"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious" ~ Albert Einstein

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lee Flat, Darwin Plateau Exploration, October 12th, 2013

'''Be ye warned, 'dem Flats be haunted with the restless, angry ghosts of old-time Death Valley miners".   That's along the lines of what some enigmatic Internet personality named Dingus Milktoast once dramatically told me about Lee Flat - a semi-remote spot in Death Valley NP, which also happens to be one of the more impressive Joshua Tree "forests" in California.  I don't know if that factored into my decision on whether to drive out the night before my ride and spend the night in Lee Flat or leave really early in the morning instead, but I ended up going with the early morning departure.

When I arrived to the turn off for Lee Flat the next morning, Wild Burros were hanging out in the area.  Most burros I have seen in the past either barely take the time to look up and acknowledge your presence, or they just stand there and keep a leery eye on you until you leave.  These three guys were jittery and booked it quite a ways before finally turning around and staring me down with much trepidation.  Between that, the low light and incorrect camera settings, I didn't get the best picture.  Still though, any wildlife pictures are always a gem in my mind.  Aren't their white noses cute?

Arrival to Lee Flat
I found a nice camp site in Lee Flat and spent a few minutes watching the desert come alive as the first rays of light made it over the mountains shortly after I arrived.  Perfect timing!

My original plan was to do a loop through Death Valley that I have been wanting to do for some time.  So, what are the chances the government would shut down right before I go and decide to shut down the desert  too?  Quite ridiculous, but that's what happened.  Anyhow, I picked a new ride that still went through small parts of Death Valley, but at least I wouldn't be quite as blatant about it.  Plus, if I broke down, maybe I'd have a chance for a rescue!

My new plan was to explore some lesser known roads that climb up into the Inyo Mountains.  One led up to the Bonham mine and was just north of and parallel to the Cerro Gordo road.  This one wasn't too bad to get too, but the bottom of the road leading to Cerro Gordo was gone, washed away in a flash flood leaving behind a bunch of rocks and debris.  This made for about a 1/2 mile of interesting wash riding before getting to the Bonham mine road proper.  The second road was south of the Cerro Gordo road.  On the map it looked to go all the way to Cerro Gordo, but I only made it to about a 1/4 mile before the Belmont mine.  If I had company I would have gone further, but it was getting rougher than I was comfortable with being solo.  This was yet another road that appeared to be damaged from the heavy rains this year.  Both areas were real pretty and it was fun to visit these secluded spots.

Making My Way To The Inyos

Inyos, Pleasant Mountain

Bonham Mine

Bonham Mine

From here I had a blast on a long, fast stretch through Santa Rosa Flat that led back down to the 190 highway.  I crossed over and made my way down towards the northern edge of the Navy base.  The plan was to head down Centennial Canyon (rocky!) to Upper Centennial Flat (more rocks!) and the Navy base boundary.  From here, I would loop around over into Joshua Flat (even more rocks!), nestled back in the Coso Range.  It was pretty obvious nobody has been back here in a while.  The only tracks in the canyon were burro tracks and the road was almost non-existent in spots in Upper Centennial Flat.  There were so many burro tracks (and burro poop!) in some spots I was surprised to not run across some more. 

I had a bit of a navigation snafu back here too.  (Snafu means "a badly confused or ridiculously muddled situation", which seems to sum up best what happened!)  I thought I had already crossed Joshau Flat and was climbing up to a saddle on the far side when I crashed and ate it in some rocks.  Being rather remote, this made me a bit nervous. So, as I lay there with the bike still on top of my leg, I made the decision to turn around and head back.  Later on, I found out I was only climbing up to the saddle between Upper Centennial Flat and Joshua Flat and still had 5 miles left to get to where I thought I was in the moment.  In retrospect it all seemed pretty obvious.  Ah well!  Joshua Flat will still make for a nice adventure to a rarely-visited and scenic area for a future trip.  Maybe next time I will see some burros, or even wild horses, which also roam the Coso Range.

After this, I started heading back towards camp with the plan to stop at Talc City and check out some of the old mines.  There wasn't much to see, but I found a really nice spot up on a  hill to enjoy the views and have lunch.

Tacl City Mines

My Lunch Spot

Tough Flower All By Its Lonesome

After Talc City Mine, I hopped on the pavement for a bit and headed over to the Saline Valley Road where I cut back towards Lee Flat again.  On the way, I visited the the Box Car Cabin, located just before Lee Mines.  This was a neat cabin that had several pieces of artwork, both outside and inside.  Always neat the unexpected things one can come across in the desert!

After the Box Car Cabin, I rested for a bit back at my camp before setting out for the next destination.  This was a little spot I've been thinking about since first visiting this area back when Rebecca and I hiked up Nelson Mountain.  It looked like the road we drove in on then may have kept going back to a potentially killer view of Saline Valley.  Turns out it did just that and the photos don't do it justice.  I think the views from here were probably better than from Nelson Mt itself.  There was a great campsite here too that we'll both have to come back to one day.

Last stop was the Nelson Mountain Cabin.  Another spot Rebecca and I skipped over after our hike years ago.  I didn't get to see much this time, either.  There was a Hantavirus warning so I made a retreat in fairly quick order!

I headed back to camp and relaxed with a couple cold beers, while listening to the wind rush through the nearby Joshua Trees.  It was the only sound the desert was making and it was quite peaceful to listen.  I became mesmerized watching the especially contorted shapes of some other Joshua Trees rustle in the wind.  They looked almost uncomfortable and resistant as if the wind was causing them pain.  Joshua trees have quite a personality at times.

Overall a great day!  Only regret was being too tired to join Rebecca for Alabama Hills the next day.


  1. Sounds like another great desert adventure. Great photos and love the video! So much unexpected beauty in that desert landscape :)

  2. Thanks for the kind words, glad you enjoyed it!