Saturday, December 13, 2008

Four Wheel Drive Recommended

If you’re an off-road enthusiast, Southern California abounds with OHV (Off Highway Vehicles) areas, many of them a short drive from Las Vegas. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we stayed on the ouskirts of Barstow and discovered the Stoddard Valley OHV Recreation Area. The area held several campsites, but certainly not so many people that you’d have a problem finding a spot to camp and/or ride your ATV. Several riders were staying at the Holiday Inn on Lenwood, a nice hotel that we enjoyed. It sits right on the edge of Stoddard Valley, right next to an outlet mall and a Hampton Inn.

My husband told me he wanted some dirt roads on this trip, so the detail map and I got friendly. For our ride home, I found a couple of detours to take us around I15 through country we’d never explored.

Our first detour was into the Afton Canyon Wilderness. The dirt road winds through the canyon. Shortly after we took the turnoff from I15, we stopped at the Afton Canyon Campground and watched a train passing. The railroad runs through the canyon, as does the Mojave River. ATVers are thick here, which was a good thing because we had plenty of tracks to follow through the river bed. My 4-wheel-drive-loving husband was in heaven, slinging mud all over his beloved truck. The muddy, bumpy, fun ride through the canyon didn’t allow for pictures.

We hopped back on I15 for about 10 miles to Kelbaker Road in Baker, where we exited into the Mojave National Preserve. We were in search of a lava tube. I knew it was off Aiken Mine Road, but I didn’t know its exact location. It’s one of the places in the Mojave NP I haven’t been. We didn’t find the lava tube, but we did find the abandoned Aiken Mine. Volcanic rock appeared to be the former mine’s product. Derelict equipment and buildings are scattered over the top and side of a cinder dome. Various grades of volcanic rock and tailings are piled everywhere. It’s all equipment my husband knows well, so he showed my son around and explained what each part of the operation did. After we left the mine, corrals and windmills appeared periodically along the dirt road. Somewhere out there, the Mojave Phone Booth used to stand, attracting a cult following before it was removed.

I planned on taking Aiken Mine Road all the way to Cima Road, but we wound up on a different road. Not many street signs exist out there. I wasn't really sure how we came to be on the sandy, northbound power-line road, but at least it looked well-traveled. The compass told us we were heading in the right direction before we could see the cars and trucks of I15 in the distance. As we neared Cima Road, we found an abandoned ranch. Vandals had scratched the year off the name and date inscribed in the concrete by the corral. My husband looked in the window of one of the abandoned buildings and saw a stack of magazines that he described as “Nothing anyone should look at. Not even me,” so we knew we had to be close to the main road. Softball-sized gourds dotted the ground under the Joshua trees.

Once we arrived at the Cima Road entrance to I15, we applauded ourselves for our navigational skills. We joined the cars heading home to Las Vegas and watched the dense line of cars snaking its way in the other direction, toward Los Angeles. How many of them have any idea what the desert beyond the highway holds?
Photo information, top to bottom, all my photos: Abandonded ranch near Cima exit; Joshua tree with gourds growing under it; abandonded mining equipment; the view into Afton Canyon; the railroad bridge.

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