Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Winter Desert Trip #3: LA to Vegas

Geologist cabin and Striped Butte in Death Valley, on day 2

Much, maybe most, of Southern California is desert, an area that I have largely ignored in the 3 decades I have lived here: Too hot, dry, dusty, hostile. This winter I want to catch up and an unusually cold and wet winter gives a longer time window. It is hard to do this on a bicycle without first developing a good route. The terrain doesn't naturally lend itself to cycling. Distances are long and there can be a lot of sand. Maybe a winter bikepacking route can be developed and I'm doing some scouting, but with a motorcycle. It isn't clear how well a cycling route would work, I have seen a lot of promising trails, but connecting them without soul crushing junk miles is a challenge. Some is unavoidable: There always seems to be a sandy valley between mountain ranges. Those valleys have not been easy to travelers in previous years, the Death Valley '49 had a particularly tough time. 

Searles Valley and the Slate Range. 
From William Lewis Manly (1894), Death Valley in '49, The Jayhawkers story, as they descended into Searles Valley from the Slate Range

"To the left a large lake could be seen and from their previous experience they concluded it to be salt and the valley they were coming to was very sandy. It must be crossed before there was any possibility of water. One of their number had already died of thirst and fatigue and all were suffering terribly. 
The valley seemed about eight miles across and before they were half way over Mr. Isham, one of their party sat down, perfectly exhausted, and said he could not take another step. No one was able to assist him or give him a drink of water and they could not tarry to see if rest would refresh him. They could only look sadly at him and pass on in silence. The thought came to everyone that perhaps it would be his turn next to sit down and see the others pass on. In fact the probability of any more of them living another day was very poor, for they all grew weaker and weaker with every hour." 

The quotes here come from the Jayhawkers experience. In my January blog post, I used quotes from Manly's report of his own journey. He took a different route out of Death Valley and overtook the Jayhawkers in the Mojave desert.

This time I rejoin a supported trip by Coyote Trail Adventures (Steve Walker, his wife Jennifer, and their friends John Sides and Gil Busick). It is a point-to-point motorcycle ride of about 400 miles over 3 days from north of Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Riding into Las Vegas after being out in the wilderness (and even getting snowed on over the last mountain pass) is going to be quite a culture shock.   

3 day route, about 400 miles, and 15 hours of moving time

I have ridden with Steve and John before and am impressed with their knowledge of the Mojave desert (which was unknown to me) and dirt biking (not my area of expertise either). I usually do my own routes without support, but it is a different style (more of a backcountry/nature experience, not on motorcycle either). Going with them offers a new learning experience and that is the real value to me, it is beyond the convenience of not having to organize anything.  

On my last motorcycle trips, I rode my Yamaha XT 225, which is a very mild trail bike. It can go everywhere the hardcore motorcycles can go, but much more slowly, mainly because the suspension gets overwhelmed as the pace picks up. It brays and bucks when being pushed, like the wild burros in this area. Steve suggested that I rent a KTM 350 for this trip, a much more aggressive motorcycle (three times the power, better suspension, 6 inches taller, but less weight) so I have an easier time keeping up. Steve is not pushy and tries to avoid hurting people's feelings. He could be more forceful, but maybe in that social circle, people's self-esteem is too closely linked to their possessions or self-assessed riding skills. I think it is a good idea to follow Steve's or John's suggestions when motorcycling is concerned. So a KTM for me this time.  
I would never buy a KTM 350 for myself. They are ugly, expensive, overly tall (seat height is 97cm or about 38 inches), require lots of maintenance (oil change every 15 hours, complete engine rebuild every 130 hours!), and rattle on highways. That's why you never see one on a road, only in the back of a pickup truck. 

We start near Red Rock Canyon State Park near Cantil, although went around it on the west side. Another Red Rock Canyon, but this one in Nevada just before Las Vegas concludes our ride on day 3. Our group is 5: Steve and John lead the ride; Nick, the road manager for the Americana pop band Lord Huron, from Nashville, and Albert from Cleveland are the other participants. 

Starting off on day 1
Descending into Searles Valley (Trona) on day 1. The Slate Range is the small front range, Panamint Valley behind it, then the Panamint Range with snow-capped Telescope Peak, and Death Valley behind it. 

We stay at cabins Steve has found near Trona, but since we arrive early, we have time to ride up to some abandoned mines in the nearby mountains. 
Late afternoon ride into the mountains, this formation had an almost unreal color in the late afternoon light, hard to capture on a photo. 

Day 2: 
Very surprising, there is a real waterfall in Searles Valley. It is intermittent, of course, but this year runs unusually full.  The winter of 1849/1850 was also unusually wet. But first, the Jayhawkers had to get down from the Slate Range and across the valley before there was any chance that they could find water. 
"Those who bore farthest to the right, steering toward a pile of tremendous rocks, found a little stream of good water which flowed only a short distance and then sank into the sand.... Some took two canteens of water and hurried back to Mr. Isham who they found still alive but his mouth and throat so dry and parched, and his strength so small that he was unable to swallow a single drop, and while they waited he breathed his last. With their hands and feet they dug away the sand for a shallow grave. " William Lewis Manly (1894), Death Valley in '49, The Jayhawkers story

After the waterfall, we got into some deeper sand where the riding gets a bit squirrely. Better for burying your companions than the rocks in the Slate Range the previous day(s): 

"Both parties began the ascent of a black and barren range, containing no water, but in the bed of a ravine near the summit they found some damp sand and tried to dig with their hands to find some of the precious fluid. But no water came, and in the morning one of their number Mr. Fish died and was left unburied on the barren rocks. No doubt his bones could be found there to-day".

Sand is especially wobbly at slow speed and on a bicycle it is almost impossible to get enough speed to glide over it. More speed makes it easier and that's where an engine has a big advantage. John zoomed by and waved us on, trying to encourage us to speed up, but regardless of his gesturing, Albert or I didn't follow his prompt. 

We enter the Slate Range on Stockwell Mine Road and descend on the eastern side into Panamint Valley through Fish Canyon (the '49ers ascended the range here). 
Day 2, we just crossed the Slate Range and are descending into Panamint Valley, Telescope Peak ahead, Death Valley on the other side. 

"Down the mountain they went, on the west side and instead of Los Angeles, which some of them expected to see, they saw only a salt lake in the midsts of a barren desert valley and their route lay directly across it. They traveled in several directions as they went across."

The 49'ers were going the opposite direction from us, so the quote above refers to seeing the Panamint Valley from the other side. It must have been another despairing sight. Instead of the short cut that would save time over the much longer Old Spanish Trail to Los Angeles, they hit mountain range after mountain range with a dry valley. The dry mud flats or salt marshes were deceiving as from a distance they look like lakes. Next they would get into Searles Valley, no view of Los Angeles either, only of many more days of desert. 

"These dry lake beds deceived them many times. They seemed as if containing plenty of water, and off the men would go to explore. They usually found the distance to them about three times as far as they at first supposed, and when they reached them they found no water, but a dry, shining bed, smooth as glass, but just clay, hard as a rock. Most of these dry lakes showed no outlet, nor any inlet for that matter, though at some period in the past they must have been full of water. Nothing grew in shape of vegetables or plants except a small, stunted, bitter brush". William Lewis Manly (1894), Death Valley in '49, The Jayhawkers story

We go around the salt marsh on the southern side and climb into the Panamint Range via Goler Canyon (also shows as Coyote Canyon Road on some maps). It is a jeep trail that goes into Death Valley National Park past Barker Ranch, where Charles Manson and his group where arrested (almost incidentally, the arrest was for vandalism, the sheriff and National Park Service only later realized that they captured a mass murderer and his followers). 

Ascending the Panamint Range in Goler Canyon, look for all the brown round cacti growing on the rocks
On that stretch, the tall seat of the KTM did get me. The group took a break and I rolled up to them. But when I stopped, my foot didn't reach the ground and I tipped over.  For me, the extra suspension and ground clearance isn't worth the extra effort of getting on and off the bike or comfortably stopping for taking a picture. They are very competent, great once you move in dirt, but just not very practical motorcycles. Twice the power I need, but a weak rear frame that is likely to crack with luggage, needs oil changes even in the middle of a shortish trip, and the seat height even makes a chore of anything other than keeping going. The same "race" pretensions that mar the bicycle market.  

This is Death Valley proper, Badwater further to the left. 

At the bottom, we are very briefly on West Side Road, which is atrocious washboard. It wasn't always that bad, we did a family bike ride on West Side road in December 2011. 
Family bike ride on West Side Road in December 2011
Obin and I also rode Titus Canyon then, which at the moment is closed. Pretty, although a wide sandy dirt road isn't that much fun on a bicycle either. 
Titus Canyon, December 2011

Before whining too much about road condition, people had bigger concerns here in the past, long before there was any road in Death Valley:

"Five days they traveled, without finding water, and small supply they took along had been consumed. For lack of water they could not eat or sleep.... The range of mountains they had been aiming for still seemed far away and the possible show for reaching it seemed very poor indeed, and the prospect of any water hole between them and the mountains poorer yet. Hope was pretty near gone." William Lewis Manly (1894), Death Valley in '49, The Jayhawkers Story

Towards the end of the day, we cross the Amargosa River and go over a small mountain range between highway 127 and 178. The Amargosa River is almost 300 km long. It drains the high desert northwest of Las Vegas, then flows south into the Mojave Desert, and finally makes a sharp turn north again into Death Valley where it disappears in Badwater. Except, it is not a typical river because most of the water is underground. The Amargosa only flows above ground for short stretches in the Amargosa Canyon and near Beatty. I presume what we cross what normally is a dry wash (the real water is underground), and only has water because of recent rainstorms. 

Near the end of day 2, we cross the Amargosa River, or at least a usually dry bed along its direction that right now has water because of recent storms.

And soon the next big mountain range comes into view. The snow capped mountain is Charleston Peak, we will cross a bit further south through Red Rock Canyon. Las Vegas is in the valley behind it. 

I think that is the Nopah Range in the front, Pahrump in the valley behind it, and Charleston Peak in the distance. 

Steve going down the single track towards Highway 178

Nick was probably the most competent motorcyclist after John and Steve, Albert may have been in the middle, but I generally felt like going a bit slower, so they had to wait. As I arrived at a more technical climb, John was waiting for me, the others had already tackled it, although I just saw how Albert took a hard fall and limped off near the top. Unfortunately, he also twisted his ankle and that limited his enjoyment of the last day. I had stopped at the bottom and  talked to John about the line I saw to go up. He snorted "hah, that's a novice idea" and took a line I had not noticed before. I followed his line, which ended up being smoother than the one I would have taken. 

Day 2 was the longest distance, about 150 miles and ended in Tecopa Springs. But the toughest section is from the geologist cabin to the center of death valley. Not because it is any technical challenge, but because it is a long rocky road that we ride at high speed.  Albert called it "bone-jarring". I also felt pretty beaten up at the end of the day and enjoyed the hot tub in Tecopa Hot Springs more than I usually would.  

Our rooms are just to the left, hot tub as well. There is a band stand and a band was playing from 6 on. 

We stayed at Tecopa Hot Springs, somewhat of a hippie place. They had live music, a slightly shaky band playing classic rock/pop tunes. I shared a room with Gil and our room had direct access to a hot tub. After dinner, I was getting cold again, my joints were still hurting, and the band was getting on my nerves. The drummer missed the beat when he did a roll on his toms and the mandolin player had an out-of-tune pair of A strings. Sitting in the hot tub with the water coming in cut those sounds enough to make the music even enjoyable. 

Salt marsh around Tecopa Hot Springs watered by the Amargosa River

Day 3:
A cold and gloomy day. We even got snow in the afternoon going over the pass into Red Rock Canyon. The first miles are near Kingston Peak and give a view into the valley with the Dumont Dunes, the town of Baker would be to the left/south and Death Valley to the right/north. With low hanging clouds, the photo fails to convey the impressive view.

Then we had a long sandy stretch to the appropriately named village Sandy Valley. I was happily moving at around 30mph in the deep sand. The handlebars wobble a bit, but it also isn't too fast to get nerve wrecking. I was definitely riding in my happy spot. The others went ahead a bit faster. A taco stand was parked in front of the Trails End General Store where a teenage girl took orders on her spiral bound notebook in English and Spanish and then conveyed them (in Spanish) to an older man next to her who assembled them. We now were in Nevada and she confirmed "Yes California is not far from here". She took her job seriously and would be a conscientious restaurant manager. According to Google Earth, California was about 1400 meters from the Taco stand.

John took his helmet off and barked out in frustration: "Roland, WHAT are you doing? I can't ride THAT SLOW in the sand!" Clearly exasperated, he pointed out that in his world the minimum speed limit to ride in deep sand is 40 mph. He was struggling how to explain such an obvious fact. "Have you ever waterskied?" No. "Well, you can't waterski slow either".  I told him that 30mph was about as fast as I felt comfortable there. Any faster, and I wasn't confident I would see or recognize obstacles. But he would have none of that: "And if we go that slow, it is like being at Disneyland and doing teacups all the time and never get to ride the Matterhorn". Disney teacups were a recurrent theme, I got the distinct impression that neither John nor Steve like teacups. 

I don't have insights about Disney's Matterhorn, but here is the real Matterhorn seen from a hike a few years ago. Not hiking on the Matterhorn itself, which is a very difficult climb. I believe this is the North Face, which wasn't climbed until the 1930s. We're teacupping it. 

The weather got gloomier and it started to snow a bit, so pictures that usually would be spectacular don't look like much. The very last stretch is the famed Red Rock Canyon. Mostly because it is a really pretty canyon that also sees lots of tourists from the Las Vegas side. Among offroad motorcyclists, it is apparently also known for the rocky uphill section that gets very congested during the annual LA-Barstow-Vegas ride the day after Thanksgiving. It is a fun section. Too bad it isn't very long, it is already over just when you get the hang of it, maybe just 1/4 mile. The rocky section is sufficiently challenging that I probably would not have tried it by myself on a solo trip and turned around, but it isn't that hard on a small motorcycle or on a bicycle (downhill only, would be pushing this uphill direction). Having seen it, I'd do it on my 225 on a solo trip, but would not do it by myself on a 400+ pound motorcycle.   

Steve starting the rocky section of the Red Rock Canyon climb.

I'm having a go at it

And we're on top and it is snowing. Now 5 miles down to the pavement into Las Vegas
The KTM in Red Rock Canyon, Nevada, shortly before we get to the pavement leading into Las Vegas. Coming down the mountain, the soil fairly suddenly turns red. 

On a sunny day, Red Rock Canyon must be spectacular, but it was very gloomy
Already at the bottom, there is a bit of a shock as we come out in a big parking lot. Hundreds of people milling around. Nobody on the other side of the mountain. On the 5 mile descent, I think we saw only 3 hikers, then a few jeeps within a mile or so of the parking lot. Almost makes me want to turn around and go back up into the mountains.

While it is still 25 miles to central Las Vegas, within minutes it feels like suburbia. New housing developments right and left, big intersections with long signal changes. Congestion isn't aggravating yet, but surely will be once those developments are finished. Soon it'll be as miserable as Los Angeles. 

At the South Point Casino in Las Vegas

We have dinner in the South Point Casino. It is the end of the trip for Nick and Albert who are staying in the hotel, the rest of us drive back to Palmdale in the van afterwards. 

At dinner, I also get the full background on teacups. Steve supports visitors on the LA-Barstow-Vegas ride, which is such a well known event in the offroad motorcycle community that people come for pilgrimages. Motorcycle logistics are difficult (much more than joining a bicycle ride!) and it is also common to fail. Many participants underestimate distance, duration, or difficulty and don't finish. Steve tries to make sure that his customers end in Las Vegas and see all the highlights, especially Red Rock Canyon, along the way. That could mean encouraging them to ride the highway instead of the route to skip slow sections or even load them into a van to make up time. The Disney analogy is that the teacups are whoops and other stretches along the full route that take time and effort and some people skip those.  

Driving back on I-15, we see helicopters covering the Mint 400 desert race still under way. Near Primm, some cars race along the freeway, going at a much faster speed. The motorcycles raced the day before, covering about 250 miles in under 5 hours (at least the top 3 did). So I guess for an ex desert racer like John, puttering along at 30 mph in an easy sand section this morning must be painful! 

Some people name their vehicles or musical instruments. I haven't but maybe I should make an exception after this trip. Here's Teacups:

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Winter 2019 Desert Tour #2: Anza Borrego, Yuma, Mojave

The BDR (backcountry discovery routes) folks created a Southern California desert route for 2019 and I got their map as soon as it became available in January (CA - BDR). The BDR routes are  the motorcycle equivalent to bikepacking routes, similar to the original Great Divide Mountain Bike Route/Tour Divide, which was scouted with a jeep. Like Tour Divide, a bit too tedious on a bicycle (lots of wide dirt roads, washboard, cars), but with an engine stronger than 2 legs can be fun.

Flowers are coming up near Borrego Springs
The most southern parts of the CA-BDR, the Yuma desert, are only tolerable in the winter, even March can be too warm to be fun. Not this year. We had a surprisingly cold and wet winter so far, so cold and wet that it wasn't until the last week in February that I took off on my XT225. Last month, I was cold and wet in the Mojave and Death Valley: mojave desert winter trip 1  

Mal Pais Overlook, camped here in night 1. 

The hardest part is always to get going and there is an extra hurdle living in a metropolitan area. The least pleasant two stretches are the two hours getting out of and back into the LA area. The 225 is about the slowest vehicle on the freeway. 

I left around noon to avoid the worst traffic. By the afternoon  things became enjoyable and at 3 pm, I was in the Anza Borrego desert. Borrego Springs is getting busy, wildflower season is starting. I camped at the Malpais Overlook.  

Camp first night, in this direction the badlands don't look as hostile. 

There wasn't any need for a tent, it wasn't cold, no bugs, no dew. Maybe the only reason was that the tent hasn't been used for long time and needed airing out. Or maybe that by now I have forgotten how to do backcountry trips. The desert was very still, no sounds of any life, very different from the next night. 

I putter through Anza-Borrego and Ocotillo Wells sand during the morning. A very dry area and sometimes without any vegetation. Most of the year will be awfully hot, but today is just perfect. Two park rangers on foot are doing a survey of flowers in Ocotillo Wells, but I don't see anybody else. There were some RVs parked once I got close to highway 78. 

As little vegetation as on Mars - near Shell Reef in Ocotillo Wells

Despite the dry climate, there is a substantial agricultural industry north and south of the border, irrigated by canals that are the last straws for the Colorado River, which no longer reaches the ocean. Water canals are even along the Algodones dunes. It doesn't get more desert-like than this.
Algodones/Glamis dunes off highway 78
What surprised me on this stretch were big yellow splatters on my helmet/mirrors/jacket. Very juicy bugs and quite a few of them. I didn't realize it at that time, only after they were coming through Los Angeles 10 days later, but these were Painted Lady butterflies. The wet weather not only creates a superbloom, but also a burst of butterflies because there is more food for the caterpillars. They originate in the Colorado and Mojave deserts in the winter, migrate north to Oregon and Washington and another generation returns in the fall. They start very well supplied and the yellow splatter is the fat reserve for the next 1000 miles. 

I resupply in Yuma, Arizona, where the CA backcountry discovery route starts. The first 30 km are a wide dirt road, somewhat washboarded, and would be very tedious on a bicycle. Usually also too hot, but the temperatures were pleasant when moving on a motorcycle, although already too hot when stopping. And there is no shade. 

20km north of Yuma, now on the CA-BDR

A brave little tree survived on a rock. And that is the the first step towards turning this rock into sand. 

After I left the pavement, I only saw two cars in the afternoon coming the opposite direction. It was a Wednesday, midweek, and that may account for low use, but I was certainly happy not having more traffic. The CA-BDR goes through the Picacho State Park along the Colorado River. The main road went to the central part with boat launch, showers, camp ground, but I took an immediate left that immediately led to a much rougher road and therefore less used. 
Colorado River
There are some primitive campsites, largely for boaters, at the north end of the state park. I initially didn't plan to stay here, but camp away from people and that probably meant outside the park, but the river was very pretty. And there wasn't anybody around, so I decided to stay in the northernmost camp spot in the park. It doesn't have anything other than a fire pit and a picnic table and a registration box. But a spectacular location and I gladly paid the $25 (yes, it is quite expensive for a primitive camp with no facilities). 
No mistake here with the tent this time and I only used the inner net: River front also means bugs. 

I was too hot, about 4 pm, despite being a mellow day for this place, and cooled down in the Colorado. I started to swim to the Arizona side, but the current was a bit fast and I didn't want to get carried too far downstream. About 1/3 of the way across, I found a submerged sand bank, very soft comfortable sand. When sitting on that sand bank, just my head was above the water. I did that until I got too cold.

The nightlife here in a different league than last night, which was still. Birds shuffling in the weeds, bats zooming around, lots of insects (including mosquitoes, but not too bad), wild donkeys/burros honking, coyotos howlings. The burros were really noisy and make really ugly sounds. A cross between ducks and foghorn, but sometimes they choke up and it sounds like a hand saw. Different from domestic donkeys in Europe, not that they make pretty sounds either. The coyotes were almost musical in comparison, there was one pack howling on the Arizona side and two packs on the CA side. 

Yes, we've all seen moon pictures, but I thought is was cute to have it indirect in the mirror

Day 3 started with a fairly squirrely stretch up Indian Pass. On the map, it is marked as "deep sand", although I think it is closer to gravel. I passed another motorcyclist who was not happy about the conditions. He had an Africa Twin, more a standard "adventure" motorcycle than mine. Apparently the soft conditions caused him difficulties. Deep sand requires some speed in order to have control and at slow speed one slides around randomly. Those big motorcycles are nice on the highway, but they are really heavy and I'd be hesitant to take one into remote terrain by myself. It is very hard to pick them and also easy to get stuck underneath. I wonder how far he got on the route, but didn't see him again. 

The next resupply was in Blythe, and slowly the elevation increases. In the afternoon, it is out of the Sonoran desert and into the Mojave. Section 2 ends at the Sahara Oasis gas station along I-40. There is a cute historic place, Goffs with a museum, and a climb into the Mojave National Preserve. I camped maybe 30 minutes past Goff, at about 1200m. At this altitude, it was noticeably colder than the previous two nights and I actually wanted the tent. 

New York Mountains
Day 4 was largely at higher altitude and much cooler. Climbing up the road towards the New York Mountains got up to 1500m or so and I put on warmer clothes. The mountains themselves peak at over 2000m.

Joshua Trees seem to like the cooler weather up there as well and seem grow much more densily than anywhere else, including Joshua Tree National Park. I very much enjoyed riding there, almost in a Joshua Tree forest.

Bert Smith’s Rock House was built by a WWI veteran who came back wrecked from poison gas and didn't expect to live long. The deserts of California seemed to do him good and he lived until 1954. There is a spring, an essential (and rare) feature for surviving in the desert. 

Section 4 of the CA-BDR starts on the north side of I-15 (the Barstow to Las Vegas freeway). There is a first climb past a huge solar plant up to Coloseum mine. That was about the roughest section I encountered and more easily tackled on a small motorcyle than an intimidating 500+ pound bike.  

Colosseum mine

Large solar plant near Primm, NV

I didn't go much further north and eventually turned around before Tecopa Hot Springs. The following week, I would be around here again on a ride from LA to Vegas, but that is for another blog. 
Tecopa Hot Springs
By late afternoon, I was back in the Mojave National Preserve. I had tried to find a trail that eventually lead into a canyon, somehow instead I found myself on top of a mountain at a dead end. But a great view.

I was too cold at this altitude, so I was going back down as low as possible and then camped in a wash. It was a nice temperature and I just slept outside. Had a very good night until at 3 am it started raining. So I had to get into the tent after all, but slept in. Around 8 am, the rain had stopped. 

I had planned to ride out the wash, get on Mojave road across a dry lake bad, but pretty soon noticed that this was not possible. Places that yesterday were hard packed were soft and slippery and had puddles on them. The lake bed is the terminus of the Mojave River (which evaporates in the desert, it does not go to the ocean) and this year has been unusually wet. One of the oddities of deserts that has taken me a while to understand is that many rivers/creeks start bigger and then get smaller until they disappear, the opposite of typical rivers that eventually go to an ocean. A bit further north, the Amargosa River does the same thing, finally giving out around Badwater in Death Valley.

Mojave road was known already in the 1700s and became part of the Old Spanish Trail (the southern option) in the 1800s. The Death Valley 49ers, who thought they take a fast shortcut, suffered terribly in the Mojave desert (that includes Manly, Rogers, the Jayhawkers, and the Bennett/Arcane families), whereas the group that stayed with Hunt and took the "long" Old Spanish Trail made it without drama and much quicker.  The first US explorer may have been Jedediah Smith in 1926 and he probably crossed on the Mojave trail. This is probably the salt plain he talks about.

"I travelled a west course fifteen days over a country of complete barrens, generally travelling from morning until night without water. I crossed a Salt plain about 20 miles long and 8 wide; on the surface was a crust of beautiful white salt, quite thin. Under this surface there is a layer of salt from a half to one and a half inches in depth; between this and the upper layer there is about four inches of yellowish sand." 
Jedediah Smith, 1826, p. 190 in: The Ashley-Smith Explorations and the Discovery of a Central Route to the Pacific 1822-1829, with the Original Journals edited by Harrison Clifford Dale, 1913

I thought maybe I can go around the southern end (and that point I didn't realize that the Mojave River comes from the south), but quickly realized that this was not promising and tried to find my way to higher ground. The mud packed so hard in the rear tire that it stopped the engine and I had to scrape off the mud repeatedly. 

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An hour of mud wrestling before I backtracked to Baker and from there took I-15 home. Those freeway miles were the hardest part of the ride, though. There was a fierce headwind much of the way, sometimes pushing me below 50mph, and then a storm at Cajon Pass. 
Out of the mud, more solid this direction

Even with the freeway miles at the beginning and end, a great roundtrip of about 1000 miles/1600km. Total moving time was 30 hours. Two slideouts in deep sand, stalling twice on climbs and tipping over, plus additional drops during the one hour mud bath.