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.
Hole in the Wall 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.
Kelso Depot Visitor Center
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…”
Here are the resources I used for our trip.
Hiking the Mojave Desert: The Natural and Cultural Heritage of Mojave National Preserve by Michel Digonnet
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
Mojave National Preserve (National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map)
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
21 thoughts on “Mojave National Preserve”
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I’m not a big fan of deserts (having lived in the Middle East for 9 years) but this looks really interesting specially with the writing on the rocks! I can’t imagine how you were able to take photos during the hike, I hope you don’t have such a huge camera. :-p
I didn’t think I was a fan of deserts, either, but this trip plus five days in Death Valley changed my mind. There is so much going on when you look closely. That said, I still avoid them in summer!
This place looks better than Death Valley and it’s sounds it too if it’s not so hot. The kids looked like they were enjoying playing. It’s great you take them to the outdoors to live as we did back in the day! I’d never heard of Mojave National Preserve, I’ll check it out next time I’m in that part of the world, the dunes look great.
It doesn’t quite have all the superlatives that Death Valley has, but it is a really special place.
I love camping and that is exactly what we did when we visited the Mojave National Preserve about 10 years ago. What a great thing to do with your kids. Bringing them closer to the great outdoors. I am sure that they will thank you later in life for it.
It’s such a fun way to spend time together as a family.
I never made it to the Mojave national preserve when I was in the US, though I did go to Death Valley. It does like a good park and with lots to see and do. Not sure I would want to roll around in the sand dunes though, I would love to climb the rocks though :-0
Fortunately, rolling around in the sand dunes isn’t required, but it is fun!
This looks like a great backdrop for camping! I would love to explore the caves and attempt at deciphering the petroglyphs. Your family truly looks like they enjoyed the trip there. Death Valley where you mentioned your friend Woody joined up is also on my list. Plus, those globe mallows are gorgeous! I had no idea there would be vegetation in deserts other than cacti. I hope to explore more the USA soon!
The desert is so surprising- there is so much life!
Camping in the desert sounds like a fun adventure! It’s always nice when the kids are in for an adventure too! But it’s always worthwhile when they get to experience new things and sights. I would love to try this one too!
We all had a blast- I can’t wait to go back.
Sorry to hear you had a mishap with you camper trailer but at least it was sorted the next day. Looks like the kids had a ball and I think the junior ranger programs are fantastic. I hope you toasted some marshmallows over that campfire 🙂
It makes travel exciting, doesn’t it? And of course, we toasted marshmallows! 😉
Looks like you had a fun trip! Love the dessert flowers. There nothing quite like having a chat over the campfire at night.
The flowers and campfire were highlights of the trip!
Thats a lovely place to go camping for. I am sure your kids must have had a lovely time. The hills and dunes look lovely. Thanks for sharing.
We did have a great time. Looking forward to a return trip.