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The Mojave Road
The MOJAVE ROAD stretches westward from the Colorado River, a rugged trail having once linked the cultures of that river with the Pacific Ocean. The 130 mile segment immediately on the sunset side of the river is what I decided to walk. The purpose was to learn a little about the desert in the hot season, hobnob with the tortoises which populate the area, exercise, and look for land to settle.
Stone cairns mark the way, and I used a guidebook published for 4-wheelers. It was apparent from the guide that no one in modern times has walked the trail; it is difficult even for 4-wheelers who are advised to caravan. But I was equipped with a compass and instincts. Plus, I had cached the way with buried water and food at 30 mile intervals.
I did find the protected desert tortoises in great number by tracks, and two in person. The first I picked up, against the advice of the guidebook, for it "lost its water" which is a few cc's of fluid stored next to the shell. I tried to water it from a bottle cap but all it wanted was to be stroked on the top of the head. The next tortoise was about 16 inches long, a big one, and similarly content to be pet.
The Mojave desert is home of the feared green Mojave rattler which, unlike its brown brother, has venom which is both hemo- and neuro-toxic. The only person I met on the entire way was a California ranger who nearly drew his gun on me because individuals are not seen wandering in the parts. He gave me his card out of what he said was worry but for which I think was to cover himself, and then spoke of a Mojave green chasing him down a sand wash until, indeed, he pulled his gun and shot it. Midway into my trip one of these green ropes sprang into a rattle and coil 15 feet from me. However, as I ambled off it did the same.
The land is replete with old corrals and ruins. At a spot called Marl Springs I looked upon such a former ranch. In front of a weathered adobe house minus roof, I squatted to snap a photo. There was a faint clicking and it was not the camera. I had inadvertently framed a rattlesnake into the picture. Now it lay atop the doorway seven feet from my head. However, this one was brown and sensible, and after a little communication it trailed off. The route was geologically scenic, pleasant and easy if heat is not considered. With two gallons of water a day, I was sore put in afternoons to place one foot in front of the other when temperatures got as low as a hundred Fahrenheit.
One such sandy afternoon, with a light breeze coming outa the west, I noticed a stretched structure a half-mile off to the right. Walking to investigate, there was a sign "Black Cat Bar" and another on an adjoining building "Riley's Hotel". Yet as I walked into the area all was still. I thought I had entered a set for an old West movie, which in truth I may have. Walking into the barroom a breeze entered with me. A card from an old deck blew from a card table and I gazed around with an eerie feeling. It was as though I had stepped through a century in time, for the room was stocked with all the essentials from that era. Same with the hotel. Nearby an outhouse with a sign "Judges Chambers" which made a good picture. I walked from the tiny ghost town not knowing quite where I had been.
After a week of about 20 miles per day the trip was coming to a close - prematurely as far as I was concerned. I would have walked more but not without a guide...that book, the Guide to the Mojave Road, deserves a Pulitzer Prize for literature in terms of accuracy, education and entertainment.
One thing the book could not help me find was my dreamland. There was some for sale along the road, but I had too much respect for the Mojave’s rattler to buy him with a property. I would later find a nice patch a few miles south and purchase.
The trip ended when a Union Pacific freight train sided next to where I was walking. I hopped aboard a container car and was carried back in 6 hours to the point of beginning the Mojave road.