This trip is fast becoming an object lesson in why I should meticulously plan every RV trip. Especially when headed to places that are off the grid to cell, GPS, and even satellite radio.
My next stop was Red Rock Canyon State Park, which, like Carrizo Plain is also the Middle of Nowhere. With GPS not working in Carrizo Plain, and only one washboard road in or out, I used my compass to orient myself generally towards Bakersfield and hoped for the best. After hours of winding through and up and around the aptly named Temblor Mountains (Carrizo Plain has a giant rift through the center of it which is the San Andreas Fault), I emerged from the signal-less wilderness to glimpse Bakersfield off in the distance.
Things were going suspiciously smoothly as I crested the Tehachapi Pass and rolled up toward Red Rock Canyon State Park. I wanted to stop at the Jawbone Canyon Store on the way, to pay homage to the wonderful Pancho Barnes. If you haven’t heard of her, she rejected her parents’ desire for her to be a debutante. Instead, in the Twenties, she became a movie stunt pilot, and by all accounts, one of the best. At some point, she washed up in the desert near what became Edwards Air Force Base, where she founded the notorious Happy Bottom Riding Club. You may remember this watering hole from the movie The Right Stuff. It was where the test pilots who would become astronauts drank, and where they accepted Pancho as one of their own. The Happy Bottom Riding Club eventually became so notorious, the Edwards brass made it off-limits to pilots and base personnel. Then it burned in a suspicious fire and Pancho left for Jawbone Canyon where she founded the Jawbone Canyon general store.
Ranch Manager Louis told me he passed some of his misspent youth racing ATVs through the desert there. He also told me not to go to Jawbone Canyon if I saw a lot of ATVers hanging around the parking lot. As I passed, it looked like a bikers’ and ATVers’ convention, so I gave it a miss, but tipped my hat to the inestimable Pancho Barnes.
By now, I’d been more than two days with only sporadic cell access. In fact, I’d changed my itinerary so many times, I couldn’t even remember what my next stop was supposed to be. In isolated Red Rock Canyon, there was no chance I’d be able to check my itinerary in my trip planning app. So I decided to relax and smell the Joshua Trees. One highlight: they were all in bloom with lush flower clusters that smelled of honey and cream.
Sometime around 4 AM, the winds started howling so much that my little rig was shaking. Luckily I was pointed mostly into the wind, so didn’t need to go outside and try to reposition the rig. I’m not even sure I could have it was blowing such a gale. I awoke to find that the mostly full campground had emptied out. Apparently, only a few other Sprinter rigs and an Airstream trailer had stuck it out in the gale. Although, I don’t know where everyone thought they would flee to. And I’d certainly rather be blown over in a campground than out on an open desert road.
At this point, I had 40 miles to any sort of cell signal area and no idea if my next stop was Death Valley or Mojave National Monument. I decided on Death Valley and took off into the desert and the wind. Unfortunately, that route took me through the long and winding Olancha road with its steep descent from the foothills of the Sierras to the sea level and below Death Valley. While I usually opt for off-grid boon docking spots in Death Valley, by now I was craving electrical hook-ups, cell signal, and wi-fi. So I opted for the overpriced Fiddler’s Green Campground run by a concessionaire, not by the Park Service. Which got me wi-fi if I wanted to go into the registration office for the Inn, showers if I wanted to hike over to the pool area for the hotel guests, and a bathroom if I wanted to hike in the other direction to the golf course. (Yes, I’m feeling guilty that I’m supporting a concern that has built a golf course in one of the most forbidding and driest deserts in the world.)
It was too late and too hot to do any hiking, so I spent my afternoon sipping cocktails and scamming on the wi-fi at the luxurious Oasis Inn at Furnace Creek. Well, at least I know know where I’m supposed to be going in the next week. That is if another cold front doesn’t move in and bring more 40 MPH wind gusts.