Friday, 17 June 2022 23:43

On the Trail of Desert History

Bill and Julie Smith with Anne and Mike Story

Howdy Desert Explorers! Last Fall while Bill and I were camping in Sierra Vista, Arizona, we found ourselves tracking a bit of western history. Our friends and fellow campers Rose Ann and Mike had a 2009 True West Magazine article that had figured out the location of Wyatt Earp’s famous shootout at Cottonwood Springs. Most of us are familiar with this incident from reading history or viewing the movie Tombstone. Together we were surprised to figure out this shootout location was just across the road from our camping area in the foothills of the Whetstone Mountains! The four of us combined the info in the article with maps of our own, jumped in the jeep and bounced along seven or so miles of rough dirt roads and terrain to find the shootout spot. After several miles of beautiful chaparral, challenging dirt roads, and screeching ‘desert pinstripes’ we reached a point where we had to stop and hike in the rest of the way. We hiked up, down, and through sagebrush, tree lined gullies, and dry grass meadows being very glad it was too cold for rattlesnakes. It is a gorgeous area with high desert plants, rugged mountains, and open range cattle scattered over thousands of acres. After a few miles of hiking we saw Wyatt and The Cowboys’ shootout spot about a quarter mile in the distance – it was so exciting! However, the sun was going down quickly and we didn’t trust ourselves to hike and drive back in the dark in such a desolate area so we turned around. We hiked back and bounced the Jeep all over again, making it to our camp just before dark. Bill and I tried hiking in from another location a few days later and almost made it that way too. We decided we will try to get to the shootout location again but start out EXTRA early next time! ~ Julie

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Friday, 17 June 2022 23:40

Mad Mike Hughes

By Bob Jaussaud

Last month on Old Route 66 about four miles east of Amboy, Sue and I noticed an RV that had apparently been abandoned. We found the two-track leading to it and went to investigate. The unique rig had a rocket launch mechanism built on the back and markings indicating it had belonged to Mad Mike Hughes. So who was “Mad Mike”? It turns out he was a most unique desert character. Mad Mike was set on blasting himself into the atmosphere to verify his professed belief that the earth is flat. At any rate, Mad Mike succeeded in making a steam powered rocket and launching himself thousands of feet off the desert floor – not once, but twice. He barely survived his first rocket trip and sadly the second one did him in.

Mike had a “career” as a limousine driver. As such, he set a Guinness world record by rocketing his stretch Lincoln Town Car over a 103 foot jump. Quite a ride and perhaps the beginnings of his rocket career. Mike’s next adventure was to build a steam powered rocket so that he could ride it high enough to photograph the earth as a flat disc. After several attempts, Mike finally had a successful rocket launch onMarch 24, 2018. He reached a height of 1,875 feet and had a hard landing, but survived without serious injury. On February 22, 2020 Mike tried again. During the blast-off the parachute that was supposed to bring him and his rocket safely down was destroyed and he crashed to earth for the last time.

Seeing Mike’s rig in its abandoned state was sad for me. I could feel the life and times it was part of. I honor Mike Hughes as a man who lived his dreams and effectively reached for the stars. Who among us has the stuff it takes to do that? ~ Joeso

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Friday, 17 June 2022 23:35

The Ridge Route

Trip Leader: Bob Jacoby • Photos by Shane Daley,

Allan Wicker, Mo LeBlanc and Jay Lawrence

There is some truth to the old saying that the “third time is the charm.” That was certainly the case with the planning for the DE tour of the Ridge Route. The trip was originally scheduled almost two years ago. Unfortunately, covid came along and the trip was postponed indefinitely by the leaders from a local museum. After about six months I lost communication with these individuals and began a search for another leader.

I got extremely lucky to meet Michael Ballard, the CEO of the Historical Route 99 Association. Michael is truly an expert on US99 and other historic roads as well. Michael told me he had access to the keys for the two locked gates on the road and would be able to lead our group in November of 2021. When this trip was first announced in the DE newsletter it filled up immediately and a waiting list was soon established. Everything was set until I heard from Michael the Friday night before the trip. He indicated that he had a family emergency and would be unable to lead the trip the following morning. The bad news was that I had to contact everyone signed up for the trip that evening. The good news was that Michael was highly apologetic and volunteered to lead the trip in the late spring.

I decided to give it another chance and we rescheduled the trip again for May 7. Even though we had the two previous cancellations the demand for this adventure was still high and before you knew it we had another full trip scheduled that also had an extensive waiting list.

On Saturday, May 7th we gathered on a beautiful morning in the parking lot of Michael’s Diner in Castaic and lo and behold there was Michael and his spouse waiting for us! The following folks were part of the group: Jay Lawrence, Mignon Slenz, Bob and Sue Jaussaud, Glen Shaw, Marian Johns, Dave Burdick, Danny and Norma Siler, Lindsay Woods, Leonard and Rebecca Frieman, Ed and Joan Steiner, Alan Wicker and Glen Shaw. My apologies if I missed anyone.

We started out with our usual administrative items and then allowed time for Michael Ballard to give us a preview of the day by sharing his incredible knowledge of the history of the Ridge Route Road. He informed us that the road was originally designed to be a key part of the original roadway to connect northern and southern California. The concept was that these 22 miles or so would traverse the area between what is now Castaic to Gormon. Amazingly, the road was built through the mountains primarily with picks and shovels. The idea was that by following the ridges it wouldn’t be necessary to build bridges and deal with extremely difficult topography.

It took about two years to construct the road that became the “Ridge Route.” Construction was initiated in 1913 and the road was completed in 1915. This soon became a surprisingly busy route despite its isolation. It was eventually replaced in 1933 by a route that follows the valleys rather than hugging the ridges. (For some of that time the road was actually part of federal highway US99.) The road was then taken over by Los Angeles County and it is now under the jurisdiction of the United States Forest Service. It has been designated as a National Historical site.

As our trip got underway, Michael Ballard pointed out numerous historical and geological sites. This included the remains of gas stations and hotels. Among the most interesting sites was the location of the famous Tumble Inn as well as the Summit Inn in beautiful downtown Sanberg where our formal trip came to an end.

Overall the road is interesting and historic. That, combined with a knowledgeable leader made for a very interesting and fun day. I want to once again thank Michael Ballard for indeed making the third time the charm. ~ Bob

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