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Old 04-22-2021, 12:27 PM #1
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Mojave Road 2021

So here's a thread about my trip to do the Mojave Road in my 4Runner. Let me start by apologizing for the crummy embedded pictures. As everyone knows, posting pictures on this forum is a real pain. I'll try to add links to higher resolution versions with each thumbnail. Here's a link to all of the high resolution pictures in this thread in one album

This was my first real overlanding trip in the '99 SR5 I bought just about a year ago. I've done a bunch of trips to the mountains in the dry and in the snow, but never slept in the back and never spent more than one night on the trail at a time. I did the same in the T100 I owned before the 4Runner, so I'm comfortable with the 4x4 system and driving off-road in various conditions. However, I'd never been to the desert before, and the roughly 8-hour drive on I-5 from the North Bay Area, where I live, to the Barstow area, was the longest I had undertaken in the 4Runner so far. I prepared by doing an oil change, which it was due for, and checking various other fluids and air pressures. I also read through the thread that Unner made about his Mojave Rd. experience, which was very helpful in knowing what to expect. I think it's around page 59 of his build thread.

Day 1 (3/19):
After packing everything up the night before, I put the last few odds and ends in the 4Runner along with the cooler I was storing my food in. I left around 9 so that my uncle and I would be near each other on the highway around Livermore which is between the South Bay and I-5. We met for lunch at a rest stop in drizzly rain, and then kept on going through some pretty torrential rain. I didn't get any pictures on the drive down because I was worried about camera battery life but it's I-5 so there's not much to miss.

After an uneventful drive, I got to Tehachapi at around 4:00, fueled up, and waited for my uncle to show up. I played around with my camera until he got there and took some shots of him fueling up.

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He's got a sweet 1st gen Tacoma that he's built over the years specifically for multi-week desert trips.

As we were leaving I noticed my gas gauge wasn't rising as it should have after my fill up, but I figured it was the altitude or something and just kept going because I was eager to be done with the drive. Mistake.

We dropped down out of the mountains and I was greeted by my first views of the desert.

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Funnily enough, "A Horse with No Name" by America came on just as I got my first views of the desert, which was a very appropriate song for the event. We were meeting our cousin about 25 miles east of Barstow at a gas station for our final fill up, but about a mile outside Barstow my gas light came on. I figured out later what happened was that I had put the gas nozzle in and set the auto shut-off before the pump had started filling, so I got no gas. I was preoccupied with checking my oil and because some guy came out of the convenience store and knocked his knuckles on my fender and then went over to the next pump and said something to his buddy in another language. I know the gas lights in these things come on way early, but I was still feeling a little nervous, especially since we hadn't filled up our jerry cans yet. So, I got behind a semi and set the cruise control to 58 for the last stint of the drive. We got to the gas station, met up, filled up (for real this time), and drove 15 more miles to Afton Canyon Rd., where we got off of I-15.

Here we are just off the Interstate. Up front is my cousin in his lifted Suzuki SX4, then my uncle in the Tacoma:

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We had planned to get through Afton Canyon that day and find a spot to camp out in the desert, but since it was getting dark at that point we were considering just spending the night at the Afton Canyon campground, which has tables and trash cans. To make up our minds for us, the Suzuki blew its front left shock no more than a quarter-mile down the road from the Interstate exit. We could clearly see where the strut tower was broken. (I took this picture of it the next day)

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We limped the few miles to the campground at about 5 mph, being very careful.

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After making dinner in the dark we discussed our next steps. We decided the best thing we could do was call auto parts stores in Barstow and see if anyone could get a replacement out the next day because either way he was going to need to have it changed out before the drive home. Two places said they could do it, and we went with the one who said they could have it there by 11.

We all went to bed hoping for a more successful next day. Right as I was falling asleep I heard a loud, low roaring and I was pretty startled. I looked up and realized we were camped right next to a train bridge. This is the best picture I could get of it in the night, it's pretty crummy but it really illustrates how close the train was.

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Old 04-22-2021, 12:27 PM #2
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Day 2 (3/20):
We all woke up pretty early because we were excited about being able to fix the shock and continue towards the Mojave preserve. Here's our campsite with the train bridge from the night before.

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We decided to take the 4runner to Barstow because of the back seat, so I loaded all of my stuff up, and then we put the broken shock and some other tools and parts in the back. Here's the Suzuki as we left it, with the things that we took with us on the ground.

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In Barstow, we went to CT Sales Discount Auto Parts where we bought the replacement KYB shock, a spring compressor, and a bunch of Loctite. On the way back to Afton Canyon we topped off my tank as well.

I only got a few pictures of the install because it was pretty hands-on, but here's the spring compressor in action.

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As we were working another train came by, going in the opposite direction.

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By about 3, the new shock was installed and the Loctite was in. My cousin drove around a bit to decide if he was going to continue, and he felt that it was good enough to go on. We packed the last things up, and we were out of the Afton Canyon Campground at about 4.

About a quarter-mile down the road is the water crossing. It's the longest one I've done, but there are rocks on the bottom and I cruised through it in 2WD because I forgot to put it in 4WD. The water crossings were a lot of fun, and I think they might've been my favorite trail aspect of the trip.

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After the first crossing, we cruised through the canyon. For a while, the road is right next to the train tracks, and then there's another water crossing and the road leaves the side of the tracks. Most of the drive through the canyon looked a lot like this:

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We passed a few groups of Jeeps and a group of 5th gen 4Runners before we got to this railroad track bridge where we saw a huge group of Jeeps.

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After the bridge, the canyon ended and the desert opened up in front of us.

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It was about 5:30 at this point so we started looking for a good spot to camp. My uncle liked this sand dune because it offered a windbreak, and he checked it out while I took some pictures.

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After hanging out under the dune for 10 minutes we realized the wind was picking up and that if we stayed there our cars would be sandblasted by the morning. We moved to the right and camped at the base of that mountain in the picture. It was really windy so we made dinner pretty quickly and went to bed after a small fire.

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I think my night shots would've improved a lot if I'd brought a tripod.
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Old 04-22-2021, 12:28 PM #3
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Day 3 (3/21):
I slept much better the second night. I'm 6' 2" and I think that's about the max height that you can be if you want to sleep in the back of a 3rd gen without removing the back seats. The reason I slept so much better was that I realized how important it is to find a level spot, and I set up my sleeping pad diagonally, instead of straight. After we ate we talked a little, and while they packed their stuff up I walked a little bit up the mountain we had camped under. In the first picture, you can see a train way off in the distance. (You'll probably have to click on the full resolution link for that one) The second picture is of our campsite just before we left.

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After we were all packed up, we got back on the road we had been on the day before and followed it until we got to a sandier area, where it became very hard to follow.

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At a certain point my cousin, who was leading, just stopped because the track we had been following ended. We spent a while looking at the map trying to figure out where we were, and finally, we saw a 5th gen pulling a trailer about half a mile ahead on a road perpendicular to our path.

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My cousin was a little worried about the depth of the sand for the Suzuki, so I went ahead in the 4Runner to feel it out. The depth was fine, and the fresh sand was a lot of fun to drive on. As I reached the road, which was clearly the one we were supposed to be on, I saw a big cloud of dust in the direction that we were going, so I pulled far off the road to let what I assumed was a big group pass.

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It turned out to be a group of twelve Jeeps. They passed, and we started out on the road, which led to the preserve entrance. After climbing a rocky section, which was pretty much the only spot on the entire trip where I felt I needed 4Hi, we could see Soda Lake in the distance.

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At the end of that straight section in the first picture was the preserve entrance.

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After entering the preserve the beginning of the lake bed is probably only about a half mile on, so we stopped to have lunch at the very edge of the dry lakebed. It was pretty windy here and there was no cover on the road so lunch was pretty short.

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After we ate we drove onto the lakebed, which I believe is very alkaline, meaning that is is a large risk for rust. It also means that the surface of the lakebed is very salty and parts of it look like snow. In the background of this first you can just barely see some sort of compund surrouded by trees. I can't quite figure out what it is, but I think it might have something to do with the California State University.

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At the middle of the lake is the big rock pile, and there was a pretty big group already there. I saw a few newer Tacomas, a 4th gen 4Runner, a sweet 80 series Land Cruiser, a bunch of Ford trucks, and a family in a brand new Lexus GX. Someone had left a bottle of peach Crown Royal on top of the rocks next to 'the quote', and this guy and his girlfriend started taking shots from it. As we were driving away I rolled down my window and asked them how it was. He replied "Just peachy, man!"

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After the lake bed ends its just a long, bumpy, dusty trail. This was probably my least favorite part of the trip because it seemed endless and the scenery didn't change much for the whole stretch. It was so dusty that I could feel my camera lens crunching a little when I turned it to zoom in and out. I stopped taking it out for pictures until we were off that road.

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We crossed a paved highway and started looking for a spot to spend the night. My uncle found a good spot about a mile from the road and we pulled in.

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We played some Scrabble, made dinner, and had a fire until we went to bed.
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Old 04-22-2021, 01:11 PM #4
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Two more pictures from that night since the limit per post is 20...


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Day 4 (3/22):
We woke up Monday and discussed our plans for the rest of the trip. That was the first day of my spring break and I had a lot of friends who were getting home from school that I wanted to see, so I had initially planned to leave either Monday or Tuesday. My cousin was feeling a little worried about the trail repairs on his shock, especially since he kept having to tighten it, despite the Loctite. He decided that he was going to drive home that day to avoid the risk of getting back on the trail and breaking down farther from a paved road. This led me to decide to drive home that day too. My uncle stayed out for at least a week.

After breakfast, I packed up and got on the road. Just down the highway, before I-15 I took some pictures.

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Soda Lake in the background:
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Aircraft graveyard on I-15:
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Truck fire on I-5:
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I had a great time on this short trip. I knew before I went that it was going to be a lot of driving for a pretty short stay, and in the future I'd like to stay longer for such a long drive. I'll defiently be going back to the Mojave road, and I'd like to complete it. The 4Runner performed really well, and I would've liked to do a bit more technical driving, but I don't think that's really the point of the Mojave Road.

Two points for me:
1) Cooler is not the way to go with storing food over a few days. By the end it was full of water and a lot of my food was soggy or downright soaked.
2) Buy an air compressor. We aired down on the second day after getting off of I-15 with the replacement parts and it made a world of difference in comfort. I wouldn't have been able to do that on my own since I have no compressor.
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Old 04-22-2021, 01:27 PM #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 5VZ-FE View Post
Cool trip write-up so far! I love trains and the Mojave & will have to have a look out there sometime. I hadn't heard of Afton Canyon. If you ever have a minute when you are crossing Tehachapi Pass again, check out the train helix shown in the YT video. There is a spot to chill and a plaque. I think it sees something like 35 trains a day and is considered an engineering marvel:

Tehachapi Loop Drone Action View: BNSF Intermodal 8/31/2018 - YouTube


Edit - Also, is this the same bridge in your photo? I must get there in person........

Afton Canyon | Afton Canyon'''s surface water makes it unique … | Flickr
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Old 04-22-2021, 02:44 PM #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Endlessblockades View Post
That drone video is awesome. Took me a sec to realize that was all the same train. I'll definitely be checking that out next time I go through there. (And maybe it's a good excuse to get a drone)

That bridge is on the trail we took, but I didn't get any pictures of it. It's east of the bridge that we camped next to. The trail actually goes right under it on the side closest to the camera, but you can't see it in the picture. I believe that was where we did our deepest water crossing too...
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Old 04-22-2021, 08:36 PM #7
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Cool stuff. The rock pile is known as Traveller's Monument (I guess you should bring a rock or a bottle of XXX to add) and the palm trees you saw probably surrounded Zzyzx, a hot-springs ghost-resort where UC has some kind of research facility now.
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