Sunday, October 04, 2015

Mesquite Spring and Mojave Megaphone - The Long Way

I returned to the Cady Mountains Wilderness area to see if BLM Route 9470 continues on to Mesquite Spring.  Short answer: yes, sorta.

I reviewed all the maps I could find.  There was no consistent story for this road.

  • The Benchmark Maps road atlas shows the road continuing only so far as the private property parcels.  
  • DeLorme's Topographic atlas also shows the road ending at the private property.  
  • The CTUC maps (San Bernadino NF & Barstow map and Amboy & Mojave Preserve map) show the road continuing to the spring.  Although the Amboy & Mojave Preserve map labels the road as BL 8560.  
  • The BLM map: "Broadwell Lake Subregion - Off-Highway Vehicle Route Supplement" dated Aug 9, 2011, shows the road continuing to Crucero Road, but at a spot south of Mesquite Spring.
  • BLM TMA (Travel Management Area) maps from 2014 indicate that the road ends, well past the private property and just as the wash exits the canyon and broadens.
  • Google and Bing satellite imagery shows vehicle tracks along the wash all the way to the spring.

So I didn't know what to expect.  I figured I'd end up stopped at a BLM "trail end" marker.  I've encountered those before and I always honor them.  I've got no reason to break the law.

Here's a screencap from google earth showing my route.  I don't know why the tracks are 3 different colors.  I suspect they indicate when I spent some time in a given spot.  The green started after I stopped when I lost sight of the tracks I was following.  The green ended when I got stuck.  The blue is Crucero Road.

For those who prefer an interactive map, here's a Google map centered on Mesquite Spring.

To save time, I didn't stop to take photos along the section I'd already driven last month.  I'll repost a few of those photos here for completeness.

This time I wanted to start the drive heading north from I-40 on Hector Road.  

There's a VORTAC station nearby.

I soon had to pick an alternate route because the railroad crossing had a locked gate.  Seems pointless since it's super easy to cross the tracks 5 miles down at the powerline crossing.

The early part of the trail is easy.

There had been some rain since the last time I was here.  These roads had clear tire tracks with tread marks visible a month ago.  The recent rain has smoothed out the ruts and made the surface more compact and firmer.

My car wasn't sinking in at all.

I could still see several sets of tracks in the wash.

This next photo was taken where the red track in my GE screencap above ends.  I was following the recent tracks of 2 motorcycles and 1 or more vehicles.

At this point I realized that I hadn't seen a BLM "Stay On Trail" marker for a while.  Earlier, I saw many of those signs.  The wash was still very firm and my car didn't sink in at all.  Just as I had seen in the satellite imagery, there are 2 main channels that people had driven in; one on the right side of the wash and one about 30 yards to the left of that.  The tracks I was following switched back and forth between these channels as needed to follow the widest path.

I had loaded the coordinates of Mesquite Spring (and some waypoints along the way) into my Garmin.  That was comforting, but wasn't really needed in the end.  

The closer I got to the spring, the more tracks I saw.  

I finally reached the spring.  I've been here before.  

The hill behind it has petroglyphs.  I didn't hike up there this time.  I just used my camera zoom feature.  What a lazy tourist, I am.

Likewise, I didn't hike up to the Mojave Megaphone.  I did that back in 2007.  You can see it on top of the ridge in the background if you look up from my front bumper.

Crucero Road heading south is pretty tame.  I've driven it several times.  It passes Broadwell Dry Lake before hitting I-40 at the tiny town of Ludlow.

Heading south I crossed the powerline road that services several high-power lines that cross the Mojave Desert.  I've driven the section from there to I-40 several times.  That's a very pleasant drive.  

I've driven the section from there to Kelbaker Road just once.  That is an adventure.  I recommend that for any avid 4wd off-roader.

Broadwell Dry Lake looking northward from the southern end.

I'm still not certain if BLM Route 9470 continues along the path I drove.  I never saw any signs indicating an end to that trail (something the BLM is good at doing), and it was very well signed on the western end.  I continued to follow several tracks that weren't very old.  If 9470 does officially end, then I'm sorry for driving off-trail and I hope they'll install some signage.  To be fair, maybe they did and it succumbed to weather or vandals.

If this is an allowable route, then I recommend this ONLY for experienced drivers in capable cars (4wd AND high clearance).  Ideally, you should only drive this with 2 or more vehicles, so you can pull each other out of any deep sand.  I lucked out due to the recent rains, so the ground was very firm.


Tater Crosley said...

Hey Michael, I'm enjoying your trip write-ups. I'm particularly interested in this one. I want to drive up Crucero Road from Ludlow and take a left a mile after Mesquite Springs; just about the area that you got stuck in (green line on the map photo)!

Do you have any tips on getting out of sand or not getting stuck in the first place?

I've got a decent 4x4 Cherokee but I'll be coming down from Portland, OR, and don't have any experience driving in sandy conditions.

I'll try to avoid it when I can but I imagine there will be a few times when it will be hard to avoid.

There's supposed to be a good old rockhounding area up there right around the green line on your map.

Michael said...


Thanks for the kind words. You're smart to assume you will get stuck and just be prepared. Then, when it happens, it's less annoying because you know what to do.

To avoid getting stuck, I check the sand each time I stop to take photos. I'll walk on the sand in the road and see how compacted it is. I can then easily spot what color shades and surface features (small wind-swept dunes, etc) are safest to drive on, or should be avoided.

If I am following tracks from other vehicles, then I often check to see if the sand under those tracks is harder or softer than the sand outside the track. Sometimes the sand outside the tracks is actually much firmer.

To get unstuck, I recommend having a shovel (not a tiny folding one either) and a set of traction mats. I use MAXTRAX brand. They work terrific. It's super easy to dig out a little sand and then jam the mats between the tires and the sand. Then drive right out. If you have any modern traction "modes" in your vehicle, such as "sand mode" then use that. If not, then use low range. If no low range, then use 2nd gear to reduce tire spin in the loose sand. If you do get stuck, be careful around the creosote brush. You might frighten a rattlesnake and they can really ruin your day.

I also recommend having a snatch strap or kinetic rope, or (worst case) a tow strap, along with the needed gear (shackles) to attach the strap to your car and any other vehicle that might be able to pull you out.

If the thought of driving in deep sand causes anxiety, then I recommend finding a spot of deep sand and intentionally driving back and forth across it. Turning around in it. Get the feel of it. Get out and see how deep your car sinks. Use different gears and both high and low range to see what works best. And if you get stuck, practice getting out. Yes, I actually did this to get better at driving in the sand. But I'm a kook. Although now I have a much better feel for the conditions and I'm much more relaxed at it.

I'm sure you'll enjoy the trip. That's a nice remote area that's surprisingly easy to reach.


Tater Crosley said...

Thank you for the info. I had never heard of traction mats. Just ordered some. I was thinking I might have to use blankets or car mats. These look much better.