Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Flattop Mountain Road - Mojave Desert

I was returning from Arizona last week and decided to take a scenic 4wd trail: Flattop Mountain Road.  This is actually a natural gas pipeline service road that (somewhat) parallels I-40, just west of Needles, CA.  It's signed as BLM Route NS061.

The section I drove was slow-going.  It took me 2 hours to cover less than 15 miles.  I used low range more than I have on any other trip.  

The route isn't terribly difficult.  I think it would rate a 4 on the Mitchell or Massey scales.  I had to go off road only once to get around a steep bit.  I followed the tracks from at least 2 other vehicles, so I wasn't the first to do this.

Like most gas pipeline roads, it's a very straight road.  The road doesn't skirt around terrain obstacles or undulations.  Gas pipeline roads tend to have a lot of hills and gullies as they go straight over the land.  After rain storms, erosion produces deep washouts in places.

I was using low range to climb many of the hills and even to descend a couple.  On one hill, I decided to try it in 4-Hi.  That lasted about 4 seconds as I quickly lost traction trying to climb from a deep gully up a steep, rutted and off-camber hill.  I had to back up and try again using low range.  Worked perfect.

I want to hike Flattop Mountain, but I don't want to drive this road again.  Maybe another day I'll feel more adventurous and return.  If I do return to hike the mountain, I'll approach from the west, the way Andy Zdon suggests in his book "Desert Summits".  Here's a google map centered on Flattop Mountain.

Apparently this area is a place to collect rocks.  Here's the BLM web site about that. 

The road is pretty flat and easy on the west side of the mountain.

This road skirts the southern edge of the Bigelow Cholla Garden Wilderness Area.

I had planned to continue on to Danby, but the slow progress on the hilly section caused me to bail out and head for pavement.  I turned north on High Tower Road.  That's a graded powerline road that hits I-40 at Water Road (another graded powerline road).  

It looks like continuing west on Route NS061 is pretty flat.  I've driven sections of that in the past and it's got some deep sand in spots.

The Camino Airstrip is located beside High Tower Road.  I've never seen any aircraft using it, but I have camped there.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Broguiere's Egg Nog

This is one of my favorite things about the holidays.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Petroglyphs Near Halloran Summit

A small collection of petroglyphs is located about 10 miles north of Baker, CA beside I-15.  They're on large boulders below a bluff just south of the Halloran Summit exit.  Here's a google map centered on the area.

It's an easy walk from the powerline road, less than 0.25 mile.  You can also drive the 4wd trail right to the location.  The only hard part is finding where the trail hits the powerline road.

The bluff above has the remains of an airmail navigation arrow that I visited in June.  Here are some photos of the rock art, in no particular order.

This website also has photos of the glyphs.  They show more markings than I have found, so I'll return some day to look for more.  Here's a view from GE showing the location.

The start of the 4wd trail looks like this.

It's to the left of the power pylon.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

My Hiking Poles Lasted a Long Time

After hiking up the last cinder cone, my Black Diamond Contour hiking poles broke.  Not the poles themselves, but a small flexible rubber/plastic ring that covers two recessed buttons to release the 2nd extension.  The polymer degrades over time (UV exposure, outgassing, etc.) and it's normal that it would eventually crack and split.

I don't feel bad.  They lasted over ten years.  That's money well spent.

I visited REI last weekend to buy some replacements.  I bought another pair of Black Diamonds, the model that most resembled my old poles.  I got the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork poles.  If all goes well, I'll get another ten years of use out of them.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Toyota RSCA Button

My 2016 LC has a button that many Toyotas now have.  It's labeled "RSCA OFF".  My drive on the 4wd trails around the cinder cones last week was the first time that I've used that button.

RSCA means Rollover Side Curtain Airbag.  These aribags are activated by some inclinometer in the vehicle.  If it detects that the truck has tipped over too far (e.g., a rollover), then they are inflated.

Toyota provides the button so that this system can be intentionally deactivated by the driver when driving in "extreme off road" conditions.  Here's a screencap from the 2016 LC manual.

This prevents the system from activating simply because the truck is tipped over a lot in pitch or roll.  During my drive in the desert, my truck was tilted a lot.  Not as much as I've done in the past in a Land Rover.  But I didn't want to take any chances.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Cinder Cone 4WD Trails

After hiking the cinder cone, I drove a few 4wd trails in the area and returned to Kelbaker Road near the Old Mojave Road crossing.  

The trails are not signed, but are in good condition and had recent tire tracks visible.  The first one heading northeast had some creosote brush on the sides.  

Then the trail heading south was brush-free once you reach the lava zone.  That road is in great condition and was an easy drive.

Then came the hard part.  I knew about this already because I had explored the southern end on a previous trip.  The trail crosses a short field of very large boulders as it drops into a sandy wash before continuing the short stretch to Kelbaker Road.

I decided to take the alternate.  Yup, there's an alternate!  It's not easy, but it's a lot easier than the main trail.  The alternate crosses a zone of embedded lava rocks, with some pinch points to hit, and some to avoid.  Then it drops into the sandy wash crossing only a few large boulders.  One of those large boulders is just waiting to scrape your tire sidewall as you try to turn left into the wash.

Once you're in the wash, you need to make two sharp turns.  That's a bit hard in deep sand.  The sand was 12 or more inches deep, stirred up by previous visitors.  My 6000 lb truck just starts to swim in sand that deep and I can't drive any precise line.  I didn't lock the center diff, and at the second turn I ended up power-sliding the rear around the corner.  Cool.

Apparently I was distracted by the boulders and I forgot to turn on my Garmin Nuvi before taking the alternate route.  That's why the GPS track in the GE image above (the red line) ends before I made it back to Kelbaker Road.

There are more trails up there and I plan to return some day.  I want to hike a few more cinder cones in the area.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Mojave Cinder Cone 2 Hike

I returned to the lava beds of the Mojave National Preserve to hike another cinder cone.  This hike was much easier, mostly because I brought my trekking poles.  Here's a google map centered on this cinder cone.  This one has a long black lava flow pouring out of the blown-out top.  The photo below was taken from halfway up the previous cinder cone.

I drove a 4wd trail to get closer to the base of the hill.  The "road" is partly rugged, partly rutted, and covered in lava rocks.  I expected to puncture a tire, so much so that I brought two spares on this trip.  Luckily, the hard part is less than half a mile long and my tires survived.

The hike took only 20 minutes to reach the summit by hiking up the northwestern ridge.  Here's a photo from half-way up the ridge, looking toward the cinder cone I hiked previously.

The lava flowed to the west after spewing from this volcano.

After reaching the summit, I was surprised to find a road that leads to the summit.  I could have driven!  OK, that would be very dangerous in my truck and it might even be illegal.  The road traverses up the northern slope and then spans the summit before descending down the southern slope.  It's covered in a soup of small cinder rocks and is off-camber, sloping away from the hill. 

I hiked down the road so I could inspect a 4wd trail on the east side of the hill.  I planned to drive that trail after my hike.  This photo looking northeast shows some of tose 4wd trails.

This map is cropped from the USGS quad topo named Indian Spring.  It shows the sandy road I've been taking, the previous cone I hiked, this cone, and the 4wd trails I drove (see future post).  Interestingly, it does not show the roads to the top of this cone, but they are visible in Google satellite imagery.