We wake at 6:20a and shortly after a ranger pulls up to tell us this part of the park is closed; then drives within seeing distance and puts up cones in the road blocking our way out. Now we have to move the cones to leave the campgrounds. Luckily the other ranger at the office is much more kind. He takes our camp fee and gives up maps and answers our questions. We eat some bananas for breakfast and let Piggy lead us around a hiking/biking trail near more campgrounds and a boat ramp.
We take Hwy 138 to Crestline where we get lost in the snowy hills. Some of their roads look like driveways and I can’t tell if some are one-way. Parts of the roads are cleared and when we get cornered we drive over/through a pile of snow that is in our way. After putting some gas in the car we are on the Rim of the World Hwy on our way east through San Bernardino Nat Forest. We stop for a hike at Heaps Peak and try to follow the footsteps before us that are a foot deep in the snow at 6,000 feet of elevation.
By lunch time we are near Apple Valley at a Route 66 Museum. We meet a nice employee who makes sure we see the outhouse, old phone system, classic cars, historic photos, and other memorabilia. After an hour at the museum it’s decided that we will take a detour and catch 395 further north. There is another museum in Barstow and plenty to see along the way. We see signs for an ostrich farm, but upon arrival it looks more like a punishment playground. There is little water, lots of dirt, and they are plucking each others’ feathers and pecking their feet.
In Helendale is Elmer’s Bottle Tree Farm. We were told about it in Victorville and it’s hard to miss driving by. Elmer is nowhere to be seen. We enjoy seeing old bottles, birds in the trees, parts of cars and kitchens, rusty street signs, and a spinning contraption. It looks homemade and sounds like it has wet gravel inside a paint can. Further down the road is Rattlesnake Ridge Rd. It’s more of an abandoned trail with a graffited building, plenty of unusable couches, rusted beer cans, and broken glass. There is also plenty of rocks, some desert shrubbery, and a peacock.
In Barstow, we get to see the food, the politics, and the automobiles that traveled on this same route. There are more street signs, plenty of reading material, and parts and posters. Next door is a railroad museum where we get to learn about the Big Boy steam engine, Santa Fe date nails, and Fred Harvey’s influence. We pass an IHOP and Caleb wants an omelet. He walks the dogs while I get eggs with tomato, spinach, and mushrooms, and a side order of red velvet pancakes with cream cheese icing.
We stop at a car scrapyard where a little boy just stares at us as we take a few photos from the gate and leave. We stop at a sign junkyard and get out to take pictures until we see the big snarling pit bull behind the dented fence anxious to eat our throats. We drive on to Garlock, a ghost town wrapped in barbwire; the town thrived until Randsburg got water and a complete rail line in 1898. We took the Redrock Randsburg Rd to see this old gold-mining place just 9 miles away. What we saw was another ghost town without the fence.
Leaving there, we have three hours of daylight to find a place to sleep. Caleb says to aim for the Inyo Nat Forest. We almost detour to Isabella Lake, but staying north brings us to Fossil Falls where we will, unknowingly at arrival, camp for the night. There are ATV trails, hiking paths, viewpoints, and lots of climbing available. We do some hike-climbing and then drive down the ultra-bumpy road to another road.
There are signs for a viewpoint. The sky is beginning to dim. We grab our bikes, leave the car in the road, and forget our helmets. The size of the rocks let me know that if I do fall off my bike I will bleed to death quickly. We make it to the viewpoint and have to use our headlamps to read about the lake and local flora and fauna. We drive back to the other side of the park where we saw signs for camping. There will be a fire and s’mores, but first an entry from my journal, then sleep.
As I lay under the stars at campsite 10 I am overcome with emotion. It’s so easy these days to acquire a job, home, car, and other technology. Amazons may dissappear and state parks may close. There will be other roads to drive or ride or walk. The hardest thing for me to find is a dark enough spot to just lay down and stare at the stars. Tears filled my eyes as I realized how much time has passed since I’ve been able to see this many stars. I used to, as a child, lay on the concrete foundation of my Mom’s house and watch the stars. Sometimes I would find crickets the size of tarantulas and other times I would listen to music. I used to look to the sky for peace and never fully grasped the joy it brought. I have a new found appreciation for its beauty. I think it’s a shame that stars and fireflies have been replaced by the T.V.
After I enjoyed the dark for a bit we started to unpack the car. I set up the tent while Caleb got the fire going. I found the chocolate and graham crackers while he whittled sticks for roasting marshmallows. We let the dogs wander in the light of the fire before putting them in the tent. It’s nights like this that I will cherish forever; not another sight or sound – just us and the fire. I wouldn’t mind company, but we are enough for each other.