An alarm goes off at 0645. The mojave desert heats up quick during the day. Off to the southeast lay the Kelso sand dunes within the Mojave National Preserve. We need to make the 38 mile journey before the heat of the day sets in and paralyzes the land. A quick browse of the web shows us that it's dog friendly. Eli sees us getting our backpacks and shoes. He already knows what's up. Time to go see what all the fuss is about.
The morning haze covered the mountains in the distance off to the East. It's a good thing the government decided to call this place a National Preserve in 1994. Through those efforts 695,000 acres have been set aside to save this land to show future generations what is here. A few towns still exist and power lines dot the landscape in the distance. Straight through Kelso Junction and another 8 miles down the road to the trail head of the dunes.
The trail leads off the road about a 1/2 mile to the beginning of the dunes. We're already around 2,400 ft in elevation. They stand about 650 ft off the floor of the surrounding terrain. In the beginning progress isn't too bad. It's not hot out yet and the dog is in good spirits. Just a couple of seconds into the clip you'll see a lizard streak by. Eli catches a glimpse and follows him across the sand.
As we close in to the base of the larger dune our pace slows to a crawl. Two steps forward and one step back is all we can manage in the loose landscape. The heat is starting to take it's toll on us and especially Eli. He's already gone through more water than he would typically drink all day on a hike. Katie makes the call to sit down with the old boy and hold him back from going further. From here on out I travel alone to the summit. Do I have to go? Damn straight. We are here. When people talk about Mojave I have to be able to say that I climbed to the top of the dunes. Wish me luck.
Halfway up I have to sit down. The face of this is so steep I'm crawling on my hands and knees in order to make it. Every step makes my shoes sink down far enough to cover my ankles. I think I'm gonna throw up. Breath.... breath.... relax. A minute goes by and it's another 50 ft up. Then stop, rest, repeat. After 10 minutes I finally hit the summit and lay down on my back. What a stupid idea. It's just sand. Might as well take some pictures in case I vapor lock and tumble down the slope.
Totally worth it. I head back down the hill and listen to the sand sing. The unique enironment around us makes the sand reverberate with noise. Every step brings a distinct sound as the sand grains rub against each other. It sounds like a fart. Sand farts.
I pick up speed down the hill and begin laughly manically to myself. Sand farts. That's hilarious. Once at the bottom Katie wants to take a crack at it. Eli and I remain behind as she begins the summit to the top. Clocking in at 50lbs less than me allows her to pick a different line and not heave out the effort I had too. Her ascent looks easy in comparison to what I went through. Good for her, but it pisses me off a little.
Three hours later we finally get back to Shirley. With the A/C on full blast we head back home for lunch. The rest of the day is for us to just sit back and relax. As the time ticks by I begin to throw today's post together and then run into another ADD moment. Cross checking the web for facts I discover that there is an abandoned cinder mine 13 miles away. There were no signs on the road and very little information available for it. Katie senses my excitement. She grabs her shoes and the dog, "Let's go". You don't have to tell me twice.
As we turn off the pavement the GPS shows another 7 miles to go. The ruts get deep and Shirley is dragging her rear diff in spots. The sand changes to lava rock, then cinder as we near the mine. Sharp jagged protrusions dot the two lane path for the last mile. It's a slow 5 mph crawl in order to not puncture a tire, or worse yet our gas tank. A rattle appears out of nowhere. Great. That's a new noise we haven't heard. I park our junk and take a look. Turns out we busted the exhaust free from it's hanger. Guess we'll fix that when we get back to society.
Operations began back in 1948. The mine ceased to exist in 1990 when it wasn't profitable anymore. Those remnants of the past stood the test of time. A piece of history reflected in these photographs. Now Judging by the equipment age I'd suspect that stencil of "Welcome home troops" on the scale house and the bullzdozer to be from Vietnam. However I can't find anything to support this, and it may have reflected our soldiers return from Korea, Vietnam, or the Gulf War.
With our tour of the abandoned mine complete it was time to return home. All of the while in the back of my head I worried about a breakdown. Loneliness plays tricks on the mind. A breakdown out here has the potential to become a real situation to worry about. Ironically it wasn't us that needed help. We met Vernon and his son Mason on our way back out. He had decided to drive his rear wheel drive BMW down the road. Big mistake.
Vernon tried to be a nice guy and pulled off the road for two jeeps that were behind him. That in turn had left him stranded and he was happy to see us. Unfortunately I didn't have a tow strap so we continued to dig. He jacked the car up and put some rocks under the tires while I pulled loose gravel from underneath the chassis.
Just as we were preparing to give it a shot two more SUV's showed up. They turned out to be the guys who passed him in the first place. With a mighty shove and some right foot from Vernon he was free. Ironically the other two SUV's were the exact same make and model as Shirley. So there we sat on the road cracking jokes about the whole thing. Three jeep XJ's and one BMW. One of them doesn't belong.