Mojave. I’ve been wanting to go here for a few years now, and I didn’t know exactly why. Most people I’ve mentioned that to say “WHY? Theres nothing there, it’s barren and depressing.” I can see why people think that, since the view from either of the major highways that border it is… barren and depressing. But I now think that’s by divine design, to keep this spectacular place special for the few people who decide to venture in.
Since the drive from either direction is mostly a monotonous covering of creosote bushes, I couldn’t stop looking at the hills. The way jagged mountaintops jut out of (what I later learned were) the soft shoulders of centuries old eroding volcanos created lines that I couldn’t decide were actually there or just in my head.
There were also a lot of salt and mineral companies in the adjacent valley, and the Union Pacific Railroad still runs through there. Regardless, there was no gas for over 100 miles. I had to drive 14 miles past the entrance of the National Preserve to fill up at $4.99 per gallon. Yikes!
Mojave National Preserve is the third largest national park unit outside of Alaska, at 1.6 Million acres (only Death Valley and Yellowstone are bigger). It is a National Preserve and not a National Park because there are still private landowners there, and old cattle troughs, tin cans, and random bits of history are scattered all over the place. Homesteading was big during the gold rush period in the late 1800s and before that “…the Chemehuevi lived on prickly pear, mesquite and roasted agave blooms and hunted deer and bighorn sheep.”
Three of North America’s four deserts meet in the park: the Mojave, Great Basin and the Sonoran. The preserve houses black cinder cones and lava beds, a dry salt lake, the third biggest sand dunes in the country, abandoned gold mines, deep canyons, the densest Joshua Tree forest in the world, and the Kingston, New York, Providence and Whipple Mountain ranges. Which means I already can’t wait to go return and see more.
But back to my trip. Two separate people had told me that Hole-In-The-Wall campground is great so I headed there first. I had a long talk with the park ranger there, pouring over maps of possible bike rides, road-side camping spots, and way too many adventures that I didn’t have time for. Then I continued up the road to the other campground at Mid Hills. And I was in love. As soon as I started getting up into the mountains the barrenness gave way to Juniper and Pinyon Pine and sagebrush. Just imagine how good the air smells up there!
I picked a campsite to park my car for the day, made lunch, and then wasted no more time getting on my mountain bike. It was only 11 am when I took off so I had all afternoon to get lost and find my way back. Bikes have to stay on existing roads, but there are miles and miles and miles of those, some which clearly haven’t seen any tires in years. It was sunny and 75 degrees. I was in my happy place.
But I had hours of daylight and I knew where I was supposed to be, so I was not worried at all. What an amazing freedom that is! I got off my bike and hiked around a bit and found something which I thought could have been a road, followed it for a bit until it was clear that it was actually a cattle track, wandered a bit more, and finally saw a marking post halfway up the hill. I also found the old Gold Valley Mine which still has a connected windmill water pump for cattle.
After getting back to my car I was planning to move to a road-side (read:free) campsite, but I was on such a high that I decided giving this place a little money was alright with me. Plus I was tired and seriously hungry and my cooking stuff was already unpacked from lunch. And the view from the site was better than any of the spots I had passed on my bike ride, which is perhaps surprisingly important to me.
There was a big lightning-ignited fire up there in 2005 so the trees surrounding half of the campground are charred skeletons, which I think created some really break taking scenes, especially at sunrise and sunset!
The next day I headed to Teutonia Peak and walked through a Joshua Tree forest that in my opinion blew Joshua Tree NP out of the water. The trees were much bigger here and there were more of them. And I had the path completely to myself.
Eventually I headed out of the park past the Cinder Cone Lava Beds, which themselves were named a National Natural Landmark. You have to have four-wheel-drive to get close and I did not want to risk spinning my tires in the sand. But it was incredible even from the road to see the red cones and the dark edge where the lava flow ended. It’s hard to see in the photo but that dark line is a ~10 ft vertical face of black.
My last stop was at a place called “ZZYZX,” pronounced “Zi Zix,” which used to be a mineral spa. Now it’s a research center but you can still drive up the road through the dry Soda Lake, which was yet another breathtaking sight.
This place really affected me in a positive way. I’m not sure what it is about the desert but recently it just makes me illogically happy and care-free.
Did I give you enough pictures 😉 ?