Some of the most memorable trips are those that you decide to take on a whim. This is one of those.
And very far off the beaten path.
In fact, this one is so far off the beaten path I questioned our sanity on the way there. I definitely questioned who in their right mind would want to live in such a harsh and unforgiving environment. But that would be a rhetorical question, because one thing never changes with the desert eccentric (also known as desert rats)…they’re just plain crazy.
My hubby is part of that tribe.
While I pine for the ocean and forests, he is most at home where there is no shade, no water, and temperatures are in the extreme.
This place was no exception.
We recently embarked on a quest to follow the Mojave road. The road originally created by Native Americans as a trade route between tribes of the Mojave Valley and the Coastal California Indians.
One can traverse this road in 2 – 3 days, but because of work commitments, we intend to take it in sections.
Hole in the Wall in the Mojave National Preserve was our most recent destination. While it is not technically on Mojave Road, it is a point of interest we didn’t want to pass up. I was as excited as I can get about a remote place within a remote place in the middle of nowhere.
The Mojave Road is noted in green, Hole in the Wall is circled in red.
Since we were coming back to So. California from celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday in Arizona, it was a perfect time to fit this little side trip into our itinerary.
I noticed this destination was between two places with pretty ominous names…Death Valley and Devil’s Playground. I don’t know about you, but I make it a habit to avoid anything having to do with Death or Devil.
Not my desert rat of a hubby, these kind of places are right up his alley, so off we go to camp between them. The soft creamy center of a Death and Devil sandwich.
Saints preserve us.
While I was busy wondering what he was getting us into, I thanked God it was winter time and not summer. Death Valley became the hottest place in the world on July 10, 2013 when it reached a record 134 degrees. Not hard to understand why it’s called Death Valley. I don’t even want to know how the Devil’s Playground got it’s name.
Upon arrival to the Hole in the Wall campground, I had to admit the campsites are very nice. I was pleasantly surprised that we were the only one’s there. We set up our camp and walked to the ranger station to get a map of the area in anticipation of hiking the next day.
This would be Lucy’s first camping trip in our posh rooftop tent.
We hadn’t even gone 50 feet before I noticed that she had already attracted a large chunk of Cholla Cactus in her fur. Cholla cactus is a nasty foe and I try very hard to stay out of it’s way. It’s called the “jumping cactus” because you don’t need to be near to attract a painful hitchhiker.
With Lucy’s fine hair, it was embedded so deeply that I’m sure we appeared to be performing surgery if there had been anyone there to witness it. Needless to say, I carried her the rest of the way to and from the station.
Such city girls her and I.
I was excitedly waiting to have a campfire. You can’t really have campfires in So. Cali so this was a real treat for me. We cooked our evening meal and settled down to wait for sunset. Now that all sounds pretty standard for camping folk doesn’t it?
Here’s the problem.
I remember thinking that it would be nice to be in colder temperatures since I had spent most of the summer boiling.
That is until it actually got cold. Silly me.
As the sun went down the temperature dropped accordingly. By the time my hubby started a fire, I was already frozen through and through. Even my butt was cold, and I would have thought something with that much padding would be insulated.
In this photo I am considering actually jumping into the fire (don’t worry, I would have handed Lucy off beforehand). I am totally not joking.
Evidently, the above applies to California dogs too. Lucy wouldn’t stop shivering until I put her under the blanket.
Needless to say I didn’t sit outside long to enjoy the campfire experience. Forget the smores.
We got into our tent and for only the third or fourth time in my life I could see the condensation coming out of my mouth when we spoke. I would have said I was in hell, but it wasn’t warm enough.
Thankfully we had brought a propane heater (I can’t say we, my hubby had the foresight to bring it). I also had brought my Kelty Ignite 20 sleeping bag, but I wondered about the rating. Is it rated for 20 degrees or for a 20 year old (and not a more “mature” woman). I suspect it was the latter because I was paralyzed with cold.
Even with the little heater going full blast, my hand was too cold to hold my paperback book so I could read myself to sleep.
Thankfully I had brought an extra blanket because the little Walmart doggy sweater I had gotten Lucy was not enough. I wrapped her up and tucked her between our sleeping bags.
My hubby and I laid there staring at each other like burritos in a freezer.
Finally Lucy and my hubby fell asleep with both snoring. I alone laid awake to battle the cold and cacophony of nasal noise. I don’t know when I fell asleep, but I promise you it was not soon enough.
Where I live, I am accustomed to roughly 360 days a year of sunshine, but never have I been so happy and appreciative of it until I felt it warm the tent as it rose.
When I felt I could finally peek outside of our tent without suffering the loss of my nose due to frostbite, I noticed Lucy’s dog water had been frozen solid. Another first for me.
The arid barren landscape belied how cold it was. I felt like there should be 10 feet of snow on the ground, but with an annual rainfall of only 3 inches a year, I reckoned that doesn’t happen much.
After a cup of tea (oh thank you for being so fast Jet Boil!) and hot oatmeal, we headed out to follow the only trail in the area. The 6 mile Barbour Peak Loop trail would meet up with the short 1 mile Rings Loop Trail, which traverses the Hole in the Wall canyon.
Having learned my lesson when we were stranded by the flash flood in the Grand Canyon just a few months ago, I brought the ten essentials. My hubby had to backpack Lucy since the area was full of a variety of cacti including the “jumping cactus”.
I remembered what a friend from Nova Scotia said when laying eyes on the California desert for the first time…”it looks like the surface of the moon”.
I would have to agree. And just as inhospitable I might add.
I suspect that the area looks exactly the same as it did 150 years ago when Mojave Indian runners would cover as much as 100 miles a day on foot. With one exception…see those vapor jet trails overhead as I strike a pose?
They are from maneuvers being performed by aircraft from nearby Fort Irwin (I’m assuming since it’s the closest military base).
One aircraft came so close to us that I’m pretty sure I saw him tell his co-pilot “look at those fools down there.”
The only sign of life was this pesky bull blocking the trail, or was he protecting the only tree? He was quite large and immediately started to stare us down.
No worries I thought, I have my trusty “loudest whistle in the world.”
I put it to my lips and blew out a disturbingly shrill sound that was so loud I thought the blast might bring down one of those jets.
The only way I knew the bull even heard it was the barely perceptible muscle twitch in his back leg.
Wait a minute, this isn’t supposed to be how it goes. The animal is supposed to run away in fright.
No way, no how. This bull was dead serious about standing his ground. I imagined how easily he could run me down and put one or both of those horns through my spinal chord.
My hubby and I carefully made our way backwards and took an alternate route that gave Mr. Horns a wide berth. I never turned my back on him, but made sure to not lock eyes either.
Lucy however, set a decidedly perturbed look on me that seemed to say, “thanks for assaulting my very sensitive dog ears for no good reason.”
We reached the Hole in the Wall canyon which was easy to spot, since it was riddled with holes.
We sat at the foot of the canyon entrance in the photo above and ate our packed lunches.
There were interesting sizes and shapes of holes everywhere as we entered the canyon in anticipation of the Rings Trail.
And finally we were upon it.
My hubby headed up first with Lucy on his back as I brought up the rear. There are 4 or 5 sections of ring loops that are straight up. This is a photo of the first section.
He made it look so easy I scrambled up behind him. The first section wasn’t so bad. The second section wasn’t horrible either. The third section (I don’t have any photos since I was using both of my hands to keep from plunging into the abyss below me) was an entirely different story.
I put my left foot onto a rock, then found a foothold with my right foot, then another with my left. I realized that the next foothold was roughly half of the length of my body above me. I tried to move upward, but the absence of a thigh muscle prevented me from executing that “step”.
Dammit. I was stuck. I couldn’t go up or down.
I called out to my hubby and said I tried to make the Paul Bunyon step but I didn’t have enough strength in my left thigh muscle to make it happen.
He replied, “You can do it, just do it”.
You know what? Shouting down the Nike brand mantra doesn’t miraculously make my left thigh able to perform a giant leap in mid-air while my right arm tries to support my pear shaped body (in other words, a big butt) by holding onto a ring.
If I could do that, I would already be a medal winning rings gymnast in the middle-aged category of the Olympics (if they had one).
He should know that I already tried my damnedest before I had to admit I was stuck in the first place. How in the heck did he do it with a dog on his back?
Thankfully my Eagle Scout hubby had brought a rope and he was at a place in the trail that he could set down the dog, make a loop in the rope and throw it down to me.
I put the loop around me the best I could with one hand holding onto the ring, while he braced himself against the rocks to pull.
When I said I was as ready as I would ever be, he dragged me up while I did virtually nothing to help since I couldn’t get a foot or handhold anywhere.
By the time I made it up to the landing where he was, I was a sight to behold. My pants had been pulled down as I was drug up, and I sustained a bloody scrape on my knee from getting onto the landing.
Just call me Edmund Hillary.
I was horrified to hear voices coming from below me, I rushed to compose myself before they came into sight, but thankfully they were struggling and not making good enough time to catch sight of me.
That was a blessing for both of us.
I redeemed my pride in a small way by making the next section by myself (it wasn’t hard in other words).
Before exiting the canyon, I rolled up the rope and slung it over my shoulder and walked out like a boss that had actually been rock climbing.
Not from being drug up the rings trail, definitely not like that. Never mind that bloody knee.
The trail took us passed the rangers station where my hubby went to use the restroom (and probably check for a hernia) while I amused myself in the main area where the ranger sat.
He took one look at the rope and the knee, and he knew. He knew.
I blurted out, “you should warn people that the rings trail is no joke. It’s very hard!”
He looked me square in the eye and said, “little kids do it all the time”.
Really? That’s how we are going to play it?
I retorted, “That’s only because they have muscles and joints that are still brand new right out of the box ya know.”
Take that Ranger Smart Aleck.
As my hubby and I walked down through the parking lot and onto the road that lead back to our camp, I noticed a middle aged woman in very fashionable high heeled boots (I presumed they were taking a side trip from Las Vegas) getting ready to take on the rings trail.
Good luck with that.
Until next time dearest.