Updated: Aug 18
With the current "COVID climate" affecting just about most places we normally go (Baja, cough-cough-wink), we decided to join a group of friends for a "Raptor-ing" adventure of a lifetime - right in our own backyard.
The plan was set; trucks packed to the nines and families stuffed into their rigs for an eight day off-road trip promising beautiful landscapes, 16th century trade routes, exhilarating off-road trails, abandoned ghost towns, haunted hotels, hot springs, ranches and more (yes, more!) through the southern deserts of California and Nevada finishing just before our Nation's birthday in the Eastern Sierras, and doing so 90% of the time on dirt.
DAY 1 - OLD SPANISH NATIONAL HISTORIC TRAIL and DATE MILKSHAKES
With one of the first summer heat waves to hit the west coast in 2020, where else would one expect to meet but the infamous World's Tallest Thermometer in Baker, California. Located in the middle of this small gas-stop of a town usually only visited for Del Taco and fuel on the way to Las Vegas or Dumont Dunes, we began lining up our Ford Raptors under the giant temperature gauge eagerly awaiting our trip to begin. We were fortunate to be joining a group of off-road legends and their families, from Curt Leduc and Johnny Campbell to Cameron Steele and King of the Hammer's Dave Cole. Steele was the mastermind of the trip, with Leduc, Campbell and a few others pre-running the route and organizing all sorts of activities and conveniences along the way. The thermometer read 102*F and with a dog in my lap, snacks overflowing at my feet, I opened up my OnX Off-Road App to set my coordinates and record our route.
The ten or so trucks and families departed north on Death Valley Road Hwy 127 and turned right onto Dumont Dunes Road, eventually connecting us to the Old Spanish National Historic Trail, an old trade route first known to have been used by the Spanish dating back to the 16th century spanning from Los Angeles to Santa Fe. We entered the trail at the Armijo Route which was named after an early explorer who lead the 1829-1830 expedition creating an alternate route between the two cities to support mining efforts.
This part of the trail offered us some fun washes, mild whoops, and some pumpkin sized rock clusters for some light crawling but not enough to deter the amazing performance of our Ford Raptors. As we passed through Sperry, California, a very remote and abandoned ghost town that once housed and serviced minors along the old Tidewater Railroad, was hardly visible after literally going under due to several decade floods and overall difficulty of the terrain. This part of the trail follows along the Amargosa River. Remnants of a time gone by was all that was left, including some 1930 era cars and food cans rusting away in this early 20th century dump. As the Amargosa Canyon began to form in around us, we winded our way through these beautiful rock walls. Since the area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, trail signs and historic points offer historical perspectives to this arid desert providing more appreciation for the trail.
After several hundred miles of twists and turns, the canyon walls opened up to a sea of date palms. We made it to China Ranch Date Farm, a desert oasis and gem of the Armagosa Valley. A must see for anyone who loves to explore paths less traveled, offering visitors a gift shop filled with Native American arts and crafts, bakery and ice cream parlor loaded with (you guessed it), dates!
From China Ranch, we continued north and gained some much-needed speed therapy through the dry Tecopa Lakebeds. With off-road legends at the wheel, some racing may or may not have been had. We finally had an opportunity to have an afternoon stretch once we arrived to Ash Meadows. A National Wildlife Refuge, Ash Meadows is a biodiversity hot spot and haven for rare animals and plants, including a story of survival for an ancient species of fish. The perfectly manicured boardwalks allowed us to get up close and personal to the protected hot spring waters. Tip: This is a great restroom stop when out on the trails in the area; well serviced and clean! Always a plus when on an adventure distant from civilization.
With the sun low in the sky, we headed towards Amargosa for the night. The second half of day one allowed us average speeds of 60 MPH as we took a lot of fire roads, which was quite efficient for a relatively big group and gave us the opportunity to open the throttle and have some fun.
We finally landed at our pet friendly hotel, the Longstreet Inn Casino & Resort and RV Camp, for some much needed rest. Knowing how action packed day one was for us, we were excited to see what the rest of the trip had in store for us. We were in awe of the places we visited just hours away from our homes (if taking the highway of course).
Stay tuned for Day 2 in the "Raptors Have All the Fun" series. We will explore Big Dune, Rhyolite Ghost Town, lesser known California Yucca forests, elevation changes, Gold Point Ghost Town, the International Car Forest and even the country's #1 most haunted hotel!
Until next time,
ITEMS TO HELP PLAN YOUR OWN TRIP:
OnX Off-Road App
BAJA FORGED Ford Raptor Products
Words and Photos: Coelette Chenier
Sources: US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service