Last month we visited the Old Woman Mountain. This month I feel it is only fair to visit Old Dad Mountain. Interestingly enough, they are not geographically far from each other, but true to the desert, they are quite different.
We began our journey of discovery by turning off Interstate 40 at Ludlow, California, elevation 1782’. I topped off my truck’s gas tanks, and checked the lashings and tie-downs on my future dune buggy, riding in style on it’s very own trailer. It was May, 1972.
Ludlow, then as now, had all the amenities. A nice cafe, that sold ice as well as food, and there were several gasoline stations, and a railroad yard to handle the business of the mines shipping their minerals, needed supplies and equipment. Back in the thirties and before, railroads were necessary. Later on, hiways were built and trucks began to carry an increasing amount of freight. The rails here are still busy as are the roads.
Even though most of the mining industry has faded, we could still sit in our camp on the Northside of the Bristol Mountains, of an evening, sip our drinks and hear, as well as see in the clear desert evening air, trains running the rails in the valley between us and Baker, California, many miles away.
Before we could do that, my good friend Larry and I had to cross the hiway and head North on a wide, washboarded road at five miles per hour for one and a half hours. On a previous trip we established a camp in the Cady Mountains on our left and looked for colorful rocks and unwound from the stress of modern living. This time, we were going to explore much more and further into the mountains; passing through them, in fact.
We gazed at the usually dry Broadwell Lake on our right hand side as we bumped and rattled slowly by on it’s West shore. We could easily see the elevated road bed that once carried the Tonapah & Tidewater train South to Ludlow and North to Gold Center, Nevada.
As we slowly drove along the Western shore road, we noticed several dirt roads leaving our road and rambling West up the long, wide slope, disappearing into the horizon. The Cady Mountains on our left and the Bristol Mountains on our right drew together as we approached the North end of Broadwell Dry Lake. We passed the site of Broadwell as we left the lake. It was represented by some debris on the desert surface.
I faced, with dread, the churned up sand ahead of us. It was all the road there was and must be taken at a speed of 20-25 miles per hour in order to "stay on top" and not bog down. Steering through this mess was equally tricky and called upon my skills to keep the front tires of the truck from "snow-plowing". Remember, we were towing the dune buggy trailer too.
Speed must be maintained at all costs even though we continued to "fishtail" through the seemingly endless two miles of this sand trap. If we had to stop, it would have been a long day of digging a track in front of our tires so we could get going again with sand mats and other aids which we did not posses then or later.
Success!! My faithful truck’s rear tires, with limited-slip differential, bit into a mix of elderly asphalt, chunks of rock, and at last onto the road. We finally stopped for a breather at the junction with a power-line road intersecting us North-East/South-West. It felt good to relax ones hands from the white-knuckle driving and walk about a bit.
Well, there we were. And what a change in the surroundings! Around the dry lake, mostly scrub, but there, looking at the end of the Bristol Mountains, the vegetation was now made up of Smoke Trees, Cholla and other varieties of cacti along with Paloverde (literally, green tree), and some very low, dry plants. Even so, we could see this part of the mountains got more rain than that facing Broadwell Lake.
Judging by the poor condition of the power-line service road, and the heavier vegetation, we decided to park the truck under one of the power towers, unload the dune buggy and find our camp-to-be from the seats of the bug.
It might be helpful here to describe Larry’s dune buggy so that you have an idea of what we are talking about. Most modern dune buggys have a fiberglass body surrounding the driver and passenger compartment, open at the top, with windshield, chrome-plated roll bar and a jazzy looking engine, usually un-muffled and noisy.
Larry’s bug was none of these. Before it’s reincarnation at Larry’s hands it was a Doctor’s well used Karmann Ghia, vintage 1956. Eliminating the body, Larry had a section cut off the frame tunnel and rewelded to make it shorter. The floor of expanded steel mesh was welded to the side frame rails. No body surrounded the driver and passenger, who sat in bucket seats. One can easily see what one was driving over and around, as well as enjoy fresh breezes.
A VW bus fuel tank sat above the engine and behind the occupants. A very sturdy roll bar completed the overall design. The dash board, instruments, and front brakes were also eliminated. A bent pipe welded to the frame tunnel curved over in front of the driver and supported the steering wheel. Twin, muffled, vertical exhaust pipes provided a pleasant sound. This design is sometimes called an "Open Sand Rail".
Soon, we found what looked like a great camping spot. Larry marked it, and we drove back to my truck parked under the power tower. Driving the buggy, Larry guided me, the truck, and the trailer back to our selected camping spot. My Honda SL125 motorcycle was inside my camper and we unloaded it.
Making camp with all this hardware was a challenge, but we persevered, and were soon opening up some ice cold cans of beer, chips, and other snacks as we gathered energy. Larry discovered a broken weld on the buggy trailer, probably from the bouncing it took, towed unloaded over the unmaintained power-line service road.
After we had rested, we did some very local exploring. Several miles North-West of our camp was a small dry lake reached by a desert dirt road near our camp.
Both of us checked out the lake on our respective vehicles and on the return run checked out another prospect on an adjacent hill. It proved to have some interesting iron tool and hardware scraps. With that exploration it was time to return to camp for supper. The high temperature for the day was 98 degrees in the shade. After a supper of creamed tuna on english muffin, wine, and dessert, we opened some new fire logs and enjoyed the camp-fire and conversation ‘til midnite and bed. 72 degrees throughout the night.
Through the magic of the computer, the date was now October, 1974, a bit over two years later. Same camp, same equipment, same "cast" but more time and cooler weather to explore on the desert. Oh, there was one difference- I now owned Larry’s dune buggy, and he had a motorcycle.
Our exploration that day would take us to the Old Dad Mine on the Old Dad Mountain. Checking the topographic maps, we located our destination, secured camp, and started out. The pole-line road that guided us to our camp continued on for a long ways. We would use just a small piece of it.
Leaving our camp, we drove down to the power-line road and took the North-East direction which wound around and up and down through a beautiful out-wash plain, then passing another small part of the Bristol Mountains, dropped down to cross a wide wash and the Union Pacific tracks at Sands. We were now on the edge of the Devil’s Playground. Sand and more sand spread out before us.
We took a private road going around the Southern part of the Devil’s Playground to rejoin the power-line road for three miles, flanked on the northern side by some of the most beautiful sand dune fields I have seen (see pictures). Note: the large mountains seen behind the sand dunes in the pictures is the Old Dad Mountain.
We next encountered another junction. We chose North-West, which took us along the spectacular Western flank of Old Dad Mountain. The road was terrible! Lots of rocks, sand, and washouts to go around. A road from Hell. Four and a half miles from the junction, the "road" into the Old Dad Mine appeared.
It took us two and a half miles to the mine located on the very edge of the Eastern flank of the mountain. We could still see to the West and Cowhole Mountain some six miles across a waterless spread of sand.
Though mostly unworked, the Old Dad Mine group were considered to have good commercial deposits of magnetite and hemetite. Here we stopped for a bit and took some pictures before continuing on to Baker, California for gasoline and lunch.
By the time we had returned from Baker, to our camp with time-out for some more dune pictures, it was 6:00 PM and we had covered 130 miles total round trip. Supper was instant noodle soup and snacks. It had been a very tiring day.
I hope you found this trip as interesting as we did. There was more to see, and we did, but that will be on other pages in Jerome’s Notebook. --Jerome W. Anderson