Mojave Desert Park

Note: If I have posted a link here, please click on it. If I were to try to detail all the features of the area, this post would end up book length.

We have a vast preserve out here in SE CA called Mojave National Park. It is a pretty cool place, easily accessed from I-15 and I-40. Over 1.6 million square miles of desert with large sand dunes, rock outcroppings, the densest Joshua tree forest in the world, patches of juniper & pinyon forest and even white fir at the highest elevations. There are private ranches, mines (mostly abandoned) hundreds of miles of dirt trails, hunting (in season) and incredible geological features. You can bring your gun.

The legendary Mojave Road bisects the preserve. Important historical resources include Fort Paiute, Kelso train station, abandoned mines and even ancient Indian petroglyphs. The Kelso Dunes and the Devil’s Playground are thousands of acres of emptiness. There is the old health resort, Zyzzyx, now converted to a desert research station.

Be kind to the area. There are plenty of challenging dirt roads, esp. the old Mojave Road. Stay on them. We don’t need to have the pristine desert areas torn up. Backcountry camping is allowed almost anywhere but if you have a campfire, please use one of the many established fire rings and BYO firewood. No collecting.  It is home to the endangered desert tortoise. Keep your eye peeled when driving. They cross roads and there is no excuse for hitting one.

A year ago I wandered about in it for 4 days, sometimes with others and sometimes alone. Depending on what my elevation was, daytime highs ranged from 55 to 75. Nights were 30 degrees cooler. Rained on me Sat. am – and Sun. am I knocked ice crystals off the inside of my tent. Really should have asked a ranger what the policy was regarding backcountry nudity but didn’t think of it when I could have done so. I just did it. No photos though.

The easiest way to access the preserve is by I-15 to the north via Baker or I-40 from the south. For a real adventure, (extremely rough and ill-maintained road) pick up national Trails Highway at Barstow and take it. As you head east thru Newberry Springs you will pass near a series of ghost and semi-ghost towns. A state park on the west side of Mojave NP is the Providence Mountains State Recreation area whose main feature is the unique Mitchell Caverns.

Everyone needs to feel insignificant once in a while. This is a good place for it.


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Undeveloped camping by the dunes.



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Moonrise over the Providence Mtns.


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Moonrise over the Providence Mtns. again.



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Moonrise over the Providence Mtns. yet again.



Amboy Crater. This is near by and an interesting place to visit. Can’t really see it from here but originally you could drive right up to it before the Park Service took it over. Now there is a walkway. There is also a maze of cinder ridges one could get lost in if one wasn’t careful.

There is a chain of these extinct volcanoes stretching from Barstow to here. This is the most recent one and best preserved, about 50K years old. While you are there, visit the micro-town of Amboy.

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Amboy Crater



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Active cattle ranching



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Joshua tree forest near Cima Dome. There are more Joshua trees here than in Joshua  Tree national park. The higher elevations are home to pinyon pine and juniper.




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Another undeveloped camp. Easy to be nude since vehicles rarely come by.



This is an abandoned wagon stop along the old Mojave Road. Originally a footpath created by the Indians for trade, it became the main route for wagon trains and later stagecoach runs. Eventually supplanted by the railroad over a parallel path. The well is dry.

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Hole in the Wall. The story is that ranchers went after a local Indian band who were rustling and thought they had them cornered here. They didn’t. The Indians knew there was a narrow slot in back thru which they could escape. That night the Indians set up fires to make the ranchers think that were encamped. Next morning when the ranchers attacked, there was nobody there.






Empty valleys all to yourself.



Land of the cactus.



This is the bombardier beetle, a very common denizen of California. He shoots a boiling acid mixture out of his rear if you tick him off. You can tell when he is unhappy because his front goes down and his rear points up at whatever is bothering him.




Red Tailed Hawk



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An abandoned post office in Kelso.



A jackrabbit.


I never see wildlife this calm and this close when I am in a group.



Why did the tortoise cross the road? I don’t know but I got out and stopped traffic to let him get thru.


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This is the old railway station. it has been converted to a visitors center.


There were plenty of petroglyphs, a precursor of modern graffiti.


Kelso “singing” sand dunes. The climb to the top is exhausting. You cause little landslides that “boom”. Get naked and run to the edge and jump off. You’ll land many feet down and slide even farther. Then slowly back up again. I used to do this as a little kid in Michigan!




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Lava tubes!




And plenty of wildflowers. (This year’s display wasn’t so good.)




For the discovery of lesser-known points of interest, Bill Mann has a series of Guides that I use to direct my exploration

Bill Mann’s Guide to 50 Interesting and Mysterious Sites in the Mojave


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