We ventured into the desert of Mojave National Preserve in March. I’ve driven back and forth along Highway 15 many times, peering into the Mojave and being glad I never broke down. I really had no interest in that scrubby, hot, windy land. I wasn’t even curious. I definitely never considered Mojave desert camping.
My friend Woody, who joined us on the Death Valley leg of our trip, recommended a visit to Mojave National Preserve and he really talked it up. It started to sound interesting.
We had a little mishap with our pop-up trailer and ended up at a hotel in Needles for a night. The next day we found a place to buy a tent and resumed our trip.
The Mojave National Preserve is a tough place to navigate. Not that it’s hard to find your way around, but rather there is so much space to get around in. There are all sorts of interesting things to see, but they are really spread out, as are the gas stations. Next time we go, I’ll have a better plan.
That didn’t stop us from having fun in the places we did get to. We stayed at the Hole in the Wall campground, which gave us great access to rocks to climb on, pictographs, the visitor center, and the Rings Trail.
Something I appreciated about this preserve, is that I really felt like I was “out there” in a way I usually don’t in National Parks–at least not in the front country. There weren’t a lot of other people hanging out in the desert, even in the campground.
We stayed in the most developed area, but it’s still a smallish campground (37 sites). It was nice being in walking distance of the visitor center because we attended a pictograph walk, night slide show, and of course, took part in the Junior Ranger program.
One of the coolest things about Hole in the Wall is the Rings Trail. If you start south of the visitor center, it winds through petroglyphs, past cactus and other desert plants, and into Banshee Canyon. The kids (and I) couldn’t get enough rock scrambling.
Trailhead: Hole-in-the-Wall Information Center parking area, 20 miles north of I-40 on Essex and Black Canyon roads.
Discover how Hole-in-the-Wall got its name as you ascend narrow Banshee Canyon with the help of metal rings mounted in the rock. The 1.5-mile round-trip hike connects to the Mid Hills to Hole-in-the-Wall Trail.
When we were in Death Valley, it was just too hot to play on the dunes, so we were glad to find even bigger ones here. We didn’t make it all the way to the top, but we enjoyed rolling around in the sand, digging for moisture, burying ourselves, following foot (paw) prints, and watching lizards and raptors.
Trailhead: 3 miles west of Kelbaker Road on the well-graded, but unpaved Kelso Dunes Road.
Hikers at sunrise and sunset are treated to both cooler temperatures and the rose-colored glow of the dunes. The roughly 3-mile round-trip hike might take several hours as you slog through the sand, then slide down the slopes. Moving sands sometimes create a “booming” sound-run downhill and get the sand moving to hear the sound.
The Kelso Depot is an old, restored, train depot. Much like Livingston, Kelso was a place where trains could get “helper” engines to help them over the next pass (or “grade” as we call them in California).
According to the Park Service, “The first depot at Kelso opened in 1905, followed a few months later by a post office, an engine house and an eating house to serve both railroad employees and the passengers on trains without dining cars. The town grew over time, as more employees were needed and more of their families moved to the Mojave Desert to join them.”
Now it’s a visitor center, bookstore, and art gallery. We got out of the sun and wind and watched a Park Service movie. We almost watched it again just to sit in there.
Now that I know what exists beyond I-15, I can’t wait to get back. We’ll go in through Baker (rather than the Cima Road to the east), explore the cinder cones and lave tubes, camp along a dirt road….and of course, I have several hikes picked out.
I found this on the Preserve website:
“Mojave National Preserve is vast. At 1.6 million acres, it is the third largest unit of the National Park System in the contiguous United States. While you won’t be able to experience it all in a single visit, taking the time to plan ahead will ensure a safe and rewarding adventure.
And remember: you can always come back…”
Mojave Desert Wildflowers: A Field Guide To Wildflowers, Trees, And Shrubs Of The Mojave Desert, Including The Mojave National Preserve, Death Valley National Park, and Joshua Tree National Park by Pam Mackay
Other Mojave Desert Camping and Hiking
- Staying and Exploring Death Valley National Park
- Staying and Exploring Joshua Tree National Park
- Staying and Exploring Mojave National Monument and Preserve
- Staying and Exploring Valley of Fire State Park