Stuck on Soda Lake

Oh, so one day, way back in the beginning of 1991, when I was just a young pup, my friend Jim and I were out off-roading in the sand dunes of the Devil’s Playground area out near Baker, California.

We had been roaming around the desert all weekend but now it was Sunday afternoon and time to head home. We figured we would hit Baker for dinner and be on our way home. We came out of the Devil’s Playground somewhere south of Soda Dry Lake and started to work our way around the edge of the playa when we came upon an old road that went across the lakebed.

Jim said, “Make a left (across the lake).”

I wasn’t so sure I could make it but only gave a half-hearted “I dunno…”

Then Jim infamously said, “You’ve got a Toyota; you can do it.”

Oh… It’s funny now. Anyway, I did make that left and started out across the lakebed.

Things started off surprisingly well. I was already in 4WD drive and making good progress. We were speeding right along.

Somewhere about a quarter of the way across the mud was getting deeper and wetter. I was getting nervous. I put the transmission into low gears. Mud was flinging everywhere, and I had to weave the truck back and forth just to keep my momentum going.

About a third of the way across though, we were slowing down. I had to put the wipers on because I couldn’t see out the windshield anymore. I was getting a bad feeling about making it across. Of course, I was way too committed now to even attempt a try at turning around. I was sure the mud was deeper on either side of the old road and I would be stuck instantly. I could only try and go forward.

And so… Right about in the middle of the lake there was a slight depression that stopped us.

I tried to rock the vehicle forward and backwards. The wheels just spun in the slick goo. To his credit, Jim got out and heroically tried pushing the truck forward while I spun the wheels and sprayed mud on him. We were stuck, however.

We walked to town, and let me tell you, that was not great… Eventually, we found a local tow truck guy that was sympathetic to our plight. The sun had already set so it was too late to attempt a rescue that night. We would have to wait until the next day. We shuffled over to the nearest motel like mud-stained zombies. The guy at the front desk was not happy to see us.

The next day, the tow truck driver came out with his flatbed truck and promptly got it stuck at the edge of the lake. I felt some vindication at this, but it also really made me worry that I was not going to see my truck on dry land again, or at least until summertime.

He got on the radio and after a lot of cursing and waiting, another tow truck showed up and pulled him out. They left and said they would be back in an hour or so with reinforcements.

I was surprised that they came back at all, but they did. And they showed up with a few ATVs and two six-wheeled military vehicles and more than 2,000 ft of cable and chain.

They used the chain to tie the two six-wheelers together and ran the cable out to my truck with an ATV. Once everything was set up, they slowly walked the military rigs backwards onto dry land with my truck in tow.

That was a fun couple of days.

So… if you are out exploring with me and you see me pause at the edge of a dry lake, you’ll know why.

These are old photos from scans.