Mojave Road four wheel drive trail (1989)

Kenny Grobe at Soda Dry Lake

Kenny Grobe (guide) at Soda Dry Lake, circa 1989

Mojave Road Trip, May 20-21, 1989
from San Diego Offroader Magazine, July, 1989

By Wayno Guerrini

The Mojave Road originated in the 1800’s as a wagon train trail and is now a recreational trail that spans 130 miles across the Mojave Desert from the Colorado River (near Needles, California) through Afton Canyon. Our two day four-wheel drive journey back into time, covered most of the same trails use by early settlers.

Although I have journeyed the Mojave Road many times, it was my privilege this time to share the beauty and diversity of the California desert with Takeshi Sakai, a 21 year old Japanese foreign exchange student.

Our trip began in San Diego on a beautiful, sunny, Friday afternoon. Together with Bernie Ruth and Mike Lullo we caught up to Kenny Grobe, the Mojave Road Guide, along I-40 east near Needles, and the start of our journey.


At a quickie mart in Needles, we picked up some ice and cookies and then headed off to re-fuel. As Kenny was backing out of the parking lot, he heard a crunch! A snap! And then he knew something was wrong! He had snapped one of the bolts holding the A Arm assembly on his 1983 Nissan truck. Luckily for him, this happened in Needles, and not along the Mojave Road. But where in the world was he going to get another bolt at 8 pm on Friday night in Needles for a foreign truck?

We decided to leave Kenny and go enjoy the fine eateries and entrainment in Needles, and then headed off to the start of the Mojave Road at the Colorado River. We set up camp and enjoyed one of Mike’s taste tempting treats for dinner: canned stew. It was even hot! I don’t know if Takeshi was prepared for roughing it, but he took everything in stride and never complained.

Takeshi and I returned to Needles around 11:30 pm to check on Kenny’s mis-adventures. To our surprise, we found Kenny and his truck ready to go, albeit $450 poorer. We made it back to camp around 12:30 a.m. and managed a few hours sleep before we began our trek.


A cool morning sun and slight breeze promised good things to come. We enjoyed another of Mike’s fine breakfasts (what was that stuff called again?) and gathered together along the banks of the Colorado River while Kenny explained some of the early history of the Mojave Road to our group, which numbered about 20 people in 12 vehicles.

Our fist stop was Fort Piute; one of the first outposts established by the U.S.Government along the road, also the first day’s stop for the wagon trains coming across the desert in search of water.

Kenny led a group around the ruins and showed us some of the early picto-graphs that adorn the area. We took a short hike up the trail and saw the deep ruts worn into the rock by wagon trails coming across the desert. It’s difficult to imagine how rugged these people must have been as they made their way across this vast unforgiving wilderness.

By now, the temperature had reached a comfortable 97 degrees (F) and it was only 11:30 a.m. We journeyed on to Lanfair Valley and enjoyed the beautiful view, as we snacked on our lunch. Thanks Bernie for a great lunch! (Even if it was sandwiches.)

I let Takeshi take the wheel at this point and was quite surprised at how well he did. Takeshi has an International Driver’s License (valid in this country), but I’ll bet he never thought about taking a four wheel drive vehicle into the middle of the Mojave Desert. It’s an experience I’m sure he’ll not soon forget.

As we traveled down the road, I pointed out many things to Takeshi. Subtle variations in the plant and animal life. Topography changes, altitude changes. Yet there is more. There are things which we cannot see with our eye; rather we must experience with our heart. The freedom to explore the vastness of the desert the historical perspective and the importance of the road; the joy of being outdoors with friends; the pleasure of sharing good times and good memories. This is all part of the sojourn. If only one thing, I hope Takeshi takes back with him, it is our love for our freedom, and the openness and joy in sharing the beauty that is America.


We finally all made it to the Mail Box, signed in, then continued on to our next adventure.

Near some of the old cinder cones in an old lava tube, that formed as lava was cooling. It was quite cold at the very bottom of the tube, and very dark as we explored this fascinating mystery. It’s unreal to imagine that these caves wall were molten lava. Continuing on we came to the remains of a plane that crashed a few years ago.


The evening destination was 17 Mile Point, so named because it is approximately 17 miles (one days wagon journey) in either direction to water. Some of our weary travellers opted to leave our group and venture into Camp Baker for a hotel room. With tents pitched and beds made, we were ready for a good meal. Mike let me tell you, those were the best dog dogs I have eaten! (And they were well cooked too!)


Sunrise in the desert is a beautiful experience and worth getting up early. We settled down to an interesting sort of meal: Breakfast burritos. Eggs and bacon wrapped in a tortilla, smothered in salsa. Ahh! (The indigestion last only a few hours! Sigh!)

We finally got everything packed and set off for Soda Dry Lake. We didn’t encounter any mud on this trip, but we did have one vehicle that got stuck in a deep rut at the entrance to the lake. Warning! Never under and circumstances, attempt to cross Soda Dry Lake after it rains. You may never find your vehicle again!

We proceeded on to Razor Open area, a haven for any type of off roading: dirt bikes, sand rails, quads, ATVs, etc. can play to their heart’s content.


Onto the Mojave Flood Plains, and eventually to the train trestle and the entrance to Afton Canyon. At the trestle we enjoyed another of Bernie’s fine lunch. (Oh boy, sandwiches again!) We also encountered the carcass remains of four very dead, and odoriferous cows. Whew!

Afton Canyon, called by many a miniature Grand Canyon comes near the end of a very long trek across the desert. It somehow makes enduring the last couple of days,worthwhile. To see and experience God’s own handiwork, so close, is a memory that truly last a lifetime. I don’t know if Takeshi will ever get to see the Grand Canyon in Arizona, but if not, he certainly got a chance to experience the beauty and serenity of the California Desert.

Our deepest thanks go out to everyone who attended our annual spring Mojave Road trip: Jeff Brodsky (Covina, Ca.), Greg Maleski (Cupertino, Ca.), Takeshi Sakai (Japan), Ian Robertson (Laguna Beach, Ca), Paul and Mary Hamilton (Lakewood, Ca), Kenny Grobe (Los Angeles, Ca), David and Carol Curran (Monrovia, Ca.), Bill Burt (Morongo Valley, Ca.), Art Smith (Needles, Bureau of Land Management), Wayne Guerrini, Mike Lullo, Bernie Ruth (San Diego, Ca), Joe Maleski (San Jose, Ca), Walt and Jean Trygstad (San Juan Capistrano, Ca), Stephen and Dalva Dwyer (Seal Beach, Ca.)

Till next time, take care and look for our upcoming Mojave Road Trip in late August (a night run) and this coming fall.

Wayno Guerrini