Friday, January 16 – Carrizo Creek, CA

Promptly at 5 AM, the alarms start going off. Everyone turns to, grabs some simple breakfast and helps pack the RV for travel. Jerry will transport the RV to Mason Valley where the Jenson family is going to host our home base for a few days.

While Jerry starts westward, Denny drives us out to Plaster City where Peter and I ended the overnight hike last Saturday. That’s where we pick up the Immigrant Trail an hour after sunrise – and an hour late.

This area is old dry lake bed. The desert floor is all dust – not like the basalt lava roadway a couple weeks ago where the road is visible because of rocks being moved. The trail here is literally, dust on dust. There’s no contrast difference to see for long stretches. That’s why it’s so hard to find the trail on the photographs – no contrast; it all looks the same. Only where there’s a rut in the valley floor can we tell where the trail exists.

As they left the Colorado River, they faced a week of travel to the next reliable water source at Carrizo Creek. In between, just a few small wells from which to hopefully obtain water. It was very different for a small group of travelers to get enough water – a few people and a few animals wouldn’t drain the well.

But consider the water needs for nearly 400 men plus at least twice that many animals – hundreds of gallons would be needed. Water obtained at Cooke’s (First) Wells got them through the first couple days. The next well was very poor. Alamo Mocho wasn’t much better and the next well – didn’t do much at all.

Where we are, there was no water source for the next twenty plus miles. Some men didn’t have canteens anymore – lost or broken. Some didn’t have blankets and the nights were cold.

We cross the railroad tracks and start hiking northwest. There are some back roads here and racing trucks go tearing by leaving dust trails pointing out their route. We make much less fuss and dust.

Our route today crosses two stretches that require permission: The first from the Navy as we cross their active bombing range; the second, from the State of California as we cross the old “inactive” portion of the bombing range. Back in the 1960’s, the Navy deeded back a seven mile stretch of the trail to the State. Sadly, there are still times when “live” bombs are found. One man was killed by a previously unexploded bomb some years back, so that’s why permission must be obtained – and it’s rarely given due to the dangers to Park staff as well as the hikers.

We have special dispensations to hike here today.

As we reach the Anza-Borrego State Park boundary, we meet our escort across the old bombing range. Ranger Steve of California State Parks points out the situation is so dangerous that any adult with a child caught in the posted area will be referred to Child Services for child endangerment. Ouch! They are serious.

Meanwhile, we find some serious trail sections, in particular a downhill slope for the wagons. It gets “hot” – probably in the mid-70’s. We exhaust our water. Ranger Steve keeps us moving. The ground is so light colored it hurts the eyes. I’m glad I have my sunglasses today. There are gypsum (selenite) crystals all over the ground, reflecting light like thousands of broken glass shards.

About 3:30 PM, we leave the “forbidden zone” and enter the thickets associated with Carrizo Creek. The water flow isn’t very much; just a few inches deep, some pooling in the two-track roadway and highly distasteful. I collected a sample yesterday and hope to determine the salt concentration levels.

Denny is waiting for us at 4 PM when we get to the water we cached yesterday afternoon. We refill and drink all we want. She drops off our food, equipment and camping gear for the night. Our last major tasks for the day are to get dinner, meet the Scouts and bed down.

Since we’re practicing “Leave No Trace” philosophy with our backwoods camps, we break out our propane stove and cook dinner. Joining us as we eat is a small kit fox. She’s cute and comes within a few feet of us. Inquisitive little fox.

Sundown is early – 4:30 PM; we’re only a few weeks past the shortest day of the year. Dinner is served in the dark, prepare our beds and look anxiously for the Scouts. After 8 PM, it becomes clear we’ve not met up as expected, so we bow to the elements, crawl into our nice warm sleeping bags, enjoy the moonless Milky Way for awhile and quickly go to sleep.

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