Debbie Miller

Debbie Miller

Afton Canyon Water Crossing

The deep water crossing in Afton Canyon on the Mojave Road has been mostly filled in. We drove it on October 28 and the water level is 4”- 5” deep. There is a stockpile of rock near the repair indicating to me that the “fix” may be maintained. ~ John Marnell

Fire at Cerro Gordo

From The historic American Hotel, built in 1871, the Crapo House and the Ice House at Cerro Gordo burned down in 

what is thought to have been an electrical fire in an early morning fire on Monday, June 15, 2020. No injuries were reported, and the rest of the town is intact. Photo shows Alan and daughter Holiday at the mine site  ~ Alan Heller

Feline Visitor at the Stoll’s

Lookie who came to visit just about dusk on our back wall, looking hot and thirsty. Hope it found the water. We wonder if the heat or the fire or both brought it down. ~ Anne Stoll

Mr. Cool, Charlie Dupree

This is Charlie.  He is six years old and is a Tonkinese. He does high fives, hands up, and uses a toilet. He knows his name and several other words such as “wanna go for a walk?”,“Wanna fishie snack?” and “Wanna snack?”  ~ Jerry & Dolly Dupree


Craig Baker was wandering around

the Death Valley area and came home with some new photos and stories.

You’ll have to chase him down for the stories, but here are his photos.

Living with Little Dinosaurs

You can gain a lot of perspective when you live with these little guys. They snooze from around Halloween to mid-March and wake up with a big appetite. The photo of Darwin and Huxley (left, enjoying watermelon, green beans and lettuce) was sent by Claudia and Alan Heller. Seth (on the right, relaxing in his famous “flying tortoise” pose) has lived with Sylvia and Jay Lawrence for over 20 years. He’s about 66 years old and is quite a character.

So, just how

exactly are we all doing?

By the members of the Desert Explorers

Clearly, this has been a very unusual period for our motley crew of explorers. It seemed like this might be a good time to touch base with folks just to say hi, count noses and make sure we’re still smiling.

Janet and Pete Austin

Pete and I are doing fine and sheltering-in-place at home in Diamond Bar. We haven’t even been in a store for four months now! Pete shook us both up at the beginning of the pandemic by having, twice, to be rushed to the ER with symptoms of stroke. Luckily, after keeping him overnight for tests, they decided that on both occasions it was a TIA - a sort of “small stroke” but a “big warning” that a stroke could happen. Each time the doctors adjusted his blood thinning medications and we hope they now have that under control. Pete is back to his normal self :-)

Otherwise, we have to make the best of the wildlife in our backyard:...and a few wildflowers from a packet of wildflower seeds I was given:

I am also enjoying making some of the recipes from the 1920’s that the Homestead Museum (where, in better times, I am a docent) is featuring occasionally in their blog. This shows prune whip and custard:

We look forward to better times when the Desert Explorers can resume trips. We miss you all and miss exploring the desert with you.  ~ Janet

Jerry and Dolly Dupree

Dear Desert Explorers,

We are fine and enduring the Covid-19 pandemic as well as we can. We are driving a lot less because there is no place to go. We are not eating out very often and it needs to be take out or eat on an outdoor patio or lawn with awnings and misters. We have adapted well except we haven’t seen our grandchildren and they would like to visit us and go swimming and see our cat. 

As most of you know I enjoy wildlife photography and am out in the desert or up in the mountains once a week depending on the time of the year and whether we are having a wildfire in our local mountains. I have some very interesting wildlife pictures of bobcats, coyotes, road runners, mother quail being followed by her brood, lizards, etc. I enjoy the outdoors and being able to enjoy the time spent hiking, exploring, scouting, and poking around. I place two trail cameras with dry dog food for bait, one camera on video and one on still. I like getting out and enjoy the solitude.  Dolly and I recently took a ride through Oak Glen and Yucaipa and stopped for some apple pie. 

Dolly is doing everything she has wanted to do when she retired. She is a member of a singing group who now has to have “virtual” get togethers online with Zoom and other more elaborate programs. They have a voice coach and an accompanist and they learn songs and sing them in front of each other and offer encouragement and then perform at local open mic nights. Dolly has had a wish to sing and perform all of her life and this has been her wish since she was a little kid. Like most of us, life gets in the way; college, kids, jobs, family needs, and other priorities. I like watching YouTube videos of desert and mountain explorations. is a young lady who explores mines, ghost towns, and abandoned houses all over Nevada and the eastern Sierras. I have also been watching Off Road Recovery about a towing company who specializes in rescuing stuck, wrecked, or non operational vehicles from sometimes impossible situations or being stuck in sand, mud, snow, or have fallen off of roads, etc. I watch it to learn some tricks about rescuing people and what kind of equipment is used by professionals, and most of all how not to get into those predicaments. I have rescued several vehicles in stuck positions in difficult areas and have come across serious accidents and have been able to assist or to call for professional help.  ~ Jerry

Marian Johns

My good news:

Today I passed my amateur radio Technician Class test; got 100% correct!!! We have a local net unofficially called News and Rumors here in Lytle Creek. This group was formed because Lytle Creek could become isolated if there is a serious disaster and we need to be able to communicate with the outside world. Next, Sunny Hansen has agreed to show me how to use a GPS.

Tomorrow is my birthday (July 28). I’ve made it to the Big Eight-O. Sometimes it’s hard to believe I’m that old. Son, David and grand kids are visiting for the occasion.

My bad news:

I had a terrifying experience last week when I took my dog, Wolfie down to the vet in Fontana (he had a foxtail in his nose). The vet is right next to a 99¢ Store and they share a parking lot. Well, I was turning in the driveway and another car was leaving. We passed one another slowly and carefully. But I could see through my window that the other driver was yelling at me as I went by him. Guess he didn’t like sharing the driveway with me, but I was definitely not on his side.

Anyway, I parked in front of the vet’s office and when I got out of the car, here comes this guy (and his girlfriend). He started yelling at me; then he got out of his car and came over and spit in my face! Yuck! Next, his girlfriend got out of their car and started pounding on me with her fist and knocked me down. They then jumped back in their car and took off. This thug, by the way, was young - probably in his twenties. He was a big guy - at least six feet tall. I’m five-one and almost 80 years old.

Thankfully there were plenty of concerned witnesses. I was surprised how many people asked me if I was OK. They helped me up and one had the presence of mind to take a photo of the guy’s license; someone also called the police. Three officers, in three vehicles, came almost immediately and insisted that the paramedics come and check 

me for injuries. They took my blood pressure and oxygen level and asked if I wanted to go to the hospital but I declined because I didn’t think I was seriously injured; I was just unnerved, shaken up, rattled – and very scared.

Although I wasn’t seriously injured – no blood at least, I did have a sore spot where I hit my head when I fell. Later, my left leg and left thumb really started to hurt, so now I’m hobbling around and trying not to use my left hand. Plus I have since been tested for Covid-19 because he spit in my face; no test results yet

I’ve been wondering if my assailants, who happened to be black (I know, I know - I’ll be called a racist now.) were perhaps emboldened by the recent BLM chaos. I am really worried about the recent anarchy that has plagued this country. I am also troubled by the verbal and physical attacks on the police. Despite the need to weed out rogue cops, I can’t see how defunding police departments is going to solve any problems. In fact, I imagine it will just create more lawlessness.

Well, maybe I got a little carried away with my opinions. I just wish things in this country were “normal” again. ~ Marian

Nancy Maclean

Dreaming of Croatia

For years, I had a dream that one day I will take a small group of my DE friends back to Croatia and show them the country and the culture where I grew up. This year turned out to be The Year to do it. So, I planned a land tour to visit the castles nestled among verdant rolling hills and to explore the area where one of our members family’s castle may have been centuries ago. I was going to take them on a walk along the streets and parks of my charming medieval home town where I walked many years ago.  Then on to the national park where 17 turquoise colored lakes flow from one to another, and to the village where I spent time with my grandparents. Then on to the Adriatic Sea, to board our small ship to cruise among the beautiful islands where I spent summer vacations, and explore others that I have not had a chance to visit yet. Yes, we were going to be cruising the blue Adriatic Seas, visiting the ancient archeological sites, swimming, snorkeling, eating ripe local fruit and fish caught in the area that day, and drinking wonderful zinfandels along the way.

Then in March, things changed, though I hoped that we would get through it, and make the trip as planned. I was carefully watching the developments in Croatia, talking to my relatives, and hoping that it would all work out. Then after a lot of agonizing (by mid June, as the situation with virus was not letting up), the memories of our trip to South India came to my mind. Several of our DE friends were with us on that unforgettable trip. The rules on multiple entry visa into India had changed during our trip, so we were stranded on a pre-trip in Sri Lanka, unable to return to India for the rest of our tour. I remembered the hours of filling out paperwork and dealing with local bureaucracy at the office of the Indian High Commission in Colombo, trying to get permission for re-entry. We finally got our passports stamped with a visa as a Humanitarian cause. Once in India, we felt as though our group of “refugees” was closely watched by the Indian government. And then again, before leaving the country, we had to attend in-person the Indian High Commission in Mysore, stand in front of the magistrate, and bribe the officials to give us our exit papers.

Even though I did not expect to repeat anything of that nature in Croatia, I did not want to expose my lifelong friends to a possibility of more campfire stories about getting stuck in Croatia during the pandemic. So, for now, my dream of touring Croatia is still a dream, and I hope that perhaps we luck out and get to make it a reality next year! ~ Nancy

Kenna and Allan Schoenherr

My wife and I are isolating ourselves at our cabin up on the South Fork of Bishop Creek.  ~ Allan

Diane and Ken Searer

Diane and I are doing well.

As some of you know I like to camp and frequent Hot Springs. One of my Retirement Jobs is checking out the Tattoos on Young Women at the springs.

It’s an unpaid position, but someone has to do it,so why not me! To that end Diane (to sew) and I have gone to Mammoth for a week in May, June

and July, taking our Ford with the camper and towing the Toyota. That’s camping!

In May there were very few people. In June toward the end of our week there, the Young Crowd started showing up.

In July more Young People mostly Bikers and Hikers, a very nice crowd. I expect there will be even more people in August.

Signing off now, but you know I could go on and on.

Take care All!  ~ Ken

Pat Nelson

Which desert is this? A new one in Southern California? Los Padres National Forest? Well it’s actually the Mercantour, a park in South Eastern France, where I’ve been... Working on my explorer van.  ~ Pat

Bob Pelzman

I’m getting out of the house by volunteering at the Free Clinic in Thousand Oaks and also the one in Oxnard. Plus meals on wheels and watching a lot of television and doing crossword puzzles.  ~ Bob

Ding and Allan Wicker

Greetings to all DE’ers,

We miss seeing and socializing with all of you, whether it is at a meeting or on a trip. We hope you are well and finding adventure or at least activities that keep you occupied, maybe even entertained.

Since mid-March, Ding has been working full-time at home, processing student applications to Claremont McKenna College 

and corresponding with prospective students. College this fall will not resemble what we remember as students, or even what it was like one year ago.

Allan has undertaken tasks that he has been postponing, but now has no excuse for not doing. One is cleaning out our garage, which has accumulated too much stuff over the past 33 years. At the present rate, the job may be done in October. Another task has been making available online some professional papers published over the years. In doing this I came across an account of my trials at collecting a package from Kyrgyz customs when we were both teaching in Kyrgyzstan in 2000-2001. You’re invited to take a look at it:  Back then, I sent to the DE Newsletter, periodic reports of our experiences during the academic year we were there.

For breaks we take short walks, do exercises, and Allan goes biking locally. Within its boundaries, our local botanical garden provides an opportunity to experience a variety of California landscapes and occasional wildlife. Mount Baldy road also provides easy access to the mountains.

Allan’s photographic opportunities have waned lately – or maybe it’s his lack of imagination or interest. A few examples of his and Ding’s recent photos follow.

Take care, all.  ~ Allan and Ding

Bob and Sue Jaussaud

Sue and I were on a trip in the Sierras and environs recently with a very small group. We were lucky to find boonie camps along streams every night. One camp was at a creek side cabin that kept us warm and dry during a thunderstorm. We even found a hot spring one afternoon. During the trip I enjoyed my 75th birthday. In my book, that is no cause for celebration but I am very thankful to have made it this far. Enjoying life with good friends, especially while camping in the boonies, was the best!  ~ Bob and Sue 

Sylvia and Jay Lawrence

Yep, life is very good. We’re keeping a low profile, but still having a good time despite the current restrictions and a broken toe. Sylvia is super busy with her preschool which is open at half-capacity (lots of precautions and regulations) and I’m busy doing the Lincoln Highway and OCTA magazines. Just have to be careful with travel due to being in the “high risk” category. I am starting a rehab on our pop-top camper soon in anticipation of a huge bunch of trips when all the bio-hazard madness is put to rest. Unfortunately, my go-to place, Baja California is in much worse shape COVID-wise than the U.S., so south-of-the-border trips will have to be postponed even longer than trips in the southwest.

Even in urban Long Beach, the wildlife provides a little entertainment. These two little bandits and their mom are in our tree next to our front porch. Guard dog Pippin is at the screen door losing his mind.  ~ Jay and Sylvia

Brett and Cristina Henrich

Honestly, my heart breaks for where we are as a country at the moment. I’m also tired of the choice between the left who just want to lock up the desert with massive national monuments and bills like the Desert Protection Act, and the current absolute insanity and dereliction to constitutional principles on the right. I’m tired of the corruption and the void of leadership on COVID. Everything has become so politicized, and as a result, I don’t know who to trust. I’m just tired, and a bit depressed, if I’m honest.

Hoping for brighter times ahead. ~ Brett

Dave Hess

Bored to tears in Bakersfield. Helped the Society for Conservation of Bighorn Sheep fill the Vermin Guzzler south of Baker near Old Dad Mountain August 23-27. Wonder whether Desert Explorer trips couldn’t be done with appropriate social distancing; they are outdoors, hand sanitizer is cheap and 

masks could be used around campfires.  ~ Dave

Bob Jacoby

My Fun Time at Home

Like everybody else, I have spent the last four months or so mainly at home thanks to COVID-19.  I have some preexisting conditions so staying away from most other folks is definitely a good idea for me. I have surprised myself by filling up the time pretty easily. My reading has significantly increased particularly American History and the history of trails and roadways. (I am now an expert on US 36!) I have also streamed some very cool TV shows, including Bosch.

All this is good, but I also miss seeing my friends in the Desert Explorers and I particularly miss being in the desert and its environs on dirt roads. I hope that by the year end, things will have substantially improved and we will have a real DE meeting followed by many trips.

In any event, be safe and healthy and hopefully we can all get together soon.  ~ Bob

Steve and Debbie Miller Marschke

What have Debbie and Steve Miller Marschke been doing? Our jobs continued as usual. Steve works in the Defense Industry and works in laboratories, so wearing PPE and a mask was not an adjustment for him. Deb has been working at home for 20 years, so no change. The challenge, of course, was buying the goods we needed at the stores and all the frustrations that go along with that. We feel very lucky to be boondock campers now, because we have been enjoying our camping trips more than ever.

We’ve participated in numerous Bighorn Sheep projects in the desert, and also have spent time volunteering at The Goffs Schoolhouse property. It’s all good, even if it is just the two of us. Social distancing is easily managed when you have all your own gear, food, and vehicle. 

At home we ramped up our gardening efforts and experimenting with expanding our growing capacity with container pots. It’s been very fun, and we planted lots of things we have never tried before:  tomatoes, squash, peppers, corn, carrots, peas, carrots, asperagus, watermelon, cantaloupe, jicama, rhubarb, strawberries, bok choi, swiss chard, eggplant, radishes, lettuces, cucumbers, and brussells sprouts.  We also planted a lot of dahlias which have been a great reward ...did you know there is a variety called “cactus”? It’s gorgeous.

Essentially we created our own botanical garden which has been it’s own reward.  We also expanded our bird feeders. It’s amazing how one small change in feeder style or food offered will solicit an instant response. We have a family of Western bluebirds that nested by our back door and they’ve successfully fledged two clutches this year. Bluebirds do tolerate humans peeking into the nest, so we have a trap door that we use to check what’s happening. It’s like watching the miracle of life unfold before your eyes. We feel honored that the bluebirds have trusted us and this is their third year here. We are healthy and our families are too. We just miss our friends ! So take care of yourselves, it will be grand when we all are together again.  ~ Deb

Wednesday, 11 November 2020 23:28

2020 - Trip Report - Ode to a Toad

Ode to a Toad

By Debbie Miller Marschke

Neal Johns was a beloved friend of mine, and memories of my adventures with him follow me as I continue my explorations of the desert. Neal had volunteered for many organizations in his lifetime. You could not put a price on his knowledge, but there was usually a price paid in the mischief Neal brought to the table. Don’t get me wrong, he was clever and funny! One of the problems being that one could never really foretell how long one of Neal’s mastermind jokes would play out.

This story begins on July 31, 1983. Neal was part of Dennis Casebier’s team in creating the East Mojave Heritage Trail, which included the famed historic Mojave Road. On this particular date, The Mojave Road mailbox was installed on the section of the Mojave Road between Marl Springs and Kelbaker Road. This mailbox contains a log book to record dates and names of the folks who pass this point during their journey along the Mojave Road. There is a photo memorializing this occasion in the Mojave Road Guide and pictured is Spence Murray, Dick MacPherson, and Dennis Casebier with the newly installed mailbox. Marian Johns has provided me another photo of Casebier and MacPherson from that day. Neal spent countless hours working with Casebier, but apparently Neal had plans of his own turning in his head. I do not know exactly when Neal snuck back to the mailbox site. In my mind, the music “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” was playing in the background. About 100 feet north from the Mojave Road mailbox, Neal installed a large concrete toad statue. To ensure its permanence, Neal used rebar and a concrete footing. He was quite proud of his accomplishment, so proud in fact that he brought Dennis Casebier back to the scene of the crime to show it off to him. As a stroke of pure genius, Neal offset the offense of degrading Casebier’s historic route with “folkart” by calling it (biologically speaking) “Bufo Casebierus.” (If you can’t get the bosses blessing, name it after the boss!) Apparently the prank was received well and there was much hilarity.

Time marched on and Bufo Casebierus (the Mojave Road Toad) enjoyed his celebrity with (at first) only a subset of visitors that knew where to look. Eventually, word got out and the Toad became a beloved part of stopping at the Mailbox. I visited the Toad for the first time in 2005, and folks were treating it like a wishing well showering it with coins. (The Toad had a cash flow!) But not everyone was tickled about the attraction; on October 31, 1994 the Mojave National Preserve entered the National Park System. The Park’s Superintendent despised the Toad and everything it stood for. It’s hard to believe that such an innocuous thing could spark such controversy. It was declared that the Toad must go. In May of 2007, the Mojave National Preserve’s employees excavated and removed Bufo Casebierus. Local legend says that it had to be removed with a backhoe. This seems like the end of the story, but the saga is only beginning. Apparently, the Mojave Road Toad had a religious following of fervent admirers that continued to make the pilgrimage to the site. The public’s response to the Toad’s removal was to bring in more toads and frogs. Folks were leaving all kinds of toad / frog statues, and over time the collection had become remarkably large. I am sure there was much gnashing of the teeth by the Park Superintendent. Neal’s Toad had a life of its own and had become a local celebrity.

Early in 2020, The Mojave Preserve declared that it had enough of the Toads, and that all the toads / frogs were going to be harvested and discarded by Park employees. With the presence of social media, it did not take long for word to spread. Again, there was public outcry for the beloved Toads. Off road groups rallied on its behalf. DE member John Marnell was part of the negotiations team to save the Toads from annihilation and extinction on the Preserve. Finally, The Preserve relented with a compromise: a limited amount of the Toads could remain in situ, but most of them needed to be removed no later than Mid-March of 2020.

I was part of the volunteer team harvesting the multitudes of toad / frog statues on February 15, 2020, to include Dick & Kathy MacPherson and John & Barbara Marnell. The Toads were boxed up and transported to the MDHCA Goffs Schoolhouse property which will now be their forever home, as sanctuary for the hapless rejects. It is the Mission of the MDHCA to preserve and study history, so it was decided that the Mojave Road Toads that were relocated to Goffs should have their own display recreating their habitat. Dick MacPherson reproduced the Mojave Road mailbox, which has been installed on site at Goffs with the Toads / Frogs as audience. This occurred two weeks after Neal John’s memorial service, so for me it was something I could do in his memory.

I had an opportunity to visit the original Mojave Road mailbox again on April 4, 2020. Not only were the few Toads that were allowed to remain still in place – there were some new ones. As I had suspected, the public was not ok with the fact that the Park had removed the Toads. The pilgrimage has continued, presumably to the chagrin of the Park. And so the story and controversy continues...

There is more to this story. Neal had confided to me for years that there was not just one Mojave Road Toad; in fact, there were two. Neal had so much fun the first time that he decided to install another concrete Toad in the desert. I goaded him to tell me where it was located, but he would only bat his eyes at me saying “What will you give me, Floozy?” He never did reveal his secret no matter how often I asked. Sometimes he would give me a few cryptic hints: “you can’t drive to it anymore,” “I have not been back there to check on it for a long time,” “it’s probably in wilderness now.” I was never sure if he would not tell me because he wanted to drive me crazy, or whether he wanted it kept secret because of what happened with Toad #1. Marian Johns has no idea (it was before her time with Neal) and Dennis Casebier was not informed of Toad #2. Recently, I struck paydirt with a solid clue from DE Member Dave Given. Dave says that the first time he went on one of Neal’s trips, Neal took the group to Toad #2. It was a long time ago, but Dave recalled that it was in the vicinity of the East Mojave Heritage Trail Mailbox #3, near Dish Hill and Klondike. That mailbox was installed on March 18, 1989.

Armed with this knowledge, Steve and I excitedly drove out to the EMHT Mailbox 3, expecting to find the Toad installed within 100 yards of the Mailbox like the first one. We marched all over the hills and washes, but we did not locate it. I found myself talking out load to Neal, attempting to channel his spirit to please tell where to look. I realized that Neal was still laughing at me, tugging at my pigtails. I heard his voice in my head saying, “ Keep looking, Flooze” and mocking me the way he always did. What was I thinking? Neal would never tell me where it was. Nothing would make him happier than this vexing scheme to get me out into the desert again. I realized I had fallen for his evil plan, but now I am hooked on the quest and not willing to give up yet. Doesn’t this remind you of Forest Fenn’s story of treasure that he hid in the wilderness and gave hints of its location in published poetry? With the publication of this story, I am hoping that another DE member has additional information that will lead to Toad #2’s rediscovery.

Is Toad #2 still waiting to be found?

Or has it croaked?

I have a few more clues to follow up on and I have not given up the search yet for the elusive Bufo Casebierus Segundo, the last of its kind.   ~ Deb

Tuesday, 23 June 2020 18:25

A Little Desert Poetry

A Little Desert Poetry

(From Marian Johns)


Here a soul may grow in stature, reaching to the very stars,

And a heart forget the prison of convention’s rigid bars.

These are things that make me love it, God forsaken though it be.

Oh, barren land, in your domain a man is free - is free.

---Claude C. Walton, Evanston, Wyoming

* * * * * * * * 

Here’s another - by Everett Ruess
(who disappeared while hiking around a remote part of Utah)

Say that I am starved, that I was lost and weary;

That I was burned and blinded by the desert sun;

Footsore, thirsty and sick with strange diseases;

Lonely and wet and cold - but that I kept my dream

* * * * * * * 


from the 1926 Broadway Musical of the same name

Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II & Otto Harbach

My desert is waiting;

Dear, come there with me.

I’m longing to teach you

Love’s sweet melody.

I’ll sing a dream-song to you,

Painting a picture for two:

Blue heaven and you and I,

And sand kissing a moonlit sky.

A desert breeze whisp’ring a lullaby,

Only stars above you

To see I love you.

* * * * * * * * 

Ballad Of The Desert Explorer  by Dave McFarland

If you like sand

If you like sun

Desert Explorers are the ones

Cactus, ants

All kinds of plants

Homesteads, mines

We like good times

Thursday, 13 February 2020 22:24

2020 - DE Meeting minutes, 2-1-2020

DE Meeting Minutes

Saturday, February 1, 2020

We had a brief meeting after Neal Johns’ memorial gathering in Lytle Creek:

Previous Minutes Approved

Treasurer Bill Smith reported that we have a current bank balance of $4,174.14, 66 families and 107 members.

Newsletter All good, please keep sending

in your stories and photos. Rondy Meal information updated and new registration form is in this newsletter. Saturday night dinner will be spare ribs, BBQ chicken or vegetarian empanadas.

It was noted that the Baker to Vegas law enforcement relay race will be held on April 4th, 

from Baker on Highway 127. If you are traveling to the Rondy, avoid 127 on Saturday, as teams and support vehicles will slow traffic to a crawl.

Website Deb reported website is being worked on bit by bit. She is currently bringing the newsletter archive up to date. Museum No new MRVM news to report. Trips We have two inbound Rondy trips, all Rondy trip info is updated on the registration form in the February newsletter.

New Business Tabled

Next Meeting We would like to have another meeting mid-March before the Rendezvous at Marian’s in Lytle Creek. Location and date will be announced by email blast.

Thursday, 13 February 2020 21:58

2019 - DE Meeting minutes , 12-7-2019

DE Meeting Minutes

Saturday, December 7, 2019

We had a brief meeting before the DE Holiday Party at the Wicker’s:

Meeting Open 12:05 p.m.

Regrets Vicki Hill & Dave McFarland, Mignon Slentz, Steve Jarvis & Kate Fosselman, Bob & Sue Jaussaud

Attending Allan & Ding Wicker, Ron Lipari, Marian & Neal Johns, Terry & Eileen Ogden, Bill & Julie Smith, Axel Heller, Jerry Dupree, Dave Burdick, Bill Neill, Nelson & Mari Miller, Emmett & Ruth Harder, Debbie Miller-Marschke & Steve Marschke, Jean & Sunny Hansen, Dave Mendenhall.


Thursday, 13 February 2020 00:30

Remembering Neal Johns

Neal Johns

by Marian Johns

December 27, 2019

This is a sad day for me; I lost Neal, last night – actually he died early this morning. Even though his death was expected, it doesn’t make it any easier for me now that he’s actually gone. Looking back, I wish I had had more empathy for Neal and the ordeal of dementia and prostate cancer that he endured. Dealing with someone who was once so independent and self-sufficient was frustrating and I was too impatient at times because of his limitations and need for help.

Neal’s last four days were peacefully spent in a coma; he appeared to be comfortable and not suffering when the end finally came.
I read that hearing is the last sense a dying person retains even though they can’t answer, so I talked to him a lot and told him how much I loved him. We were married almost 30 years and I have no regrets that I picked him to be my partner. We had many wonderful times and adventures together and now I have some wonderful memories. I will miss him terribly. The house is so empty without him.

I have planned to have a memorial get together for his family, for our Desert Explorer friends and for our Lytle Creek friends and acquaintances at the Lytle Creek Community Center on Feb.1 at 11:00 a.m. followed by a catered lunch – so don’t bother to bring a potluck dish.

Richard Neal Johns
1/19/1931 – 12/27/2019

Neal was born in West Plains, Missouri. He was only three when his dad died and his mother remarried a railroad employee. Neal hated his step-father because he was a mean drunk. Consequently Neal never drank – nor did he ever smoke.

When Neal was about eleven, his step-father was transferred to a godforsaken place near the Glamis sand dunes in Imperial County. His mother thought she was in hell because the summer temperatures were unbearable.

Even though he wasn’t motivated to do well in high school, Neal was no dummy. He found his calling in the Navy which he joined right after graduating from Palm Springs High School in 1948. The electronic and radar classes he took in the Navy peaked his interest and provided the motivation he needed to excel.

During the Korean War, he was sent to Japan. Then, in 1954, he was sent to the China Lake Naval Weapons Base (north of Ridgecrest, California) where he was a first class electronic technician. He met and married his first wife, Louise, while there. In 1955 he became a Chief Petty Officer – the youngest Chief in the Navy. In 1956 he was sent to Boston where he worked on outfitting the Navy’s first guided missile destroyer – the Gyatt. He was responsible for the guidance radar system on that ship. He went with the ship when it was sent on a trial run down to Guadalupe in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, he was not a happy sailor – he was sea sick and didn’t swim well. Luckily that was the only time he was on a ship “at sea.”

In 1958, after two stints in the Navy, he and Louise moved back to California where he went to work for General Dynamics as a guidance radar systems engineer. And although he had not gone to college, he passed the graduate engineering exam for professional engineers.

In 1977, Louise divorced him. He once told me that he was devastated and thought he might go crazy. So in order to keep his sanity he bought a new Toyota Landcruiser and began his love affair with the desert and 4 wheeling.

From General Dynamics, he went to work for the Navy as a civilian in Oxnard at Port Hueneme’s Naval Nemesis facility; he worked at the Naval Ordnance Test Station on the Terrier (radar) Missile System there. 

When I met Neal on a Backroad Explorer trip in 1988, I had an old CJ5 Jeep that was “locked” front and rear. I guess that Jeep and its driver (me) impressed him because he became rather attentive, helping me (a damsel in distress) when my Jeep broke down. By 1988 he had traded in his Landcruiser (and sleeping in a tent) for a Toyota pick-up with a camper shell – so he could sleep in it out of the weather.

So, in 1990, I ditched the Jeep and married him - and his cozy camper.

                             ~ Marian


Neal Johns’ passing marks the end of an era, a free and beautiful era on the desert that will never be again, a time when one could see a dirt road leading off into the desert and follow it just to see where it led. And Neal did that. I don’t believe there was a road in the East Mojave that Neal had not been on.
If only we could follow Neal into the desert again.

Sue and I met Neal at the “Friends of the Mojave Road” gathering in Nipton in 1985. Yikes, how did 35 years go by so fast? Anyway, as fate would have it Neal was the first person we met after we arrived in Nipton that day. Neal wanted to introduce Sue to Dennis Casebier so he took her into the Nipton Schoolhouse, where Dennis was holding court, and proclaimed, “Dennis, look what I found on the desert. Can I keep it?”

Originally Neal had a Toyota Landcruiser that had been extremely well used and he was living and working in Oxnard, or as he called it, the “West Edge of the East Mojave.” His Landcruiser was so well used that navigating it down the road was a bit like navigating a very 

large ship. It required a lot of anticipating which direction you would like to go. Fortunately though, it did quite well on dirt roads as the ruts helped to keep it on track. And… Neal’s Landcruiser “cuisine” was unique. Instead of just eating cold food straight out of cans, Neal would take the labels off the cans and mix them up before throwing them in the cruiser. This seemed to add an element of surprise to his meals.

Neal loved Baja. Our trips to Baja were many. On those trips Neal would get up early and have a “Mountain Dew” for breakfast. Then he would drive circles around us honking his horn to get us moving. He even did this one afternoon when we were sipping beer in the hot spring at Puertecitos. Neal hated getting in water and wanted to move on. We were forced to abandon our idyllic spot late in the day and drive a torturous road to Gonzaga Bay. Such was my relationship with Neal in Baja that we almost always came home at extreme odds with each other. Time and the desert would soothe the nerves and our friendship would survive, but we always joked that when things between us were going too swimmingly, it was time for a Baja trip.

When Neal met Marian his life moved beyond “Hope” and his “Indian Guide” (campfire stories). Though he still maintained a list of “wives in waiting”, he had been totally smitten. I believe it all started on a 1987 trip in the Providence Mountains when Marian’s Jeep lost its rear driveshaft and yet she still continued on, using only the front wheel drive. At one point she even backed her Jeep up a steep, rutted hill rather than allowing herself to be towed. On a subsequent trip into the Panamint Mountains, the same Jeep’s chassis broke and the engine fan chewed up the radiator. After field repairs to the radiator and using a come-along to hold the chassis together, she managed to drive the Jeep out and became Neal’s “woman of considerable will.”

Aw Neal, we will miss your outrageous and risqué sense of humor. We will miss your voice on the CB and your unique way with words. We will miss your desert wisdom. We will miss what made you Neal. You can “Trust me”
on this. ~ Bob Jaussaud

I Miss Neal, But I Will
Never Forget Him

There is so much to say about Neal Johns that it is difficult to know even where to begin. He was one of the founding members of our club and throughout the years he has been the voice of the Desert Explorers. I think our club membership will be writing and talking about Neal for a long time. He was that unique.

I would just like to share with you a couple of my observations regarding Neal and my direct experience and interaction with him. The first thing that comes to mind is that Neal was a teacher. For instance, he took the time on several occasions to teach me the proper use of a GPS device. This might not sound like a big deal but it required considerable time on Neal’s part. He also tutored me in other areas also. Neal was willing to take the time to help so many other people as well.

Another aspect of Neal that comes to mind immediately for me is his sense of humor. You probably all experienced this. He was one of the funniest people I have ever encountered. Neal was the kind of a guy that as soon as you laid eyes on him, you started laughing. Mr. Johns could get away with stuff that was outrageously funny. He was quite unique in that regard.

One other thing I would like to mention right now regarding Neal was his outstanding book collection. I thought I had a good collection of books on Western History but it pales by comparison to Neal’s collection. I can only remember one time when I was able to share a book that Neal didn’t have!

One final thing about Neal that also needs to be said was his ability to find a great wife, namely Marian Johns. Her devotion to Neal and his devotion to her was very touching over the years.

I could write about Neal for a long, long time. There is so much to say. However, I think others can do it more eloquently than I. Nevertheless, I would like to close by saying that the heart and soul of the Desert Explorers is Neal Johns. ~ Bob Jacoby


I always enjoyed listening to him and following him on his “This will be easy” 4WD trips in the Backroad Explorer days. ~ Bob Pelzman


Please extend my condolences to Marian — And well said, he truly was one of a kind and will be remembered by all who knew him around the campfires to come.  ~ Dan Messersmith


So sorry to hear of Neal’s passing.
He will be sorely missed. We treasure our memories of traveling all over the desert and beyond with Neal and Marian over a period of almost 30 years. Neal was both knowledgeable and entertaining. Always looked forward to his antics.  ~ Ted and Joan Berger


At dawn on my first outing with the Backroad Explorers, I woke to the sound of a revving engine and a honking horn — inches from the door of my tent.
Neal Johns was ready to hit the trail and he wanted to make sure nobody would be holding up the trip.

He loved to be exploring, and going with him was a pleasure and a wonder and always an adventure. Sure, there were breakdowns, some time spent lost and chasing down sketchy 

directions, fixing damaged trails so we could continue on, but those were hardly a blip on Neal’s radar. He had to go there, see the place, walk the trails, know the story. And he did this with an uncommon grace, unassuming, and with a fun kind of craziness that was completely infectious. As fellow Desert Explorer Stan Sholik put it, “Neat guy. Never led us anyplace he was sure we could return from. I admire that.” I agree.

After all these years, Neal is in my thoughts and memories on every trip and every trail. I will remember him when things go sideways and when new vistas and formerly hidden pieces of history and natural beauty unfold unexpectedly.

He never let a dragon pass by without pulling its tail. What a great guy. He will be missed by all who knew him.

  ~ Jay Lawrence

Wednesday, 12 February 2020 00:01

Route 66 Got Federal Recognition and Got Closed

Route 66 Got Federal Recognition...And Got Closed

by Bob Jaussaud

In 1914 the Automobile Club of Southern California erected signs along National Old Trails across the Mojave Desert. In 1927 this route evolved to become Route 66, or the “Mother Road.” Sue and I traveled Route 66 on our honeymoon in 1968. In 1970 we bought our place on the Colorado River and Route 66 carried us back and forth for innumerable river weekends. In those years Route 66 was still booming and traveling it was our wonderful introduction to the desert. We were so lucky to experience things like dining on Buster’s beans at Amboy or getting a burger at the Roadrunner or eating pickled pigs feet in the shade at Chabless or downing a frosty beer around the pool table at Cadiz Summit or, yes, even driving slowly through the speed trap set up near the Danby Court House. Unfortunately everything changed when Route 66 was bypassed in 1973. Even so, Route 66 continues to be a popular historic byway, a beautiful gateway to a gentler time. So why has it been closed? 

According to Robert Lovingood, San Bernardino County Supervisor,there are 127 bridges on old Route 66. Many of these bridges saw service from the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s through the roaring 40s,50s, 60s, 70s… right up to the present. Most of the original bridges were of timber construction and many need repair or replacement. There were several bridges damaged by August 2014 flash flooding,but these were quickly repaired by the County of San Bernardino and the road reopened. Unfortunately, Route 66 was closed again after another flash flood in July of 2017. The quandary is that repair of the 2017 damage has not even begun yet. So what is the holdup? One would think that a National Trails Highway in a National Monument would be a priority.

Here’s the snafu. The Presidential Proclamation designating Mojave Trails National Monument also required that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) prepare a management plan for the area within three years of its designation. The BLM has not done this. They are stalling because President Trump issued an Executive Order for the Interior Secretary to review most of the national monuments designated since1996 to determine if they should be reduced in size or eliminated. So, no management plan, no bridge repair.

Also, Route 66 is now a historic highway inside a National Monument. That means that any bridge repair or construction must satisfy the cultural and biological issues raised by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act of 1970 (CEQA). According to Andy Silva, San Bernardino Policy Analyst, “Getting through NEPA and CEQA, even for a project within the right-of-way, is difficult. And these bridges are historic, so you can’t just go in and throw in a concrete bridge. They have to be historically appropriate and still engineered correctly.” And… Who’s going to pay for all these new requirements? Certainly not the Federal Government. They are just making it difficult for San Bernardino to move ahead and repair the bridges.

It seems that in 2016, at California Senator Feinstein’s urging, the route was designated part of Mojave Trails National Monument by a Presidential Proclamation signed by President Barack Obama. Just a year later Route 66 was closed due to bridge washouts and remains closed today. But why can’t the bridges be repaired as they had been for over 100 years? Well, it’s evidently because Route 66 is now inside Mojave Trails National Monument. 

Alas, the sad and frustrating bottom line is that much of Route 66 is closed and will remain closed largely because it is within Mojave Trails National Monument. We wish it weren’t so.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020 22:52

2019 Desert Explorers Christmas Party

DE Holiday Party at Ding and Allan's

Food, Friends and Fun

Photos by Allan and Ding Wicker and Julie Smith

Please see all the photos that were taken

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