Trona To Baker
2/14/02 - 2/24/02

Desert Survivors Backpack
Mojave Desert, California

All but four Desert Survivor members refused to take part in the first Trona to Baker 114 mile relay backpack/dayhike extravaganza. Bill Harper, John Hiatt, Ingrid Crickmore, and Bob Ellis didn't refuse. Well, all the rest of you missed out on a great trip. At the end our feet were sore, but our minds, hearts and stomachs were full - especially after the date shakes and Greek salads at the Mad Greek restaurant in Baker.

This was a walking journey along a political and societal borderland. At all times we were bounded on the south by military bases (first the Navy's China Lake Range B, then the Air Force-used Leach Lake bombing area and then the Army's Fort Irwin tank base).

For the most part where we stepped and to our north was wilderness (either proposed or protected BLM wilderness or Death Valley National Park wilderness). At times the peacefulness of the day was replaced with the aggressive sounds and antics of sky-warriors.

We crossed five Mountain Ranges (the Slates, the Panamints, the Quails, the Owlsheads, and the Avawatz). We hiked 17,000 feet uphill and 17,200 feet downhill.

We started with a crossing of the Searles Lake playa and ended with a crossing of the Silver Lake playa. We encountered 9 burros, 5 humans, 1 gopher snake, and 1 golf ball. We watched airplanes swoop and dive firing their guns, tanks trailing dust plumes, and the moon just missing Jupiter and Saturn. We joined a small group of those who have walked the entire length of the Bowling Alley, traversed over the top of the Avawatz Peak with backpacks, and uttered the words "Trona" and "Baker" in the same sentence dozens of times (most often shortened as "T to B" ).

The desert this Spring is dry. South of here little or no rain has fallen in a couple months.  As a result few annuals were seen on our hike.  No flowers and very little greenery even in the perennials and shrubs. Several times I was reminded of the movie "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" with its landscape of sepia tints. The desert was still in hibernation. Oh Spring, Where Art Thou?

Logistics: I'm describing this aspect as our method worked well for us and may prove useful to others. We were not certain of water sources along the way and were worried about burros attacking cached food and water drops. We wanted to trade off carrying less weight in return for setting out more caches. The 114 mile route was split into a section for each of the eleven days. The sections were from 8 to 14 miles long depending upon hiking conditions. 

The first five days would take us from Trona across the Slate and Panamint Ranges to the end of the Owlshead Road. Three days before the hike we cached water and food at the Newman Cabin in Golar Wash to be picked up the second night. The day before the hike we left two vehicles at the end of the Owlshead Road containing all food and water for the last six days of the trip. Then we drove a third car back to the Trona hospitality center, our point of departure.

Our hiking speed proved greater than expected and with the incentive of a dramatic rain shower, we arrived at the Owlshead Road after only four days. A flat tire on one of the vehicles provoked a trip to Baker for a fix, after which we shuttled one of the cars two days down the road to Owl Lake Pass. Then we backpacked the length of the Quail Mountains, stopping above the burro-trashed Quail Springs. 

After looking at the next two sections, we decided to day-hike each one as they had some dirt road stretches and we were ready for a break from carrying packs. We shuttled the cars in morning and evening and arrived at the base of the Avawatz at Sheep Creek cabin at the end of the eighth day.

We left a car at the powerline road by Silver Lake and started up Sheep Creek canyon for a two-day backpack up 4,500 feet over Avawatz Peak. We were accompanied the first day by Tom Budlong and Marty Dickes who then shuttled our remaining car to the powerline road (thanks, guys). 

As we left the Avawatz Mountains on Saturday, we survived an afternoon of blowing dust which was coming directly out of Fort Irwin. By early evening we arrived at the shores of Silver Lake for our last camp. A day hike down the length of the playa past the old Tonopah and Tidewater railroad grade got us to the Mad Greek in time for lunch.

We wound up doing one four-day backpack with a midway cache, two two-day backpacks and three dayhikes. Our packs were never too heavy and we didn't have to carry much dried food. The downside was many hours spent shuttling the cars. At the end we were sorry we couldn't keep going.

 

Letters to send:

1) BLM Barstow Office - Quail Springs is trashed by burros. It is a mudhole with no remaining riparian vegetation. It needs to be fenced with a drinker outside for burros.

2) US Army, Fort Irwin - Excessive dust emissions for hours on Saturday February 23, 2002. Fort Irwin is the second largest source of particulate pollution in California.

3) US Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer - We traveled through three spectacular potential wilderness areas: the Slate Range proposed wilderness, the Death Valley Strip WSA, and the Avawatz Mountains WSA. Our on-the-ground experience convinced us these are worthy of permanent wilderness protection.

4) BLM Ridgecrest Office - Briggs Mine Exploration proposal. We viewed the impacts of the Briggs Mine from the top of the Slate Range. The tremendous visual landscape of the Panamint Valley must be protected against further desecration.

Highlights:

1) Crossing the Slate Range - views of southern Panamint Valley and the unknown playa near Wingate Pass in China Lake Range B.

2) Crossing Wingate Wash - a vast open valley dappled with passing cloud shadows.

3) Crossing the Quail Mountains - Quail Peak, the surprising highpoint, with views of the rock strewn Granite Mountains in Fort Irwin and the whole southern Death Valley area.

4) Crossing the Avawatz - two rugged canyons for approach and retreat, terrific 360 views on the peak and ridgeline, and an unknown spring and narrows.

5) Bill Harper's new mileage record for backpacking with flip-flops.

"Or perhaps walking should be called movement, not travel, for one can walk in circles or travel around the world immobilized in a seat, and a certain kind of wanderlust can only be assuaged by the acts of the body itself in motion, not the motion of the car, boat, or plane. It is the movement as well as the sights going by that seems to make things happen in the mind, and this is what makes walking ambiguous and endlessly fertile; it is both means and end, travel and destination."    - Rebecca Solnit "Wanderlust - A History of Walking"

We feel mighty proud and mighty lucky to have walked our walk, thought our thoughts; now we are starting to talk it. Our connection with this land has been forged with our feet. We are designing our trip patch at this very moment. Look for possible future pedestrian adventures: 

Keeler to Bullfrog?     Rhyolite to Rachael?

 

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Map of Entire Route (200K)

Detail Maps(100k)

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Crossing Searles Dry Lake

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Photos - Day One and Two

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Panamint Valley North - Briggs Mine

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Panamint Valley South - Mystery Playa

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Photos - Day Three and Four

Wingate Bench

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Wingate Rainstorm

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Photos - Day Five and Six

North to Telescope Peak from Quail Mtn

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Map Work Near Quail Spring

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Photos - Day Seven and Eight

Owl Hole Spring

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Approaching Salt Basin - Avawatz Mtns

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Photos - Day Nine

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Down Sheep Creek Canyon

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Fort Irwin Tank Dust 

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High Ridge in Avawatz Mountains

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Photos - Days Ten and Eleven

Avawatz Mtns Limestone

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Powerline on Silver Lake Playa

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Playa Mystery

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Finish at Mad Greek in Baker

Email   E-mail comments and questions to bobellisds@earthlink.net

Desert Survivors
Trip Leader - Bob Ellis