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My Expedition Vehicle & Trailer

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Mystery Of Cady Canyon

There is an excellent web resource for explorers of the historic Mojave Road at http://www.davebarton.com/mojave and it features many illustrated satellite photos with the route painstakingly marked and annotated with GPS coordinates.

Here is a snapshot of the high level map of the Mojave Road that Dave drew.

Be sure to see all of his detailed section-by-section images and notes that guide you through a journey along the road. You will also want to purchase Dennis Casebier's  "Mojave Road Guide"  as well as Bill Mann's Guide to 50 Interesting and Mysterious Sites in the Mojave”.

Further down Dave's page was a note on a mystery site along with this image that he captured.

That image fired up my imagination and I spent a lot of hours pouring over Google satellite images, old maps and then Dave's images and notes. Once I was convinced that I knew the potential routes into the area I contacted some friends and planned a day-long excursion. This location is not very many air-miles from the highway but it is a great off road journey to get there, involving trail reading, map interpretation and fun driving. While in the area I planned to visit a couple of other areas if time permitted. For this journey I invited Peter, Chris and his son Ali, Chris' friend John and his friend Bush.

Leaving at 6AM we assembled at the Afton Canyon exit on Highway 15 so that we could take the scenic route along the Mojave River. This canyon is sometimes called the Grand Canyon Of The Mojave but what it lacks in sheer depth it overachieves in the areas of color and picturesque erosion.

One of the great features of the canyon is the Mojave River where it briefly comes to the surface and provides a river crossing for 4x4 drivers to enjoy. The Mojave River headwaters are in the San Bernardino Mountains and normally the river only comes to the surface where there are underground layers impermeable rock.

Over long periods of history this canyon has been a route for Native Americans, explorers such as Jedidiah Smith, the Spanish, wagon trains, miners and even now, the railroads. 

As we drove deeper into the canyon we were treated to steep, colorful and fancifully eroded canyon walls. 

High on a cliff face the canyon wall is the abandoned Arbuckle Mine where they extracted magnesite ore once used in the linings of open hearth steel furnaces. The ore was brought to the railroad siding on a high-flying  aerial tramway that was 1900 feet long.

Hidden in the deep fissures of Afton Canyon's forbidding walls are some amazing slot canyons.

Sometimes they are so deep and narrow that flashlights and headlamps are required if you dare to enter them.

 Proceeding further into the gloom may require ropes and other climbing aids

Back in the warm May sunshine we proceeded along our route but stopped to take some photos under this iconic railroad bridge.

Soon we were approaching Cady Mountain, enjoying the desert landscape and the sense of adventure as we closed in on the mystery site's isolated hiding spot.

Sometimes the route was barely visible and we'd stop and consult maps and the GPS devices.

The route also provided a number of interesting terrain formations!

Soon the canyon walls closed in on us as the trail beckoned us forward.

And just around the last bend..... was something that looked as if you would expect to see crazy Nazi occultists marching the Ark Of The Covenant up the canyon for a test run.

(found this on the web, all rights belong to LucasFilm)

At long last we were seeing the actual mystery site with our own eyes!

Maybe a long forgotten 1950's era fallout shelter?

A refueling station for secret government flying machines?

All kidding aside, my research had painted a picture of a group of very dedicated volunteers who build and maintain a series of rainwater collection systems to provide water for bighorn sheep and other wildlife. The group is known as the Society For The Preservation Of Bighorn Sheep. These water storage systems are know as "guzzlers" and are strategically located along the desert migration route of the bighorn sheep.

On the hill above the tanks are large rainwater collection basins

In each basin is a collector made of PVC with very fine slits that act as a debris filter

The Society replaced this older system that used a small dam to bring water into the tanks

 This is one of two sheltered openings for the sheep to drink water. The rectangular tank is custom designed by The Society.

Having resolved the mystery we took time for a good lunch before heading back onto the trail. 

We made an attempt to find a mine location in the hills but our only reward was some fun four wheeling and views all the way back to Highway 15

We had time to head out to see one last mystery, a puzzling emplacement that is well known (similar to the pyramids of Egypt) but no one knows how they did it. To see his odd duck of the desert required a little more driving across the desert's high speed roads.

Before too long we were able to spot this odd icon of the desert known as the "Megaphone"

There are no explanations for this Mysterious Mojave Megaphone that have yet made sense. Dragging all of the pieces up there and welding them in place would have been a Herculean undertaking. A crane could not have maneuvered close enough to lift it up and drilling the mounting holes in the rock was no easy feat. 

It employs some old school nuts and bolts similar to those used on old mines and railroads. That is an interesting touch. Note that they were tack welded in place.

Some think it is some sort of homage to the old Tidewater & Tonapah Railroad whose abandoned rail bed runs nearby. I propose it was created by an artistic Army prankster at Fort Irwin who employed a helicopter to lift the 10 foot long and very heavy steel sculpture up into place. Makes as much sense as all of the other goofy theories! The galvanized pipe and rebar used for mounting date this item as being constructed no earlier than the 1950's.

We had a very long but successful day exploring this corner of the Mojave, enjoying friendship and adventure. There are many more mysteries to be enjoyed so I hope you'll come back to enjoy the next one!

Picture courtesy of Chris C.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A 2017 Desert Renewal

The recent rains have turned the deserts a shade of green I've not seen in a long time but that is not all that was renewed this spring. I have a number of friends that I worked with for many years and they have been hosting a large campout every spring since before I first met them. I've missed a number of the get togethers but this year I was able to join them for the telling of stories both old and new, campfires, great food, hiking and more.

I decided to head out a day early and set up some full-on glamping with the trailer and all of the toys I could pack into it. That gave me extra time to explore and try out my hand at a few things before my friends arrived.

It is always exciting to be out in the high desert and this was the first time I brought the expedition trailer to this area.

 Sunshine, blue skies and mountains on the horizon.

Pretty soon I had Camp Teotwaki set up in a nice spot just up the canyon from the main gathering area.

High frequency radio antenna deployed? Check!
Solar power system operational? Check!

How about hot water and a shower tent? That's glamping! (Glamour Camping)

Did I mention the natural spring water in the canyon? Long ago ranchers tapped it to provide water for their cattle. The ranching operation is long defunct but a local group has re-purposed the system to provide water for the local wildlife.

Here is where the ranchers drove a pipe into the source of the spring water.

This tank was refurbished to pool the water before it travels via piping to water feeders.

I measured the flow rate at the inlet at roughly 10 gallons per hour.

I captured water in a bucket I suspended on parachute cord inside the tank and below the pipe inlet.

I drew the bucket up and poured the water through a cloth to get rid of small debris that fell into the bucket. I easily filled two 5 gallon containers. It was nice to know of such a good source of water.

My next project was to start collecting firewood for the first group camp fire the next night. There are lots of downed pine trees available and I processed this tree's wood into a modest pile of fire ready logs.

That night I cooked a simple meal and went to sleep not too long after it became dark. I woke up with the sun, cooked breakfast and followed that up with a hot shower. 

Late in the morning I heard a truck engine and met some folks from SWCA Environmental Consultants. Mike and Clint were there on contract for state and federal wildlife agencies

 They were setting up temporary acoustic logging systems to survey the number of bats that frequented the area's water source.

Bats hunt insects by making ultrasonic calls and using the echo to find prey while in flight.  2010 research in Panama shows that bats can recognize the calls of particular bats, similar to how humans recognize voices of friends and family.

The next day around mid afternoon the gang started to arrive!

 They quickly started setting up their various forms of abodes and there was lots of space for everyone to spread out. Counting myself we had 12 people attending this year.

We had a great group dinner and a long evening at the camp fire. It seems that there were new generations of their families in attendance so introductions were made all around. 

Here is a great shot of Gary, his son Michael and Gary's grandson Nathan.

The nights proved to become gradually colder each night so the campfires were a welcome way to stay warm. The lowest temperature I measured inside my roof top tent one night was 36 degrees F but I stayed warm with a light sleeping bag and large synthetic quilt over me. We were camped at 5300' in altitude.

Next thing I knew it was dawn and time to look forward to the group breakfast!

Gary and Walt plan the meals and members of the group take turns cooking and cleaning.

Hash browns! 

French toast!

LOTS of life sustaining bacon!

Besides consuming tons of great food every day for breakfast and dinner we had lots of other activities planned such as star gazing.

What can you do with leftover potatoes? Launch them at 100 MPH!

Short video of Nathan turning a tater into a speeding starch-bullet.

This was great terrain for hiking and offered views back to camp and also the expansive desert vistas.

Nathan opted for a brightly colored FIND ME FIRST orange hiking shirt.

I tried out some military issue "earth tones"

Craig went for a long day hike on a quest to summit a local peak

The rest of us set up a firing range to work on weapons handling, marksmanship and just plain fun.

You could call this target a "bang stick" of sorts.

On second thought maybe BOOM stick would be more accurate!

I had a special hike planned using a military Alice pack frame to haul my target out beyond 500 yards. All of the hardware for the stand and also my GPS and laser distance meter. Dang, it was heavy.......

Can you spot the orange steel plate on the hillside? It 1/4" thick, 16" x 16" square and at a distance of 567 yards or roughly one third of a mile. It is also elevated about 246' above my firing position.

Yup! I whacked it pretty good with my rifle.

It was hard to capture so much of what went on over the five days and if I receive some pictures from other folks I will add them in. Keep an eye out for updates! Thanks for coming along on another adventure with good friends out in the great expanses of nature. See you on the next trip!