<![CDATA[Peter Scranton Adventures - My Adventures]]>Mon, 22 Jan 2018 05:45:37 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Virgin Islands Catamaran Adventure]]>Tue, 19 Nov 2013 02:16:19 GMThttp://peterscranton.com/1/post/2013/11/virgin-islands-catamaran-adventure.htmlPicture
Nearly 1 year ago, I realized just how easy it would be to bareboat charter a catamaran given that I could fill up all the bedrooms. A quick poll of friends told me that this wouldn't be a problem, and it actually would be a fairly economical vacation. After months of researching and planning, we arrived in Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands on November 10th. We were greeted with complimentary rum in the airport by the local tourism department, and at that point I already knew this was going to be an interesting adventure. 

The next surprise was when we learned the rules for driving on the island as we picked up our rental car. We were given 3 rules, in the following order: 
1) No talking on the cell phone while driving.
2) Wear seatbelts at all times (unless you are in the bed of a pickup truck, because that is safe of course.
3) Remember to drive on the left (minor detail of course).

We quickly determined those were the only rules followed by locals. The strangest law we discovered? Open containers are not only allowed, but you could theoretically drink while driving. As long as you aren't on your cell phone, of course.  

After gathering our group of 8 together at the Greenhouse Bar & Grill, we took care of all the logistics. All our luggage and gear was placed on the boat, people explored the storage spaces, and we started studying and reading the information. A small group of us took the car to purchase all of the provisions for a week away from land, including food, drinks, supplies, and more. We had our kayaks delivered, loaded and packed all the provisions, and settled in shortly after dinner, sleeping aboard the boat while still at the dock for the first night.

Sarah Sue - 40' Lavezzi Catamaran

Day 1: St Thomas to St John

We began the day by doing some last-minute provisioning errands and meeting our captain for the day. He was incredibly helpful, taught us all the intricacies of Sarah Sue, and gave us a great set of tips for our exploration of the islands over the next 7 days when we would be on our own. While Justin, Andrew, and I learned all of the sailing, procedural, and engineering details of the vessel, the others enjoyed the sun and began their relaxation process. 

After practicing picking up moorings and basic navigation while in the Charlotte Amalie harbor area, we raised the sails and set a course for Buck Island. 75% of the way there, we had a minor mechanical issue with the rigging which warranted returning to the CYOA dock. They made the repairs while we had lunch at Pie Whole, an excellent pizza place that I highly recommend if you are in St Thomas. Back on the water, we motorsailed past the east end of St Thomas, and then sailed across to Caneel Bay in St John, tacking many times and practicing our sail handling skills. After picking up a mooring, Kyle reviewed the navigation charts with us, and Justin and I dinghied him over to the Cruz Bay ferry dock so that he could get home. Dinner consisted of Mike's Rain'n'Sea Burgers, and some classic card games were played after. 
But we couldn't sit inside the cabin, and once the light afternoon/evening showers stopped, we took to the trampoline to look for fish down below. This also provides an opportunity to see our group tank tops with appropriately dirty puns, given that we were all becoming seasoned sailors.
Day 2: St John to Jost Van Dyke

As soon as a few of us were awake, we pulled the mooring and made a short motoring run 10 minutes around St John to the famous Cruz Bay, part of the US Virgin Islands National Park, and the site of the famous underwater snorkeling trail. Doing this was an adventure in itself, because it included hooking a mooring, taking the dinghy to the stringline mooring (which preserves the National Park beach quality), and then swimming ashore. Once ashore, we walked over to the snorkeling trail and got our first look at the underwater marine life in the Virgin Islands. Unfortunately, this portion of coral was fairly bleached and visibility was average due to the north swell. We explored, snapped some photos with our new underwater camera, and returned to the dinghy, finding everyone else awake back on Sarah Sue. 

We raised sails, navigated past Johnson's Reef, and reached Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke before lunch. This was our first stop within the British Virgin Islands, so the first thing that we had to do was sacrifice the captain (yours truly) to the Customs office. With enough money and endurance of "island time," I was able to convince the officials to let us stay within the Queen's royal territory for 5 more days. After that process was finished, we sailed around the coastline of Jost to Green Cay and Sandy Spit. These two islands are famous for their picturesque scenery. Specifically, Sandy Spit is a small sand-ringed beach with no waves due to the protective reef, and has only a few green bushes and a couple palm trees. You may recognize it from many pirates movies, generic Hollywood films, and more. From our mooring just offshore, we dinghied to shore, snorkeled the reef, walked around the island, and returned to the relaxing boat. 

We sailed back to Great Harbour, where we were beat to the last available mooring by 10 minutes. Instead, we motored back up to Little Harbour, picked up a mooring, and dinghied to Abe's Restaurant and Market. From there we took Abe's Taxi to the main "town" (guess our taxi driver's name...) and had dinner at Foxy's. After a great meal, we checked out the hotspot of Corsair's, and decided to walk back across the hilly road to Little Harbour. 
Day 3: Jost Van Dyke to Tortola

After waking early and making a quick stop in Great Harbour for ice, provisions, and more, we sailed back to the east end of Jost Van Dyke near our afternoon mooring from the day before. This time, we went to Sandy Cay, an equally picturesque stop. This was our first chance to anchor and our skills were proven strong when we held fast in the anchorage despite numerous other boats that set anchors extremely close to us during the time we were there (late arrivals looking to get as close as possible). Some of us swam to shore, others dinghied, and others kayaked. Once on shore, we explored the beach, and Marie and I went on the cross-island trail, starting with beach views, moving into lush jungle growth filled with hermit crabs and lizards, and then climbed up a small hill to the rocky northeast side of the cay. Exposed to the weather, this side not only has a completely different topology but has cacti and succulents rather than jungle growth and palms. After running through an endless swarm of mosquitoes, we returned on the loop trail to the sandy beach. There we hopped in a kayak and circled the island before returning to Sarah Sue for a relaxing lunch. 

We picked up the anchor after lunch, navigated through a yacht parking lot, and set off on our longest continuous sail of the trip, tacking upwind 15 nautical miles of distance, heading directly into the rolling Caribbean swells. It was here that we learned the trick of perfectly timing a bounce on the forward trampoline with the peak of a swell, such that you flew weightless in the air (make sure to hold onto the netting!). After getting beat up for long enough in the waves and getting close to our distance limit from the shore as specified in the contract (around 5 or 7 nautical miles), we started motorsailing closer to Tortola island, the largest of the British Virgin Islands. We passed the northern shore to the top of the island, where we grabbed a mooring at Marina Cay. Marina Cay is home to a famous resort that covers the entire island, along with the Pusser's restaurant where we had dinner. The evening was very peaceful on shore and back on the boat because of the coral reef that encircles 3/4 of the island.
Day 4: Tortola to Virgin Gorda

Four of us awoke early, grabbed the dinghy, and went looking for some good snorkeling on the outlying reef. Our first stop was horrible and filled with excessive current, but once a local redirected us to the proper spot, we tied the dinghy up to the stringline, hopped over the side, and were immersed in clear waters with incredible amounts of marine life. It was our first truly amazing snorkeling experience in the Virgin Islands, but not even close to our last. We found a variety of life, including the large tail of what we later realized was a ramora, hiding under a rock. We returned to Sarah Sue and found another ramora (which we dubbed the upside-down fish), swimming around the stern of the hull. I dipped my head in and got a good video of it swimming around before we pulled away from the mooring to sail to the Dog Islands (to be included later).

We sailed out of Tortola straight to the Dog Islands, mooring in the lee of Great Dog. With only one or two other boats in this great protected cove at any time, it provided some of the clearest snorkeling that we had of the entire trip. We were able to explore the various reefs, swimming through packs of moon jellies, and free diving down to look in crevices and caves. We found two large lionfish, which we reported to authorities later as they are a highly invasive species. Due to their level of destruction upon the reefs, they are often removed by local conservancy groups once reported. The video is the best way to see a clear view of this particular lionfish due to the poor clarity in the cave (after everyone had been diving down and stirring up sand from the bottom).
From the Dog Islands, we sailed to Virgin Gorda, aiming for Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor. However, we hailed them numerous times to no avail, and due to some event, the harbor appeared very full from the breakwater. Having been previously instructed not to enter the marina unless a slip was known to be available, we decided to tack upwind toward the North Sound, a much further sail into the northern-most reaches of the BVI, short of sailing across to Anegada. We found a slip at the luxurious Bitter End Yacht Club, which was probably the most difficult to navigate (backwards) into, but this captain was able to expertly move in without touching a single fender to the pier until necessary. Having a slip instead of a mooring allowed the crew a night of convenience, able to walk on and off Sarah Sue at leisure, electric hookups for full air conditioning, and the nice amenities of the yacht club. 
Day 5: Virgin Gorda to Cooper Island

Early in the morning, the five certified divers walked an entire 200 feet from Sarah Sue to the dive boat where we met a handful of other divers aboard Sunchaser Scuba's custom 40ft dive boat. Our guides Ben and Kay took excellent care of us, and brought us to an amazing couple of sites on the Atlantic (eastern) side of Virgin Gorda. Their secret sites had a large variety of reef fish, and the second site was especially fantastic, with a Nurse Shark, Black Tip Reef Shark, a Spotted Eagle Ray, lionfish, and many lobsters. Once completing the dives, I was so impressed with Ben and Kay's professionalism, the care they provided us, the knowledge of the area, and the fun-loving enthusiasm, that I booked a rendezvous dive for the following day. 

We returned to Bitter End Yacht Club to join the other three members of our group for lunch, and regrettably pulled away from North Sound in order to reach the famous tourist spot at the Baths, a beachside formation of rounded boulders on the south end of Virgin Gorda. We picked a mooring in medium-sized rolling swells near the Baths, and took the dinghy on a ride to the stringline near the landing beach. The swim in was much rougher than typical, but with the buoy line tethered to the beach, we were able to follow along it as a safety precaution, and reached the beach with no issues. Once there, we walked the trail around, over, under, and through the boulders to reach the southern cove. The wooden plank boardwalks, stairs, and ladders mixed with clear ankle deep water were astounding in contrast to the overbearing boulders and clean white sand. Although normally packed with tourists, the waves had kept the cruise ships away, and we were able to really enjoy the trail without lines or crowds. 

After climbing back onto Sarah Sue, we had a final exhausting motorsail downwind to Cooper Island, where we picked a mooring in only 12 feet of water at Manchioneel Bay. Dinner was at the Cooper Island Beach Club after exploring the short section of beach and jungle that we were allowed access to. 
Day 6: Cooper Island to Norman Island

One of the luxurious concepts that works successfully in the Virgin Islands is rendezvous diving, where dive outfits bring their boat alongside your yacht while at a mooring, and you simply walk from your floating home onto the dive boat, coffee mug still in hand if so desired, and the gear is all set up and ready to go. This is precisely what we did in the morning with Sunchaser Scuba. Ben and Kay arrived exactly when they said they would (confirming with VHF 30 minutes prior), and pulled right up alongside. Two of the non-divers came aboard this time as well, prepared to snorkel while we all SCUBA dived, which also provided for some excellent photo-ops. We dove the wreck of the RMS Rhone, a famous vessel which sunk during a major hurricane in 1867 and resulted in a significant loss of life, as well as created the famously humorous Salt Tax. Specifically, the residents of nearby Salt Island honorably risked their own lives to save as many of the passengers and crew members as possible from the wreckage, and for doing so, were given an honorable ability to pay their yearly taxes to England in a small volume of salt (the only export from the island), and exempt from all other taxes. 

We dove the wreck and bow of the Rhone in two separate dives, with opportunities for true swim-through diving of the wreck in numerous places. Along with the typical reef fish, abundant coral (including fire coral), and the schools of fish around the wreck, we saw a large sting ray, some eels, and more lionfish. The only non-diving excitement came as we had just finished our safety stop and were reaching the surface, when we all hustled on board quickly because a chartered catamaran on a mooring adjacent had swung nearly 270 degrees around our boat and was about within inches of hitting us. Luckily Ben and Kay worked fast to get their dive boat away from that mess once they grabbed us all out of the water and everything was fine. Following the dives, they dropped us back off at Sarah Sue, still safe and sound in Manchioneel Bay.

We sailed onward from Cooper Island to the Indians and Pelican Rock, a formation of rocks with good snorkeling and kayaking to a nice small island. Moorings were plentiful, and we explored the area, wandered the shore, and had lunch before proceeding to The Bight at Norman Island. We picked a mooring for the night that would be relatively close to the Willy T, a floating pirate-themed restaurant/bar in the mooring field. While a couple of us decided to go to the Willy T to relax, the rest of us went on a trip to The Caves, a set of seacaves and arches on the side of the entrance to the Bight. Although the caves were interesting, the most amazing part was the large schools of anchovy clustered around the cliffs near the caves. We spent at least an hour swimming the caves and playing with the schools of fish and the much larger tarpon swimming below them. It was a surreal experience, but we eventually had to climb back into the dinghy and return to the Willy T for dinner.
Day 7: Norman Island to St John

We rolled out of bed, setting a long course back to Cruz Bay, St John, knowing that we were nearing the end of our vacation with only one night to go. Most of the morning was spent lazily sailing, motoring when needed, and enjoying the sun on the trampoline. As we approached Johnson's Reef an the area by Trunk Bay where we had been on the underwater snorkeling trail five days before, I glanced off to starboard at Jost Van Dyke, where I had regretted never being able to visit White Bay or the famous Soggy Dollar Bar. Realizing that there was no reason to regret something so ascertainable, I discussed a change of plans with the first mates, and within 30 seconds we were on a heading for Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke. We pulled up the first mooring we found, piled all eight of us in the dinghy, and slowly motored around the point to White Bay. The story with Soggy Dollar is that because there is no pier or convenient way to get ashore aside from jumping in the water and swimming in, everyone shows up with wet money, and they have clotheslines for drying it out. It will be odd when fifty years from now this name makes no sense to children, as plastic doesn't really mind being wet. Soggy Dollar was everything it is cracked up to be, from the friendly bartenders, to the good food, to the beautifully clear waters and sandy beaches. I also took the time to hone my skills on the ring game--a very complicated idea where you have to swing a metal ring on a long string onto a hook. It is much more complex than it sounds. We stayed as long as we could, but eventually made our way back to Sarah Sue and then returned to our original course for Caneel Bay. 

Because we were unable to pick up a mooring in Cruz Bay due to the liability of being in that extremely busy harbor, we took the one closest to Cruz Bay and made a couple trips in the dinghy to shuttle everyone over from Caneel Bay. We went straight to US Customs, since St John was our first re-entry to the United States in the past five days. The process took no more than five minutes because the building was relatively empty, and then we went off to explore the artsy Mongoose Junction and the downtown beachfront area. We had dinner literally on the beach, met an incredibly interesting and semi-famous local, Courtney Ghost Chinnery, aka the "Ghost with the Most from Jost". Ghost has a vivid and detailed backstory and comprises a significant portion of the living history of the Virgin Islands. He has written many poems, some inspired after a short period of incarceration in New York, and has made himself a famous part of the culture. He personalized some of his poems for us, spoke for awhile about life, and then bid his farewells. 

After dinner, we took the dinghy back with a few guests, expecting the remaining four to use a land taxi to reach the Caneel Bay Resort, at which point they could call and I would pick them up with the dinghy. Unfortunately, this idea quickly proved unrealistic. Ashley and Andrew were dropped off far inland of the shorefront at the Caneel Bay Resort, and after wandering down to the water to no avail, were discovered by a resort staffmember who was nice enough to take them to the water. Because this occurred while having no reception, I was meanwhile motoring on a dinghy in pitch dark with only a headlamp for light, with no clue where the ferry pier was that I had planned to pick them up on. Eventually I saw the headlights of the golf cart, and assumed it was the security guard telling me I was waking up resort guests with my loud motor and that I was in only a foot of water (it was actually incredibly deep, but I couldn't see anything in the water due to the wind and rain). However, once he got closer, I realized it was none other than Ashley and Andrew. They jumped down from the 6' pier, and we hustled back to the boat, where I tried to decide how we could possibly dinghy out to pick up Corey and Mike in these conditions. 

We also had the problem of being unable to contact them, but having solid cell phone reception and 4G connectivity, located the restaurant's telephone number, and called it right as our waitress of the night was passing by the seldom-used phone. Indeed, it was sheer luck. She also happened to know their names well because they had discovered hours earlier that her and Corey had been at the same high school many years ago. I convinced them to be ready to head back in 30 minutes time, and Andrew and I put on our foul weather gear, which we hadn't yet needed, hopped in the dinghy in a large downpour, with large chop but no swells, and 30 knot gusts. With the wind at our backs and planing over the water, we reached Cruz Bay in no time at all. I can't say the same about the return trip. With four large males, the wind against us, the chop against us, and a small dinghy, we were moving but extremely wet. With every wave, a wall of water would water would be beautifully illuminated by Andrew's headlamp, and then the realization would sink in that all of it was going to be blown by the wind directly on us, drenching us from head to toe. The waves also brought on a series of emotions, from trepidation, to fear, to nervousness, to regret, to acceptance, to excitement, to amazed hysteria at how incredible it was to be racing across the water in these conditions. We did eventually reach Sarah Sue, and climbed aboard sopping wet, with no regrets of the trip. 
Day 8: St John to St Thomas

After lasting through a night on the only rough mooring we had in eight days, and only waking up a few times, we set sail early in the morning for Buck Island off of the south coast of St Thomas. Our Captain on Day 1 had told us about the excellent sea turtle experiences that could be had there, so we decided to see it for ourselves. It was a perfect example of why it is so worthwhile to bareboat charter a yacht and come to these places on your own. We showed up as the first tourist boat was taking a mooring with passengers from the cruise ships and various resorts. While they fussed with grabbing a mooring and giving everyone a safety talk, we had already hooked a mooring, jumped in the water, and free dived with turtles to our heart's content. And we paid much much less than the typical tourist daytrip cost for that incremental 1 hour detour on our 8 day vacation. I was even back at the helm, with coffee mug in hand, motoring to Charlotte Amalie harbor at full speed before the second tourist boat had even gotten it's guests in the water. 

After a quick stop to refuel the diesel tanks, refill water tanks, and dump the trash, we met the friendly CYOA staff back on their dock and finished the closeout paperwork. Lunch was at Pie Hole before grabbing a taxi to the airport and saying goodbye (temporarily) to this amazing destination. 

<![CDATA[Mt. San Jacinto]]>Mon, 03 Sep 2012 04:31:13 GMThttp://peterscranton.com/1/post/2012/09/mt-san-jacinto.html
Panorama from the summit.
Originally, Labor Day was going to be a summit of White Mt, a California 14er, but due to timing considerations and lack of coverage at work, turned into a summit of Mt. San Jacinto, the high point of the San Jacinto Mountains State Park. Towering at 10,804 and across a valley from Mount San Gorgonio, the two peaks create an impressive display of prominence in the area. San Jacinto Peak is famous for the Cactus-to-Clouds trail, a grueling 20 mile hike minimum from the valley floor, up 8000 feet of elevation gain, and back down via Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (also worth seeing). Needless to say, since this was supposed to be a relatively quick trip, we passed on the long 20 mile hike of death and opted for the 12 mile round trip hike to the summit from Marion Mt, with only 4000 feet of gain. 

Marie and I met up with Abhinav and Rose before carpooling over to the Idyllwild Ranger Station together to get our permit. We got a late start doing this and didn't get to the Marion Mountain trailhead until 11am. We started on the trail, passed by the Marion Mountain campground, and up the continuous incline for 2.8 miles to the junction with the PCT (known locally as the Deer Springs Trail). Less than a half mile north on the trail, we headed east toward San Jacinto Peak on the 2.6 mile trail to the summit rock. Marie and I had broken away a little earlier and practically sprinted up the mountain. At the top, we rested to escape the heat on the nice breeze of the summit, and took a couple fun panoramic photos. After spending a long time at the summit, we started the trail down, took a quick stop to check out the camping shelter/ cabin, and got going down the long trail. Unfortunately, we were racing against sunset and eventually lost. We were prepared with numerous lights, but tried to go as late as possible into dusk with minimal light, and had to do a few doubletakes as we almost went off trail a few times. The way up sure seemed easy, but in low light was very difficult to follow. We made it down without any issues, aside from having to bushwhack a detour around a loud rattlesnake in the middle of the trail. After meeting up at the car, we made the late drive back to LA with another local highpoint notched on our belt.
<![CDATA[Mt Williamson and Tyndall attempt]]>Thu, 07 Jul 2011 01:07:39 GMThttp://peterscranton.com/1/post/2011/07/first-post.htmlPicture
Well, this previous weekend we attempted to do a double 14er weekend in the Sierras. Unfortunately, it's our first mountain weekend that's defeated us...

We left Redondo Beach at 5:15am on Friday, and arrived at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center in Lone Pine, CA around 10:00am. We got the last 3 overnight permits for the day, for 3 nights out of Shepherd's Pass trailhead.  After a quick bite at Alabama Hills cafe (awesome breakfast and lunch to load up before a long weekend), we drove down some of the wrong, rarely used 4x4 trails to get to the Shepherd's pass hiker trailhead.

At 12:30pm, we were on the trail and within 15 minutes finding ourselves jumping out of our boots and socks for our first water crossing.  We were able to bypass the 2nd and 3rd crossings via a use trail on the north side of Symmes creek, and then had to de-boot for the 4th crossing. This was the end of any easy hiking, and we began up 55 switchbacks and 2500 feet to a series of 3 saddles, and then dropped back down 500 feet to Mahogany Flats.  

At this point, we were fairly exhausted and had been taking it easy (now being at 9000 feet and having slept at sea level only 12 hours before).  However, the campsites had poor water access, so we pushed on to Anvil Camp. This entailed our first snow/ice crossings, and I whipped out the ice axe, with Andrew comfortably using poles.  We arrived at 10,300 foot Anvil Camp after 8 miles and over 4000 feet of gain, then set up camp and made a quick meal of fajitas before going to sleep just after dusk. 

We awoke casually on Saturday and were packed, fed, and on the trail by 9am. By 11am we were at Shepherd's pass, at over 11500 feet and 4 miles up many snow crossings. At this point I already had the gaiters on and ice axe out, but now I needed to put on the crampons like everyone else and proceed to climb Shepherd's pass 

 After reaching the top of the pass, we dropped our packs, searched for water as all the lakes were frozen over, and found a trickle of snowmelt about 10 minutes away from our packs. After setting up camp, eating lunch, and repacking light, we proceeded toward Mt. Tyndall, our first 14er objective of the weekend. We filled up our water on the way, and began climbing the endless talus. Marie started getting nauseous and signs of altitude sickness, and after slowing down signficantly, we got to 13,600 feet where she stopped. The other two of us proceeded to the top of the ridge, at 13880 feet and discovered a false summit which would require another 30-40 minutes to navigate around to the true summit. As a result, we snapped those pictures at the false summit, turned around, and slowly backed down the mountain. Once we made it back to camp around 7:30pm, we had a chat with some others staying at Shepherd's pass, then made food and hit the sack. 

Sunday morning we were still not feeling great, after our first true exposure to altitude sickness, and so we decided to play it safe and hike back out to the trailhead.  We made it out with no issues and got home late that evening.

<![CDATA[Fish Canyon Falls and Sugarpine Mt Trail]]>Tue, 25 May 2010 01:35:32 GMThttp://peterscranton.com/1/post/2010/05/fish-canyon-falls-and-sugarpine-mt-trail.htmlPicture
A couple weeks ago we made the short drive to Azusa, CA on the southern side of Angeles National Forest to make the hike up to Fish Canyon Falls. It is a great hike along a fairly level canyon which has been an escape location for LA residents for many years. In fact, the hike takes you past the ruins of 60+ year old resort cabins from when this was a local vacation spot. However, nowadays things are much different as there is a rock quarry operation blocking the main entrance to the trail for 95% of the year.

Complaints from local residents and fans of this trail were excessive, and the quarry operations now grant access on select Saturdays throughout the year, shuttling visitors from a parking lot at the entrance to the actual trailhead. They were very nice and accommodating, but the unfortunate part of this arrangement is that it focuses all the foot traffic from 10 days of hiking into a 7 hour period on one day, so that the trail becomes very crowded.

Considering that half of the trail winds along the steep canyon walls, and are only 1-person wide, it makes for a more frustrating hike if you come up on people not supporting trail etiquette, as we did. The best solution for those wishing to go would be to arrive as early as possible and avoid the commotion. 

We then continued to Angeles NF information, where we planned to go to Rincon Shortcut 4x4 trail across the ridges and forests, but found out the trailhead was underwater and the trail itself had fire damage from the horrible Mt. Wilson fire last summer.

I checked the trail book, and headed off toward San Bernadino NF instead to tackle the Sugarpine Mountain Trail that travels the ridge of Sugarpine and Cajon Mt, from 2000 to 5600 feet in elevation, over a total length of 17.1 miles on a one-lane rugged jeep road. The trail was pretty incredible, and doable in any powerful 4wd vehicle if you are careful when navigating the deep crags and ruts in the road. The views were great and I have a few photos below. This would be a great trail to do in the future as it has many campgrounds along its’ length.

The one hiccup in the entire trail was not the actual rocks or terrain but coming up behind a caravan of 15-20 off-road rigs that were part of the volunteer OHV group who were meeting at the summit.

The last bit of the trail took us past some expensive ranches to I-15 and we headed home with the weekend Vegas crowd.

<![CDATA[Piedra Blanca Backpacking Surprise - Los Padres NF]]>Mon, 24 May 2010 06:18:05 GMThttp://peterscranton.com/1/post/2010/05/piedra-blanca-backpacking-surprise-los-padres-nf.htmlPicture
My favorite backpacking destination as a new "Angelino" resident is by far the Los Padres National Forest. The southern reaches of the forest can be accessed within 2-3 hours, have plenty of great trails that can be found completely empty, and have a wider diversity of wildlife, geology, and hiking terrain than most other locations in the surrounding areas. 

The focus for this trip was to use a two day period to go as far into the mountains as possible. Unfortunately, by the time we reached the Piedra Blanca Trailhead in the middle of the National Forest, and got our gear ready, it was already 9:30am. We started hiking at our normal fast pace, but had to slow down behind the groups that had started just before us and were struggling to use the stepping stones over some water crossings. The rains had been consistent recently and the variable runoff basin actually had some flow, such that it was just barely passable on stones and boulders without drenching our boots or removing them. Once over the rivers, we continued past the initial stops alongside the main fork of the Piedra Blanca creek, aptly named due to the giant white boulders at the entrance to the valley. As expected, wildlife was excellent, with horned lizards, alligator lizards, and more. We randomly happened across the unmarked petroglyphs left behind by the Chumash, and were excited to find out that for once they weren't graffiti but actually genuine. 

We trudged onward up the trail, climbing slightly as we passed the multiple riverside camps. After 4 miles, we began climbing out of the valley, along a trail which I still consider one of the harder slogs out of many I've done (including 6000'+ gains on high sierra trails). Although it gains only 3000' or so in the final 3 miles to the top, it is an unrelenting upward grade with few switchbacks and no flat areas to rest. Since it was nearly 80F when we departed the trailhead, we were relieved as it began to cool down as we gained elevation. We reached the Pine Mountain Lodge campsite by 3pm after numerous breaks, but decided that rather than continuing the further ~5 miles to Fishbowls camp, we would stop for the day and enjoy the beautiful site. 

After a laid back afternoon and a nice campfire, we went to bed early. I slept well until ~4am when I got incredibly cold, and it wasn't until dawn broke at 6am that I understood why. As it became light out, I could make out that the tent was covered in debris, likely from the tree above. But then I decided to get up and start a morning campfire, get some coffee going, etc. As soon as I unzipped the tent, I realized that we weren't covered in leaves, but an inch of snow had fallen overnight. At 6000' elevation. Less than 30 miles from the coast. In May. In Southern California. When it was 80F on the hike in. Go figure. Despite being mostly prepared for this scenario, we still had to throw on all of our layers to stay warm while packing up an beginning the hike out. Although we had originally considered some local dayhikes before departing, the 1/2 inch to 1 inch of snow was just enough to cover the poorly marked trails that we had wanted to explore, and as such we decided to start back. This was a good decision, as the sun didn't even emerge to begin warming the area back up until a solid two hours later, at which point we were getting close to completion. The river crossings had in fact changed drastically overnight, possibly indicating some other rain or snowfall elsewhere in the area.

<![CDATA[Catalina Island, Two Harbors]]>Sun, 28 Mar 2010 05:26:59 GMThttp://peterscranton.com/1/post/2010/03/catalina-island-two-harbors.htmlPicture
Background: If you don’t know me that well, the preface to this is that in September of 2008 I bought a “fixer-upper” sailboat, a 25 foot Coronado (well, kind of). My boat was actually a kit sold by Coronado, and her particular builder or builders had created a bulletproof boat which unfortunately had very little hardware left. After a year of labor including the complete fabrication/ installation of an interior (galley, head, bulkhead, companionway, hatches), new-used sails, new rigging and sailing hardware, brand new electrical system, new-used outboard motor, portlight replacement (windows to all you landlubbers) and a giant topside paint job, I finished her in June 2009. As you can/will see from all my trip reports in summer-fall 2009, I didn’t really have a free three-day weekend to make the 26 nautical mile trip to Catalina from Redondo Beach, but I vowed to as soon as possible.

March presented itself as that opportunity. I had three days off that weren’t being used for desert trips or snow trips, and decided it was now or never. Aaron drove down Thursday night (arriving early Friday morning) and I began packing and loading the car early Friday.

            Due to a hectic week at work, I hadn’t prepared as well as I normally do, and it was not until 1pm that we were all at the harbor with the kayaks tied down, sails ready, head emptied, motor idling, and the food supplies, clothing, and gear all packed away. I then refilled all my gas tanks at the marine fuel pumps, and made our way into the entrance channel before discovering I had left strips of Velcro at the top of the mast holding the mast-light wire (which I had never got working the day before or that morning). We would not be able to raise the sails without them off, and I knew it would take 20 minutes for us to turnaround, get back into the slip, climb the mast, fix it, and get back out with the sails up. So instead, I slipped on the bosun’s chair and climbed the mast with Marie as a spotter while Aaron drove us in circles around the King Harbor entrance channel. It was easy enough to fix, and really not dangerous or scary at all IMHO, but it was certainly funny to be waving with people at eye level on the third floor of the condo complex overlooking the harbor. All in all, it was a short period before I was back down and the sails were fully up, with Ship Happens on a starboard tack heading directly to Isthmus Harbor.

The day presented us with moderate winds that really picked up as we cleared the point and made our way across the channel. I underestimated how strong the southeastern currents would be, and our heading eventually required us to do one set of tacks as we neared the island. After 6 hours on the water across large swells, waves, and the roughest ocean I had been on in anything less than a cruise ship, reaching the safe protection of Two Harbors was glorious. However, my main source of relief was knowing that we actually had gotten a stringline mooring, since I had heard horror stories about the difficulty of getting a spot late on a Friday evening. It seems that in March nobody goes there, despite the weather being beautiful. We tidied up on board after the relatively painless mooring process, and then hailed a water taxi on the VHF to take us to the best bar in the area (and coincidentally the only) to try some Buffalo Milk, grab some fried food, and relax onshore. 

On Saturday we spent the day exploring our area of the island as much as possible for new visitors. We started by kayaking down to the south (still on the north shore) toward some neat ocean caves and landing on some nice pebbly beaches, getting as far as Paradise Cove before turning around. This totalled 7 miles round trip and tired out our upper body, which we followed with a hike to the overlook on the cliffs above Cat Harbor (opposite of the isthmus from the northeastern harbor that we were moored at). Luckily, this uphill trek was only a mile or two and didn't completely wipe out ourThe rest of the day was spent relaxing and Sunday was spent prepping to leave for the long sail back. With the wind atrociously minimal, it took a large amount of motoring to return, but it was soothing and even allowed us to spot a few nearby pods of dolphins and a few seals near the kelp before rounding the point and heading back into the harbor. 

<![CDATA[Death Valley NP - Back for More]]>Sun, 14 Mar 2010 17:18:59 GMThttp://peterscranton.com/1/post/2010/03/death-valley-np-back-for-more.htmlPicture
The first trip we took to Death Valley in 2009 really got us hooked, and despite cramming as much as possible into the days, there was still a lot more that we wanted to see. We got Justin on board, jumped into the FJ on Thursday night, and drove out to Stovepipe Wells campground, arriving in the middle of the night and quickly pitching our tent for the first couple nights in the middle section of this large park. 


Darwin Falls Road to Darwin - 14 miles offroad driving, 7 miles hiking/crawling/swinging
Our first trip took us to Darwin Falls from the northern approach along the canyon floor, where we bouldered up a ridge to get a better vantage point of the main falls which most people miss. SInce that first visit was done in a Toyota Corolla, revisiting the road in the FJ was very satisfying. We began by parking at the same trailhead as before, and hiked the same trail to the lower falls, which at this point was completely covered in a deep pool of water due to recent rains. We had to take a different route up the rock wall to reach the upper waterfall because of the water everywhere, but still ended up reaching the rocky outcropping with a view from the top to the base. 

After we returned to Sarge, we drove up and around the old Eichbaum Darwin Toll Road which was the original road into Panamint Springs and Death Valley before the Death Valley Hotel company began advertising Lone Pine as the gateway into Death Valley. Soon along the road, we stopped off at an interesting mine at Zinc Hill. We explored briefly, found someone's broken message on a piece of slate (strange?), and then took the detour on the road to China Camp, an old house or ranch along the road, where China Garden Spring provides a constant source of water for the Darwin falls, and part of the spring has been formed into a koi pond with actual koi fish! After we finished being mesmerized by the area, we attempted hiking from the top of the spring back down to the falls. Unfortunately, this was nothing but a disaster. The trail was supposed to connect or at least get close, but we didn't see where it went, even with a couple trail guides. It may have been due to the excessively high flows, infrequent visitation and landslides, or our own incompetence, but it just didn't work. We were able to follow the river for a long period, hiking through reeds and around brush, and eventually got to the boulders above the falls, but still couldn't find any perspective of the falls like we could from below. If anything, it provided us with some comical fun as follows:

At many places along the trail, we had to make the choice of climbing up awkward dirt slides, going through brush, or walking in the mud. Since I had waterproof boots, I made the decision to go with the mud route for much of it. At one point, the mud began getting deeper. Instead of turnaround, I had the brilliant idea to swing from oak tree to oak tree like an ape, keeping myself out of the mud as I went. This was actually quite fun, until I got to one tree that was ~6" diameter, and while hanging on it looking for my next reach, I heard the cartoonish cracking of the branch happening in slow motion. I put my arm out to brace my fall just as I landed in a pool of mud with the branch on top of me. At that point, I resorted to simply walking through the muck the rest of the way and rejoined Justin and Marie as a dirty and defeated man.

Once I cleaned off the best I could, we continued along the offroad drive past a few more remains of buildings, past the remains of an old water pumphouse, and then we arrived at the combination ghost town and rural desert town of Darwin, CA (with a very fitting rock arrangement on the desert floor-- see pictures).
Mosaic Canyon - 4 miles 
This hike took us up some slickrock canyons carved by rain into the cliff walls south of Stovepipe Wells village. The passage had some very interesting formations in places, and at one point in time had used a set of metal pipes as handrails for tours up the canyon, but had since turned into a free-for-all of rock scrambling and climbing. After 2 or more miles we reached the tall dry falls at the very end of the canyon, and decided to return along the more exposed route along the hillside and cliff walls, providing us with great vistas as we went. I highly recommend this hike if you are up for a little exposure due to the change in perspective from climbing through a canyon to hiking around the edges of it. We reached the mouth of the canyon and the car just at sunset and returned to our campground.

Wildrose Charcoal Kilns to Telescope Peak
- 5 miles (out of 14)
Although a bit of a drive, we thought it would be worth a shot to make the drive to the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns area of the Panamint Mountain range and see how far we could get to Telescope Peak. With plenty of snow gear and waterproof boots, we had grandiose plans of summiting the mountain, but didn't make it quite that far. At over 11000 feet, Telescope Peak is a cold weather hike in all but the hottest parts of the year, and has impressive prominence with its ability to look down into the Badwater basin at -200 feet. This proved itself to be true during March, when the peak was still snow covered enough that by the time we had finished hiking up the snow covered road past Thorndike and Mahogany Flats campgrounds, we reached the beginning of the trail section, covered in even more snow which only got deeper and deeper. We trudged onward until we found ourselves nearly waist deep in certain sections with no hopes of it getting better and made the wise decision to turn around, defeated but not broken.
Scotty's Castle- Underground and House Tours
After setting up camp at the Mesquite Spring campground on nearly the opposite end of the park, we drove out to the site of Scotty's Castle, where we took both the house tour and underground basement tour. I won't go into details here, and will only say that it is worth doing both tours at some point. As engineers, we loved the underground tour and hearing about all the incredible turn of the century innovations that were used to bring things like air conditioning to the middle of a desert where this self-sustaining compound was churning along for a wealthy man and his "intriguing" friend. 

Although we went on no more long hikes that day, we did explore the area around Scotty's Castle before returning to the campground. We had procrastinated that task due to a forecast and warning that was posted as we had checked into the campground: "Expect Gale-Force 50mph winds throughout evening. Anchor all tents and campground objects." As we left, the wind was definitely in the mid 20's, and we returned to find the tent still in place, but not in great shape. The cheap 3 man tent was blown into a tear drop shape, and the wind was picking up sand from the valley floor and turning it into a sandstorm. We actually had to protect our skin and eyes heavily to avoid being blinded or sand-burned. Eventually, with proper positioning of the car and the chairs and other hard objects on the windward side of the tent, we were able to get the situation to where only some sand was blowing underneath the tent mesh, through the fly, and onto our faces. We cooked in the vestibule, ate rapidly, and went to sleep as best we could with the wind howling. We awoke with everything covered in a film of sand, packed up fast, and got moving onto our final day of adventure in Death Valley, where we would only end up seeing even more sand.  


Racetrack and Ubehebe Peak -  ~8 miles
From Mesquite Spring, we drove 10 minutes to Ubehebe Crater, at which point we began the drive down Racetrack Valley Road, a rough lava filled area where the recommendation is to bring a 4wd vehicle, 2 spare tires, and ample water should you get stuck out in the desert. Even though we had a repair kit instead of a second spare, this is good advice since we did in fact get a flat approximately 2/3 of the way to the Racetrack (after passing Teakettle Junction--hard to miss....). We pulled over and changed it out fast and drove the final few miles to the Racetrack, an area where winds are able to push large rocks over a dry and solid lakebed, leaving an odd trail behind. After walking out into the middle of the Racetrack, which takes about 40 minutes, we returned to the car having not found very many at all. We looped farther south to the end of the Racetrack Grandstand area and found some very good examples there. 

After we were satisfied with pictures, we began the hike up to Ubehebe Peak. The trail takes you up the western canyon walls, switchbacking to the summit at 5679 feet. Going from 3700 feet over 3 miles wasn't spectacularly difficult, but because we had not done much hiking during the day and it was already getting to lunchtime, we did this one fast so that we would have time for more. From timestamps on the photos, it looks like we completed the 6 miles roundtrip in 100 minutes, including summit time. I also took one of my favorite panorama photos to date at the summit, and not just because it has yours truly in the image...


Hanging Rock Canyon to Eureka Sand Dunes - 60 miles unpaved/offroad driving, 3 miles hiking
From the Ubehebe Peak trailhead, it is ~28 miles along the extremely rough road back to Ubehebe Crater, where we turned north to Crankshaft junction--just like Teakettle Junction, they make their intersections very obvious in the desert. From Crankshaft junction, we crossed over the more rough road through the Last Chance Mountain Range, found some interesting mines and adits in the rock walls around a crater, and reached an actual gravel road for the first time in many miles. This gravel turned to sand as we turned south into the Eureka Valley, where our destination became obvious very quickly: the towering sand dunes tucked beneath the mountains ahead. 

The Eureka Dunes are the second tallest sand dunes in North America at 700 feet, short by 50 feet of claiming the title over the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. The difference in Death Valley is the extremely low visitation that the dunes receive. Only a couple other families were present when the three of us showed up this time, and we instantly knew we would have to make the trek to the top. While walking the most arduous 1-1.5 miles that I had ever done due to the difficult sand, we discovered how to make dunes "sink". By slamming our feet down at the top of a ridge and creating a cascade of sand, the vibration of sand particles across each other creates a deep vibrating resonance that echoes into your feet and through your bones. It sometimes feels like the whole dune is vibrating and humming. We reached the top, and had the foresight to bring along a sleeping pad. Not to sleep of course, but to try to sled down the hill. It didn't work -particularly- well, but you can see for yourself in the videos. Above all else, the best part of the dunes is the photography. I was mesmerized by the curves and patterns, along with the grand scale of it all. 

After the dunes, we began the long 6-7 hour drive home, during the beginning of which we passed through a range out of Death Valley that I had never crossed before. We assumed we would be heading down the entire way, but climbed up to where the temperature just continued dropping lower than we could believe. Since this was dusk and the sun was gone, we were making bets of how low it would actually go, and we were all surprised when it dropped to 28 F, after having been 70+ F only a few hours prior. 
<![CDATA[Mammoth Snowshoeing]]>Sun, 07 Mar 2010 05:17:23 GMThttp://peterscranton.com/1/post/2010/03/mammoth-snowshoeing.htmlSpent a weekend with friends in Mammoth. While they were off skiing and snowboarding, we brought our snowshoes with us and went on some short hiking trips into the cold trails of the area. 

Trail 1: Twin Lakes - Lake Mary Loop (Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center) - 5.5 miles
This was a fairly tame introductory snowshoeing hike, with about 30% semi-packed and the rest fresh powder. The trail we chose traverses some preset loops around the Lake Mary area of Mammoth Lakes, starting by Twin Lakes, passing north of Lake Mary, and getting views of Horseshoe Lake, heading south around all the lakes, and then back to the start. On the return trip, we split away from the trail for an exploration of the Panorama Dome, which we were surprised to find had only one or two sets of prints at that time. Coming back down required some navigation of backcountry, as the only trails up were from the south, in the opposite direction of where we planned to go. 

Trail 2: Obsidian Dome (June Lake area) - 6 miles
This was a short drive north along 395 from Mammoth, and the main trail itself was fairly tame. The semi-groomed path runs straight to the dome, and then loops around it in one big circle. Overall, the scenery was pleasant and the deer were abundant on this portion of the trail. However, not satisfied with the level of ruggedness to our snowshoeing adventures, we decided to cross country up some hills toward the top of the dome (or a mini-dome, it was hard to tell in the white wilderness). The terrain was fairly steep, and we were able to truly test our kick stepping as we zigzagged our way up the side of the hill. The view from the top was great, and we even were able to glissade down a few sections and save some time back, although we were more jealous of the cross country skier that was there sometime earlier in the morning. 

Trail 3: Shady Rest Park Loops (Mammoth Lakes Town area) ~3.5 miles
Desiring a little more mileage, we took this stroll on what seemed to be a combination golf course and park during the summer season. It was extremely easy and mostly just gave us a chance to get some exercise in the form of speed-snowshoeing in a big loop. Recommended as a warm up. 
<![CDATA[Joshua Tree NP Hiking - Back for More]]>Sat, 20 Feb 2010 03:35:33 GMThttp://peterscranton.com/1/post/2010/02/joshua-tree-np-hiking-back-for-more.htmlBarely 3 months after our first trip to Joshua Tree, we had organized and jumped on to a group camping trip with Andrew, Arvin, Brian, and a bunch of friends. For some, it was their first trip, and for others, they were hooked like us. We camped out at Indian Cove campground with reservations due to the larger group size and the desire to have sites together, but spent the first night by ourselves since the others weren't coming out until Friday. When we awoke the next morning, we went on a quick 3 mile round trip hike to 49 Palms Oasis, on the north edge of the park. This was an easy hike into a canyon with many palms (supposedly ~49....), and had views down into the town of Twentynine Palms, a sprawling desert suburbia developed due to the associated military base. 

After this, we headed off to do our offroad adventure in my 2 month old FJ Cruiser while we waited for the rest of the group to arrive. The first trail we tried was the Gold Coast Road, east of Twentynine Palms, and heading into the Old Dale mining district. Unfortunately, once I got halfway up a steep shelf road, I decided that I did not have enough experience to safely navigate this terrain and needed to work my way up to that skill level slowly or risk tumbling into the rocks below. We slowly backed down and turned around, proceeding toward some other shorter offroad travels like the Geology Tour Road and, a very tame loop through the center of the park, showcasing various rock formations. We returned to Indian Cove campground to find the rest of the group there, and had a great time around the campfire into the late hours of the night.
Saturday morning the newcomers to the park went off to some of the more popular hikes and were nice enough to drop us off at the southern trailhead for the Boy Scout Trail. We ended up turning it into a 12.3 mile hike back to the Indian Cove campground by detouring to Willow Hole, a rock climber's paradise within the Wonderland of Rocks just south of Indian Cove campground. It was long, tiring, and yet relaxing due to the serenity of the terrain. When we met up with everyone later that afternoon, it was not the same late evening campfire party as the night before due to our exhaustion from a day of hiking. 
Sunday we packed up camp and headed west along Hwy 62 through the town of Joshua tree and turned south on La Contenta Road. From here, we proceeded along the rough dirt Vermiculate Mine Road which connects to Lower Covington Flat Road, and then over to Upper Covington Flat Road. This put us at a trailhead along the California Riding and Hiking Trail which passes through a valley back into the central area of the park. Instead of continuing back to the center of the park, our objective was the summit of Quail Mountain, the highpoint of Joshua Tree NP at 5813 feet. Interestingly, I had read about a couple small planes that had crashed into the mountain a few years ago, and only recalled this information while summiting the mountain, as we located some remainder of the wreckage that had been pulled into a pile near the top. Overall, much of the 10 mile round trip trail is cross country, and because I found it difficult to find adequate information when researching this, I have added as much info here as possible:

First, this is the best link of information on the trip.

The road signs within the National Park boundary are entirely visible and descriptive, and you just take a right from La Contenta road / Covington flats road onto Covington Crossover road that heads west, before hitting another T-junction which leads north to Eureka peak and south on Upper Covington Flat Road to the Upper Covington Backcountry board/ TH. 

Note that although it is a dirt road, there are only a few places that you will need to watch carefully when travelling in anything other than a low sports car. Any other passenger car could get in as long as it went slow through the sections with washed-out centers. Also note that these sections are worst at the very beginning of the drive, in the first 2.8 miles of La Contenta road. 

This route saves 1.2 mi RT and has a few extra hundred feet of elevation gain. 

As for the hiking part of "Route 3", we did it as they instructed, and just turned off of the California Riding and Hiking Trail when we got to the second gully (I was watching mileage with the GPS, and tracked my progress so that I could compare the path with the NatGeo Topo map I had. However, you'll know when you get to the first gully. At first we were questioning how loose their definition of gully v. wash was, but it became pretty evident when we walked 20 feet down into a deep gully with trees and evidence of water.

Then we just turned up the ridge, and kept falling it in the general easternly direction going higher and higher. When you reach the last set of twin peaks on the ridge before the summit peak, which corresponds to bump 5787' on the directions, you will notice that you are forced to either walk to the south significantly to stay on a ridge that loses a decent amount of altitude, or continue on a beeline path that loses even more altitude. What we did the first time was cross down into the valley before the twin bumps, and minimize our actual distance, but on the way back we went the long way to the south and followed the ridge, which I think was a much better option.

There is a faint trail for portions of the hike along the ridge (and lots of evidence of Bighorns around it), but it doesn't really matter since it is mostly just sand/dirt/rock with very little brush. Actually there was also a large amount of snow on the NE side of the last peak before the summit, but it could be avoided. 
<![CDATA[Mojave Desert Offroad - Sunflower Spring, Starbright Road]]>Mon, 11 Jan 2010 05:55:09 GMThttp://peterscranton.com/1/post/2010/01/mojave-desert-offroad-sunflower-spring-starbright-road.htmlAlthough I bought the FJ Cruiser as a means to reach the backcountry 4x4 locations that I had been otherwise taking the Corolla to, I knew it would also inevitably mean a little extra offroading and 4x4 travel without hiking destinations. So after a few weeks of owning Sarge, I just had to drive out to the Mojave Desert with Scott and try some of the trails in my California Trails - Desert Region book. 

Sunflower Spring Road and Lost Arch Inn Trail
We left from LA early in the morning, and reached Essex, CA by 11am. I had previously been here before in the rented Jeep Wrangler when I needed my flat repaired, and the "town" hadn't changed one bit. The only difference was that the mechanic was closed today, or at least they hadn't woken up yet. We started east down the old Sunflower Spring Road and detoured to the Golden Fleece Mine, where we found some tailings, an adit, and some ruins. From there we continued past Pilot Peak and a couple other mines until we reached the Lost Arch Inn Trail detour to the south, which brought us by an automobile graveyard that had been plinked. In fact, it would have been quite a gorgeous sight of ruins if they did not have 3000 bullet holes distributed throughout, and shells all over the ground. There were also some amazingly intact structures, but overall, nothing specifically extraordinary for the desert unless you are a desert mine history buff. 
After coming out the other side almost in Nevada, we drove back through Needles to a KOA in the Baker area where we spent the night uneventfully. 

Starbright Trail and Black Canyon Road
This road began a few miles northeast of Barstow, past some communications towers, a mine, and through an area with a communal stone cabin built many years ago that is used as a cabin, shelter, Boy Scout destination, and basecamp for plinking (apparently). No one was there when we arrived, so we were free to explore the inside.

We continued along, past the Starbright Mine and well preserved ore tower(?), before reaching an unexpected obstacle less than a half mile from the end. That obstacle was the new expansion of the China Lake Naval Weapons center, which had erected a fence with very scary signs right across the road that we needed to travel to reach Goldstone Road, the flat and graded dirt road back to civilization and other offroad treks. When we reached it, I contemplated turning back and looked at how far back we would have to go to bypass it. Unfortunately, there were virtually zero shortcuts with the exception of one faint trail that cut across the open desert. Without taking a shortcut, it would be easily 90 minutes of backtracking and detours to get back to where we were going on Goldstone Road only a half mile away. 

So we took the shortcut. On the GPS, it looked like a decent path, and it started out as so, but within a mile had deteriorated into an old horse trail through the open desert brush. The road was only marked with wooden posts, about 4 feet high, every 100 feet, and required weaving from bush to bush, letting the creosote give love scratches to the clear coat of my month-old car. It was painful at first, but in retrospect was great because it helped break the seal much earlier than I otherwise would have in regards to offroading capability. And the point of the car is to use it. Eventually we reached Goldstone Road, and after kissing the steering wheel apologetically, we continued north to the intended next trail, Black Canyon Road.

This was a much shorter travel through some dry lake beds and along some washes with minimal difficult driving, but brought us through an unknown region rich with intact petroglyphs and the signatures of ancient explorers, some dating back to the early 180