Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Dirtbags With Benefits

Dirtbags in the snow.
Dirtbag (according to Urban Dictionary): A person who is committed to a given … lifestyle to the point of abandoning employment and other societal norms in order to pursue said lifestyle. Dirtbags can be distinguished from hippies by the fact that dirtbags have a specific reason for… living non-hygienically; dirtbags are seeking to spend all of their moments pursuing their lifestyle.

Perhaps I’m only an intermittent dirtbag, but by the end of the 8-day Mojave Desert overland, I certainly felt like one.  I was disconnected from societal norms like celebrating Christmas and taking hot showers.  That being said, though we weren’t “roughing it smoothly,” as the folks in giant RVs say, we did benefit from a fridge and propane furnace.  On second thought, I’m a dirtbag with benefits.

Marco hadn’t been camping with me since the 2018 winter solstice trip.  Having his company was exciting, as was our plan to boondock (camp outside campgrounds) as much as possible.  In the end there was but one night of seven in a campground, and for that we had a good reason, I promise.
Rainbow in the Mojave Desert.  Lurch is the tiny dot at lower right.
I had a chance to show Marco a spot off the beaten path for our first night.  This place was my favorite discovery last season.  In all my camping nights there, I’ve never encountered another human.  It rained (a perfect excuse for a nap) and I’d forgotten my good snow boots, so I trudged off into the sand dunes in my plastic rain boots (not so great for hiking) without much hope for the overcast sunset.  As the lottery ads say, “you can’t win if you don’t play;” I was rather glad I got out that evening when the rainbow showed up.
Storm light in the Mojave Preserve
We had a plan for the next night in the Mojave Preserve but turned back (not for the last time, it turned out) when the truck started squirming alarmingly in the mud.  I had some notes on my wish list for exploration, and we were able to discover a great new spot in the Joshua Trees.  And, there was photogenic fog.
Lee Flat Sunrise, Death Valley National Park
From there we headed up to Death Valley, thinking we might spend one night in the developed part of the park.  There’s a little kiosk near the park entrance where visitors can pay the entrance fee.  I was aghast to see at least 40 cars there and a long queue of standing people at the automated pay station.  All the major attractions from there to the developed area were choked with people.  We needed a “plan “B” and settled on Lee Flat.  We spent two nights there but scooted out to Lone Pine between them for a phone signal to learn whether we were at risk of getting stuck in that day’s snowstorm.  I knew the weather would be gray and uninspiring, but the forecast called for clearing before the next dawn.  It was one of the most spectacular mornings I’ve ever seen and was well worth sitting in the camper reading and playing gin rummy through the stormy previous afternoon. Yes, even despite the overnight low of 17F

From there we headed out Racetrack Valley Road and explored Hidden Valley.  We found icy roads, more mud lurking under the snow, and a 4WD truck abandoned and sunk to the axles. We backed up carefully and considered ourselves lucky. 
The Racetrack and Grandstand from the north
There was one, rather uninspiring, camp spot. It was an unproductive day photographically, but I’ll chalk it up to exploration.  The next morning, I chanced a slightly different view of the famous Racetrack.  Perhaps this alone was worth the detour.

The night at Mesquite Springs Campground was convenient for the next day’s tour through the long-closed Scotty’s Castle.  The road and parts of the historic complex were washed out during an October 2015 flood.  The Park’s Natural History Association is partnering with the park service on these tours, which raise money for restoration projects.
Ubehebe sunrise
In any case there were a couple of unexpected benefits of staying at Mesquite.  The temperature was 55F and we felt like we were lounging on the beach.  We were also surprised to find we’d camped just across from a friend from Moab and enjoyed happy hour with him. The next morning's sunrise at nearby Ubehebe Crater was a treat as well.
Layers at the last camp
The last camp spot is an old favorite.  Sadly, we missed sunset (before 5:00 in California’s winter), but I took a few shots and we enjoyed boondocking on our own again before heading home and hitting the showers.

More from the 2019 Solstice trip are in the Winter 2019-20 Gallery on the website.  Sorry, no more pics of the dirtbags.  We looked pretty bad by the time we headed home.