Day 3 began without a hitch. We awoke at the corral campsite that we finally reached, later than we cared for, but awoke to a fabulous sunrise over the cinder cone hills in the distance. We opted to take the day on a bit slower then before and chose to hike up to explore the lava tubes that are known to exist in the region.
During the hike to the lava tubes, we noticed that the landscape shifted tremendously from white sanded deserts to dark crushed lava rock, and baby head sized stones. We worked our way up the short trail and found dark holes that looked like endless pits as the sun didn’t reach the bottom. Continuing on the trail we found the entrance to the main tube and found it neat to see that the state park had built a nice staircase to safely enter the caves, which made the climb down much easier than scaling razor sharp lava rock faces. The lava tubes proved to be quite interesting, and were fun to explore alone, without the distraction of other tourists often found at many natural sites visited. We snapped some photos, and were on our way.
The rest of day three proved to be effortless in comparison to the previous 2 days. We were really getting the feel of how Mambo performed off-road and Malissa became quite skilled at dodging the large undulations and holes dug in from the running water that rushed through the washes during rainy season. The trail began by exiting the terrain that we had grown accustomed to, which was rocky, narrow, and tree lined paths, opening up to large washes and flat land that we could open up the throttle a bit and make really good time.
According to the guide book, it was stated that if the salt flats look pristine white in the distance that a rain had recently come through and is generally unsafe to travel alone across this portion of the trail. Being as we were alone, in an extremely heavy vehicle, and evidence was all around that rain had recently passed through, we opted to take the safe route and bypass the flats. (I personally was a bit upset that we didn’t get to run this portion of the trail, but when traveling alone in desolate regions, it sometimes means having to be a bit more cautious when decision making).
The bypass proved to be effortless, we hopped off the Mojave Road, and worked our way via pavement following clear directions in the guidebook on how to reconnect. This was approaching the last major section of the Mojave Road, which was comprised of soft silty sand, and deep sandy washes, that are also called out in the guidebook as being impassible during times of drought. Luckily, this was not a time of drought, and most of the sand, was packed down enough to make it easy enough to navigate without issue.
Afton Canyon proved to be one of my favorite portions of the road, with a constant flow of water through the wash making it quite fun to traverse a huge van up the creek. The views were incredible with erosion carving out amazing patterns in the hillside, and the slowly setting sun casting incredible shadows on the canyon walls. Now, during this part of the road, navigation becomes a bit tricky due to the inability to keep markers in place due to yearly flash floods washing them away. After a couple misguided turns by what we thought were cairns, we worked our way through the wash and met up with the railroad tracks, stopping for the mandatory “poser” shot under the railway bridge.
Continuing, we eventually met up with the famous water crossing, that can vary from 1 ft to 3+ feet deep at times. We slowly lowered Mambo into the murky bath making sure we kept a steady speed, creating the ever-important wake in front of the car ensuring we didn’t hydro lock our engine. Today the water was roughly 3+ feet deep with the water cresting over the wheel wells at times and clearly submerging the entire 33” tires of Mambo. This was a thrilling portion of the trip, but also bittersweet as it marked the end of our journey on the Mojave road at the Afton Canyon campground.
The trail continues for another optional 20 miles, but a majority of travelers opt to jump off at this point due to the ease of access to the highway, and most concluding that the last 20 miles is a bit monotonous with little to now scenery as it follows along the side of highway. We had met our goal of successfully navigating our 4×4 van though this barren land, sometimes questioning our decision, but in the end met with a sense of satisfaction, and the quenching of our adventurous thirst. Where to next? That is for Mambo to decide as we are On the Go with Mambo!