We awoke on the second day of our journey down the Mojave Road, sipping coffee and enjoying the views when an old dusty Toyota 4WD pickup truck headed our way, pulling up about 20 feet from Mambo. Out of this old truck hopped an even older gentleman who went by the name of Larry, coffee cup in hand, asking if there was any left as he saw me walking around with a mug in my hand. Larry went on to discuss the increasing traffic of the road that he has lived on for over 30 years, and the changes that have come about during the Bureau of Land Management takeover, driving the cattle and hog farmers out of the area, leaving him alone and neighbor less. Larry was quite a character, a true “Desert Rat”, disheveled, but without a care in the world. We enjoyed a cup of coffee with Larry, he admired Mambo stating that he had never seen anything like it, before hopping back in his old Toyota and bounced back towards his ranch.
After packing Mambo and putting everything in its place, which we are finding is the key to organization and simplicity in van-life. We too began bouncing down the road. The sun was rising in the East casting a gorgeous golden hue over the landscape, which was surprisingly diverse and much different than what I had imagined the Mojave Desert to be. Today was going to be a good day, we were making good time, our blood pressure was lowered from the day before, and we were loving life.
About 1 hour had passed when the trail took a turn for the worse, we were to cross a main line power road, and reconnect with the trail when we noticed that the washout had eroded creating an 18-inch cross camber drop into the wash, which in Mambo means a no-go. Such angles are not possible in a top-heavy vehicle such as Mambo, and I was not going to risk a roll over in the middle of nowhere. To the right I noticed another wash, which had tracks leading through it, and connected with the road up ahead, just past the uber-tippy entrance. It was narrow, but decided we had no choice if we wanted to continue down the trail.
I entered the wash via the alternate route, it was narrow, and had low hanging bushes, which scrapped their way across Mambos paint, leaving an incredible amount of pin stripes. But that would be the least of the damage in that wash, at the junction to re-enter the trail, was a very large Joshua tree which was encroaching the junction which had a sharp right turn. Now keep in mind, this is in a wash which high walls along the side, so there is no option but to suck it up, and take on the Joshua tree. In the end, the tree won, taking out our porch light, ripping the light bar off of Mambo, as it scraped itself down the side, once again leaving scars of the Mojave road etched into Mambo’s paint job.
We were happy to see that we had made it through, and were back on the trail, navigating our way through a wash, which surprisingly makes up a large amount of the Mojave road. This comes at a price, as water for some reason doesn’t like to travel in a straight line, rather snake down the wash in a S curve fashion, carving out Mambo’s favorite cross-camber situations into the earth. Now at first, I thought I had been accustomed to a tippy van during the adventures of the previous day, but nope, I had a few more lessons to learn. After three wheeling Mambo no less than 10 times in an hours’ time, I was now a veteran in the act of defying gravity. I would stop after each junction to allow Malissa back in the car, since she refused to be in the van when it went over, we would look at each other knowing that we once again defied the laws of physics and head on our way. But this was only the warm up to what was to come. According to the map, we were near the exit of the wash, but the Mojave was not going to let up on us so easily. Upon nearing the exit, we saw a set of close set S curves with amazing cross-camber washouts and a sharp left to exit the wash.
Now, at this point, if anyone had ever asked me if I would be willing to two-wheel a van of Mambo’s size, I would laugh and call them crazy. Without an alternate route, and the idea of backing out of the wash impossible at this point, as the trail is single vehicle track, there was but one option, press on. Before owning Mambo, Malissa and I belonged to an off-road vehicle club, NORAC AKA Nissan Off-Road Association of Colorado, and had spent many hours behind the wheel of various 4WD vehicles and been in many precarious situations in locations such as Moab, Utah and Ouray, Colorado. But, nothing was going to prepare me for what was to come. I crept in 4LO into the gauntlet, passing two of the challenges quickly, but the final left turn was leering at me 10 feet in front of the van. Creeping in slowly, ensuring correct wheel placement, Malissa helping to spot along the way. I lowered the left front wheel into the washout, and instantly felt it. The left front tire rocked back into the air, Mambo tipping to the right, then to the left, and slowly back to the right. I was officially teetering on the front right and rear left wheels. I looked at Malissa, who’s is laughing her ass off at this point, because I am sure my face was white as a ghost as I white-knuckled the steering wheel. We still hadn’t completed the left turn and my left front wheel was now about 10 inches in the air, Malissa said to go for it so I gave Mambo a hair of gas, and he lowered himself back to earth, and crept his way out of the wash.
After putting what we thought was the worst the Mojave had to offer behind us, we were making good time. We pressed on, needing to put some miles under us as day one proved to be slow going. According to the map, we were approaching what was determined by many Mojave travelers as a steep drop into a wash, which at times “may or may not be difficult.” Well, this year proved to be insanely difficult, and in fact, I was amazed at the size of the cross-camber moguls that had been etched into the hill from over zealous 4WD vehicles attempting to climb the hill. Some of the dips were over 2 feet deep, most around 18 inches, with some over 2 feet deep. I would not attempt this hill in nothing less than a straight axle vehicle with 20 plus inches of travel, it was one of the worst downhill challenges I have ever seen. So, after zero deliberation, and having more than enough time with one or more wheels in the air in Mambo, we chose to bypass this portion, which proved to only shave about a quarter mile off the trail.
Day two was proving to be a challenge as well, but our clear heads, and ample off-road experience had allowed us to continue down the trail. The next few hours proved to be tame in comparison, which was well received with no complaints from either of us. We stopped and signed the logbook, admired the impressive frog collection and continued the way, with a goal of camping near the Lava tubes. The sun was setting when we pulled into an old corral from the late 1880’s. This was going to be our home for the night, but that too was not going to be so easy….