Sunday, November 30, 2008

Driving the Bradshaw Trail

On Black Friday I drove the scenic and historic Bradshaw Trail, which runs from the Salton Sea to Arizona. The trail traverses part of the Colorado Desert and crosses the Chuckwalla Bench ACEC.

Because of its historic value, the BLM maintains the road and its graded surface was easy to drive. There were a few stretches of sandy wash, but they were nothing compared to what I'm used to in the Mojave desert. It had rained the day before my adventure, so I was pleased to get to drive through several muddy puddles of water. It was a beautiful sunny day with temps around 70. This was much better than fighting crowds at any store.

There were several kiosks along the road, each one drawing the viewers attention to the sites to visit in that area.

The trail was an overland stage route heavily used between 1862 and 1877. Here's the BLM page. Much of the trail skirts the northern border of the Chocoate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range. I took a photo of one of the many warning signs.

Apparently, smugglers have been leading illegal immigrants from Mexico across this dangerous military operations area (read more here). I came across this collection of old ordinance. I think they're dummy bombs.

Much of the road looks like this photo. Even though I stopped several times, got out and looked around, I never saw a single chuckwalla.

Along the way I came upon an odd cross on the desert floor about 50 feet from the road. The stick had this text: "Aerial FIXover C.P. Do Not Disturb" Please tell me what this is, if you know. I checked Google Earth and didn't see this in their satellite imagery. But I did see another one off a side road. hmmmm

I didn't drive the entire route. I took the Red Cloud Mine Road exit off I-10 and drove south on Summit Road to join the trail heading east. Then I returned to the highway via Wiley's Well Road, which took me past the Chuckwalla State Prison. Two inmates recently escaped from there and they've already been recaptured (see story here). Here's a photo of the prison. It's almost surrounded by those towering palm trees.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New Book: Tribes

I've just finished Seth Godin's latest book, Tribes - We Need You to Lead Us. It currently has 4.5 (of 5) stars from 37 Amazon reviewers. The Publisher's weekly editorial review on Amazon offers a concise description of the book. While the title relates to the books discussion of grass-roots, long-tail, informal groups Seth calls tribes, it actually contains quite a bit about leadership; why it's important, how to nurture it, how to exercise it, etc.

I recommend the book, even though some of it serves as merely a reminder of things we all know. Since I spend a lot of time driving, I downloaded the free audiobook version (see links below). It's also a short book. I like Seth's use of real-life examples/stories.

The audiobook is available for free download on NOTE: requires you to register - so I chose another path.

I found this link on that was offering the same audiobook in downloadable MP3 format. I chose to use the MP3 link that appears after the AAC link. BTW: Seth Godin is also the founder of the site, so I figure it's just as legit to download the files from this site.

Garr Reynolds posted a review of the book, along with some short videos of Seth on his blog here. Here's Seth Godin's personal website.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Mystery Grave in the Mojave Desert

I've read about this mysterious site in the middle of no where out in the Mojave desert. I've even drive right past it 4 times in the past couple years. Today I drove out to take a look, and there it was. A lone grave. The grave of Bonnie Keebler Harris who died in 1872. She was reportedly traveling a wagon trail and was buried here by her companions. The BLM station in Barstow has the original note that was found at the site years ago stuck in a bottle. It read "December 27, 1872, to whom it may concern: died this day of sickness; too far to travel so will put her here. Bonnie Keebler Harris, born December 1823 in New York, mother of five children. God rest her soul." The Mojave River Valley Museum has installed a permanent marker at the site.

Here's a Google map centered on the grave. It's only about 5 miles north of I-15 off the Afton Canyon exit (which is about 20 miles south of Baker). Current road conditions are challenging and the typical car will not make it through the deep sandy sections. In fact, my Land Rover was kind of swimming at times, where I'd estimate the sand was 8 to 10 inches deep. Last year the road was much easier and my MDX had no problems, but now I would strongly recommend 4WD and high clearance.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Experimenting With My Under-Rover Cam

Before heading to Opal Mountain, I drove over to Kramer Arch to test my under-rover cam. I've previously only tested it on flat paved roads in my neighborhood. It's a 600 line B/W low light camera that I mounted magnetically to the chassis. That makes it easy to setup and remove. The camera is then wired (around the truck and in the window) to a USB A/D converter and into a laptop for viewing and recording.

Here's a photo of the eroded old asphalt section of the road to Kramer Arch. It's not real hard and it won't damage my camera for this test. The goal is to drive up onto the upper asphalt ridges. Then you're fine.

Unfortunately, I forgot to use the right settings in my capture software and I learned later that it was capturing video at a craptacular 352x240 frame size. I do this so seldom, I really ought to make a checklist or something. I'm not posting the video here because it had a lot of tech issues. The video signal goes out sporadically. This didn't happen on a flat paved road. hmmm Much to think about and improve for next time.

Instead, I'm posting several screen caps of the video. The camera is pointed toward the front of the truck. Its FOV is 120 deg. The second shot shows the right front tire having just made it up atop the asphalt.

The third shot shows the right front tire off the ground while the right rear was driving up onto the asphalt ridge.

The fourth and fifth shots show the truck driving on the asphalt stradling the gully.

So I need to solve the problem with the video outtages. Also, I noticed that the camera wasn't being held very stiffly in azimuth - it easily moved/turned from right to left when I touched it. I may have to modify my mount.

Opal Mountain

A few days ago I drove to Opal Mountain, north of Barstow, CA. I've driven through Black Canyon a few times, but I've never driven the Opal Mountain Road. The Google Earth satellite imagery shows what appeared to be roads to the top of Opal Mountain, and I just had to see if I could drive up those. Here's a link to a Google Map centered on Opal Mountain so you can see those roads.

The short answer on whether I could drive the road is ... no. I would pay money to watch somebody drive a stock vehicle up that road. The first 20 percent is steep but driveable. Then comes the challenge of parking or turning around on such a steep hill. The higher you go, the steeper it gets ... and the rocks get a little bigger and a lot looser. Near the top, I had trouble walking up the road, so I hiked the last part off the road where the ground is firmer (rocks don't slide out from under your feet).

The photo looks down from the summit toward my car. It was very windy at the top, but calm and a nice 77F at the bottom. From here, I drove the rugged road out past Scouts Cove to the sandy wash and then returned through Black Canyon. The weather was great, and gas prices were as low as $2.33, so it was a good day.