Friday, December 26, 2008

Driving Snowy Santa Clara Divide Road

Today I decided to see how much snow there was up in the San Gabriel Mountains by driving the Santa Clara Divide Road (3N17) which stretches 31 miles along the ridge lines from Sand Canyon road to Angeles Forest Highway. I only made it about 2/3 the way.

I turned around when the snow was so deep that the tracks ended. Previous drivers had stopped and turned around, leaving clean snow ahead probably the entire way past Mt. Gleason to the pavement. I turned around there also. It was already dangerous enough. The road was seriously rutted - very deeply in places. But those ruts were generally easy to handle because of the freezing temps.

It was in the 20's and the snow and ruts were frozen solid. The greatest hazard was when the ruts would take you dangerously close to large boulders. Wherever I could, I stayed out of the ruts and drove atop the frozen snow. As the road climbed higher in elevation (passing 6000 ft) the snow was deeper and the ruts so deep that I was scraping my belly skid plates across the frozen ridges between the ruts. Here's a Google Map centered on the place where I turned back.

Even though I just got my new tires mounted, I was risking getting very stuck all alone up there in the freezing cold. Better safe and warm than stuck and freezing.

As I returned, the sun had melted some of the ice and snow at lower elevations, so it was just muddy enough to make the rover look respectable.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Colorado River Aqueduct

In recent weeks, I've taken trips to drive 4wd trails (Bradshaw Trail and Red Canyon Trail) in the Colorado Desert. Both have taken me past a curious site visible from the I-10 freeway. The Hinds Pumping Station sits north of the highway off the Hayfield exit. It originally was named the Hayfield pumping station, but was renamed in 1967 to Hinds after Julian Hinds (noted civil engineer who's escaped the notoriety of a Wikipedia entry). This is the last pumping station along the Colorado River Aqueduct before the water descends into Lake Matthews on the east end of the Los Angeles metroplex for use by many municipalities.

The Colorado River Aqueduct is an amazing thing. I am awestruck whenever I see sections of its open concrete lined canals. In these days of water scarcity, I can't help wonder how much water is lost to evaporation from those open canals.

This aqueduct stretches 242 miles from Lake Havasu to Lake Matthews, with 92 miles of tunnels, 63 miles of concrete canals, 55 miles of concrete conduits, and 144 siphons totaling 29 miles. This engineering marvel was named one of the 7 wonders of the American engineering world by the ASCE in 1992. Built between 1933 and 1941, it was conceived by William Mulholland and designed by Chief Engineer Frank Weymouth of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD). It was the largest public works project in southern California during the Great Depression.

I found this really neat map of the aqueduct at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum web site.

Hinds is the last of 5 pumping stations and raises the water 440 feet. Ron has posted some great photos of the station on his blog here.

During original construction of the Hinds station, the MWD got the clever idea to build a large reservoir at Hayfield to temoprarily store water during its journey west. Once built, in 1939, they filled it up and then watched as it slowly disappeared into the ground. Seems the bottom of the reservoir was too porous.

In 1999 the MWD reconsidered the plan and decided to store water in the local aquifer utilizing 50 wells with a capacity of 800,000 acre-feet of water. (1 acre-foot is approximately 326,000 gallons) Read more here.

If that wasn't enough of a problem, the OC Register wrote in October 2008 that the groundware there is contaminated with uranium and other toxic chemicals. Tests in 2000 show uranium contamination at an average of 16 picocuries per liter (highs of 35). EPA limits for drinking water is 20. That story includes this graphic comparing the levels at different locations.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Red Canyon Trail

This past Saturday I drove the Red Canyon 4x4 Trail in the Orocopia Mountain Wilderness area east of the Salton Sea. It was a fun ride. I've marked it on the map in red. The blue section is the western end of the Bradshaw Trail, which I drove to return to civilization. I then drove through the windy Box Canyon road (shown in green) back up to I-10.

Wikipedia says the Orocopia Mountains were used (among other sites) for astronaut geology field training for the NASA Apollo moon missions. I was going simply because it appears in both Massey's trail book and Huegel's book. Massey rates it a 4, and Heugel says it's "easy." I can see where some short sections might be a 4, but most of it is easy. I liked the variety of terrain.

It starts out as a typical dirt trail, then adds countless rolling bumps that certainly would be unpleasant for anybody in the back seat. Then the hills get larger before you drop into a few sandy washes.

Eventually, the route gets to a serpentine ridgeline that offers great views. The ridgeline route twists and turns all over with a lot of blind turns atop hillcrests. Fun! I was glad to have the road to myself. It's only wide enough for 1 car, but the brush is so light it'd be easy to scoot off the trail and let anybody pass.

The trail is less than 14 miles long, and the books say it takes 2 hours, which means an average speed of 7 mph. I would agree with this. You can't drive very fast on those undulating hills, since you can't see which way the road turns (if it does) after each hilltop. That means you must drive up the hills kinda slow so you can make the (most common) sharp right turn and drop down the hill. If you miss that turn, it'd be quite disasterous.

I spent a lot of time testing 2 of my cameras. I was testing a new mounting rig for holding my Kodak camera on the passenger headrest and viewing out the windshield. That didn't work very well. There's still way too much vibration. I also tested my newest camera, the GoPro Hero Motorsports camera, that's designed to be used on cars. That one performed very nicely. I tried using the suction cup mount on several surfaces (all facing forward): inside of passenger window, front fender side panel, and hood. Here's a shot of the frame from the inside of the passenger window.

Here's the shot from the fender.

I forgot to try it on the top of the sunroof. Of the places I did test, the hood mount gave the best view, however I can improve the image framing by moving it more forward. I might also test it mounted to the front grill, or headlamp, or whatever I can find up there.

I kinda regret getting the wide angle model. That results in some mildly annoying distortions in the view. For example, the curving of the image masks how steeply the terrain drops away from the trail on that ridgeline.

The Hero camera also has a time lapse function, allowing you to record 5 megapixel JPEG images every 2 or 5 seconds. I tested that using the 5 second interval setting. That didn't work out too well for this trail, mostly because the terrain was constantly changing. A 1 second interval would have worked better. But the 2 or 5 second settings might do well on paved roads. I'll have to test that another day.

As I approached the Bradshaw Trail, I finally encountered other people: a couple guys on motocross bikes coming up in the opposite direction. Here's a photo of my rover on the trail where it passes under the disused Eagle Mountain Railroad trestle.

Driving the Coachella Canal Road was different. You drive right on the edge of the concrete lined canal. The canal road didn't take me all the way to Box Canyon Road. I had to improvise and use my GPS nav system to cover the last few miles which took me past many vineyards and orange groves, as well as strawberry fields.

Finally I returned to the highway by taking the scenic Box Canyon Road.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hiking Cave Mountain

Last weekend I finally made it to the top of Cave Mountain. This short peak sits beside I-15 highway about 20 miles south of Baker, CA. It has a summit elevation of about 3600 feet. There are no trails to the summit, but it has been hiked by many people. I found several web sites describing hikers' routes and it appears in Andy Zdon's book "Desert Summits." Here's a Google Map centered on the summit. The Wikipedia page for I-15 shows the photo below of Cave Mountain as it appears to drivers headed south from Baker.

I've hiked on the mountain many times, but have never before summited. This is mostly because I like hiking in the summer and the heat is terrifically draining. I've turned back several times because of muscle cramps, water consumption, and high winds. When hiking alone I stick to some strict safety rules and never "push on" because I'm "almost there", or other forms of summit fever.

This hike was different for 2 reasons. First, the weather was good. The high temp was about 65F. There was almost no wind, with only a slight breeze. The weather was absolutely perfect for hiking. Second, Luke joined me on this hike. That would prevent me from wimping out for any totally lame reasons. He's used to hiking bigger hills, like Mt. Baldy, so this is probably no big deal for him.

I parked on the powerline road below the northwest side of the hill. The route we hiked is the shortest and therefore the steepest. Our elevation gain was still only about 1820 feet over about 1.6 miles. Basically it's a steady climb up a ridge line of boulders. Here's a view up toward the top.

Near the top, the boulders are huge. The cube-shaped one in this photo is about 10 feet (or more) on each side.

As we got closer to the summit, we could see another hiker headed down. He appeared to be taking a route that I've taken before. In hindsight, that route is probably a much better one, since it's longer and much less steep. I looked down to where he'd have to start from (where I had started from when I took that route) and could see a car parked in the sandy wash. A few minutes later we saw 3 more hikers! Wow! During all my previous hikes, I've never seen any other hikers on that mountain. Here's a photo of the other hikers' cars. The sand in that wash gets too deep to drive any closer to the mountain from that direction.

We made it to the summit. The post sticking out of a tall pile of rocks turns out to be a false summit and the real one is a little further along on the large and surprisingly flat summit area (considering the peak looks like a pyramid from the bottom). One large outcropping of granite seemed bigger than the others and it bore the USGS marker and summit log. In the photo, you can see the post and rock pile on the left and the true summit boulders to the right.

Here's a shot looking down toward Baker. This would be the reverse of the top photo. You can see Soda Dry Lake in the upper right. Baker isn't visible. It's to the left after that dog-leg in the highway. East Cronese Dry Lake is on the left of the image.

The next shot is the view to the west. The I-15 highway is down below. Barstow is about 40 miles to the left.

On the way down, I slipped. It was a more treacherously steep section with loose rocks. In that area, Luke and I were questioning the path, wondering "Is this the route we took coming up?". Anyway, the rocks gave way and I fell. Trekking poles went flying and I dug my heels in to stop the slide. I was lucky. Only my palm and elbow were bleeding (superficial). The only lasting injury was a huge contusion I got on my thigh. I must have slammed it against a big rock when I fell. After over a week now, it's still a softball-sized blob of purple and black with yellow edges. meh

The entire hike took 6 hours. The weather was perfect. It was a great way to spend a day in the desert. Here's a topo map showing our route in blue and the route taken by the 4 other hikers in green.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Driving the Bradshaw Trail

On Black Friday I drove the scenic and historic Bradshaw Trail, which runs from the Salton Sea to Arizona. The trail traverses part of the Colorado Desert and crosses the Chuckwalla Bench ACEC.

Because of its historic value, the BLM maintains the road and its graded surface was easy to drive. There were a few stretches of sandy wash, but they were nothing compared to what I'm used to in the Mojave desert. It had rained the day before my adventure, so I was pleased to get to drive through several muddy puddles of water. It was a beautiful sunny day with temps around 70. This was much better than fighting crowds at any store.

There were several kiosks along the road, each one drawing the viewers attention to the sites to visit in that area.

The trail was an overland stage route heavily used between 1862 and 1877. Here's the BLM page. Much of the trail skirts the northern border of the Chocoate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range. I took a photo of one of the many warning signs.

Apparently, smugglers have been leading illegal immigrants from Mexico across this dangerous military operations area (read more here). I came across this collection of old ordinance. I think they're dummy bombs.

Much of the road looks like this photo. Even though I stopped several times, got out and looked around, I never saw a single chuckwalla.

Along the way I came upon an odd cross on the desert floor about 50 feet from the road. The stick had this text: "Aerial FIXover C.P. Do Not Disturb" Please tell me what this is, if you know. I checked Google Earth and didn't see this in their satellite imagery. But I did see another one off a side road. hmmmm

I didn't drive the entire route. I took the Red Cloud Mine Road exit off I-10 and drove south on Summit Road to join the trail heading east. Then I returned to the highway via Wiley's Well Road, which took me past the Chuckwalla State Prison. Two inmates recently escaped from there and they've already been recaptured (see story here). Here's a photo of the prison. It's almost surrounded by those towering palm trees.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New Book: Tribes

I've just finished Seth Godin's latest book, Tribes - We Need You to Lead Us. It currently has 4.5 (of 5) stars from 37 Amazon reviewers. The Publisher's weekly editorial review on Amazon offers a concise description of the book. While the title relates to the books discussion of grass-roots, long-tail, informal groups Seth calls tribes, it actually contains quite a bit about leadership; why it's important, how to nurture it, how to exercise it, etc.

I recommend the book, even though some of it serves as merely a reminder of things we all know. Since I spend a lot of time driving, I downloaded the free audiobook version (see links below). It's also a short book. I like Seth's use of real-life examples/stories.

The audiobook is available for free download on NOTE: requires you to register - so I chose another path.

I found this link on that was offering the same audiobook in downloadable MP3 format. I chose to use the MP3 link that appears after the AAC link. BTW: Seth Godin is also the founder of the site, so I figure it's just as legit to download the files from this site.

Garr Reynolds posted a review of the book, along with some short videos of Seth on his blog here. Here's Seth Godin's personal website.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Mystery Grave in the Mojave Desert

I've read about this mysterious site in the middle of no where out in the Mojave desert. I've even drive right past it 4 times in the past couple years. Today I drove out to take a look, and there it was. A lone grave. The grave of Bonnie Keebler Harris who died in 1872. She was reportedly traveling a wagon trail and was buried here by her companions. The BLM station in Barstow has the original note that was found at the site years ago stuck in a bottle. It read "December 27, 1872, to whom it may concern: died this day of sickness; too far to travel so will put her here. Bonnie Keebler Harris, born December 1823 in New York, mother of five children. God rest her soul." The Mojave River Valley Museum has installed a permanent marker at the site.

Here's a Google map centered on the grave. It's only about 5 miles north of I-15 off the Afton Canyon exit (which is about 20 miles south of Baker). Current road conditions are challenging and the typical car will not make it through the deep sandy sections. In fact, my Land Rover was kind of swimming at times, where I'd estimate the sand was 8 to 10 inches deep. Last year the road was much easier and my MDX had no problems, but now I would strongly recommend 4WD and high clearance.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Experimenting With My Under-Rover Cam

Before heading to Opal Mountain, I drove over to Kramer Arch to test my under-rover cam. I've previously only tested it on flat paved roads in my neighborhood. It's a 600 line B/W low light camera that I mounted magnetically to the chassis. That makes it easy to setup and remove. The camera is then wired (around the truck and in the window) to a USB A/D converter and into a laptop for viewing and recording.

Here's a photo of the eroded old asphalt section of the road to Kramer Arch. It's not real hard and it won't damage my camera for this test. The goal is to drive up onto the upper asphalt ridges. Then you're fine.

Unfortunately, I forgot to use the right settings in my capture software and I learned later that it was capturing video at a craptacular 352x240 frame size. I do this so seldom, I really ought to make a checklist or something. I'm not posting the video here because it had a lot of tech issues. The video signal goes out sporadically. This didn't happen on a flat paved road. hmmm Much to think about and improve for next time.

Instead, I'm posting several screen caps of the video. The camera is pointed toward the front of the truck. Its FOV is 120 deg. The second shot shows the right front tire having just made it up atop the asphalt.

The third shot shows the right front tire off the ground while the right rear was driving up onto the asphalt ridge.

The fourth and fifth shots show the truck driving on the asphalt stradling the gully.

So I need to solve the problem with the video outtages. Also, I noticed that the camera wasn't being held very stiffly in azimuth - it easily moved/turned from right to left when I touched it. I may have to modify my mount.

Opal Mountain

A few days ago I drove to Opal Mountain, north of Barstow, CA. I've driven through Black Canyon a few times, but I've never driven the Opal Mountain Road. The Google Earth satellite imagery shows what appeared to be roads to the top of Opal Mountain, and I just had to see if I could drive up those. Here's a link to a Google Map centered on Opal Mountain so you can see those roads.

The short answer on whether I could drive the road is ... no. I would pay money to watch somebody drive a stock vehicle up that road. The first 20 percent is steep but driveable. Then comes the challenge of parking or turning around on such a steep hill. The higher you go, the steeper it gets ... and the rocks get a little bigger and a lot looser. Near the top, I had trouble walking up the road, so I hiked the last part off the road where the ground is firmer (rocks don't slide out from under your feet).

The photo looks down from the summit toward my car. It was very windy at the top, but calm and a nice 77F at the bottom. From here, I drove the rugged road out past Scouts Cove to the sandy wash and then returned through Black Canyon. The weather was great, and gas prices were as low as $2.33, so it was a good day.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Kramer Arch

I finally made it to Kramer Arch, east of Barstow, CA. I've tried to get there before but my previous car (Acura MDX) wasn't up to handling a short section of road that's seriously rutted. My new Land Rover drove right over it without any problems. Gene and Bobak were with me on this trip. We were on our way to Zion NP, and this made for a nice diversion along the way.

That's Gene in the photo, standing on top the arch. Here's a Google map centered on the arch location. I approached the arch by taking Mule Canyon Road and Phillips Drive, both of which are sandy washes. To make things interesting, I left by continuing on to the east, following a road / ATV trail until it met up with E. Phillips Drive. We got the truck to the best pitch angle so far: 27 degrees down. The roads always seem much steeper than my inclinometer shows. I've begun to wonder if the truck's automatic leveling suspension is possibly negating some of the steepness sensed by the passenger compartment (and my inclinometer).

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hiking Striped Butte

I returned to Butte Valley, a very peaceful and remote place in Death Valley NP. I drove through there last month, but I wanted to hike up Striped Butte. Here's a google map centered on Striped Butte. Here's a view from the summit of Striped Butte looking back toward the Geologist Cabin. It took a little over an hour to hike up along the western ridgeline. The view was great.

My friend Steve joined me for this adventure. We drove in via Goler Wash and Mengel Pass and we camped at the Geologist Cabin. It was great. The weather was nice too, with highs about 93F and lows around 60F.

We never saw any of the feral donkeys, but the ground is littered with donkey poo. At night we could hear them braying.

The star gazing was amazing. We could see the Milky Way, and were pleased to be able to spot 5 satellites in orbit passing overhead. I was surprised to see a little light pollution from Las Vegas.

Sunset yielded the best photos of the butte and at sunrise I got some nice pics of the rising thin crescent moon.

The next day we drove back out the way we came in. I was a little worried because I'd never driven that direction over Mengel Pass. It turned out to be ok. With some careful route planning and a little road-building, I drove up the rock garden with less trouble than I had coming down it the previous day.

Here's a link to a zipped kml file if you want to view this route in Google Earth.

For those interested in the road conditions ... The dry waterfalls on the west end of Goler Wash are a little worse than last month, but still present no difficulty. The photo above is me driving down the rock garden. This time I actually tapped a rock or two against the underside of the truck. The photo below is of the same rocks the next morning after I drove up them.

We tried to visit a plane crash site on the way back to Los Angeles. It's located off Pine Tree Canyon road, but we found the road to be blocked by LADWP about 3 miles from Hwy 14, apparently due to the construction of wind turbine farm infrastructure.