08-Dec-2013 -- I had been looking forward to this confluence point for over 7 years for three good reasons: First, this was my last remaining point to be visited in all of southern California. I had been to all of the points east and west of this one, and south of it too, along 33 North and 34 North, and just about all along 35 North as well. Second, I was thrilled that Laura and Jim embraced the idea of tackling it. I should not have been too surprised, though, as they are field people; they are naturalists; they love the desert even more than I do; they are definitely much more knowledgeable about the Mojave Desert than I am. So, for several months now we had been planning this, and the day was finally here. The third reason I was interested in visiting this confluence is that it is always wonderful to get out into the Mojave Desert, especially this time of year when the temperature is cooler and the shadows are longer.
Our contribution to the fine set of visitors that this confluence point has seen is chiefly that we approached the confluence in a unique way, both in a vehicle and again while hiking. The former was on purpose; the latter was by accident. We left Redlands, California, in the dark at 5:00am, driving northeast on I-15 once we reached San Bernardino. We were bit concerned about the wet and cold weather we had been having across southern California, knowing we would have to cross the Mojave River without a bridge. Our fears began to dissipate at sunrise around Barstow: The day had dawned bright with only high clouds. I was slightly nervous, though, as Laura and Jim are good friends and I didn't want anything strange to get in the way of our friendship. By "strange" I mean getting stuck or hurt. Confluence treks are a bit unusual and anything could happen. But they are adventurers and I tried to put any misgivings behind me.
At Exit 230 on Interstate Highway 15, we left the highway, driving south on Basin Road, and immediately all of us were hushed by the sheer beauty of the Mojave Desert at dawn. It was a world apart from the interstate highway even with the highway still glowing behind us. Five minutes later, we stopped, walked around a bit, and took photographs in the dawn light. We then drove farther southwest, taking the left fork (the right fork goes to the mine), and reached the railroad line. Here, we spent awhile finding the road on the south side of the tracks, a challenge owing to the railroad siding that snaked into the hills. After awhile, we successfully circumnavigated the siding and were rolling along the south side frontage road. It was a bit sandy in places, and muddy at the lowest point in the plays, making us nervous, but we took precautions. We were heading into the sun and the surroundings were perfectly beautiful, eyeing our destination to the southeast, clearly visible in the desert air. We then reached the place where tamarisk had been planted years ago along both sides of the tracks, to mitigate sand dunes forming on the tracks themselves. A train passed; we paused and took photographs. Continuing east, we passed the 116th Meridian, rounded the bend, and crossed under the powerline that we had read about and saw on the maps and satellite images. We found the correct road and made our way up in elevation into the low hills, now driving southwest, following the powerline. At 8:45am, we stopped and gathered supplies, and began hiking at 9:00am. This was 4 hours after we had begun driving.
We set out toward the east-southeast, up a wide wash. After 25 minutes, we were still in the wash, but it had narrowed considerably into a magnificent canyon, not quite a slot canyon, but at times only wide enough for two people. Despite trekking into the unknown, it was good to be with Laura and Jim. Indeed, the Bowdens were the best people to be with just in case any crisis occurred. They knew just about every plant and animal species in Southern California, as they had been trained in anthropology, geology, history, paleontology, natural resources, geography, biology, and much more. Upon Jim's recommendation on the way up, I ate a small leaf of a potato chip plant, which was indeed a bit salty and quite nice. Maybe these could sustain us until spring if we became lost. What's more, I had noted that they had emergency supplies of all kinds back in the vehicle. In the desert, it is best to be prepared, and we were truly miles from anyone or any sort of electricity or running water.
We passed a rock wall with huge holes in it, the origin of which puzzled me. This section of the terrain would have made a good science fiction movie set, as the landscape did not bear resemblance to any other place on Earth I have ever seen. A short time later, we were scrambling up and down very steep and loose terrain and it became very slow going. It was here, more than an hour into our hike, when it finally dawned on me that all along we had been in the wrong wash; this one was too far to the northeast. Fortunately, we did not have to backtrack: We climbed a saddle, and straight ahead to the south, I saw ahead of me the wide wash which was the one we should have been hiking on all along. I descended a very steep ravine, half sliding, amongst some magnificent barrel cacti. Once at the bottom, I rejoined Laura and Jim who had wisely chosen a shallower slope to descend. Now together we hiked east-southeast up and along the wide wash that was at the bottom of the valley.
After 25 minutes more hiking, once again I made a wrong turn and we hiked north of a large hill--we should have walked, in retrospect, south of it, along a different wash. At the east side of the hill, I turned and walked south, nearly on the 116th Meridian by now, with less than 1,000 meters to go. It was here when I finally realized that we would probably make it. I am never really sure of these treks until I am nearly there; anything could happen. I could see the high ridgeline ahead of me, cut by steep ravines, and was hoping we would be at the confluence before reaching the ridge. Yet I knew from the prior photographs that the confluence had to be on ground that was at least able to be stood upon, which gave me hope. I hiked back to the north and rejoined Jim and Laura, and we all then hiked south. During the last few hundred meters, we were hiking due south along the 116th Meridian, and since we were not following any sort of natural terrain, that meant we were ascending and descending steep gullies once again with very loose sides. Care needed to be taken at each step. I reached the confluence first and shouted to Jim and Laura, who had wisely chosen to descend into the last gully and follow it downstream and then upstream to the point just west of the confluence, where they then ascended and we reunited at Our Goal.
As prior visitors have noted, this confluence affords a very long view to the northwest. The view to the northeast was also quite magnificent, though. We spent about a half hour at the site. It was about 50 F and we only felt a bit cool when we had stopped for awhile. I had been conserving water but now had a decent sized drink. I felt content that I now had all of the southern California land-based confluence points. As the shadows lengthened we sighed heavily but realized we needed to depart. We descended the wash that Laura and Jim had just ascended, and then kept descending down additional scenic washes laden with crystals and fascinating plants. On our way down the first wash, we spotted the footprints of the visitors from about 10 days ago. We reached the wide wash, which was the correct one we should have ascended, and had an enjoyable hike amongst the trumpet plants and other vegetation. The sun was descending in front of us and it had warmed up considerably. I filmed a few videos here and placed them on my YouTube geography channel, findable by searching on "Mojave Desert." We reached the vehicle at 3:00 pm for a round trip hike of 6 hours, and later, Laura and I uploaded our tracks into ArcGIS Online; I think the round trip hike distance came in at just about 6.5 miles. We then stopped a short distance away to do a bit of metal detecting, and things got a bit nerdy too: I wrote "Geography" and "GIS Rules" in the desert sands and filmed a few videos while lying down on the ground next to the letters.
We stuck close to the railroad tracks on the way back, which was drier and made us less nervous about crossing the playa. The dark descended just as we crossed the railroad at the siding and headed up toward I-15. We made it back to the hotel by about 9:00pm. My knees hurt for about a week afterwards. However, this was one of the best days of hiking of my entire life. Get out there and explore the world!