An early start out of western New Mexico meant I could cross Arizona, a corner of Nevada and make it to the northeastern edge of the Mojave National Reserve by one o’clock. The getting here was one of those legs of a trip that this that happen when distance needs to be covered — straight, unremarkable, 10 and 2 on the wheel and keep your mind on the objective. I am not, generally speaking a fan of central Arizona. So I pointed the big landcruiser west and focused on the task at hand.
Rewards come in all shapes and sizes, and mine today is in the form of a remarkable piece of our country, biologically diverse, starkly beautiful and utterly alone in a corner of California — The Mojave. My approach from the northeast was intentional; I planned to drop in via the Ivanpah Road and follow it south to the southern edge of the New York Mountain range, and from there take the New York Mountain Road to the entrance of Carothers Canyon. Basically all of the roads in the Mojave, other than four or so main ones are narrow two-tracks that alternate between soft sand and teeth-jarring rock corrugations. After a brief stop to air down the tires in the hopes of preserving my fillings, I found the ride to be extraordinary. Once again, I found that being in a place, really in it like you are when the track is as wide as the car and no one else is around and the scenery wraps itself around you, deepens your appreciation for all of its aspects. The wildness, the harshness, the beauty, the scope. Progress is slowed to a manageable, safe pace of around 10 mph, and frequently the terrain forces you stop, assess, plan a route and work your way through obstacles.
It is tempting the think of the Mojave from afar, as a desert. While there are portions that match that cliche, most of it is a varied environment both beautiful and surprising. Caruthers Canyon is broad u-shaped canyon at 5,400 feet of elevation the walls of which are the southwestern peaks and ridge lines of the New York Mountains. Camped hard against the absolute head of the canyon, with a 7,500 foot mountain on the southwest rim I am amidst pinyon pine, at least three different varieties of cacti, juniper, desert wildflowers and sage. A few yards from camp a seep spring moistens the head of a wet water creek that, by all evidence, runs rough and wild out the canyon when the rains are present. The camp is tracked by deer, coyote and lynx tracks and it is as remote and unviolated as you can possibly imagine. Certainly others have been here, both recently and over the years, but such is the Mojave that the only proof lies in the sandy two-track 4×4 road you must navigate to get here. It is a special place.
Tomorrow I will leave it and I wil reach the edge on the Pacific Coast at Montana de Oro. But first, I will leave this canyon and find the old Mojave Road, following the same track it has since it originated, and follow it west to the western edge of the Mojave and into Baker California. I am anxious to get to the edge again, but I will carry Caruthers Canyon with me always. It is more than just a stop on the way to the edge. It brought me into the Mojave.