For at least a dozen years or so my dearest friend and I have kicked off the new year with a day trip into the desert where we can meditate on the year and years that have passed, the year ahead, savor some of God’s finest handiwork, and simply enjoy each others company over a picnic lunch. More often than not, time and budget constraints have resulted in short excursions out to Red Lake, a beautiful dry lake north of Kingman, long walks along the extensive trail system in the Cerbat foothills, or a trek to one of the ghost towns in the nearby mountains.
For two years we discussed something a little more grandiose and adventuresome, climbing Amboy Crater near Amboy, California along Route 66. As a cold that seemed impossible to beat hung on through the last week of December, it looked as though we were going to have to postpone that quest once again.
Surprisingly, we awoke Monday feeling like a couple of kids who had won a trip to Disneyland. So, while my dearest friend gathered the gear, I topped off the tank on the Jeep, and stopped at Safeway for a few last minute items.
By 8:00, we were off on a 276 mile adventure that included Route 66, and some truly spectacular desert landscapes filled with empty. Exactly what we needed to end one year, and launch another.
As we saddled up there was just enough of a chill to require a sweater. By the time we made Needles, we had shed the sweater, and by the time the dusty Jeep pulled into the parking lot at the crater, I had rolled up my sleeves and was contemplating the abandonment of the long john shirt.
I won’t provide the tragic details but long ago a valuable lesson was learned the hard way. If you are planning a one day adventure into the desert, even on a paved road, plan for two. If you don’t need the water, or extra food, you just might find someone who does.
So, for this little jaunt I had a case of water in the Jeep, and in the pack, ten bottles as well as a can of kippers, a thermos filled with two cups of lintel soup, crackers, nuts, and some dried fruit.
The hike to the crater is a relatively easy one, with the exception of the last couple of hundred yards into the crater, and then the final climb to the rim that looms 250 feet above the vast lava and cinder field that surrounds it. The distance is just over one mile to the crater, roughly one mile around the rim, and a return on the same trail for a total of about 3.5 miles.
The well marked trail courses through fine sand, volcanic cinder, and slabs of rippled lava as it gently climbs toward the cone that dominates the horizon. Along the way are a few pleasant shaded benches.
Still, this is not a hike to made in the months of summer. I am quite sure the temperature exceeded eighty degrees during our adventure, about thirty or forty degrees cooler than what can be expected during the months of summer.
This is desert pure and simple. At the nearby town of Bagdad, the railroad documented an “unofficial” record of 747 days without measurable precipitation in the years bracketing 1912.
Even on a short hike such as this, be prepared. The desert can be very unforgiving of mistakes or stupidity.
Now, with that said, I would rate this as a “must stop” on a Route 66 tour, even if you just pull into the paved parking lot and view the crater from the shaded observation deck or to savor the solitude while sipping a cold drink at one of the shaded tables. In fact, if I were to compose a list of great places for stretching the legs along Route 66, this little jaunt would rate up there with the Chain of Rocks Bridge and Memory Lane near Lexington, Illinois.
As we were in no hurry, and as we love to bask in the desert solitude, we spent a leisurely hour hiking into the crater, and another twenty minutes or so climbing to the rim. For our efforts we were rewarded with million dollar views of vast desert plains and snow covered peaks on the horizon to serve as a backdrop for our lunch.
The return trek was rather anticlimactic, with the exception of the steep descent from the bowl to the valley floor down a slope composed largely of loose cinders. It wasn’t a death defying stunt but it did provide an opportunity for a definite quickening of the pulse.
To celebrate the conquering of Amboy Crater, we stopped in Amboy for a bottle of ice cold Coca Cola. I was a bit saddened by the apparent lack of progress in adding some polish to this tarnished gem but this was tempered just a bit with the time capsule feel of that ice cold bottle in my hand, and using the bottle opener on a chain at the counter.
A Route 66 road trip. An invigorating hike. Awe inspiring landscapes. And sharing all of this with a very dear friend. Now this is the way to jump start a new year!