Backpacking 500 Miles in the Mojave Desert (part 7)

In November and December of 2000 I backpacked from my house in Palm Springs to Lake Mead and back.

Part 6 can be viewed here.

Mojave 500 mile map

DAY 26

I awake somewhat disoriented. I had slept soundly for 8 hours or so and not awaken once. I remember looking around and being confused. Where was I? Oh yeah, in Bob and Val’s motorhome at Hole in the Wall campground. I lay in bed half-awake for a while. I was brought to full consciousness by the aroma of fresh coffee percolating and bacon cooking. My hosts were waiting for me to get up so they could give me a proper send off.

I quickly dressed and my first thought was to look out the window and check my nemesis, the wind. The morning was bright and clear, bushes and shrubs stood straight and tall without a hint of any wind. I could tell it was going to be a good day.

I was anxious to get started and at the same time was dreading the next 4 days, which I quickly forgot when my hosts urged me to “come eat breakfast with us.” Breakfast was outstanding with bacon, eggs, fresh fruits, juice, milk, toast and jelly. And then it was time for me to leave. I pleaded with Bob and Val to accept some money for allowing me to stay and for all the food they provided – but they would not hear of it. This made me feel a bit uncomfortable; I dislike the thought of being on the receiving end of charity.

Trail Angels

Today Bob and Val would probably be called trail angels. Trail angels are people who go out of their way to help hikers. In today’s world of thru-hiking long distance trails, like the Pacific Crest Trail, trail angels have become a phenomenon that I truly despise. I am probably an extreme minority with that opinion. Trail angels are well intending people who provide (usually free) assistance to hikers in many forms; most often a place to stay, showers, food and beverages, water caches along the trail, and transportation to and from trailheads. Well intentioned, but there are some drawbacks – at least from my vantage point in the world.

First and foremost in my mind is the influx of hikers on the long trails due to the popularity of a few books and movies about thru-hikes. In April 2015 the number of hikers starting at the southern terminus of the Pacific Crest trail had to be limited to 50 per day. Too many of these hikers are ill prepared and often rely and in some cases expect trail angels to help them, especially the expectation trail angels will cache water along the driest sections of trail – I am beginning to see an attitude of entitlement among some recent PCT thru hikers.

Another consequence that is particularly disheartening to me is the amount of trash and garbage left at some points where trail angels leave food, water, and other support items along the trail. The trail angels are not the true cause; it is the inconsiderate selfish hikers who are creating the problem.

Back to the hike

It is a 100 mile walk from Hole in the Wall campground to Joshua Tree National Park and I planned to do it in 4 days, averaging 25 miles per day. Most of the route is generally downhill, except for the section from what is ironically called a town, Amboy, CA to Sheep Hole Pass.

This day was easy as I walked mostly downhill on a diagonal path towards the distant stream of cars on I-40. With I-40 to my left and the Providence Mountains to the right, it didn’t take long to reach an open plain with a gap between the northerly Providence Mountains and the small Van Winkle Mountain to south. Above this gap stood one of my favorite places to visit, the Granite Mountains. Temptation beckoned me to take a route towards the Granite, but that would lead me to walk down Granite Pass, an area I already hiked in the early days of this trip. So I headed south around the perimeter of Van Winkle Mountain close to I-40 but in terrain that kept the highway out of sight and mostly out of earshot. It was here I spent the night.

DAY 27

I woke discouraged when I figured out I would have to walk a couple miles along I-40 and then under it along Kellbaker Road, a section I walked in the opposite direction 21 days earlier. Also at the end of this day I needed to be in Amboy, and I will have consumed all my water with the uncertainty of water availability in Amboy. Lastly, all of a sudden I wanted the walk to be over. It would be easy to hitch hike back home from my present location. I thought about this option, but finally decided to push on. I had a goal and wanted to complete it. Stepping onto Kellbaker Road and crossing under I-40, I headed eastward towards toward the Bristol Mountains so I could walk along is base, putting me on the opposite side of Fenner Valley and psychologically it was a good move. I was no longer walking the same exact real estate twice.

My plan was to walk round the terminus of the Bristol Mountains and then hike along Route 66 into Amboy. This planned route was part of my discouragement earlier in the morning, not wanting to walk along a paved road. Up in the Bristols I saw a gap that might allow me to cross this small mountain range instead of walking around it. If I could cross through the gap, it would save be time and mileage; if not I would end up with no water long before I got to Amboy, because I didn’t know if I could actually get across and I might have to back-track to my present location. At least trying would give me a challenge. So off I went. A bit of a climb, some class 2 hiking, and sweating but it worked. In the distance I saw Amboy and I could walk cross country and avoid most of Route 66.

Almost to Amboy, I was tired and hot. About a quarter mile from the town was a large tree – actually the only tree in the entire area. I walked to the tree for its shade to rest, eat, and drink the last of my water, and a what a surprise I found. It was an old Palo Verde tree and slung around its branches were about two dozen pairs of shoes. Each pair was tied together, usually with each shoe’s laces. What a bizarre sight. Over the years, after this trip, I traveled through this area several times a year and the number of shoes continued to grow. Finally about 5 years ago, when I passed it, the tree had fallen over and died, and shoes were scattered all about.


Amboy has a handful of buildings. An old café and motel, called Roy’s, a Post Office, and an abandoned school. Add a few small scattered buildings here and there: today it is a ghost town. Much to my disappointment Roy’s was closed and I had no water. The post office was opened, so went over to see if someone could tell me where I might find water. I met a very nice lady inside and she went to her van and gave me two gallons of fresh water. It isn’t uncommon for desert dwellers and travelers to carry lots of extra water. She was a gem.

Amboy Crater

About a mile east of town is Amboy Crater. The area is one of the youngest volcano fields in North America. Scientists tell us the crater and surrounding lava fields were created by the Amboy volcano about 10,000 years ago. I had never visited it before, so this seemed like a good time and a good place to camp for the night. My walk was gaining enthusiasm again. Sleeping in this moonscape-like terrain and watching the star filled sky was a real treat.

DAY 28

I was up before daylight and walking quickly. It was a long day and I really wanted to get to Twentynine Palms and sleep in a hotel. I walked through the lava fields with Bristol Dry Lake to my east, then along the eastern flank of the Bullion Mountains, reaching Sheep Hole Pass. Here is this large pass, hidden from sight and sound of the two lane Amboy Road, I made my night camp.

DAY 29

Shortly after breakfast I descended into Wonder Valley.

Wonder Valley

This place, the last homestead area in the Lower 48 States, was created by the Small Homestead Act of 1938. It is a sandy, rolling valley about 98 square miles in area with hundreds, if not thousands, of decaying 12’ X20’ cabins on 5 acre parcels, each with an outhouse. But people live here. Some cabins have been kept up, and here and there are newer homes. But it is still mostly barren. It is my kind of place; populated by people who want solitude, writers and artists, retirees, social outcasts and the poor: Desert Rats. Everyone comes here for their own reason. It is my kind of place. I had never walked here before; I had passed through at 60 miles an hour in my 4-wheel steed many times. I admit, it was an enchanting walk. My need to get to a motel, and buy food and water, overcame a strong desire to explore many of the vacated structures. Writing this today reminds me I need to go back. Maybe I’ll buy one of the old homesteads cheap and move there; a 5 acre lot for under $5,000 or parcel with a small one room cabin for under $20K – no I won’t – Joyce wouldn’t permit it!

Soon I was in Twentynine Palms. It was dark. A cheap hotel, a shower, food re-supply, fill water, bottles, and then I went to bed.  Tomorrow would celebrate a month walking.

Part 8

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