Friday, January 15, 2016

Mojave National Preserve

Before this trip, I was not aware of the Mojave National Preserve, and that’s a shame. It is really a wonderful place.

The preserve is located just west of the lower California/Nevada state line, neatly tucked between interstates 15 and 40. The preserve contains 1.6 million acres, making it the third largest unit of the National Park System. Previously assigned to the BLM, it was re-designated in 1994 with the passage of the California Desert Protection Act. The park is rich in volcanic formations, such as Hole-in-the-Wall and the Cinder Cone Lava Beds. It is also home to the largest Joshua Tree forests in the world.

The land was originally occupied by Native American tribes, such as the Chemehuevi and the Mohave. During the days of California gold fever, gold mines were established throughout the area. Silver, iron, and other deposits were discovered later and were also mined in the region.

Donna and I saw only a fraction of this preserve today. We started by driving west from Needles on Interstate 40. We exited on Essex Road, about 7 miles west of Fenner. We drove northwest along Essex Road for 10 miles, then almost due north along Black Canyon Road for 10 miles to Hole-in-the-Wall, where an information center, campground, and other facilities are located. Unfortunately, the information center was not open –although the sign on its window indicated it should be – but we wandered about a bit and drove through the campground. There were probably half a dozen campers in the campground, which has no hookups of any type but does have potable water and a dump station.

Informational center tucked into Hole-in-the-Wall

From Hole-in-the-Wall, we headed due north, where Black Canyon Road turned into a dirt road. For the first several miles, the road is well-maintained and quite wide. However, as the road reaches the hilly sections, the road narrows quite a bit, with numerous twists and turns. During our trip, there had been a recent snow, so the road was damp, but in relatively good condition. Snow still covered much of the surrounding hills. We had no problems, though. After about 9 miles, we intersected with the Cedar Canyon Road and turned west. This road in places follows some of the old Mojave Road, which is a notable piece of history in and of itself. It cuts through some hilly areas and passes a wonderful Joshua Tree forest.

Black Canyon Road after a light snow. The road is in generally good condition.

Joshua Trees

After 3 miles or so, the road becomes paved again, and eventually intersects with the Kelso Cima Road. We turned southwest and followed the road to Kelso. For most of the way, the road is a gradual downhill slope. Soon the Kelso Dunes appeared in the distance. The Kelso Dunes, which are at the base of the Granite Mountains, are about 700 feet in height. They are formed by sand carried by wind from Soda Dry Lake, the Mojave River Sink, and the Devil’s Playground. They appear as a splotch of sand-colored area amid a larger terrain of darker hues.

Kelso Dunes as seen from the Kelso Cima Road

At Kelso, we stopped at the information center. As with its counterpart at Hole-in-the-Wall, it was also closed, though its posted hours indicate it is closed on the day we visited. The information center is housed in an old railroad station. Howevet, the outside restrooms were open, making this a good stop along your drive through the Preserve. The availability of good water was instrumental in the creation of Kelso as a railway stop. With the rising grade to the northeast, “helper” trains were needed to pull trains up the slope. The little desert town declined after World War II.

Kelso Depot

Joshua Trees near Cima

After our stop, we retraced our route by heading northeast on the Kelso Cima Road. Near Cima, which is nothing more than a road junction, there is another very large Joshua Tree forest. Beyond Cima, a large valley opens, with views far into the distance. We were able to clearly see Primm to the north and Nipton to the northeast. We intersected with Ivanpah Road, turned north, and then intersected Highway 164 and turned east to Searchlight, Nevada. From there, we worked our way back to Laughlin.

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