes a really weird noise when you press on them. hmmmmmmmm. First 15 seconds of this video. … the rest is about climbing the dunes and some cool bug I found.
A long day today. Sunrise at the gaging station. we get ourselves ready for the day by blowing on our fingers to keep them warm. Winter morning in the desert. How funny to think the next time we’ll be here we might be running from shade to shade and wishing for just a small reprieve from the heat.
And speaking of heat. Our first act of business today was to go to Hell. When I pointed the town on the map to Hippie, she said “oh, we’re going to Hell. I don’t care if it’s out of the way.” But by exit 121, past it, there was still no sign of Hell. Google lady to the rescue. Hell was founded in the 1950s, population: 3 – You were expecting more, I know. The 3 poor souls were a husband, his wife and their son. The husband was the mayor, president of the chamber of commerce, owner of the gas station and of beer tavern that constituted the whole town. No mention of what titles the other family members held. The family abandoned the town in the early 60s, because a new faster road detoured visitors away from Hell. A few years later, Hell was burned down, as you’d expect, to make way for the new interstate I10. The lady Google speculates that the name remains on the map mostly for the enjoyment of LA news reporters, for article titles such as “Los Angeles hotter than Hell”, “It’s snowing in Hell.” etc … These are actual article titles from the past few years.
Since Hell was no longer available, we drove north to Nothing. Not an actual name, but an accurate depiction of an abstract concept. Nothing. I’m sure once we’re walking, the rhythm of our legs will reveal the rich life and details of the Mojave. But at driving speed, the prospect of those valley crossings is daunting. Nothing. No water, no plants, no shade. Just dirt, mud in places because it rained and more nothing. Then more vegetation, small shrubs, with just enough shade for maybe a skinny lizard. Then slightly taller creosote bushes, with just enough shade to be a tease. We might have to night hike that section. I bought ultra violet scorpion lights. Those who know me know I loooooove love love the desert. It’s one of the few places in the world big enough to hold Freedom – another abstract concept. But I’ll admit, I suddenly felt intimidated. I’m still going to walk it, of course, but it really put in perspective why only 2 people have thru-hiked this trail before. It takes a certain kind of …
We dropped about 20 gallons of water in the Mojave National Preserve, most of them at road crossings, easy to access. Dirtmonger, who hiked the trail last year, gave us his GPS waypoints, making the water caching task more akin to a fun treasure hunt with maps than the painstaking planning on a computer screen he must have done to get these points. Thank you Dirtmonger!!!
After the great stretch of Nothing, we climbed up to a land of Joshua trees dusted in snow and eventually pinon pines. Water puddles on the road were rimmed with ice, all visitor centers were closed, and the brief excursion I took outside the truck to get a photo of a cool tree froze my finger tips – well, not really, but as a shock to the system from the warm cab of the truck, and with the added exaggeration factor for storytelling, it was pretty close to that.
Now we’re all done with the Mojave. Tomorrow, off to my beloved Death Valley. But we start the day at the Tecopa hot springs, so who knows how much we will actually get done.
We left Jacumba with about 60 gallons of water packed in Gary, Hippie’s truck. 60 gallons of water to be dropped at strategic locations between the Mexican border and the Nevada state line ~ 400 miles or 1/4 of the Desert Trail. These are the notes I took on the road.
~~~ Day 1 It was all rainbows and butterflies when we started this morning. But that’s because we were surrounded by storms and because the heavy rains of last week have triggered the beginning of a flower super-bloom, quickly followed by a butterfly baby-boom. The rain is predicted to keep coming in the week ahead, which means 1) that we’ll be staying out of slot canyons, and 2) that we’re in for the treat of a LIFETIME when next we walk through here.
The first couple of water caches were along familiar roads. Collectively, Hippie and I must have criss-crossed the Mojave about a dozen times in the last few years. PCT at scissors’ crossing, San Diego Trail, Prude to Nude, and the random “let’s see if we can connect these two towns through the middle of nowhere.” adventure. Driving along our old tracks felt like visiting old friends and family. “And that’s where the kangaroo rat jumped on your face.” “And that’s the ‘designer’ section of the canyon that’s so beautiful that it made me cry.” “Hey, remember that time it was so cold we dug a hole under that tree to stay warm? …” I remembered each rock and each tree, and I felt they remembered me. Actually, their memory is probably more accurate than mine. “Wasn’t that tree over there? I remember it over there. I think it moved!”
This time though, we weren’t walking, we were barreling down dirt roads in a fully loaded extended cab, long-bed Ford F250 named Gary. We took this kind beast through scratchy brushes and up the narrowing Diablo slot canyon. Honestly, we didn’t think it would go. We figured we’d just drive as far as it would be willing, then walk the rest. But, Gary maneuvered that canyon with such grace and nimbleness, you’d have thought it was a Toyota Tacoma! “We made it! It’s Garicle!” Hippie said. ‘A Garicle?” “yeah, A Gary-miracle.” We dropped off 4 gallons under one of our favorite trees, and performed the same Garicle in reverse down canyon. (click here to see the Garicle)
The next section, past S22 was more new to us, more like a distant relative. It still looked familiar, but not as intimately. Or maybe we didn’t recognize it. With all the rain, the desert is green – green green green! – grasses on the desert floor, flowers about to pop everywhere, the cacti are fat, engorged with water. And it hasn’t even exploded yet. Right around our third water cache, dispersed among the pricklies, a small colony of the rare desert lily have already unfurled their long-limbed curly leaves and bobbing fuzzy heads – a lady among the hardies. No flowers yet. They wait. Oh, do I hope they wait just a few more weeks. Because we’ll be right back.
Mecca was rough. Towns usually are when you’ve been in the middle of nowhere. Mecca, population 8,000, felt like a thriving metropolis, a cacophony of cars, freeways, Salton Sea smells and Mexican bakeries. But that last one definitely made up for the others. No water caching in Mecca. We’ll have a truck or two there, as we are truck-supporting ourselves. It will be nice to see my truck and sleep in my bed at regular intervals. And I can resupply from my own stash of dried kale, plantain chips and such health treats not usually available in the resupply gas station marts along the way. I’ll supplement with pastries from the Mexican bakeries. Hippie, I believe, will try to resupply on the go. She should have an interesting diet for the upcoming months.
Beyond Mecca, the trail heads uphill, but the road that would have allowed us to cache half-way up was closed, leaving a 45 mile stretch without water. We’ll likely carry 2 gallons each. That’s about 17 extra pounds in our packs – my PCT pack, fully loaded was 18 Lbs – and that was before the Gopro, the extra battery packs, the solar charger, etc… I guess we’ll get smart, and come up with a solution to cache that section, or we’ll get tough.
So, that’s about it for today. We’re camped near a “gaging station” (as written on the map) – where hydrologists measure water flow in the aqueduct, not a place where people gag. That’s good. I’m glad we looked it up. It’s already dark and the moon is very skinny. But the stars! Oh the stars. Milky Way, right here and all the way from one side of the sky to the other.
A day of Rainbows, Stars and Butterflies. Luckiest people on earth!