Solo Trip 2005

I'm retired.  My wife and my friends work.
Should I wait for Spring Break?
Or..., should I hit the road?

The more I think about it the more I think I ought to go.  This could be my very first open ended vacation!!  Always before I have had to be back at a certain time.  This time I can play it by ear.  I have read that this is the wettest winter in the ninety years of recorded Death Valley Monument history and the spring flowers should be spectacular!

Also, during Winter Break, I heard about a cabin located somewhere in Confidence Wash.  My friend Jeff in Shoshone said he would try to find a map of it and let me know.  Another guy named Plum, who I have never met except via e-mail, has sent me some interesting Death Valley locations to check out.  There is a lot to do, starting with, getting in shape.

I have been walking every day.  I dug out my old Kelty backpack and have started wearing it and adding a bit of weight to it.  My neighbor Tawny and I have been going for walks and picking up trash along the Greenwood/Philo Road.  I have been hauling the trash home in my back pack.  Over time we have gradually increased our walks to five miles and my pack weight up to around twenty pounds.

Another friend, Erica, who is an avid backpacker, told me about Ray Jardine's book about lightweight backpacking.  I bought a copy and got some good ideas.

And I read, "Between a Rock and a Hard Place", by Aron Ralston about him being on a day hike through a slot canyon in Southern Utah.  He is the guy who had a rock roll and pin his right hand against the canyon wall.  His story is a very good reminder for me to always keep people informed about where I am and what my plans are while out in the vast wilderness.

Lolli is excited about me and my plans.  I left some blank checks with my neighbors, they will pick up my mail and deal with my few bills that come in.  I think I have everything covered.

February 16.  I turn and cast one last look at dingyHovel, hop into my Vanagon, and head up the road.


Driving over a small water bar in the drive up to the gate something sounded like the bottom of the Vanagon was hit with a sledgehammer!  I stop and take a look and discover my lower left ball joint blew out!!  Unbelievable!  Here I am, finally ready for the trip of my lifetime, and I break down within a quarter mile of my home!!  I sit there and ponder my situation.  Should I forget the whole thing? Just stay home and build model airplanes?  I take another look at the ball joint.  Maybe I can drive it to Ukiah and get it fixed if I drive real careful; don't hit any bumps.  I grab my cell phone and call Big O Tires in Ukiah.  "Do you guys do ball joints on a 1984 Vanagon?"


"I'm on my way."

One hour to Ukiah, three hours in the shop, $375.00 bucks later and I am good to go!!   In the late afternoon, during my drive past Clearlake, I spot a vehicle I have never seen before.


I met the owner and he tells me it is a Corwin.  Electric powered.  Quite nicely done.

By nightfall I am camping at Walker Ridge in the steadily falling rain!

February 17

I reach the Central Valley and the almond trees are in blossom!!  Yes!

During the long drive south on I-5 the monotony is broken when I spot a crew doing transmission tower repair.  Believe it or not there are four guys in the stage below the helicopter.  I watched the pilot of the helicopter hover the stage at one location while work was being done and now they are being moved to another location!!  I wonder what that job pays!!

By nightfall I am over Tehachapi Pass and camped east of Mojave.

In the morning I visit my doggie Sarah's grave.  Her dog dish and dog ball are still there.  All the rain makes the desert very lush.

North of Baker I drive past Silverlake.  Normally this is a dry lake with a road straight across it.  Now it if full to the brim!

Further on I pass the Dumont Dunes and see something that compels me to turn around, go back, and take a photo.

Someone got their big motor home stuck in the sand and there are three, count 'em, three vehicles hooking up with nylon straps to pull him out!  And, by golly, they did it!  Quite entertaining!

In the afternoon I arrive at my first destination, Rhoades Cabin.  A rain shower and rainbow greet me.

A guy by the name of Jon is already staying in the cabin but that is fine with me.  I camp in my Vanagon.  We end up staying at Rhoades five days and hiked to various places of interest around the area.  Jon is retired from the Death Valley Park Service and although totally deaf he is very interesting to be around.  A really nice guy.

One day I drive to Tecopa for a hot tub.  The washes are running with water.

One result of all this rain is my introduction to the Death Valley mosquito!!  They are about four times the size of the Alaskan mosquito but they don't seem to know what to do with the rarely encountered human!  Not one has managed to bite me!  Yet!

Each day, during my stay at Rhoades I would look at the peak to the south and study it through my binoculars.  When we were here during Winter Break our friend Robert from Ithaca, New York hiked up to the top of that peak.  He made it seem easy.  Now I have it in my mind to do the same.  Finally a rain free day arrives and I decide to go for it.  The yellow mark on the above photo shows my planned route.

Yes!  I did it!!  When I later told Lolli, via cell phone, about my accomplishment I told her it took me five hour and twenty minutes round trip!  She laughed and said, "It only took Robert twenty minutes!"


Anyway, I feel I did pretty good for an old fart.

One thing about the unsettled weather, it sure can be beautiful.

From "Robert's Peak" I could see the Amargosa River meandering in the southern end of Death Valley and I decided to go there next.

On my way, via the Harry Wade Route, a Raven kept an eye on me.

I camped where the road crosses the Amargosa.  I didn't see any need to try crossing it and getting my brakes full of highly salty water although I did see a Ford Expedition go across.  I met a young couple with two young boys who were hiking and tent camping.  The boys were around six and four and hiked right along with their mom and dad.  At night they all wore their headlamps during dinner.  I heard no whining or sniveling or complaints about missing their Nintendo.  Great kids.  Wonderful parents.  Hi James, Ellie, Zach and Luke!

In the morning the sunrise on the Panamint Mountains was spectacular.


Driving along the floor of the valley the flowers just got better and better!

My next "project".  Visit the Ashford Mine.

Everybody stops and visits the Ashford Mill which is just off the highway going to Badwater but few visit the mine that supplied the mill.  In the above photo is where I camped overnight. The small brown rock hills above the Vanagon are where I parked to start my hike.  The yellow arrow points to the canyon entrance.  This little jaunt took me seven hours and forty minutes round trip!  Pretty good elevation change too.  I felt like I had put in a day by the end of it.  I wound up walking along with a "semi-retired" couple from Las Vegas who had a six month old Brittney Spaniel, "Hana", with them.  Great dog!  Having those folks to talk to, while walking, helped take my mind off my aches and pains!


At the mining camp there were three building but they are pretty torn up.  Various mine shafts and some old equipment lying around.

I spend the night back in my Vanagon resting on my laurels!

February 28th

Off to Pahrump, Nevada for supplies, groceries, gas, water and, by golly, I find a Wi-Fi hot spot and download 293 e-mails and upload some photos to my friends.  E-ha!

March 1st

My next project.  Find the Confidence Wash cave/cabin I have heard about.

I leave highway 178 and drive the 4X4 road up to the saddle where the park service has blocked the road.  Close enough.  I should be within three and a half miles of the cabin.

My plan is to do an overnight backpack trip to the cabin but first I want to do a short trip down the wash to see what I am up against.  Taking my geocaching geek bag, lunch, water, camera, and binoculars I head down the wash.  About half way to where the cabin should be I come across a mine.


I assume this was part of the Confidence Mill operation.  Several shafts and some old equipment but no cabins that I see.

On my hike back up to the Vanagon a lizard keeps an eye on me.

I spend the night at the Vanagon and wait till morning to see what the weather looks like.

March 2nd.

It's a go.

It is mostly a process of following an old road that is now closed.  In places it is quite evident and in some places, where it crosses washes, it disappears but the general idea is down, down, down.

Two and a half hours of hiking and I find it!


Pretty darn cool!

There are gallon jugs of water with an iodine taste.  One can of pork and beans.  Some candles, a knife, spoon and fork.  Some pots and pans.

Some magazines:

1972 Reader's Digest * 1972 Fall & Winter Montgomery Ward Catalogue * 1977 May edition of Popular Mechanics
1981 Gander Mountain Catalogue * 1981 July edition of Outdoor Life * 1986 Oregonian Newspaper (Friday October 3)

I discover the 1977 Ford Thunderbird is selling for just over five thousand dollars.
And I read that Nixon is visiting Russia for Nuclear Arms Reduction talks.

On a table in the cabin was a large brown shopping bag.  On it was written:

......1981 April 28.....
These dugouts built
in 1935 by W.F.Lattimer
John Walker and
Sid Barbour
........................... W.E.Lattimer (son)

I unroll my sleeping bag and settle in for the night.

I think I caught a brief glimpse of some old desert rat in the mirror hanging on the wall!!

I cook supper on my little tin can stove, read the magazines a while but soon darkness arrives and it is time to face a night of sleeping on the rusty springs of the old bed; what a racket each time I move.  But I finally nod off.

2:00 AM and I wake to some scratching noise in my backpack!!  I get up and find this guy trying to get my Reese's Peanut Butter Cup out of the side pocket of my backpack!

Morning!  Thank god it's morning!  I have oat meal cooking on my tin can stove, the mouse has gone back into hiding and I am off of that squeaky bed!  Life is good!  It is 57 degrees outside but inside the cabin it stayed a constant 63 degrees!

Time to pack up and head for the Vanagon!

Up and up the hill I go.

My Vanagon waiting for me at the saddle looks great.  Home again.  Home again!


Part Two.  The adventure continues.