This trip took on a whole new meaning of camping for me. Usually I go camping to get away from the city (Bozeman, haha) yet here I am with my uncle, in a zoo of traffic, navigating our way out of LAX. Although I am no stranger to Los Angeles, I have yet to feel, in any way, acquainted. Maybe I will use the word "acclimated," as all city slickers retreat to when they can't keep up in Montana, but that seems to be the reason why this trip is so great.
This was my uncle Greg's and my second time doing this trip. Last year was great although diminished by the addition of mountain bikes to this years adventure. I chose to circumvent shipping my bike by going the cheaper route of renting. I got a great deal from InCycle Pasadena on a full suspension Cannondale Trigger for a week.
We dealt with rattlesnakes, scorpions, flat tires, thunderstorms, long distances and impossible roads amidst elevations of -190ft to 7,500ft. I never thought the desert could be so spectacular, offering views and depth similar, yet polar, to the Beartooth Pass or Going to the Sun road. There is something about the desert that I insist all to experience.
We explored Morning Star Mine in the Mojave National Preserve, White top Mountain in Death Valley NP and "Nice Camp" in Death Valley NP.
By spending daytime driving, we were able to circumvent the uncomfortable heat the desert floor reigns. Yes, the main highways offer a national park feel passing through valleys with pretty views and the occasional "scenic overlook," yet the real desert experience begins when you engage the 4x4 and begin the off road adventure. The jagged rock punctured two of our tires forcing us to utilize our spare and our tire repair kit: be prepared. When navigating the desert roads make sure to have a map and count your miles to next turns and junctions as it is easy to get lost. Managing your fuel is extremely important. Many areas have no service meaning a 30+ mile hike out to civilization. They say getting there is just as much fun as the destination itself and the 4x4 off-roading to and from White Top Mountain and Hunter Mountain is a thrilling undertaking. We enjoyed Trader Joe's sour gummies to past the time.
Once arriving at our destination, Greg and I set up camp in a very unique way. I have never seen a camp set up like Greg's. Because this is our second time camping together, I understand the formula and can feed off of his style. A camp site should be set up with "rooms," "kitchen," and "lounge." It can get windy in the desert so we bunkered our tents into surrounding bushes and trees in our preferred locations. Greg goes for shade as I prefer a view. Greg also always brings rugs for his tent's entrance and a large living room style rug for the "lounge." I now bring a rug every time I car camp. Camping with rugs makes me feel like I am in the desert with the original nomadic Persians living and camping in luxury. The kitchen was built into the natural environment as best it could with our tables balancing on rocks and our grill on a fallen down tree branch at perfect countertop level. Greg then set up his solar powered christmas light over the back end of our vehicle to illuminate the margarita bar while I built a fire and set up our lounge.
I have learned over the years that camping is only as great as the meals had. If I am eating poorly when out in the wilderness, there is a cramp in my style. I like to pack a lot of food and usually end up bringing too much. Greg takes this idea up a notch. For breakfast every morning we ate yogurt with granola and blueberries. For lunch we usually ate at small diners on the road or snacked on cheese and pastrami. For dinner, we ate shrimp pasta, lobster mac' n cheese and chicken curry with s'mores for dessert.
As stated before the mountain biking really stepped this trip up a notch. Every morning I would wake up to get on my bike and explore. We camped in areas where there were so many old mining roads and jeep trails that allowed for some intense downhill biking and beautiful cross-country exploring. Additionally, I had never ridden a full suspension mountain bike before; this bike was an incredibly fun ride. It made me feel as though I was dancing down the mountain. When riding new trails you have yet to see, it is always fun coming to the next corner and seeing a view, an obstacle, or something unexpected. The desert offered so many beautiful vistas and fun terrain with natural jumps and maneuvers around every corner. I rode from the top of White Top Mountain at 6,940ft the 11 miles down to Teakettle Junction highlighting the mountain bike portion of the trip. At Hunter Mountain, the roads were so steep I had to hike-a-bike up and keep on the brakes every now and then coming down. Luckily throughout the whole trip I didn't have any major crashes or tire troubles with all the cacti in the area. I did use a CO2 cartridge once to put more pressure in my back tire as it may have had a small, slow leak.
This is a trip I will forever remember. From the biking, off-roading, amazing scenery, and good company to the flat tires, thunderstorms and rattlesnakes, I had a blast in a completely different environment than I am accustom to. Next year I will be heading back but to a different desert location for new and fresh adventure.