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  • Writer's pictureKelsey

Death Valley: "Dadcamp 2018"

It’s high time to show my pops what I’ve been wasting my free time and money on for the last 20 something years.

So, my dad is 73 and for the first time he expressed interest in joining my brother and I for one of our trips so we thought we’d do a bit of a highlight real of “south” Death Valley.

We’re driving from Phoenix, AZ and my brother was headed in from Orange County, CA. Dad and I hit dirt just about 100 miles from the cabin. As the sun set and we were flying along it seemed like some great rabbit migration was happening. Over each hill the offroad lights would shine on another 5 or 10 rabbits in the middle of the road. After they faked left and faked right they usually found a way to get off into to the desert... All except for one. He decided to fake right and try and get one more fake in and jumped into the passenger door of the truck. A loud thud right where my dad was sitting signaled his mistake. He got up and disappeared, but that had to give him a sore neck given the imprint on my door.

We spotted a flashing light high up on a hill and I knew it was my brother, Chris. We’ve used this technique over the years to signal friends showing up late. Pre-radios this was a favorite. Grab a beer, climb up a nearby hill and flash a flashlight at oncoming trucks a few miles away to give them a point of reference while they make their way through the darkness. We didn’t need it this time, but it’s always fun to see the excitement in someone as you tell them it’s our camp signaling us. I’m glad my dad can sense these simple and somewhat silly pleasures too.

Chris had some extra bratwurst cooked up for us so we scarfed them down along with a few beers to celebrate a long afternoon of driving.

Good morning!

The Chrismobile. I call him Bob. A 1973 Ford F100 4x4 with 390FE and a Pullman Camper.

The kitchen view at this cabin is top notch.

This particular cabin is anything, but remote. You are within a few miles of a major interstate and at the bottom of the hill we passed many campers in vans or rental cars unaware of what was just up the hill.

The Joshua Tree’s around here are so happy and plentiful. Even more so than Joshua Tree National Park.

We made our way into DVNP and stopped at an old favorite for a dip in the warm spring that pours out of a nearby rock.

So much lushness in the middle of a desert.

After having some lunch we headed up to a gold mine we’d never taken the time to explore. It was interesting enough that we’ve decided that next time we’ll need a full day to park and hike to see all of the different structures present.

Some old safety fuses. Thankfully it was empty.

We just kept calling these by their latin name. “Brainbushes”

“stab, stich, repeat.” Dennis Garman Leather. ;-)

Off we went to Striped Butte Valley. The Geologist Cabin is looking good. There is even a stereo with Solar panels and a battery. It may have been there in the past, but I’d never noticed it. Still, good to see it in such nice repair. This cabin is small, but the view is one of the best at sunset.

Have you ever seen such a nice $hitter view?



I never like sleeping IN the cabins. I just don’t want Hantavirus to be something I have to learn more about.

On we went to another popular cabin nearby. This one was the opposite of the Geologist. Much worse condition. The garden has died because either the water lines weren’t working or someone left and shut the water feed off to them. The tree is dead and I’ve never seen so many mice in one area. By morning we had 1 nest being made under the hood on top of my battery and another was chewing the paper towel roll to make a nest somewhere else. (the truck currently has traps all over it just in case any made the trip home)

This is one reason that I like visiting cabins, but camping elsewhere... Still, when in Death Valley in a group you just sorta go with the flow.

It was pretty special to show him a spot that my brother and I have sat and enjoyed many a sunset.

We headed up and over Mengel Pass. Now, Mengel isn’t any rock crawling trail, but it’s not a gimmie either. I’ve seen many a truck high centered, stuck or with a flat tire along this section. It changes every time we visit. One obstacle that was tough last time had some rocks stacked and was a piece of cake. Another, was tougher and more tippy than I’d ever seen it. I came within an inch of rubbing which is much too close for comfort.

We headed for Barker Ranch, site of where Charles Manson was captured. If you want to see some pics of the ranch before it burnt check out an earlier trip on my Soaztim blog.

Here is a gallery of the old ranch, the Manson family’s dump where they’d chop up stolen cars, Charlie’s old truck (As the old timers tell it the Power Wagon at Ballarat is not really related to the Manson Family or Tex, but one placed by old blue eyes to increase tourist traffic)

As we headed down Goler Wash we came to a mine that the last time I’d visited had just been reactivated. I often wonder if the person reactivating it is getting scammed or genuinely found some new information or process to make this mine work again. On the last visit there were no trespassing signs, the road had been graded and large obstacle called the “waterfall” had been flattened. We even saw a bright yellow Hummer H2 with large chrome wheels and a driver dressed like he was going to a club in Scottsdale, AZ. I guessed this was either the new owner of the mine or in this case, maybe the “mark” of the scam.

Sure enough, after a lot of work to get it cleaned up and going, the mine was now shut down again. No more fencing, no more signs. It was completely abandoned, but not as if the fences had been torn down. It was all very neatly removed. Interesting. Sensing that the VERY tall road that had always been far too sketchy to drive may be in good condition I decided to climb it. Chris went ahead and we had no trouble keeping in contact since I was so far above the canyon on my Ham radio.

Near the top 3 switchbacks my dad elected, wisely, to get out and wait for me to come back. The top few were steeper than the rest and had a sketchy tilt towards the cliff edge. I’m thankful that Goose’s brakes and gearing where there to help. (Can you imagine if the transmission broke here... foreshadowing)

At the recently active mine entrance where my dad waited.

3 or 4 more switchbacks to go up and to the right... These last ones look loose.

Nothing will show the pucker factor of the incline near the top of the pass. It wasn’t a “tough trail” by any stretch. It was just so steep and tilting to the drop side that I couldn’t get a view of anything ahead. Was it a cliff? There weren’t even tire tracks on the road to make me feel better about this going somewhere I could turn around.

Still, it worked out. At the top I was greeted to a great view and a bucket still hanging from a tramline.

My turn around pad.

Time to head back down.

I waited until I was safely down the top 2 switch backs before daring to chock the wheels and trust the parking break for a photo.

Back to the flats of Panamint Valley. Time to look for some water!

There is so much water in Death Valley if you know where to look. Up a side canyon the temps dropped from the 100f down in the valley. Eventually you come to an area of intense green and a hose that is piped right up to a catch tank fed by an ice cold stream. Perfect shower spot!

After cooling down we decided to head back into the valley of heat one more time before heading up to see if we could snag a cabin in higher elevations.

As we drove through the canyon an F-16 did a nice banking turn low enough overhead that both Chris and I thought we’d had some sort of major mechanical issue for just a moment. (Not just yet Goose...) He was most surely headed to Star Wars Canyon. Check out some of the shots of planes running the canyon here.

This cabin has a cinder block with Vacant and Occupied at the base of the canyon. It’s a tell that there is something up the canyon, but a nice one since it saves you a long drive if it’s taken.

This cabin is a tidy little one. Being on BLM land instead of the national park meant it was under a different department and it showed. Clean, no mice and in good repair. I was happy to spend some time on this porch after doing some hikes around the area.

Hiking around before dinner.

The next morning my Dad and I had a long drive to get home so we got up and got moving. Some wild burro’s lead us out of the canyon.

We stopped for the best breakfast burrito in California at the Trona, CA Chevron station... I’m sure it’s not, but they are actually handmade by a local lady and they are fantastic. It’s a great last stop.

The Hüber boys said their good byes and we headed for home. A couple hours later we were still making great time leaving Needles, CA after filling up with gas. As I was passing a semi going up a slight grade (It doesn’t happen often, but just occasionally the 80 is faster than a semi) all power was lost. Foot to the floor just produced revs, but no power to the wheels. I looked in the rear view and the semi was coming FAST. In his eyes I thought how it must look like I’d passed him and just slammed on the brakes. Not wanting to find out if he was in the mood to PUNT us off the road I went onto the banked shoulder and did a nice fishtail and corrected before coming to a stop. 1st, 2nd, high range, low range, center diff engaged or open we had no movement from the trans. Nothing. Just a whirring noise.

Hoping that it was just that the transmission looked a “little” low on fluid and a solenoid wasn’t firing we called AAA and made a small sign asking for ATF that I held up. Hour after hour we called more and more tow trucks, but they were all busy. One driver stopped and offered to tow us with a strap to Lake Havasu City, but since we knew there was a tow truck in route we decided to wait it out. Eventually it showed up and put ol Goose on the back.

Sad day.

This tow truck could only take us to the Arizona state line in Parker, AZ. So, we waited there for a new truck. In the meantime Kelsey was able to drive to Parker to pick my dad and I up. Ol Goose followed along a couple hours later. I couldn’t sleep until I knew he was home safe. We managed to get him unloaded in the back yard for further assessment.

Despite that, it was a great 3 day weekend. The Hüber boys finally did a guys trip and we even had a good time to boot. I think my dad “gets it.” We’d talked about doing some sort of guys trip for a long time and life always seems to get in the way. I’m thankful we finally made it happen. It was my dad that actually said “Let’s go and do a trip!” So, if no one else has been the one to speak up and make it happen, might I suggest that you be the one to say “Let’s GO!”


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