The mission was to find the elephant trees of the Growler Mountains, then follow the smuggling route north to Interstate 8, about 40 miles to the north, and see if the Border Patrol would intercept me along the way.
The first stop was the Growler Mountains, a volcanic range with stunning views and rare cacti. I found a large number of elephant trees within the interior valley and on the western slope. These appear to be of the genus Bursera fagaroides, which have different leaf pattern and sap aroma than their northern relatives found in the Estrellas and South Mountains, the Bursera microphylla.
Unfortunately, if you want to see the elephants of the Growler Range, you will have to deal with the smuggling trail that runs along its center. The trail is well maintained, but appears to be a secondary route to the one in Daniels Arroyo, which has blue flagged water stations every few miles.
Think of the smuggling trails as one-way streets heading north. Everyone moves at about the same pace, traveling in regular intervals, wave after wave. So long as you go with the flow of traffic, you will likely not see anyone at all. However, if you go in the wrong direction, or slack off the pace, expect company.
I cruised up the highway without incident, making good time with the easy walking. The smugglers have kept this particular trail fairly clean, other than a major trash bomb at Sheep Tank, a layup spot and water hole. I rummaged through the trash there in the vain hope of finding a battery for my camera, as it had run out of juice, which really bummed me out. To no avail, I would have to scrounge around the Barry Goldwater Range for some copper wire to make some sort of Jerry rig.
The range is loaded with shrapnel, bullets, bombs, and vehicles shot up like Swiss cheese; plenty of Macgyver material. I ended up using some detonation chord to transfer some juice from my flashlight to the rechargeable camera battery. It worked!
Camp was on the north end of Childs Valley, hidden behind a stand of palo verde trees. It was fairly close to the main road, so I could monitor the road traffic through the night. Sure enough, around 2:30 AM, a load vehicle came barreling through at high speed. He had all the lights turned off, just a shadow in the night, using moonlight or night vision goggles to navigate. The truck disappeared as quickly as it came, and nothing else disturbed my sleep except for some howling coyotes.
Over the ensuing miles, I passed several different desert environs, each with its own character and plant species. The lava fields were the most intriguing. The broken lava terrain creates miniature oases, places where the water pools up, allowing desert trees and grasses to thrive. The surrounding lava fields also provide protection from desert wildfires, so extremely old plant specimens can be found here. Birds chirp and bugs buzz, it is a special place for we desert rats.
After a hard slog across 42 miles, my feet blistered and ankle throbbing, I had finally reached the home stretch. Just when I started to believe that I had won my little game, a Border Patrol truck raced up to the power line road directly in front of me. Shucks!
The giant observation tower off to the west, or possibly one of the myriad of below-ground sensors, must have tipped them off to my presence. The white and green Border Patrol truck took a holding position behind some trees, but the officer never even bothered to step out of the vehicle, unaware that his mark was right in front of him. I snuck off to the east, and then made a dash for the tracks right before a train came through. My 'load vehicle' was waiting on the other side, engine running. I tossed the pack in the truck bed and off we went, right under their noses.
||Wildflowers Observation Moderate