You heard me – Zzyzx. Pronounced Zi-Zix. The last entry when all geographic place names are listed alphabetically. Anyone who has driven the I-15 stretch from LA to Vegas knows that mysterious, middle-of-nowhere offramp to ‘Zzyzx’. It finally tempted us and this time we took the exit to explore all that Zzyzx has to offer.
But first we had unfinished business in Afton Canyon. Since we couldn’t pass the Mojave River in our truck when approaching from the west, we hopped back on I-15 and took the exit to the east end. This time we were easily able to get into the canyon where we checked out a few ‘Mojave Sites of Mystery’ – and old mine site with unique stacked rock walls and a buried railcar, supposedly left there after a derailment on the nearby tracks. I’d love to learn more if anyone is familiar with either of these sites.
After wrapping up our Afton exploration it was time to check out Zzyzx. Heading south from the freeway, the road dead ends after a while at the former site of the Zzyzx Mineral and Heath Spa, now the Desert Studies Center. There’s a surprisingly large pool with a fountain and lots of ducks, some nice facilities, and a view across the dry Soda Lake. As an extra bonus we spotted several sheep in the nearby rocky mountainside.
It’s that time of year again, time for me to play desert rat for a week. Thanksgiving is a great time to head to the desert. Temperatures are mild to cold and crowds are generally light (except on the freeways). As usual, we hopped into the car on the Friday before Thanksgiving and headed south, starting off in Rainbow Basin, a swatch of BLM land outside of Barstow.
Late on Friday night we pulled into Owl Canyon Campground and picked one of the several empty sites. Sometime since last year this campground has been renovated with new equipment -nice! On Saturday morning we headed down Fossil Bed road towards Black Canyon. Note: Fossil Bed road is a wide, graded, sedan-passable dirt road from Irwin Road to Rainbow Basin. Beyond that it is 4×4/high clearance due to unmaintained washouts, at least when we passed through.
Black Canyon and Inscription Canyon is an area of petroglyphs and rock hounding a bit northwest of Barstow. We spent the morning exploring some incredible petroglyphs and finding some fire opal on the sides of Opal Mountain.
We swang through Barstow for gas and lunch, then headed east along I-15 towards Afton Canyon. There are several interesting things that happen in the short, 6-mile-long Afton Canyon: the Mojave River emerges from beneath the surface and flows through the desert, the railroad shipping lines run between the canyon walls, the historic Mojave Road passes through, and several interesting historical sites are scattered around.
Our plan was to set up camp in the campground at the east end of the Canyon, then drive in along the Mojave Road and check out the many sites I had queued up in my GPS. Unfortunately, the river was high enough to prevent us from crossing in our truck. It was certainly possible we could have made it across in our stock Trailblazer, but being solo we didn’t want to risk it – we probably could have been talked into it by someone with a winch! Instead, we did what we should have done at the beginning – strapped on our daypacks and started off on foot down Afton towards Spooky Canyon. It was 3 pm and seven miles round trip on flat, easy navigable terrain – piece of cake!
Hiking the canyon was fun – we chatted with drivers on the Mojave Road, waved to the train engineers as they passed through, and caught a really colorful sunset. Having run out of daylight, we saved the other canyon sites until the next morning. To be continued in the next entry…
Predictably, we spent the Thanksgiving week in the deserts of Southern California. This year’s trip stuck to Mojave and Death Valley with a chunk of Las Vegas wedged in between. I’m in the process of posting photos and blog entries and they’ll be popping up here over the next few days. A brief glance at our itinerary and the excitement to come:
We headed up to Lava Beds for the cold easter weekend with Paige and Dave and their kids. It was a fun and simple trip – car camping in the cold (17 degrees on Friday night) which kept the park quiet and uncrowded. We pretty much had the caves and the park to ourselves.
Time was spent playing tourist – we’ve seen so much of the park and so many of the caves, it’s fun to pick and choose from our favorites to make a nice short weekend of it.
After a couple days of fun in Las Vegas we hit the road to join a group of friends in Death Valley for Thanksgiving. Our meeting place was the old trailer park on BLM land just outside of the park. This is an interesting place – once a trailer park for local miners, it is now a makeshift overflow campground for visitors to Death Valley. Old trailer slabs are now convenient flat spaces to set up camp, the old paved road makes it accessible to all vehicles, and firepits have been built around the old slabs. It’s a minimal facility campground though – no running water or rest rooms to make things nice.
We met Sooz, Robin, and Joe at the trailer park late in the afternoon on Thanksgiving. Gary showed up shortly after. Everyone had planned ahead to bring pieces of the Thanksgiving meal, and it was an incredible feast. Turkey, rolls, stuffing, potatoes, green bean casserole, wine, and pumpkin pie. It was incredible, considering the conditions we were working in to get the meal ready.