California Desert Byways  by Tony Huegel

California Desert Byways Guide Book

by Tony Huegel (Wilderness Press)
California Desert Byways  by Tony Huegel
Whether you drive a custom 4WD rig or a factory-stock SUV, you'll find the perfect tour in this handy guide. California Desert Byways will help you discover the hidden surprises along the American West's most beautiful and historic unpaved backroads. From day trips to weekend getaways and even longer multiday treks, the 68 tours in this trail-tested adventure guide will take you from sky-scraping peaks to remote warm springs and palm-shaded oases. Many are near secluded campsites and can be jumping-off points for hiking and mountain biking. All follow established roads through some of the wildest country in the West.

© 2007 Tony Huegel/Wilderness Press. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "California Desert Byways" Guide Book
Displaying trails 20 of 68.

Displaying trails 1 to 20 of 68.

This is a fun, albeit short, drive in a desert wash drive that will bring you to a palm oasis.
Borrego Springs, CA - Off-Highway Drives - Trail Length: 7.6
Colorful Afton Canyon’s fluted walls rise some 300 feet above the Mojave River. It is thought to have been carved over time as Pleistocene Manix Lake drained through a rift in the earth caused by an earthquake some 15,000 years ago. Today, it is one of only three places where the river has surface flow below its headwaters during nonflood periods. The presence of surface water here during most of the year makes it critical wildlife habitat. Early in the drive you’ll likely have a rare desert experience: fording water of surprising depth. The canyon is at the western end of the historic Mojave Road
Midway, CA - Off-Highway Drives - Trail Length: 10
The Alabama Hills are a jumbled expanse of huge, rounded, honey-brown granite boulders with one of the region’s most spectacular backdrops: the peaks of the Muir Crest, which culminate at 14,495-foot Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous states. The Alabama Hills have been a favorite stage for moviemakers and advertisers since the 1920s. They also are a favorite venue for photography and rock climbing. Wildflowers add to this convenient drive during the first two weeks or so of May.
Lone Pine, CA - Off-Highway Drives - Trail Length: 13
This tour starts on historic Bradshaw Trail, crosses remote Augustine Pass (at about 2,300 feet), then follows a narrow and serpentine canyon through the Chuckwalla Mountains, once a bustling gold-mining district dating back to the turn of the 20th century.
Desert Center, CA - Off-Highway Drives - Trail Length: 15.8
Berdoo Canyon Road passes through a biological transition zone, where the high Mojave Desert and the low Colorado Desert meet, and plants and animals from both deserts coexist. Watch along the way as cholla cacti at the lower end, a mere 700 or so feet elevation, are replaced by Joshua trees and creosote bush as you climb to well over 4,000 feet before descending to Pleasant Valley at about 3,300 feet. There, you will connect with the park’s Geology Tour Road.
Desert Hot Springs, CA - Off-Highway Drives - Trail Length: 15.2
You will travel from 10,000-foot deep Owens Valley, at the base of the Sierra, through the Inyo Mountains to Eureka Valley, in the remote, forbidding yet magnificent northern reaches of Death Valley National Park. Along the way is a side trip to 700-foot-high Eureka Dunes, the Great Basin’s highest sand dunes. Then you will cross the Last Chance Range, deep in the inspiring vastness of basinandrange country. The trip ends at Racetrack Valley Road, near volcanic Ubehebe Crater, the park entrance, and that Moorishstyle oddity, Scotty’s Castle.
Big Pine, CA - Off-Highway Drives - Trail Length: 93
This is one of several roads in the area that were designated National Back Country Byways during the time of the BLMmanaged East Mojave Scenic Area, predecessor of today’s national preserve. Although much of the area burned in 2005, it retains its famous vistas. Wildflowers are a special attraction from March through May, particularly after a rainy winter. The volcanic formations at Hole-in-the-Wall are fascinating. There are fine views of Table Mountain, the Providence Mountains, Woods Mountains and Colton Hills as well. Nearby is Mitchell Caverns and Providence Mountains State Recreation Area.
Cima, CA - Off-Highway Drives - Trail Length: 17
The scenery will vary with the changing life zones this tour traverses, as you climb from about 4,140 feet in the Mojave Desert to as high as 7,300 feet in the forested San Bernardino Mountains. Burns Canyon is beautiful. You’ll see giant Joshua trees as well. Note: Much of this area burned in a wildfire in July 2006.
Rimrock, CA - Off-Highway Drives - Trail Length: 27
In the early 1900s, William H. “Burro” Schmidt arrived in Last Chance Canyon, a mining area that previously had been occupied by American Indians for thousands of years. Beginning in 1906, Schmidt spent 32 years tunneling through Copper Mountain as a way to transport his ore to the railroad on the other side of the El Paso Mountains. Red Rock Canyon has a campground and picnic areas. Undeveloped sites can be found on BLM land.
Ridgecrest, CA - Mountain Biking,Off-Highway Drives - Trail Length: 16 miles
This tour climbs from about -165 feet in Death Valley to almost 4,000 feet in Butte Valley, in the Panamint Range, and then to 4,326-foot Mengel Pass. There, an even higher knoll that you can drive up to provides a fantastic view of the valley and beyond. There are a number of user-maintained old cabins along the way that you can stay in, including Barker Ranch. It was the hideout of late 1960s cult leader Charles Manson, who was captured there with several followers on October 12, 1969. Having ordered and planned the notorious Tate-La Bianca murders, named for the victims, Manson and several of “The Family” (his followers) were convicted of murder. Manson was sentenced to life in prison.
Furnace Creek, CA - Off-Highway Drives - Trail Length: 55
This drive takes you to the very foot of the eastern Sierra’s soaring escarpment, one of the West’s most dramatic sights. Particularly appealing, I think, is the contrast of the mountains’ snowy, glaciated ramparts with the high sagebrush desert below, in this lofty divide’s rain shadow. The views extend from peaks more than 13,000 feet high, east across 10,000-foot-deep Owens Valley to the White Mountains, highest in the Great Basin. The Buttermilks, a roadside cluster of massive granite boulders, are renowned in the sport of bouldering.
Bishop, CA - Off-Highway Drives - Trail Length: 15
This relaxing tour provides fine views of several desert mountain ranges and the broad, sloping valleys between them. You can add short side trips to craggy Cougar Buttes [N34°28.565' W116°49.035'], at the south end, and the Surprise Tank petroglyphs [N34°40.379' W116°35.637'] farther north. In the desert, a tank is a place where water collects in a natural rock basin.
Daggett, CA - Off-Highway Drives - Trail Length: 51
The “Canyon Without Name” deserves one that reflects the fanciful handiwork of geologic uplifting, folding, sedimentation and erosion. Those forces have produced a multihued cathedral of high walls, spires, cones and slot canyons that lead to the broad, sandy wash of Carrizo Valley’s Vallecito Creek, a badlands corridor for Indians, Spanish explorers, frontiersmen, pioneers, 19th-century soldiers, the Butterfield Overland Stage Mail Service and now you. You can visit the locales of two stagecoach stops: one that requires fording the rare desert surface water of Carrizo Creek, the other at a palm oasis in the Carrizo Badlands. Even explored only in part—an option that will satisfy many travelers—this is a beautiful and convenient semiloop that should not be missed. This is the Elsinore Fault zone, one of Southern California’s largest and, fortunately, quietest in historic times.
Ocotillo, CA - Off-Highway Drives - Trail Length: 11.4
This east-west road, designated a National Back Country Byway back when the BLM managed the desert here (it’s now managed by the National Park Service), goes through the geographic center of the Mojave Desert. The road either follows or parallels much of the old Mojave Road. It includes stops at a historic stone cabin and Rock Spring, a water source in prehistoric and historic times where you can see fine petroglyphs.
Cima, CA - Off-Highway Drives - Trail Length: 19.2
Prepare for 7.7 of the most beautiful miles you will ever drive. Climbing 4,400 feet to the semioccupied and privately owned ghost town of Cerro Gordo [N36°32.271' W117°47.712'] provides grand views across the Owens Valley to the Sierra. The descent from Cerro Gordo to Death Valley National Park, where you will link up with Saline Valley Road, offers terrific views as well. Cerro Gordo (Spanish for “Fat Hill”) is the name of the nearby 9,184-foot peak, the 19th-century town, and mines that produced silver, lead and zinc. Silver was discovered here in 1865. By 1871, the town had nearly 2,000 people. The boom ended by 1879, but in the early 1900s the town became the nation’s foremost producer of highgrade zinc. The mines produced intermittently until 1936.
Keeler, CA - Off-Highway Drives - Trail Length: 22
From the crest of the Funeral Mountains, about 1,800 feet above the starting point, you will have a spectacular view of Death Valley, the Panamint Range and even the Sierra Nevada while visiting the site of Chloride City and Chloride Cliffs. Chloride City was the site of Death Valley’s first mining claim (1871). Only a few foundations, shacks, the grave of a fellow known only as James McKay, rusted auto bodies and other debris remain. It is illegal to collect or remove anything.
Beatty, CA - Off-Highway Drives - Trail Length: 20
This tour, most of which is flanked by wilderness, follows Aiken Mine Road across the Cinder Cone Lava Beds. This designated national natural landmark is a volcanic landscape with dozens of vents, lava flows and more than 30 cinder cones, as well layers of volcanic rock (basalt) up to 400 feet thick. It was created by volcanic activity over millions of years, and as recently as 800 to 1,000 years ago. You also will see the vast Joshua tree forest that blankets Cima (Spanish for summit) Dome, a rounded landform that covers 75 square miles and rises 1,500 feet above the desert. It is thought to have formed when rising molten rock deep below the surface cooled, and was exposed by erosion.
Baker, CA - Off-Highway Drives - Trail Length: 23.5
Although its large native California fan palms have suffered badly from a dropping water table, Corn Springs remains an important oasis surrounded by the Chuckwalla Mountains Wilderness, with rugged desert scenery, abundant vegetation and outstanding panels of Native American petroglyphs, figures of unknown meaning pecked centuries ago into the rock’s dark patina.
Desert Center, CA - Off-Highway Drives - Trail Length: 25
You will follow sandy and rocky desert washes that snake between sheer, narrow limestone walls as the road climbs from sea level to about 3,500 feet. The Cottonwood Canyon road brings you to a flowing spring-fed stream, and ends at a shady grove. Rougher Marble Canyon is noted for its dramatic narrows and Native American rock art.
Stovepipe Wells, CA - Off-Highway Drives - Trail Length: 43
The dirt roads in Covington Flats provide access to some of the park’s largest and oldest Joshua trees, as well as some of the lushest high desert in the region. The views from 5,518-foot Eureka Peak are outstanding.
Yucca Valley, CA - Off-Highway Drives - Trail Length: 21.6