After spending many years living all over the country away from our families, my husband and I have learned to make our own holiday traditions. By the time we had moved to California we had grown weary of the over-commercialization of the holidays and decided we would escape to the wilderness of the desert where we could enjoy the peace and beauty of nature and some quality time together.
Spending the winter holidays in the desert is a popular thing to do in California - so some years we join friends, but this year I had a specific destination in mind and we headed out on our own in search of the Crusty Bunny Ranch. I had wanted to visit this old miner’s cabin in the eastern Mojave desert ever since a friend first told me about it, because how could you not want to visit a place with that name?
We got on the road a bit later than we wanted which meant dealing with some holiday traffic on the way out, but eventually we made it to Baker. This little desert town on I-15 is home of the World’s Largest Thermometer, and it was the last time we would see any form of civilization for a few days. We gassed up the Jeep, filled our water can and grabbed a few last minute supplies. Finally we made our way across the dry lake bed that would lead us to the unmarked trailhead to start our adventure.
Our destination was a 30-mile long “cherrystem”, a legal trail for motorized travel through a protected wilderness area. Vehicular travel off the trail on designated wilderness is strictly prohibited. This cherrystem followed along a river wash through the Kingston Mountains, and since a storm had just blown out the day before, the trail was soft and muddy.
Just over nine miles in we located the spur trail to the Crusty Bunny Ranch and the remains of the Eastern Star Mine. The headframe of the old silver mine is collapsed and there appeared to be some more recent damage from a mudslide, but there was still plenty to see including the old explosives bunker in the side of the mountain.
The old miners’ cabin, known as Crusty Bunny Ranch, is semi-maintained by people who pass through the area as a haven for anyone needing to escape the elements.
The Crusty Bunny is a furnished two room cabin complete with a library (magazine rack) and a one-of-a-kind fireplace. It also seemed like a good place to contract Hantavirus, a potentially fatal viral disease transmitted by rodents, so we were careful not to raise any dust. The place needed a good sweeping out but without dust masks it wasn’t safe.
A visitors’ log is kept inside a metal container shaped like a race car to protect it from rodents. It was a lot of fun to read through the log entries, and I read that the cabin windows were only recently broken and then boarded up by a generous stranger who was passing through. Also inside the tin were waterproof matches, playing cards, and coffee fixings from an MRE.
We set up camp nearby on some higher ground. There were still a lot of clouds in the sky and although it wasn’t forecasted, we didn’t want to get caught down in a wash if it was going to rain. After a traditional holiday dinner of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, we settled in for the night.
The next morning we were up before dawn to get the coffee going before taking a hike along the wash. The recent rain brought a lot of green to the desert, especially in the washes. I didn’t have any luck finding any of the wild burro that are said to roam the area. Back in camp we had a quick breakfast before packing up and heading back to the main trail. It was a beautiful clear day and we had a gorgeous view of the nearby sand dunes and snow-topped mountain ranges.
Back on the main cherrystem, the trail follows along the Kingston Wash through one of the most ecologically diverse areas of the Mojave. All around us plants were blooming and the desert was alive with color.
The trail was easy and well-marked. It is mostly deep sand with a few small boulders to navigate. Within the main wash channel it was necessary to find our own route in some places as the boulders and vegetation are constantly rearranging. It is an active river wash and when it rains, the water flows. Big heavy trail markers are frequent and you just need to pick your route from one to the next.
The scenery is spectacular, especially this time of year. Joshua trees and many different types of cacti are abundant. The springs and vegetation attract more wildlife than drier areas of the Mojave. This wilderness is home to bighorn sheep, wild burros, coyote, jackrabbits, rattlesnakes, lizards (including the banded gila monster) and the threatened desert tortoise.
Along the way we passed two springs, found a large covey of quail, and stopped to let a huge tarantula cross the trail. All too soon we reached the gate that marked the end of this segment of our trip, and I knew it wouldn’t be long before I returned here.
Happy Holidays from all of us at Driving Line, wherever your journey takes you.