Tackling a long 4x4 road in the Mojave Desert wilderness early in the morning most definitely is an invigorating experience. This is especially true during the late autumn and winter seasons when the air temperatures are cold. The vehicle will run cooler when climbing the mountains and personal hydration will be less critical in these conditions, so there is less stress. Winter weather also brings storm fronts and flash floods, so paying attention to the forecasts will be necessary before setting sail. As long as the vehicle is well maintained, a lengthy dirt trail trip through the desert can go off without a hitch. Soon after getting underway the dirt road drive in the boonies becomes an adventurous expedition into the unknown, which makes the overall experience more exciting.
Unlike silty dry lake areas in northern Nevada and the deep red silt of the high desert, most of the soil in the Mojave is granular decomposed rock, so when wet it becomes firmer and the going will be easier in a 4x4 vehicle. A storm brought drizzling rain for a couple of days during my tour of Joshua Tree National Park, so unlike what some people may think, the conditions actually were perfect for taking on the Old Dale Road, which is one of the longest historic mining roads in this region.
The access for Old Dale Road and Black Eagle Mine Road can be found on Pinto Basin Road a few miles north of the south entrance visitor center in Joshua Tree National Park. The Black Eagle Mine Road is another challenging 4x4 trail, but it was closed the day I showed up. Old Dale Road was open and this 4x4 trail runs past several old abandoned historic mines on the hillsides. There is a spur road option that goes to the old Brooklyn Mine too. Eventually Old Dale Road goes up and over the bare boulder mountains, which take a bit of technical driving skill to traverse in order to avoid punching a hole in the oil pan. After descending to the foothills, the travel route changes name to Gold Crown Road in the flatlands all the way to the intersection of Highway 62 near Twentynine Palms.
The complete Old Dale Road 4x4 trail from Pinto Basin to Twentynine Palms is only about 25 miles, but the traversing the bare rock mountain pass is guaranteed to be slow going, especially in wet weather. Only a high ground clearance dedicated 4x4 vehicle with all terrain tires should attempt this medium skill level trip, because it will be a very long walk back to civilization if a breakdown occurs. Not to mention the vehicle extraction charge, which can cost more than a second mortgage.
The benefit of driving the historic Old Dale Road in inclement weather can be seen in the photos. With misty rain it becomes easier to understand how the desert ecosystems acclimate at various elevations. Plenty of lenticular clouds form around these mountains, which create surreal views. The old rusty mining equipment also looks more ominous when the skies are gray. There is literally one great panoramic Mojave Desert view after another along Old Dale Road and this is reason enough to get the expedition underway!
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