Day Venture – Exploring the Lucerne Valley

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Saturday, April 9th, 2016

Today I decided to take my parents out on a small venture to the areas east of Victorville. We had driven past this place many times on the way to Joshua Tree National Park and sometimes while taking a day trip to the city of Big Bear up in the mountains. This trip would be different as I decided I wanted to actually explore this region of the Mojave a bit more which lies at the northern foot of the Big Bear mountains. For years I had always seen a massive switchback road leading up one of the mountains, so today my curiosity had me place this road as the first on the list of things to explore today.

To get to the switchbacks, I had to break off from Highway 18 and head south on Crystal Creek Rd. The small pavement road took us right next to Omya, a gigantic city sized refinery that processes calcium carbonate from the limestone deposits along the foot of the mountains. Once we cleared it, the road turned into a washboard dirt road with no mercy about the suspension.

“I’ve been curious about the big switchback road on this mountain for years.”

“The dirt road nears the start of the switchback road and the ominous clouds made it an exciting view.”

“Unfortunately the ‘adventure to be’ turned to be an epic flop, it was a mine road.”

I had spoken to a ranger at the Big Bear Discovery Center about this road and they said that a 4×4 tour company navigates it all the way up to Big Bear from the desert floor below. She was obviously confused because after conducting further research on this road, I learned that it has no connecting roads to Big Bear whatsoever, in fact it just terminates near the top and only Giant Haul Trucks from the mines are allowed on this road. Not sure what other giant switchback road she could have thought I was referring to as this is the only one that is obvious from the desert highways below. Oh well, I did find the gateway to the Pureland Buddhist Learning Center at the base of the switchback road, odd location to find such a place, but I would never have known that unless I explored it right? Either way, it was good to get out of town for a day of exploration.

“We stopped along as we headed back to check out some of the flora on the side of the dirt road.”

Joshua Tree Fruit

The greenish-brown fruit of the Joshua Tree is oval and somewhat fleshy. The 2- to 4-inch-long fruit grows in clusters and is edible. According to “The Oxford Companion to Food,” mature pods can be roasted and have a sweet, candy-like flavor. Each fruit contains many flat seeds, which are released on the ground when a fruit dries on the tree and falls to the ground in late spring.

The stems can be baked, and the blossoms, minus the bitter centers, can be cooked and eaten. The young flower stalks are edible. The flowers are edible raw or cooked as a potherb. Check them for insects before cooking or eating them. The seed pods and seeds are edible when they are young, raw or baked in ashes. They can be sliced, dried, and stored. They taste similar to banana.

“We stopped by a cluster of Joshua Trees that were producing what appeared to be some type of fruit.”

“Next to the Joshua Trees were a few Brittle Bushes that were in full bloom with their signature bright yellow flowers.”

Lucerne Valley

GPS Coordinates: 34.4513° N, 116.9591° W

Lucerne Valley is a tiny town who’s population can temporarily explode overnight when there are events happening at neighboring Johnson Valley OHV area such as the annual “King of the Hammers” event. You’ll see everything from off road racers to rock crawling jeeps and fans of all genres in between at Lucerne Valley on these days. Other days, you’ll just catch truckers and highway travelers. During the big racing events, the patrons will congregate at a few of the available restaurants and cafes for a meet and greet or a break from the heat and dust. I’ve been to a couple of these events in the past and they are very fun to partake in.

Lucerne Valley is also where Highway 18 and Highway 247 converge, but not in the traditional sense. The highways literally ricochet off each other and never actually cross paths. For example, Highway 18 from Victorville in the west will take a Southeast turn at Lucerne toward Big Bear in the mountains and Highway 247 coming from Barstow in the north will take a hard turn east toward Landers, and ultimately terminate south at Yucca Valley at the doorstep of Joshua Tree National Park.

“This is Crystal Creek Rd. which merges seamlessly into Highway 247 going north to Barstow.”

We continued our drive toward Highway 247 and took it east to explore a a place called Anderson Dry Lake. To get there, we only needed to stay on Highway 247 for a few minutes before taking Camp Rock Rd. northbound. This highway becomes a dirt road eventually by the city dump and is host to some very nasty washboard road conditions, so I highly recommend you air down your tires when taking this road, unless you want to rattle your suspension and passengers to death. There’s not a whole lot out here, but as we got closer to the dirt road, something caught my eye and we had to stop to explore the area on foot.

“The last stretch of pavement before the dirt road to Anderson Dry Lake.”

Beavertail Cactus

Beavertail Cactus or Beavertail Prickly Pear, is a cactus species found in southwest United States. It occurs mostly in the Mojave Desert, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and Colorado Deserts, and also in the Colorado Plateau and northwest Mexico; it ranges through the Grand Canyon and Colorado River region to southern Utah, and in western Arizona, regions along the Lower Colorado River Valley. Opuntia basilaris is a medium-sized to small prickly pear cactus, depending on variety, growing to about 24 inches (60 cm) tall, with pink to rose colored flowers.

A single plant may consist of hundreds of fleshy, flattened pads. These are more or less blue-gray, depending on variety, growing to a length of 5.5 inches (14 cm) and are maximum 4 inches (10 cm) wide and 0.4 – 0.6 inches (1-1.5 cm) thick. They are typically spineless, but have instead many small barbed bristles, called glochids, that easily penetrate the skin. Opuntia basilaris blooms from spring to early summer.(Source: Wikipedia)

“This is the beauty that caught my eye on the side of the road, a Beavertail Cactus in full bloom!”

“There was another Beavertail Cactus nearby that had more blooms on it.”

My mom and pops got out of the truck to stretch their legs. They wandered around for a bit looking at all the really cool rocks out in the open and some of the cacti that were tucked away near the foot of some creosote bushes. The entire time we were awaiting a big thunderstorm, but it never happened, although it sure looked like it was going to rain most of the day. I was caught up taking lots of photos of the blooming cacti when my mom called me over to show me what she had found. I was blown away when she handed me a giant chunk of quartz that she said was partially buried in the sandy embankment of the nearby wash.


Pure quartz, traditionally called rock crystal or clear quartz, is colorless and transparent or translucent, and has often been used for hard stone carvings, such as the Lothair Crystal. Common colored varieties include citrine, rose quartz, amethyst, smoky quartz, milky quartz, and others. Quartz is a defining constituent of granite and other felsic igneous rocks. It is very common in sedimentary rocks such as sandstone and shale and is also present in variable amounts as an accessory mineral in most carbonate rocks. It is a common constituent of schist, gneiss, quartzite and other metamorphic rocks.

Quartz has the lowest potential for weathering in the Goldich dissolution series and consequently it is very common as a residual mineral in stream sediments and residual soils.While the majority of quartz crystallizes from molten magma, much quartz also chemically precipitates from hot hydrothermal veins as gangue, sometimes with ore minerals like gold, silver and copper. Large crystals of quartz are found in magmatic pegmatites. Well-formed crystals may reach several meters in length and weigh hundreds of kilograms.

Naturally occurring quartz crystals of extremely high purity, necessary for the crucibles and other equipment used for growing silicon wafers in the semiconductor industry, are expensive and rare. A major mining location for high purity quartz is the Spruce Pine Gem Mine in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, United States.The largest documented single crystal of quartz was found near Itapore, Goiaz, Brazil; it measured approximately 6.1×1.5×1.5 m and weighed more than 44 tonnes.

The word “quartz” comes from the German word Quarz, which is of Slavic origin (Czech miners called it křemen). Other sources attribute the word’s origin to the Saxon word Querkluftertz, meaning cross-vein ore.(Source: Wikipedia)

“This is the biggest chunk of Quartz Crystal I have ever seen out in the open!”



Serpentinite is a rock composed of one or more serpentine group minerals. Minerals in this group are formed by serpentinization, a hydration and metamorphic transformation of ultramafic rock from the Earth’s mantle. The mineral alteration is particularly important at the sea floor at tectonic plate boundaries.

Serpentinization is a geological low-temperature metamorphic process involving heat and water in which low-silica mafic and ultramafic rocks are oxidized (anaerobic oxidation of Fe2+ by the protons of water leading to the formation of H2) and hydrolyzed with water into serpentinite. Peridotite, including dunite, at and near the seafloor and in mountain belts is converted to serpentine, brucite, magnetite, and other minerals — some rare, such as awaruite (Ni3Fe), and even native iron. In the process large amounts of water are absorbed into the rock increasing the volume and destroying the structure.

Grades of serpentinite higher in calcite, along with the verd antique (breccia form of serpentinite), have historically been used as decorative stones for their marble-like qualities. College Hall at the University of Pennsylvania, for example, is constructed out of serpentine. Popular sources in Europe before contact with the Americas were the mountainous Piedmont region of Italy and Larissa, Greece. Inuit and Aboriginal peoples of the Arctic areas and less so of southern areas used the carved bowl shaped serpentinite Qulliq or Kudlik lamp with wick, to burn oil or fat to heat, make light and cook with. Inuit made tools and more recently carvings of animals for commerce.

Serpentinite has a significant amount of bound water, hence it contains abundant hydrogen atoms able to slow down neutrons by elastic collision (neutron thermalization process). Because of this serpentinite can be used as dry filler inside steel jackets in some designs of nuclear reactors. For example, in RBMK series it was used for top radiation shielding to protect operators from escaping neutrons. Serpentine can also be added as aggregate to special concrete used in nuclear reactor shielding to increase the concrete density (2.6 g/cm3) and its neutron capture cross section.(Source: Wikipedia)

“I wasn’t as lucky, but I did find this bizarre green rock called Serpentinite, a dark green mineral consisting of hydrated magnesium silicate.”

When we finished at the wash, we journied to Anderson Dry Lake by way of one very long and bumpy road. We saw that there were a few people there camping in their trailers and R.V.s, but as for the dry lake?, it was probably one of the bigger let downs I’ve experienced. What was supposed to be a typical dry lake, turned out to be nothing more than a rough patch of dirt. This is what happens when people ride through a dry lake shortly after a rain and explains why El Mirage Dry Lake now charges for entry.

All the characteristics what what you would expect from a dry lake including that unmistakable cracked and hard as concrete surface is nothing more than loose dirt thanks to relentless riding during wet conditions. I understand this is a riding area, but so is El Mirage and it still looks like a Dry Lake Bed. Either way, it was a fun ride to get out here, but we were all getting a bit hungry and it was time to get some early dinner.

“Anderson Dry Lake should be called Anderson Dirt Patch.”

“Time to saddle up and go get some chow!”

I had recently taken notice of this local Pizza Place a week ago when I was driving Highway 247 to Barstow. I looked up the Yelp reviews and this place seemed to be the pizza place of legends according to the reviews and when I got a look at the photos, I was sold! I told my parents about this place and we were all anxious to get a taste of their pizza. While on the way to dinner, my dad spotted a Desert Tortoise trying to cross the highway and I slowed to find a spot to turn around and that’s when I saw a woman do the same, but she got to the tortoise before I did.

She got out of her car and picked it up and started to take it back to where it came from and I yelled at her to take it across the highway instead. The tortoise would have eventually tried to attempt the crossing again if she had put it back where it came from, so she was cool about it and did as I advised. I caught up to her and thanked her. I mentioned that if she see’s a tortoise on the highway like that, the best thing you could do is escort it in the direction it was heading. I ran back to the truck to get my 200mm lens to take a shot of the little guy and just like that, it had literally disappeared!

I guess that little guy was the Houdini of the Testudine world. Anyhow, we were burning daylight and were very hungry so we continued on to dinner. Damn shame too, that the second Desert Tortoise I’ve seen in all 25 years of living in the Mojave. I really wanted a photo, but maybe three times will be the charm I suppose.

Rock’s Place

GPS Coordinates: 34.4443° N, 116.9482° W

Rock’s Place has been around for less than two years and was formerly known as “Stallone’s Pizza”. Rock Griffith is the 6′ 7″ Elvis singing D.J. who recently purchased the old pizzeria with Michelle Stevens on September 24th 2014. He decided to keep the original staff of four from the previous pizza business. Griffith is also looking at the restaurant’s current selection of beer and may add a few items. He’s looking into the possibility of a pizza delivery service as well. He says that they make the dough fresh every morning and thus explains the absolutely awesome flavor and texture of the crust, which I can totally testify to myself.

Apparently the guy also runs two similar eateries in Arizona and Nevada, very cool! He eventually wants to build a patio with a deck, heater, misters, and a glass for the wind. Then someday he says he wants to put up a small stage and eventually have karaoke.

“Pizza time!”

“We got some of their Jalapeno Cheese Poppers, missing two from the basket here, we were very hungry…lol”

“The pizza was the extra large House Special, about 16 inches diameter and 12 slices.”

“Mom and Pops enjoyed this excellent pizza after a long day of exploring Lucerne Valley.”

The pizza was so damn good that I have ranked this as the best pizza place in SoCal. I am definitely driving out here to get my pizza fix in the near future. I love taking small ventures like this and especially enjoy it when I can share the experience with others. My mom is a fan of these outings and my pops is slowly coming around as long as we get to enjoy a superb meal at the end of the day…lol. That about wraps up this adventure for the day,

Until the next travel blog, remember to get out there and “Shoot the Planet!”


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