Back Roads

Desert Hot Springs Sunny Clear no wind Hi 72 F Lo 48 F

There are long captions on these maps so remember to hover your mouse over the image to see them.

Berdoo Canyon starts at B, we made it to C before turning around, then back to A, E, F, and then made it to D.  Next time we will go all the way over Berdoo Canyon to the Geology Road. H to I was our drive to the Pinto Mountains where we were stopped by steep rocky rutted road. G is the south entrance to the park off I-10Nothing like a good back road to spice up a visit to the desert!  Once again we decided to try out some of the roads in Joshua Tree NP designated four-wheel drive only .  On this trip I am traveling with a nice laptop with a decent screen but I also have an iPad, and the difference between the resolution of google maps on the two devices is dramatic.  I scoped out some roads leading into the park from the south on the iPad and could barely find them on the laptop later when we returned to the MoHo. These screen shots are from the laptop, since getting iPad screen shots to the laptop is time consuming, and if you are looking at the imagery on your own device, you probably wouldn’t see any difference anyway.

From B to C is about 6 miles, we stopped at C, went all the way around to the north side of the park, and then stopped at D.  We know now that we could have made it through and will next time. It’s also helpful that the battery life on the pad is reasonably long, much longer than on the iPhone even when Google maps is up and running.  The other very helpful detail is that if I open the map and load the imagery while I have a good connection, later when the iPad says “No Service”, I can still see the maps and still see that magical little blue dot moving along the landscape letting me know exactly where we are.

Now, of course I can read a paper map.  Of course I can find myself on the ground with a paper map.  I used paper maps and USGS quadrangles and old fashioned aerial photos to map soils in rugged, often wilderness areas.  That doesn’t keep me from loving GPS and Google Maps any less.  That moving blue dot is magic!  I have used all sorts of GPS units in the last ten years to document data points, but I still love that moving blue dot on my iPad.  Love it!

how much clearance do we have in the Tracker?We found Berdoo Canyon road leading north from Dillon Road east of Desert Hot Springs.  We could see that the road meandered up the washes and squirreled around some tight turns in the depths of the canyon before emerging on the bajada and continuing to an intersection with the Geology Tour Road in the park. The first few miles the old paved road parallels a wash that is usually a better option than the caved in pavement.  At the lower reaches of the canyon, we saw people shooting and evidence that this is a pretty popular place for target practice.

squeezing through the boulders in berdoo canyonWe had a great time for the first few miles, negotiating a couple of tight turns around boulders, and a few nasty big rocks in the roadway, and continued following the washes east.  Before long we encountered a big Hummer full of people who had probably paid good money for the Hummer Desert Tours, and then a few minutes later we found another big Hummer full of people.  They were all bundled up in their big coats and hats, enjoying the wait while their tour guides fixed a big Hummer flat tire.  We wondered what they thought of two women in a little Tracker going up their expensive tour road, but we just waved and kept going.

Mt San Jacinto looking west down Berdoo CanyonAfter about 6 miles and a good 90 minutes, we came to a bad rough patch of rocky road that would have been a serious challenge to the clearance of the Tracker.  We walked it, and were pretty sure we could do it, but had no idea what was ahead of us.  I could see on the iPad (remember I had No Service!) that we were almost to the end of the difficult part of the canyon, but we also had no clue what was ahead on the big alluvial fan leading north.  It could have been completely washed out for all we knew.  Sigh. I can’t believe I didn’t take any photos of this part of the road, either.  They were big rocks!  Honest!

I loved this boulder sticking out of the smaller alluvium in Berdoo CanyonRather than taking a chance, we decided to give it up and back track out of the canyon.  On our previous day in the park, we had planned to drive the Geology Tour Road, so we made a beeline back to Desert Hot Springs, up through the Moregno Valley to Yucca Valley and the western entrance to the park.  By this time it was about 3 in the afternoon and the estimated time to drive the Geology Road is two hours, but we really wanted to see just how far we could get and how close we could come to our stopping point. We stopped at the visitor center for a geology tour map and when I talked to the ranger about Berdoo Canyon Road he pulled out some photos of how hard the road was.  Darn it if he didn’t show us a photo of the part we almost went through as the worst part of the canyon.  We could have made it!

geology road in JTNPThe tour road was interesting, and sure enough the Berdoo Canyon Road took off south across the fan.  We were excited, but the sun was against us and by the time we started up the bajada toward the canyon the sun was setting.  Sigh again.  We were within a couple of miles of our previous end point, but we both knew that we could have made it if we hadn’t chickened out. Neither of us had any desire to crawl into that canyon and try to get back through it in the dark.

As we drove back north toward Yucca Valley, I commented that in spite of the late clouds there wasn’t much of a sunset, nothing good enough to stop the car for a photo.  But then, about half an hour after the sun went down, the sky lit up with rose and purple and pink and we were treated to some breathtaking moments. You can bet I stopped the car to get the last light of the day silhouetting the fantastical shapes of the old Joshua trees.back roads_030DSC_0030

Another day in the desert, another road that we will have to come back and try again.  The night was clear and the moon was just less than full to accompany another swim in the hot springs pool this morning.  Only a couple more days and we will be heading back north. 

Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

12 thoughts on “Back Roads”

  1. I have thought of getting a 4W drive vehicle, or even a 4W drive RV camper van, but then I realize I would not travel on these roads alone. So, I will wait until I am traveling with someone. You still had a good ride even if you did not finish the loop. I am thinking of getting an iPad, which one do you have and what plan are you using? Thanks.

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  2. Oh these pictures are just gorgeous. What a sunset. You are really giving me 4WD envy as I look at my little Honda Accord towed. Once she gives up the ghost I might be seeing a tracker in my future. Never thought I'd ever drive anything but a Honda given how reliable they are. Of course if this one goes the same 300K miles as my last one, that tracker may be a long way off. Great story. I can see why you didn't go for it. Best to err on the side of safety but then to find out you could have…….darn.

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  3. Looks like you had quite a day! We love our little 4WD Jeep. It has taken us on some lesser traveled roads but we haven't tested it to the extent you have! I'm chicken 🙂 Enjoy the rest of your time there.

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  4. Sounds like you guys had a great day exploring the back roads. Our CR-V isn't 4WD, but it has good clearance and we hope to do some light off-roading. I've been surprised enough times by the post-sunset skies to make sure I keep my camera handy now.

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  5. Glad you had a chance at sunshine before heading back to the cold. Oregon has continued cold as we have traveled through… A great way to beat the winter blues!

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