My Camp Cady Wildlife article for Outdoor California (external link) will be out soon. Here’s a sidebar they didn’t use and photographs that weren’t selected. The Camp Cady Wildlife Area, operated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, is about twenty-five road miles from Barstow in the Mojave Desert of California.
This is Hunter Thompson territory, when he wrote that classic introduction to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. “We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold.”
You Can’t Get There From Here
This road should go through. That’s what I thought, after a treacherous length of sand almost swallowed my truck. The map I diligently printed out before my trip showed the Mojave Trail Road as the main road to Camp Cady. Problem was, the map didn’t correspond to the ground I was looking at. Almost stuck a minute before, I reversed course once I needed four-wheel drive.
Having retreated to firm ground besides a weathered collection of mailboxes, I looked over the territory. Where was the headquarters building? A Fish and Wildlife boundary sign on an old barbed wire fence told me that I was in the neighborhood. But 1,800 acres is a big area and I couldn’t see anything resembling the 1920’s ranch compound I read about.
I warily eyed the road. Beyond the mailboxes the floor of the road collapsed into billowy white sand. Perhaps that was sjust a rough patch? What if I tried again, this time keeping up my speed and momentum? A distant house had its driveway marked with a no trespassing sign. You don’t walk past those in the desert. I was on my own for directions. Keeping my truck in four-wheel drive I headed once more down the road.
With my wheels churning up sand like a giant egg beater, I was making good progress for a few hundred yards until the post. The large, solidly planted steel post in the center of the road. I cut my speed as there was absolutely no way around it. It was clearly put there to keep anyone from proceeding further. With no turnaround area at all, I once again threw the truck into reverse and sped out as fast as I could to the safety of the mailboxes. I made it. I later accessed Camp Cady by way of Palma Vista and Fort Cady Roads, the only recommended route.
Lessons learned. Don’t go beyond the ability of your vehicle, even if you have four-wheel drive. Call ahead to any desert destination to confirm your route and the road. Additionally, be prepared for problems. I carry a shovel, a tow rope, recovery boards, and a sturdy air compressor. Deflating your tires lets you gain more adhesion on sand. But you’ll need to air up once back on firm ground.
Again, the way to Camp Cady is accessed by way of Palma Vista Road and then Fort Cady Road. (See the map.) It can be managed by most vehicles, especially SUVs and all-wheel drive vehicles. Make sure of your directions. Follow GPS waypoints if you will, but realize that you must take the right roads in connecting those GPS dots. Stop before proceeding blindly and call the headquarters’ building if you can’t figure how to get there. The caretaker may be out on the property, so be prepared to wait for a response.
Signs leading to the bad road.
The real road to the Camp Cady WA. You have to negotiate unmarked intersections. And, yes, there are streets with no names.
Arrested development in the desert. Barn from the 1920s, now a subject for architecture students.
Lovely, eh? A shot from my drone. The WA is actually a very important desert riparian habitat. You just can’t see it close up in this photo.
Okay, this photo was used in the article. But I had previously used it at this site (internal link), long before I knew they would select it. This is the Mojave Trail road, by the way, the one you do NOT want to take.
A preliminary map. Never finished. Distances are in miles between diamonds. Barstow is about twenty miles down I-15, to the West.