Date:.........October 7th, 2000 Destination:..Spooky Canyon (near Baker) Duration:.....Day trip (13 hours) Departure:....Westwood Weather:......Clear and warm Adventurers:..11 (Ted, Eric, Matt, Amy, Mike, Maria, Colin, Joe, Hector, Ned, David) Vehicles:.....3
Everyone knows about the fun that can be had in Death Valley National Monument, but few realize that the fun isn't bound by its borders. We decide to explore the lesser known area around Death Valley. Who knows what we may find? Actually, we heard of a place called Spooky Canyon. Naturally, we had to find out if it was as spooky as the rumors indicated.
This miniQuest trip will require a bit more travel than most since we must pass through Baker before the off-roading begins. We plan to head out around 8:00am, but actually leave around 8:20. Ted is anxious to leave, so he heads out first. He zooms ahead so far that he is soon out of radio range. We'll meet up with him in Baker, we hope.
Baker, Lunch, the Adventure Begins
We arrive in Baker and stop for lunch. Conveniently located at the base of a rather large thermometer is a visitor center. It is here that we learn about the Mojave National Preserve.
Mojave National Preserve protects 1.6 million acres of diverse desert landscape, supporting many ecologically significant plants and animals. Sand dunes, ghost towns, volcanic cinder cones, historic mines, mesas, railroads, ancient trails, and mile high mountains define Mojave's age and character.
Explore the park safely. Few facilities and services are available within the preserve's boundaries; water is scarce and there are no restaurants or gas stations. Enjoy your visit, but be prepared for the climate extremes of this desert environment.
Off we go. Heading down the highway. Looking for adventure. The first adventure stop was...
The grotto was filled with green emeralds or at least bright green rock. A flash of green over a hill and we were compelled to stop and explore. The green was from a grotto filled with green emerald-like rock. The rocks were greener than a really green thing.
Jumping out and exploring revealed even more green rocks. Matt was excited to find some other stuff as well. He was so proud.
It was then that we notice this grotto was marked by a "cairn". Colin informs us that a cairn is a pile of stones used as a marker. Armed with this knowledge we proceed onward.
Crucifixion Bushes and The Grave
After only a short distance we discover a small secluded dry lake and a patch of strange plants growing around it. It turns out these plants are called "crucifixion bushes" and are the same plants that were used to make the crown of thorn Christ wore. How did these plants get here? The only other place they grow is in the middle east.
This is a mystery we wanted to explore. So we did. Matt was excited to find some thorns. Matt is good at finding things. He was so proud. The rest of us had to settle for finding things that were interesting. Things like a flying dragon, seed pods, a giant spider, and an Indian campsite.
The discoveries didn't stop there. We soon find a cairn! Actually, this cairn turned out to be a grave. Who's grave is this? Is there a story behind it? The answer lies within -- literally. Mike discovered a note in a bottle under the stones.
The grave belonged to Bonnie Keebler Harris. She died in 1872. At last, an undeniable piece of real live history. Ok, well 'dead' history, but you get the point. This was quite enough history for one spot I thought, so before Mike could dig any deeper, we decided to head out.
The next stop was Afton Canyon. Entering the canyon requires crossing the Mojave River! Fortunately the river wasn't terribly deep (probably low tide). With enough speed we were able to cross.
A short distance beyond we cross under a railroad bridge. The map indicates that caves are nearby. These caves used to serve as a wagon stop for weary travelers. We will stop too.
Everyone begins to hike downstream. After a quarter mile or so we reach the caves!
The cave we enter is not very large. Probably large enough the shelter a couple of wagons. The roof of the cave is covered with soot, indicating frequent use. The floor of the cave is covered with ant lion traps.
Altogether an interesting place, but Matt didn't seem to think so. The quote I can remember went something like this:
"This place sucks!" -- Matt
It was then that I discovered a "cairn". As we learned at the Emerald Grotto, interesting (non-sucky) places are marked with a cairn. If only Matt had seen the cairn, he would have realized how fascinating this place was. We couldn't stay here listening to Matt's commentary forever. It was time to continue down the Afton road to see what we could see.
The road followed along side a railroad line. This railroad was a mixture of old and new. The old was manifested in the power poles that paralleled the track. These power poles mounted ancient blue insulators -- an antique collector's delight. The new was manifested in the railroad. The track was held down by concrete railroad ties and paper clips.
Although we followed the tracks for quite awhile, no trains came by. Strange.
Another strange sight was the rock formations along the canyon walls. The walls were covered with deep crevasses. Each crevasse was like a mini-canyon extending into the rock wall.
What is this to our left? A deep crevasse, big enough to hike into! We stop, get out, and explore this spooky looking canyon.
In order to enter Spooky Canyon, we crossed under a small railway bridge. The bridge was labeled 194.65.
The canyon walls were very steep and very high. The sky could be seen and travel was not difficult. The farther we went, the taller the walls and the narrower the path became.
It was then that we discovered a cairn! Yes, this is a good sign.
The walls got taller and closer together. So tall and close that they began to touch over our heads. The path got so narrow that it was wide enough for only one person to pass at a time. If that wasn't enough, the light vanished and flashlights were needed.
Was this safe? Would it rain and flash flood fill the canyon? What was that sound? It was spooky.
Eventually the path got so narrow and steep that we couldn't proceed. Well, most of us couldn't proceed. A few adventurous members of the party trooped on while the rest of us turned back.
After many hours they returned with stories of endless twisty tunnels, cliffs, and a climbing rope. Although we traveled quite a way before turning back, they informed us that the spooky canyon went on much farther. Even they were unable to reach the end.
After we reach the entrance to spooky canyon, we stop for lunch. There is much more to see, so we don't delay here long. Well, long enough to break out a laptop computer!
Everyone mounts up and we continue down the railroad line.
Buried Railroad Car
We have a map that indicates a buried railroad car nearby. After almost passing it, we find the spot. Yes indeed, a railroad boxcar appears to be buried up to the very top. That must have been some flood to do that.
The map also indicates some buried railroad car wheels nearby. After a thorough search we conclude that the wheels have been removed. A suspicious hole right where the wheels should have been is a powerful clue.
It also appeared that someone tried to dig out the railroad car as well. Fat chance. All they left was a hole with an interesting mud texture at the bottom. There were several other pieces of railroad debris here, but we left them. Taking railroad debris would be like vandalism. None of us would do that. Or so I thought.
An ore chute positioned to dump ore into a mine cart. The tracks ran just below this chute.A buried train car can only hold our interest for a finite period of time. We wanted to find a non-buried train or something a little more interested. We didn't have to travel far. Only a few miles down the road we discover a mine.
Following down the mine cart tracks. The retaining wall is in remarkable condition.This wasn't a hole-in-the-ground kind of mine. It was "glory hole" type mine. The minerals were at the surface and could be mined directly without the need to tunnel. The remains of this mine were largely intact. Ore chutes, retaining walls, and mine cart tracks were in remarkable condition.
Ned practices for the circus.In addition to the expected mine paraphernalia, there was a Volkswagen bus, a computer (yes, a computer), and a circus rolling wheel. Actually, it wasn't a circus rolling wheel, but Ned thought it was. He balanced on it and rolled around for a bit. Fortunately, he was not injured.
A cairn of railroad spikes.Exploring the area further revealed tailings, bricks, concrete, and evidence that Vince was a here. There were some interesting plants growing near the mine. Of particular note was some desert holly and a bonsai tree.
The most encouraging thing discovered was a cairn. Cairns are harbingers of discovery. This cairn was made of railroad spikes which indicated a railroad discovery would soon be made. We were not disappointed.
The 'Dead' Train
Near the mine was a train. Yes, a real train. It consisted of eight or nine cars although it didn't have an attached engine. Time to do some investigating.
Mike jumped on the lead car and released the brake. Expectations were somewhat dashed when the train failed to begin moving. Examination of the brake release mechanism revealed no discernable malfunction. Another tactic was needed.
Maybe the other connected cars are preventing the train from moving. If only we could detach the end car from the rest. The car release mechanism was a little puzzling. Eventually we figured it out, but the cars would still not move. Drats.
It was then that Amy discovered the air brakes. You just pull a little hidden handle and HISSSSS! the brakes would let off air pressure. The effect was rather startling. Still, however, the train failed to move.
Our plans were ultimately defeated when it was discovered that the tracks had a safety lock to prevent the train from moving.
A train ride was not possible, but we could still do a train climb. And climb we did. All over that train we climbed. We were careful though. The train warned us to be.
Matt decided to loot the train. After much pulling and yanking he settled for hook thingy connected to a piece of chain.
Connected to the other end of the train was a boxcar. This one was decorated with urban art. Near the train was metal bits, oil, cans (naturally), and even some spilled wheat.
The map of the area revealed more areas of interest farther down the tracks. Off we go.
After endless miles of following the tracks we come to a spot that the map indicates is Kelso. We must have made some miscalculation because all we could see were a few pieces of machinery (tank-like) looked suspicious. One machine was wielding a rotating disk of buzz saw blades of death. Another machine was wielding a long claw/spike/gouger weapon. We later found out that this area wasn't even near Kelso. We misread where we were on the map we had.
A short distance beyond the mysterious combat vehicles we discover the Kelso dunes. These sand dunes are a mixture of sand an rock.
This extraordinary dune system has an unexpectedly mysterious history. Huge amounts of sand were needed to build Kelso’s delicate wind-created sculptures, but geologists studying the Preserve discovered that no new sand is moving in to replenish the dunes. Where did the sand originally come from? What made it stop accumulating?
By studying the mineral composition and shapes of sand grains that make up Kelso Dunes, we know that most of the sand has traveled all the way from the Mojave River sink east of Afton Canyon. Wind blowing from the northwest gradually carried the sand southeastward. In the path of the prevailing winds lie the Providence Mountains and the pink pinnacles of the Granite Mountains. The rocky crags and sloping fans of the two ranges block the moving sand. Sand piles up at the base of the mountains and along their flanks, forming dunes and sand sheets.
Where the sand piles up researchers found that the dunes are actually made up of several sets of dunes, stacked one on top of another. Each set formed in response to some past climate change! The Kelso Dunes depend upon times when the sand grain (sediment) supply is enhanced. This happens whenever the climate is dry enough to expose the raw material of dunes, sand, to the wind. In fact, most of the eastern part of the Kelso Dunes formed when water-filled Soda Lake and Silver Lake dried up, exposing the lake bottom sediment. The entire dune system was stacked up in five major pulses over the past 25,000 years.
The 'Live' Train
The sun is getting low so it is time to return the vehicles. In spite of all this time that we were by the railroad tracks, we had yet to see a train. Our disappointment was about to end.
A light started to flash up the track a ways. Colin informed us of the significance of this light. There is a pattern of color and flashing to indicate the nearness and direction of trains. This light indicated that a train was approaching.
As it turned out, Colin was correct. A train rushed by us at amazing speed. It was quite a sight!
The Return Trip
The return trip occurred in darkness. I could tell about how we learned that a mere two inches on the map can actually be hundreds of miles, or tell about how we were a bit slow to realize we were headed in the wrong direction, or even tell about how Ted zoomed miles ahead of the rest of the group. Instead, I'll just eave you with some majestic sunset photos.