This adventure was originally planned to be an all-day trek from Interstate 10 (Desert Center), through Red Canyon, along The Bradshaw Trail, and finishing at Slab City and Salvation Mountain in Niland near Salton Sea. The run was led by my friend Ron who had never been in this area. The route he plotted had us exiting Interstate 10 at Cottonwood Springs Road, following Pinto Road 3 miles east to Red Canyon Jeep Trail, following that to Summit Creek (also known as Salt Creek as it gets closer to Salton Sea). There we would turn west toward Salton Sea along Summit Road for a few miles to stop at the Eagle Mountain Railroad Bridge for lunch. We would then backtrack up Summit Road to Bradshaw Trail, turn east, go another few miles to Gas Line Road, turn south/west and take it in to Niland where Slab City and Salvation Mountain are. All of the roads are well marked, and in very good shape and other than needing low-range one or two times for some steep hills, 4WD was not even needed. Any truck and probably any good AWD car could do this trip.
Just One Problem!
About 11PM the night before the trip I decided to review the plan. The route had us turning southwest (toward Salton Sea) from Bradshaw Trail onto Gas Line Road to get to Slab City & Salvation Mountain in Niland – but isn’t there a bombing range out there? Based on the time I’ve spent at Salton Sea, I knew that the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range (live bombing range!) started a few miles east of Salton Sea around Bombay Beach and went further south past the southern end of Salton Sea. I sent Ron a late-night Facebook message and asked him about it, and he had never heard of it. We both checked Google Maps and Apple Maps, and neither made any mention of the bombing range or even showed it on the map. After a few more minutes of searching I finally found a map that showed the perimeter of the bombing range and sure-enough, Gas Line Road runs right through the middle of it.
After some discussion we decided on Plan-B, which was to turn the opposite way on Gasline Road (toward Interstate 10) instead, then taking that to Red Cloud Mine Road, and back to I10. This would mean we would be skipping Salvation Mountain and Slab City, but we would also be finishing several hours earlier – something I welcomed since the temperatures were forecast to hit 115°F.
Red Canyon Jeep Trail & The Eagle Mountain Railroad
The Red Canyon Jeep Trail portion of the ride was a bit slower than planned. The dirt roads were very wash-borded and even in the Jeep, going more than 5-10MPH felt like our teeth were going to rattle out of our heads. There are a few scenic spots of “Red Canyon” and even one spot with a great view of Salton Sea in the distance. Finally, after 12 miles we came to Summit Road / Summit Creek and the abandoned Eagle Mountain Railroad line. From there we turned right (toward Salton Sea) and headed 3.7 miles to see the Eagle Mountain Railroad Bridge – one of the most amazing sights in the desert.
The bridge is surprisingly free of graffiti, probably due to it’s location, but we did come across this new endorsement of Donald Trump.
The Bradshaw Trail
After lunch at the railroad bridge we headed back along Summit Rd and the train tracks toward The Bradshaw Trail. The bombing range borders this entire area from the Coachella Canal near Salton Sea and the railroad tracks are the dividing line between public land and the danger zone. As you’re driving along-side of the railroad tracks you might see a lone flagpole a hundred yards or so away. This is the “Bombing Range In Use” flag pole.
All along the perimeter of the bombing range, along the tracks are “unexploded ordnance” signs warning of possible live-bombs laying on the ground. But the “In Use” flag, when up, means “LIVE BOMBS DROPPING FROM THE SKY!”. This is your last warning to stay out of the area or risk being blown up. Of course being tempted to wander into the bombing range also puts you at risk of being arrested, having your vehicle impounded and being heavily fined.
Another few miles up the road and we hit the intersection of The Bradshaw Trail. This is where only one of two or three crossings are for the railroad tracks. This one had that “old timey” look.
After a few miles of traveling The Bradshaw trail along the north-eastern border of the Chocolate Mountain Bombing Range we finally came to Gas Line Road. This is where we originally planned to turn south toward Niland. There were no fences or gates stopping us from going through the bombing range, and just another of the hundreds of “unexploded ordinance” signs. We briefly considered cutting through the range to Niland but thought better of it. We also considered continuing straight on Bradshaw Trail 39 miles to Blythe, but considering the 110°F+ temperatures, we took the short-way out taking the 11-mile route up Gas Line Road to Red Cloud Mine Road and back to Interstate 10.
As we approached I10 on Red Cloud Mine Road we came across the most interesting sight of the day – a U-Haul truck in the middle of the desert, stuck in the sand! The truck was stuck to the rear-axel in the sand and the elderly driver and his wife were already starting to feel the effects of the heat.
After confirming that the truck was not full of drugs or people, we let some air out of his rear tires, dug some sand out, stacked rocks and bushes under the tires, hooked up a recover strap to the frame and gave him a yank.
After escorting the U-Haul back to the freeway, he thank us and went on his way toward Arizona. It was his lucky day!