DEATH VALLEY WAGON TRAIN ~ NOVEMBER 2010
Every time we have a wagon drive I promise myself, on the long drive home, I will sit down and recount all the wondrous adventures before they are clouded by more current happenings. Well I still have not succeeded in my goal as you can tell. I am writing this story of our adventure with snow on the ground outside my window and its a few days into the New Year. So Happy New Year! If I don’t mention all the happenings please be forgiving.
Every 5 years Corral 14 starts the wagon train from Wades Monument. This is to remind us all of the history of the route we take and to salute those brave souls who were the first to travel these dry dusty miles. Our train this year gathered with excitement in the air as each rig, big and small, pulled into Wades Monument, the occupants in the truck cabs eager to see and greet everyone and the livestock eager to just get out of the darned trailer. Most of the folks drive a far distance. However, if one were to highlight mileage we would have to say that Dave Fly from NM and Howie Fly from Montana probably win the contest.
The 10 wagons pulled out on Thursday morning after pausing for a photo behind Wades Monument. We were all looking forward to a pretty short day of about 6 miles. Since we only drive this section of road every 5 years the condition can be questionable and this year it proved to be quite a challenge. The road was graded but had exceptionally deep sand. New members David Pinkham and Beatrice Phair from Fort Bidwell Ca. wanted to do the trip in true pioneer style. They were driving an original 1800’s style chuck wagon with narrow wheels. They had set a goal to carry their own supplies and a lot of cast iron cookware to top off the wagon train experience. Their team of mules were stepping out at a good pace at first then started to sweat, then breath hard and show signs that maybe the true pioneer way was a little too much for them. Shadows of days gone by were what were brought to mind as they unloaded everything possible to lighten the load. The difference between this picture and the ones in the past was that instead of leaving their treasures at the side of the trail all was transferred to our support trucks and the plot thickens. About the middle of this “short day” the wagons sighted what looked like our support trucks stopped where they were not scheduled to stop. As we pulled up beside them one could see only parts of tires as the rest of the tire was buried in deep sand. In true pioneer spirit many ran to help as water was hauled to put under tires and sand was shoveled. Amid cheers of encouragement the hero of the day was Ron Remy’s Dodge Truck. It was able to pull out the trapped trucks and get everyone safely on the road again. Pulling into our camp at Saratoga Springs a little later than planned did not seem to dampen spirits. A pick up truck was loaded with excited folks going to see the spring the camp is named after. If only the original wagon train had known there was water that close I ponder how history could have been changed!
The next day was sunny and cool, perfect driving weather for man and beast and we arrived at River Crossing in good time. The following morning as we were pulling out, our wagon master decided to go left onto the road instead of right. As was later explained this was actually to test the driving skills of one new teamster Ken Gallinger in Al Chinn’s wagon. Norm wanted to make sure he could circle his wagon and thought this would be a good test. At least that is what was recounted around the fire that night as Norm was being renamed “wrong way Norm“. Then it was on to Ashford Junction and a well deserved lay over for all of us. We were joined there by a few more wagons. Chet and Pat St.Clair and George Liblan III with a beautiful stage coach and 4 up of white horses. As is usually the pattern Ashford is not Ashford without a rain storm. God and Mother Nature displayed a humbling show of nature in its raw form as thunder boomed and shook the ground followed by 5 and 6 fingered lighting strikes in the mountains all around. The camp is in a bowl with peaks on all sides and the storm sat above us for a couple of hours. The strobe lightning lit up the camp like a black and white dream outlining wagons and animals then again going into darkness, only to repeat the cycle a few seconds later. . To say it was electrifying is an understatement as everyone weathered the storm and many appreciated its beauty well into the night. Monday morning Norm gave a Wagons Ho as we pulled out for our next camp. Swamping for Norm was Mike Ditsch who was excited about learning how to drive a team. Outrider Madison Halasey never quit smiling as she rode Norm’s mule Opie on her first wagon train. She was usually accompanied by Katie Christman on Maxine at the front of the train. Bill Burt and Irene Sylvester pulled into line with their well trained team of red mules. Carl and Donna Everett and swamper Cathy Ditsch (Mike’s better half) from Tucson seemed to be ready for the trip ahead as was Carl’s fancy team of Halflinger horses. Phil Weeks and Ken Gallinger just had too much fun driving Al Chinn’s wagon. Teamster George Cabral in an authentic 1800 wagon with a 4 up of black mules maneuvered the trails in top form. George’s swamper was Tim Holveck, although I think Tim’s dog Sally was really the boss of that wagon. Georgia and Larry Wilburn were accompanied by outriders Trish Wilburn and friend Drew Carrigan. Lloyd Stueve once again joined us with his team of black Percheron’s. Ron and Liz Remy shared the wagon seat with Gloria Lemos Leight from Fallon NV. We put the outriders mentioned above in addition to riders Edie Asrow, Wendy Bailey, and Grant Jackson to work this day in orange vests to do a job of traffic control until we turned onto the welcomed dirt of West Side road and headed for the next nights camp at Salt Tanks. Edie has recently retired and was on her first wagon train astride her very willing gray horse. She kept looking for a job and as everyone knows there is always something to do on our drives.
The challenge of fitting 12 wagons with places to tether the stock proved to be a test at the end of each day for the wagon master. At night one could either join in at the campfire or wait for the stage coach lamp to shine through the darkness. This indicated George and friends were ready for a little friendly game of cards. We traveled on to Tule Springs lining out each morning with Norm’s wagon in the lead and Doc Fly and his mini mule renegades bringing up the last of the train. Oops! Then there was the stagecoach that always left sometime after us but was usually stirring up a cloud of dust that could be seen before we reached camp. Everyone was happy to drive into camp at Tule Springs and look forward to a layover day with all its varied entertainment.
We started early with a waffle contest and a record number of 10 entries. The competition was fierce but the final outcome saw Katie Christman take home the first prize with a Waldorf Waffle. Afternoon saw us pulling chairs around Doc Fly’s wagon and bidding on the treasures in the auction. There was dead silence when the ticket was drawn for the raffle item, a green camp chair. An excited Donna Everitt was the lucky ticket holder. That evening more 49’ers than ever before joined us for Pot Luck dinner. They brought great food, chairs and tables. They marveled at our frontier life style and ended the evening by saying they were looking forward to doing it again next year. Thursday morning we were hitched up and on the trail again headed for lunch on. Devils Golf Course. During the lunch stop we received word that the stagecoach had broken off not one but both rear wheels while doing a video shoot on the trail far behind us. A replay of this shot was definitely the top entertainment at camp that night. Neither humans nor horses were injured. After lunching on the Golf Course we again requested the outriders to outfit in orange vests preparing for our entry onto the main paved road leading to Desolation Canyon Camp. There are no words to describe the raw beauty of the rocks and the panoramic view of the valley from this camp. It is a long slow climb up to our camp but once you are there and turn back the vista takes your breath away.
Friday morning was the time for our meeting to set up dates for the 2011 wagon trains and election of officers. We were treated to a poem written by Jacob McCall. Jacob was swamper for David Pinkham but still found time to put pen to paper each day to describe his first wagon train experience. His magic with pen and paper to describe his experience brought a tear to more than one eye. Concluding the meeting we all prepared for our last leg of the 100 mile journey into Furnace Creek. As we drove down the road away from camp Ken Gallinger had kindly posted a sign at the corner telling the wagon master to be sure and turn right this time. The 49er’s had prepared the setting well and the crowds were generous with their shouts of welcome and applause as we entered the presentation area. One great surprise for us is that we can now park under the palm trees on the grass for our Friday night camp! It is such a contrast from what we have been camping in for the drive and as welcomed a sight as any oasis could ever be.
Much praise and many thanks are extended to our support crew including Sue Alcott, Kevin, Ted Fowler, Adam (and of course his very vocal dog Lola). Their timing for being at lunch stops with well deserved water for the stock and the comfort wagon for humans, their many trips to make sure we had water enough for 45 head of stock every day, their consistent preparation of our camp every night with a shower waiting and a camp fire ready to light just made the trip a delight to all of us. They loaded and unloaded gear every day and kept the generator running for the food and ice freezers. All of this with a cheerful hello and a kind word when passing. Thanks to all of you from all of us for a great trip. You make it happen.
We are looking forward to our Spring Drive at Ridgecrest. Until then I wish you Happy Trails. Mary Jo Steele, Secretary Corral 14 Western Wagons.