The Hyduke Mine Road
Our family has been taking semi-annual trips to the Colorado River for as long as I can remember. Tradition dictates that we go to the same place, a sandbar a mile upstream from Picacho on the California side. Picacho, a former mining town, is located about 30 kilometers north of Winterhaven. Getting there requires taking the infamous Picacho Road. It’s a long reddish dirt road that takes out all but the friendliest campers. It is a test of your vehicle and your nerves.
There is a shorter way to get to Picacho from the west on a road called Hyduke Mine Road. My brother John and I learned about it from a former trucker, who said he used it to bypass the Interstate 8 farm inspection station. We figured if a truck driver could get around Hyduke Mine Road, so could we.
Our vehicle was a Chevrolet Caprice Classic; a policeman because. John was driving, his future wife was riding a shotgun, and my girlfriend and I were sitting in the back. We assure you that this was the best way to go. Hyduke Mine Road begins at Ogilby Road and after about 16 miles it connects with Picacho Road just 5 miles south of Picacho. While we were on Ogilby Road, we saw the Hyduke sign written on a piece of wood and nailed to the ground. We stopped at the trailhead and took stock of the situation.
To the east of us was Picacho Peak, a prominent hill sticking out of the desert that can be seen for 100 miles on clear days. According to the map, all we had to do was keep heading towards it and pass its north side. How could we get lost with such an outstanding feature to navigate?
Within the first 8 miles we encountered only a few obstacles. We crossed numerous dry washes and plowed some sandy embankments. These things were good for a laugh and instilled in us some confidence that this was going to be a piece of cake. The whole time we are heading towards Picacho Peak. I felt a bit uncomfortable because we had not seen a soul and now we were in the middle. It would take 8 miles to walk in either direction if there were car issues. On this day the temperature was about 95 degrees. We had the windows closed, the air conditioning turned off the cold and the Van Helen tunes playing all the time.
At this point we find difficulties in rapid succession. The car’s check engine light came on, drawing John’s attention to the temperature gauge approaching the red zone. John knew exactly what to do. He ordered us to roll the windows down and turned the heater on high. As crazy as it may sound, turning off the air conditioning and turning on the heat provided the extra cooling effort needed so the engine wouldn’t overheat and thus leave us stranded in the desert. The grunting of passengers aside, this was a prudent move.
We came across an area where the road was washed away by a wide stream. The creek bed was now dry, but the road on the other side was 24 “higher than the creek bed.” We can’t climb that, “was what we were all thinking. The military shovel came out and a level of ingenuity that only despair can muster. In half an hour we had built a ramp out of sand and rocks. John and I carefully studied the situation and decided that we would need momentum, timing, and perfect tire placement. After agreeing to the plan, John jumped into the car, gave the obligatory thumbs up, and stepped on the gas. I can still see the event perfectly in my mind. John’s car It hit the ramp and the front end came ashore as planned. The rear tires rolled to the middle of the ramp and the tires began to spin. The tires were spinning little by little the rest of the way and finally caught, throwing the car on the road and ripping the muffler. ”After thunderous applause, a pat on the back, and a sigh of relief, we all got into the car and sped off.
Until now, we always had Picacho Peak in sight. This aided navigation and provided reassurance for women who had begun to lose faith in our plan. As we made our way to the foothills of the Chocolate Mountains, the peak was lost from sight. Our spirits sank along with him. John and I tried to appease the ladies by reminding them that we carried camping supplies with us for an entire weekend. In the worst case, we would just have to camp, which is what we came here to do anyway. Neither of us dared to point out that the water, our most necessary asset, was already running out.
We come across a deep pond with a soggy earth dam on the south side. The path passed over the dam, which was wide enough for the car to pass. I got out of the car to watch John roll over. To his right was a shear drop, to his left was this pond slowly seeping over the dam and under its tires. It seemed that when passing over it, the dam collapsed, the tires slipped and more and more water began to fall on the dam. After it crossed, we had the impression that we could never go back. Nobody could, really.
Later we came to a fork in the road and decided to take a left as it seemed to be busier. We continued for half a mile as the road turned to coarse sand. John gave him enough gas to continue. Soon we came to a dead end, a dead end with the thickest sand we had seen so far. I figured this is where we would be forced to camp that night. This I think is where John’s 4-wheel instincts first manifested. John hit the gas and spun the car around this cul-de-sac in the widest allowed arc he could get. The tires slowed and began to skid, but the car kept moving. The car’s speed gradually increased and soon we were back at the fork. This time we made the right decision.
Stopping to rest, I took stock of our situation. I realized this was a 4×4 road. No police cars. In 2 hours we had covered about 12 miles. We lost sight of our point of reference. Each of us was sweaty, dirty, and bitter. We had long since removed the least layer of clothing that decency allows. The secret of the water supply was now public knowledge. The car was malfunctioning because the muffler was ripped off. This hurt our ears because we rolled down the windows. We couldn’t roll them because we were in the desert with the heat on. Of course, we did this because the car was overheating, and so on. At that moment, John and I felt like we were past the point of no return. The ladies, on the other hand, saw every hit and turn as a sign that we should turn around. Our stubborn refusal to back down led to hurtful accusations and a “them versus us” mentality that lasted well beyond the completion of Hyduke Mine Road.
In the late afternoon we reached the top of a hill and contemplated Picacho Peak on our right. It was close, so we knew we didn’t have to go far. Going down the hill we enter White Wash. We continued on this wash at about 30 miles per hour not daring to slow down or even turn sharply for fear of digging and getting stuck. After a few scary spots where we slowed to a slow, we were in sight of Picacho Road. We saw that the road was flanked by sand embankments that were used to prevent drainage from flowing onto the road. John didn’t even consider slowing down. He hit the 2 ‘sand berm at full speed, breaking his way over it and onto Picacho Road.
Our misadventure was over. We found our way to Picacho and jumped into the Colorado River to cool off.