Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Secret of Oh-Bay-Yo-Yo

Every place with a history has its secrets, Joshua Tree National Park is no exception. Before it was protected as a national monument in 1936 (to become a national park in 1994) the land was open for exploration and exploitation. Although Native Americans had lived there for the previous 5000 years, it wasn't until the 1800's that the area began to see drastic changes. Cattle were brought in to graze on the once abundant grasslands, miners were lured by rumors of gold and finally, in the early 1900's, homesteaders began to settle the area. Scattered evidence of all of these people can be found in the park, if you know where to look.

It has become a yearly ritual for Rakesh and I to make a stop in the park on our way back from planting trials in Arizona. In fact, it is hard not to stop, the park is right on our way home and is so beautiful and interesting that we too are lured in. We have made it a goal to explore the park and find some of these secret places. Two years ago we searched for and found Cary's Castle. That was a bit tough, mostly because of the 100 degree heat but also because it was in a fairly remote part of Joshua Tree N.P. Last year we found some abandoned mines as well as an old prospectors house. This was also our first attempt to find the holy grail of secret places in Joshua Tree, Oh-Bay-Yo-Yo cave.

Oh-Bay-Yo-Yo was built back in the early 1900's, so the story goes, by some kids that used to hike from 29 Palms to the Barker Dam to swim. They constructed a "room" that would be stocked with supplies and where they could spend the night. If true, these were some pretty hardy kids! During our first try we failed miserably, the very vague route description we had was totally off (now that I know where it is, I would say it was deliberately misleading).

There is very little information and this time around we only had those vague descriptions as well as photos of some rock formations on the way there. We started the day at White Tank campground. Rakesh spotted 4 large coyotes near our camp, unfortunately I didn't see them but I had heard them during the night.

Rakesh drinking his morning tea

Ryans Ranch Ruins

We drove over to the Boy Scout Trail trailhead and parked the truck. After checking that we had everything we needed, and lots of water, we headed out towards the Wonderland of Rocks. The first four miles are pretty easy walking along mostly dried out stream beds. There had been rain the previous night, so there was actually quite a bit of water.

We passed Willow Hole and headed into a maze of canyons and washes that quickly get confusing. For our second attempt we were relying on technology to help us out. I had my compass (but no detailed map) and Rakesh had his Ipad (with a few screenshots of some rock formations). With these unlikely tools we were hopeful that we would prevail.

Navigation by Ipad

The going quickly became difficult, traversing over boulders and through some pretty unfriendly vegetation.

There is no trail and not really sure where we were going
For most of the day I thought I knew where we were. Foolishly, I trusted the JTNP official park map. In hind site, it is really not detailed enough to navigate from.

I took a little spill, the granite here is not forgiving to skin

But it could have been worse....

Around 3 pm we realized were were off track and headed in the wrong direction. At this point, we had no clue where to look. We turned around and started back down, going to the left of a hill that we had passed on our way up.

We had a series of directional choices to make, many side canyons to choose from. Basically, we just guessed and kept going.

This slab was the first clue we had that we were on the right track
Amazingly, we started to notice some rock formations that Rakesh had on his Ipad. This gave us renewed hope that maybe we would find it.

After seeing the large slab we started down a canyon which required some seriously gnarly bouldering to get through. Neither of us said anything at the time but we were both thinking that one mistake here would result in broken bones or worse. So, with care we made our way down the canyon climbing over, under, and around giant boulders and following a small stream of water.

At the bottom of the boulder field, the canyon opened up into a flat sandy area and after searching for more clues we finally found what we were looking for.


rusted .50 caliber (?) shells
We were pretty stoked to have finally found the cave.

The next day, I still thought I knew where we were. I figured it would be only a couple of hours before we were back at the truck. Instead of heading back up the way we came, we descended down an equally sketchy boulder field into Rattlesnake Canyon. It was as dicey as the previous day but we carefully made our way down.

We took a wrong turn and, after more death defying bouldering, ended up in Indian Cove... twelve miles from the truck.

Fortunately, the way back was easy to navigate. We just had to hike over to the Boy Scout Trail and take the trail back to our truck. The scenery was pretty with lots of little wildflowers blooming.

View down towards Indian Cove from the Boy Scout Trail

After a few hours of fast hiking we made it back to the truck. Then it was time to drive the 8 hours back home...

We paid with blood and sweat but for us, it was totally worth the effort.