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.
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.