Larry was off in the high Sierras and I was curious about the condition of the Barnwell airstrip we had camped on a few years earlier. I also wanted to look at the quarry in more detail. Originally we thought it was a gold mine because of the presence of rhyolite. I also needed to update some of my pictures.
So, having nothing better to do over the three day holiday of July 3, 4, and 5 of 1981, I prepared my faithful 1967 Ford F-250 Camper Special for the trip. In those days I had a lot more energy and thought nothing of getting up at 2:00 A.M. in the morning to do the final loading of the camper. I added extra drinking water and the larger Coleman cooler to my resident equipment thats always in the camper (spare parts, fan belts, hoses, extra fuel pump, starter relay, etc.).
5:00 A.M., I pulled out of my driveway in Whittier, California, North to Interstate 10, then East on I-10 past Redlands, Beaumont, Banning, Cabazon, and just past Whitewater, at 7:00 A.M. to take the State 62 hiway North and East past sleepy little desert towns just beginning to wake up to another hot day in the high desert.
I enjoyed the early morning smells of the high desert. A faint whiff of sage brush, with it’s smell of quinine and the damp sand of the night. The little towns of an earlier day such as Morongo Valley, Yucca Valley, and Joshua Tree were growing up with more houses, roadside stores and markets.
At 29 Palms I pulled into a filling station and topped off both gas tanks, then turned North thru the town to connect with the Amboy Road and turned East into the sun again until the road climbed past the Sheephole Mountains to the East and the Bullion Mountains to the Northwest.
At Sheephole Summit, elevation 2368 feet, I pulled off the road and parked by the Microwave towers to refresh myself with a can of soda pop. One could see for miles from that tower location. Directly down the road toward Amboy, Bristol Dry Lake lay with its salt evaporating ponds along with National Chloride Company’s flaking plant. Amboy Crater, a young, sleeping volcano less than 2,000 years old was nearby to the West of the road.
Time to get going; it was all down hill for the next 4 miles to Amboy, elevation 639 feet. I turned my faithful truck East again and onto The National Trails Highway. Within 5 miles the turnoff to the Kelbaker road appeared on my left and I decided to see what new sights might be along it. It was 9:45 A.M. And 98 degrees.
The Kelbaker Road ducked under the new Interstate 40 and climbed ever upward to another microwave telephone relay station just short of the summit at Granite Pass, elevation 4024 feet. Just short of the summit there was a very nice group of primitive camp sites. I and my friend from Los Angeles spent several days there as a base camp for the dune buggy. On this trip, I kept on going to Granite Pass and a small place to get off the road for a leg stretch. It was 10:16 A.M.
Two hours more until I reached my planned destination. After a short stretch of graded dirt road, we (the truck and I), were back on the paved road to the Union Pacific’s Kelso depot. At one time there were maintenance shops and a round table to service the extra steam locomotives that were hitched onto passenger and freight trains climbing the steep grade to Cima. Passengers could dine in the formal dining room while the helper engines were connected to the train. I had eaten in the railroad employees cafe at one end of the depot.
The Kelso depot is fast becoming a ghost town. The locomotive turntable was long gone along with the service shops. The modern diesel-electric locomotives with their add-on “B” units (motor-generators with no operating cab) have replaced the steam engines of the past. The Kelso depot is now shut down and fenced. Negotiations have been going on with several historical societies to move the depot to some other location.
I continued up the paved road on the East side of the tracks heading North and watching for the Cedar Canyon Road which I planned to take to the Ivanpah Road.
All I can say is the Cedar Canyon road was in much need of repair. Large sections were washed out, and since it was climbing too, I could not make much speed. The “washboard” tire tracks were terrible. They were deep enough to really shake the truck as a cat shakes a mouse! The three miles of hellish road seemed never to end. But at last it did at the junction with the Ivanpah Road. We were almost to our destination.
There stood Lanfair 1, an isolated telephone booth in the desert. The Lanfair Road changed it’s name at the telephone box and became the Ivanpah Road. A few more miles and I turned off the unlabled Hart Clay Mine road, and onto the Hart Mine air strip, which I’d once called the Barnwell airstrip. I drove slowly up the neglected dirt runway, turned around at my camping spot and shut off the faithful Ford truck’s engine. “We” were home. The time? 12:54 P.M. A slight 98 degree breeze. 4560 feet elevation.
It took but a moment to fling open the camper door, grab a chair, pop open the cooler and grab a tall frosty beer! Sitting in the shade, sipping on a brew, this was the life! A 7 hour trip, one-way, but with lots of scenery.
New from last trip here by Larry and I, was the wreckage of a small “corporate plane” splatted down upon a high hill to the West. One wing was still attached
And various bits and pieces were scattered around. It was too far for me check out as I didn’t bring my hiking boots along this trip.
I also checked out the “hidden” gasoline dump of full 5-gallon cans of aircraft fuel. It was no longer on site hidden among the dead arms of a Joshua Tree. In fact all the “rubbish” in place when we last visited, was gone. No 3X brand beer cans lying around or cigarette packages. So, it looked like this hidden landing field was no longer being used by drug transporters. At least for now.
That made me feel better. Even so, I put out two identical rope chairs, a small table between them, and my 12 gauge shotgun conveniently laying across the unused chair arms. Once upon a time, one didn’t have to take these precautions when camping off the beaten track. But for the solo explorer it was necessary now.
After a bit, I rigged a tarp off the cleats I had installed on the camper roof. Using two fifteen inch long steel cold chisels, some plastic clothes line and a pair of collapsible metal support poles I soon had a very comfortable camp. I cook and eat out of doors using some mountaineering white-gas stoves I have living in the camper under the bunk.
100 degrees at 2:15 P.M.. Not a sound but the wind and a bug or two. Those 3 days were my job therapy and stress relief. Lots of beer and things to nibble.
At 4:30 P.M. the temperature was down to 94 degrees. Very dry air so it didn’t seem as hot as it was. After a supper of freeze-dried noodle casserole, I secured the camp, watched a spectacular sunset, and went to bed, sleeping on top of the bag with my 12 volt electric fan directing air across my bunk.
The next two days were pretty much the same. No visitors, peace and quiet.
Sunday, July 5th dawned bright and hot. The low temperature during the night was 76 degrees. Twice I’d had to get up, go out and adjust the poles holding up the tarp. A wind had come up and was flapping the tarp over the camper door, both keeping me awake and shaking the camper. 6:30 A.M. in the morning, I got up for the day. It was already 80 degrees. It promised to get really hot today. Some clouds were on the Eastern horizon. The ice in the cooler was small but would last the day.
At 8:35 A.M., it was 90 degrees with a nice breeze from the West. My plans were to pack up the camper for traveling, and drive on over to the Hart Clay mines, take some pictures, turn around and head home. And that is what I did. The face of the quarry was 7 miles distant.
It was 102 degrees and 12 Noon when I left camp on the airstrip and headed to the clay mines. I took the pictures you see, at that exploratory drive. There were two major claims there. The Hart C-1, a very fine clay from a pit on the bottom of the quarry. The other claim you see is the P.S.Hart mine. It is 70 feet from the floor of the quarry to the top of the hill. There is a history of gold mining within this area. Rhyolite breaks down into a fine clay over millions of years, releasing any gold and becoming clay.
By 1:05 P.M., I was at the working face of the P.S.Hart mine. On an earlier trip with Larry, we had climbed all over the “stepped” working face, and I was now photographing it. I wished I could have returned here sooner, for now the mill building was gone. The clay from the P.S.Hart mine had a granular feel, while the white colored clay from the C-1 Hart was much clearer and smoother. This particular clay was a premium grade and used by artists and people in the ceramics business.
Time to start for home in Whitter. I returned to the Los Angeles area using the same route I used getting here. As I got near Amboy, the temperature had climbed to 120 degrees. The long climb up the Amboy road required the use of my truck’s hot water heater to help cool the radiator and keep it from boiling. I refilled my gas tanks in Yucca Valley. $l.47 a gallon. I had the windows and side vents open to try and keep me cool. On the downgrade from Morongo valley, I pulled into a small offroad parking area and fixed a sandwhich for my supper.
That over, I drove past some of the huge “wind farm” windmills. At last the I-10 freeway, and home to Whittier, arriving at 8:08 P.M. I hope you enjoyed this trip, see you next month.