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Left For Dead In Joshua Tree NP

April 22nd, 2009

I got my taxes squared away. Unfortunately, Johnny was still doing his and seemed like he would be for hours. I wasn’t in any mood to lounge around the camper and decided it was time for some fun. So, I talked Johnny into unhooking the scooter for me and proceeded into Joshua Tree National Park. I wasn’t sure if we were going to drive in there before we left our boondocking area just outside of the park, and I wanted to see a damn Joshua Tree.

White Tank Campground - Joshua Tree NP

After working the scooter through the loose sand, I hit Cottonwood road and headed into the park. It was a pleasant ride, albeit slow. The first part was all up hill and the scooter was moving between 10 and 15mph. It was during this part of the trip that I realized I didn’t bring a jug of water. Not good. Once I made it up to the visitors center it sped up to about 30mph. From then on, it was smooth sailing. I stopped at all of the various markers and checked out some Ocotillo trees in bloom. I was lucky enough to see a rare purple aster that supposedly only grows in this area. The only wildlife I saw were a few lizards and a rabbit. No sheep for me… sigh. After a long ride in the Colorado desert, I finally made it in to the Mojave. I looked at my fuel gauge, but it hadn’t moved. I decided to go all of the way to White Tank Campground.

When I arrived there I was overcome by the scenery. The giant boulders surrounded by Joshua Trees were an awesome sight. I was so entranced I almost didn’t notice the time or my fuel gauge. I didn’t have a clock, but the sun was pretty low in the sky. The gauge read 3/4 tank. I thought, “Plenty of time and fuel, but I should head back.” I got to see a Joshua Tree! Too bad it took 30 miles.

I headed back home. This is where the fun started. My hands were a little cold, so I stopped to warm them up at a pull out. When I started off again the fuel gauge said 1/2. I started to get concerned. I was still about 27 miles from our campsite and 20 miles from the visitors center. Uh oh! Panic sets in, and I start driving slower to conserve fuel. The scenery had disappeared. All that was left was the gas gauge, the odometer, the road ahead of me and the faint hope that some off-roaders with gas cans would be around the next bend.

Colorado Desert - Joshua Tree NP

The next 20 miles were like that. Slowing down seemed to help. My gauge was moving very slowly. I thought that I might make it. I even chose to pass up stopping at the visitors center, because the gauge still showed fuel. But, it was not to be. As I made it up the hill just past the visitors center, the scooter died. I tried to start it, but it was futile. Grrrr… Most of the rest of the journey back to the campsite would have been down hill. I debated trying to coast down the 7 miles to the campsite. Then, I remembered that I didn’t have water. Seven miles, desert, no water… not good. Had I had water, I think I could have done it. Alas, I coasted back to the visitors center. It was closed. There were three cars in the parking lot. Only one wasn’t a subcompact. It was an SUV. I figured it was my best shot at a fuel can. Nope. He said I was in a good spot though. There was a campground up the road. By then all of the other cars were gone.

I started hoofing it up to the campground a half mile away. As I topped a hill, it looked like I could coast the scooter down the rest of the way to the campground, so I went back and got the scooter. I also figured that people would be more willing to give me a couple ounces of fuel if I was pushing the scooter. Damned heavy scooter. My brilliant idea of coasting down was destroyed. The scooter wouldn’t move on its own. More pushing.

Then the guy I asked for fuel at the visitors center drove back by. Oh joy. Here I am, alone, with a disabled scooter and now I have a stalker. Lovely, buried in the desert… ugh. He said that he thought I said “I could drive a few miles” instead of “I only have a few miles to go, so I only need a few ounces”. He offered me a ride or to try to find me some fuel. I told him that I would be grateful if he brought me fuel, but I am going to continue to the campground. He drove away. Relief. I tried to run beside the scooter to get it rolling down the hill, but when I jumped on, it would crawl to a stop (no fat jokes!). Back he came. Said that no one would answer at the ranger houses and that he would try the campground.

Cholla - Joshua Tree NP

So close. I got to the campground sign but saw no campers. All up hill from there. I pushed a little further. No campers in site. I spotted a tent camper and his son. I asked if I was going the right direction to reach the campers. It was up hill. I was tired. I didn’t want to waste any energy. He said it was his first time there and he had no idea. He asked if I was the “one who ran out of fuel”. Obviously, the creepy longhaired guy in the SUV had been there. Maybe he didn’t want to kill me after all. Then, the tent camper offered to take me to the campers. I declined. He jumped into his jeep, started it, and told me to hop in. I accepted. I pushed the scooter into a parking space and locked the steering.

Being a big believer in self sufficiency, it was pretty hard for me to go around begging folks for help. I was more comfortable pushing the scooter up the sides of mountains than asking for fuel. I was still out of breath when I asked the first person I saw. They said they couldn’t help and asked who the guy that dropped me off was. The next folks, a man and his grandson, were much nicer. They offered me what they had, stove fuel. I asked if they had cell phones, but neither could get a signal. They let me know that if I couldn’t find fuel they would be happy to drive me to my campsite. Nice folks. That trend continued. Then, the stalker pulled back up with a can of gas. Hooray! I hopped in the “serial killer’s” vehicle.

I was happy, but worried that I had killed the battery when I tried to start the scooter earlier. Thankfully, I hadn’t. Greg, probably a nice guy and not a murderer, poured the gas in. I tried to start it. No go. Plenty of battery but no start. The scooter can be a pain to start when its cold. I figured after a couple hours it was probably cold again. I tried again and again. Ok, kickstart. Nope. Greg wanted to try to kick start it. Still nothing. Try the electric start again. And, again. Greg took the gas can back. I finally killed the battery. It was over.

I walked away and asked the tent camper if he had cell signal. Of course not. Greg returned. I told him the bad news. He offered jumper cables. I turned it on and tried to start it again. Omg, the battery recharged itself. Second try and it started. Then, it stalled. OK, I tried again and this time opened the throttle right away. It started, but then stalled in milliseconds. I tried it a few more times and it never started.

A Joshua Tree(Yucca brevifolia) at sunset - Joshua Tree NP

I decided to let it rest and Greg and I chatted. Turns out that he is a rock climber who used to work with a team training people. They have all long since moved on, got married, had kids, etc. But, every year they meet up in Joshua Tree on Palm Sunday and climb together. He was on his way home from it when I pestered him. He turned out to be pretty cool. He is now an Earth Science teacher who would rather mountain bike or surf than scramble around on rocks. I wish I would have met him and his lady in better circumstances. Good people.

OK, time to try it a couple more times. It was getting dark. The stupid scooter wouldn’t start again. I asked Greg if he was leaving the park for the night. He was. I decided to take him up on the offer to shuttle me to my camper. So I grabbed my helmet, locked the scooter and left it for dead.

Not much happened after that. Greg and I chatted about adventure sports, environments, and life on our 7 mile ride. I started to feel a little guilty about him sticking around so long to help me. He wouldn’t accept any cash for his trouble.

The scooter is a liar. I almost wanted to leave it at the campground. But, when I got home we packed up and went to rescue it.

Campsites mentioned in this post:
Joshua Tree NP South BLM Land
White Tank Campground

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10 Responses to “Left For Dead In Joshua Tree NP”

  1. Rene says:

    Jenn, that is soooooo scary! What a relief to know things worked out.

    One time I left my motorcycle lights on while we were stopped at a bar at the resort in Death Valley. On the 4th of July. We came outside, sufficiently refreshed, when we noticed the lights. Battery was dead dead dead. Worst night ever.

    It’s great though that almost everywhere you go, strangers you meet on the road aren’t the serial killers we’ve been trained to think they are. After 2 years traveling around the country, Jim and I have shed our jaded city ‘tude and now really believe that people are mostly good. Your story confirmed that. Thanks.

  2. Thom Hoch says:

    Well, I couldn’t just skim through this post… had to read every word. My attention was riveted to the screen and your story. Glad you’re safe and it all worked out in the end.


  3. Joong Kim says:

    Wow. Jenn, we went to stone mountain this weekend. We did like a one mile “nature trail” thought, this ain’t for us. Of course, we tested the off road capability of our baby strollers. We thought, “we’re lost” on this silly little trail and panicked for a few minutes. I couldn’t even imagine what you’ve been through. Glad you are safe. Where was Johnny all this time? Shouldn’t he be the hero on the spot for this kind of stuff on your journeys?

  4. johnny says:


    I was doing my stupid taxes when she left or we wouldn’t have had such a funny story. I know that gas gauge is corrupt!

    Seriously though, as it got late, I was pretty worried. Another 30 minutes and I would’ve called the rangers. Joshua Tree is a big place and it was going to get pretty cold that evening. Moving the house that Jenn would be expecting to find upon her return seemed like a bad idea!

  5. Joong Kim says:

    Taxes? I thought you guys were out of work.

    Also, so, when does this adventure end? I’m sure Mr. Roboto will hire you back. Smirk.

    I envy your journey. There are very few people who actually get to do this. We’re all too busy living the American dream. Some dream eh? Job, Wife and Kid, Pets, Three Cars, A big house, Church, Family Life, and enough debt to keep you working hard at a job. Stuff you don’t need. Too busy and only way to keep up with friends is through facebook. Ok ok, it’s not all that bad. 🙂

  6. johnny says:

    Taxes! Capital gains taxes even. Stock market takes a giant dump, but I still have to pay taxes on what I made the first half of the year. Lovely.

    When does it end? I have no idea. At this point we’re saying ‘at least another year.’ I’m sure we’ll keep saying that. At some point, we’ll have to figure out a more sustainable income, but our cost of living is really low compared to what it was two years ago.

    About two in the morning around the campfire at Slab City, Ryan started laying down a bit of philosophy that equated debt to a modern form of slavery. He just might be right.

    Hey, if you want to drop out and bring the kids along, watch ‘Surfwise’. It’s about a family of 11 living in a smallish camper fulltime for more than 20 years. Jenn played it for me the other day. Crazy!

  7. Tammy says:

    You’ll have to write a book when it’s all over. Love you gurl, be careful out there.

  8. jenn says:


    Ya, this trip has changed a lot of the views that I held about people in general. They aren’t as bad as I had thought. In fact, most of them are pretty cool. However, there is still something in me that causes me to go on the defense (at least in my head) when I am stranded and alone. I am not sure that I want to give that up anytime soon.


    I am glad you were able to get all of the way through it. When I got home, I had a couple of drinks to decompress and then started typing away. Needless to say there are a couple (lol) of typos.

  9. jenn says:

    >Also, so, when does this adventure end?
    Does it have to? There are lots of ways to live, and I do believe that this one can be sustainable.

    >I’m sure Mr. Roboto will hire you back. Smirk.
    Ya umm.. No thanks. I’ll pass. I doubt I will ever sit in a cubicle again.

    >Some dream eh?
    That doesn’t sound too bad. Except for the debt part, it sounds like a pretty nice way to live.


    I will leave the book writing to Johnny. Not my forte. I will gladly have the adventures to write about, though. Love you girl!

  10. Jeremy says:

    You should put a small tool kit on the moped with at least a spark plug tool. It may already have one they are usually stored under the seat. I would put a small piece of sandpaper in the tool pack and also a spare spark plug somewhere on the bike.

    If this ever happens again. Take the spark plug out, then turn the starter over either by the kick start or electric start if the moped has one. I would say you should turn it over 10 times using the kick start and 3 to 5 TRUE seconds via an electric starter.

    Then take the sandpaper and clean the little piece that looks like a hook on the dirty side on the plug. But clean both sides of the little hook real well.

    Put the spark plug back in, put the little boot back on it and then try to crank it. If this doesn’t work then try replacing the plug altogether and then try starting again.

    Also when you have the moped stored on front of your truck it’s a good idea to turn the gas off if you don’t. If the gas is left on it can load your carb up and cause the same problem when you do get ready to ride it.

    I hope this helps…….

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