When you love to go off road and have some time off what do you do? Open the Fun Treks Trail Guide and pick a trail. That’s what we did for New Years and spent it with 2 other couples outfitted with a 2-door 2007 Jeep/Lead Dog Motorsports trailer, a 4-door 2015 Jeep Rubicon/ Moby 1 Camper and a 4-door 2015 Jeep Rubicon/Livin Lite Bear Cat 10.0 trailer. (Keep in mind that each Jeep and trailer are highly modified for our adventures). Five days were set aside to visit Death Valley.
Our route began in Barstow on Hwy 178. Our first day’s destination; Trona Pinnacles. A great start to the trip since we had a 2 ½ hour drive just to get to Barstow. The Trona Pinnacles were easy to find (stock vehicles OK) and stunning to see. The pinnacles jet out of the ground while the rest of the landscape provides a stark contrast of flat, barren land. In addition to the scenery, it was fun to find out what movies and shows used this very area for their backdrops and sets. Many dispersed spots are available to choose from. Our camp was complete just in time for the sun to set; casting the most amazing glow upon an already stunning location.
Day 2: We drove approximately 38 miles to Trail 44 (Fun Treks) called Pleasant Canyon. The first part of the trail takes you to Ballast ghost town. We stopped and looked in the cabins and saw all kinds of artifacts and history about the town, people and visitors.
The scenery encompassed valleys and sweeping hillsides. We were pleased when we arrive at Claire’s Camp because one, it meant we were on the right track and two, it was a great place to get out, explore and eat. I was not disappointed. We have seen numerous mining towns and this one was in great condition with so many things still in tact that you could really picture what the mining camp would have been like. As we were climbing up hill, Jeep and trailer, to Rita’s Cabin the 2nd Jeep radioed that the Livin’ Lite Bear Cat 10.0’s axel had fallen off.
We were fortunate enough to cross paths with some locals coming down the mountain who provided us with a reference for a welder in town. After some wrenching to get the trailer temporarily put together and mobile, we headed back to town. Leaving the canyon at night made for an exciting drive.
A good part of day 3 was spent addressing needed repairs. The referred welder turned out to be Tin Bender, famous King of the Hammer builder. We hung out at the shop while he graciously welded the axel so we could finish our trip. Without kind and generous off-roaders like these we would have been headed home. We made a quick change in plans due to the delay and drove up the 136 to Trail #37, Movie Road/Alabama Hills.
We had a couple of hours to explore before dark, so we drove around the marked trails (stock Jeeps OK). There were numerous things to look at from the snow-capped mountains in the background, to the rock formations and valleys.
As we were searching for the perfect camping spot, a heavy fog rolled in making for dramatic photos. This area has more traffic and campers due to the tourist attraction of Movie Road, so although there are many spots, you might want to mark yours before dark. My only regret on this trail was not stopping at the Film Museum in town and picking up the Movie Road Self Guided Tour.
Day 4: We were up and on our way to Trail #38, Swansea-Cerro Gordo Rd. This trail was supposed to be more challenging; however nothing that the Jeeps couldn’t do. We slowly worked our way up the mountainside. There was a short part of the trail that had a fairly narrow cliff-side climb. This portion of the trail makes for magnificent views, but may not be your favorite if cliffs and heights are unsettling to you. At 4,000 feet, the plants were dusted with snow, which made the scenery majestic.
At approximately 7,000 feet, we were driving in a winter wonderland. The snow was not a deterrent and the views took our breath away.
Soon after hitting that elevation, the trail began to climb at a much steeper grade. This proved a challenging climb on the icy and snowy trail as the ratings and guides are intended for Jeeps, not necessarily Jeeps towing trailers.
The Moby1 and Lead Dog trailers performed as expected even in low temperatures and more extreme weather. Not knowing the trail first hand, we made calls to the rangers to assess the upcoming trail conditions. We were losing daylight and needed flat land to camp and time to make some decisions. After a long day of trampling through the snow and winching vehicles up the steep grade to ensure everyone’s safety, we made it to 9,000 feet and camped for the night. The next morning we woke up to breathtaking blue skies and sunshine. We disconnected our trailer and scouted ahead. What we found were conditions worse than what we had already experienced. An executive decision was made to turn around and go back down the mountain the way we came. Up until this point there really hadn’t been anywhere to turn around; especially with the Jeep and trailer set up. We were also a bit nervous about going down the hill. Keep in mind, we had winched ourselves up just hours ago. After a brief discussion, we figured that the devil we knew was better than the one we didn’t. We all made it back down the mountain safely and with all our equipment in tact. Another amazing day of Jeeping.
Our saving grace on this trip was that we prepared for the worst and, for that, I give all the credit to my amazing partner in crime. Our MaxTrax rescue boards (that we thought we would never need) got us out of some bad spots. They sustained some damage, but MaxTrax replaced them under warranty. This was our first trip with our 2-way air system installed by Wild Boar Off Road. The system performed well in each situation and made the road transitions easy and quick. When we came home, we installed them on all of our Jeeps. The only thing we were missing this trip were snow boots!
On our last night, we spent the night laughing and joking about the conditions we had survived and the adventure we had the pleasure of participating in. It was not the adventure we planned, but it turned out even better as the challenges and adversity tested our overlanding abilities and skills. If you are looking for a sight-seeing trip and gentle meandering trails my advice, NEVER follow us!
Author- Jaime Moore
Photos- Jim Miller
Fellow Adventurers-David and Dawn Fekete
James and Lacie Moretti