Mojave National Preserve
February 18-20, 2006
|Looking towards the Providence Mountains from a
naturally formed window in the Granite Mountains
Early on Saturday morning I braved the snow that fell to a rather low elevation
overnight and drove south to Bakersfield and then east over Tehachapi Pass to the
small town of Mojave. There I met Jeffry (a.k.a. Heredoggy), a friend from
Backpacker.com, and we carpooled on east to Mojave National Preserve.
Mojave National Preserve, at 1.6 million acres, is the third largest National Park
Service managed area in the Lower 48; only Death Valley and Yellowstone are larger.
It was set aside in 1994 as part of the California Desert Protection Act. This was the
same legislation that changed Joshua Tree and Death Valley from National Monuments
to National Parks. The Mojave National Preserve is a huge triangular shaped area
bounded by I-15 to the north and I-40 to the south and it extends east from the
Baker area all the way to the Arizona state line.
I had visited a small corner of Mojave National Preserve last year when I stopped for
a little while and hiked a short trail at Zzyzx. I have been eager ever since to go back
and explore more of this vast and beautiful desert.
The Mojave National Preserve encompasses a wide range of landscapes from granite
mountains to volcanic cinder cones to limestone caves to sand dunes. Elevations range
from 880â€™ near Baker to 7,492â€™ at the top of Clark Mountain. There is a huge
variety of plant and animal life as three major desert ecosystems are present in the
preserve; the Mojave, Great Basin, and Sonoran Deserts. From white fir atop the
Clark Mountains and the New York Mountains down to Pinyon pine and juniper forests
to Joshua Tree forests to cactus and creosote in the lowlands the plant life is very
diverse. Kit fox, coyote, mule deer, bighorn sheep, desert tortoises and other
reptiles, and many types of birds and small rodents call the Mojave National Preserve
Jeffry and I met at Jerryâ€™s Diner in Mojave at 8:00 a.m. and had breakfast. I had
a very yummy Belgian Waffle and orange juice. Then we drove over to the house
belonging to Bill, a friend of Toddâ€™s. Bill was happy to watch over Jeffryâ€™s car
for the weekend and he told us a bit about how he loves living in the desert. The town
of Mojave is on the edge of the Mojave Desert and is not far from the Sierra Nevada
and Tehachapi Mountains. Then we headed out east. We stopped at the small town of
Newberry Springs for gas then headed for the Kelbaker Road which took us north into
I have the Falcon Guide â€œHiking Californiaâ€™s Desert Parksâ€� and had picked out
a few places to visit and hike. We drove along the bumpy rutted road up to the Silver
Peak Trailhead and here is a nice car camping spot. Dispersed camping is allowed in the
Preserve; just pick a spot thatâ€™s traditionally been used and donâ€™t impact a new
site. There was only one other car at the trailhead which is right on the boundary of
the wilderness area that encompasses the Granite Mountains.
We started hiking up the wash west towards Silver Peak but got sidetracked. This
area is a fascinating mix of interesting rock formations, wonderful cactus gardens,
pinyon pine and juniper woodlands, old ranching and mining artifacts, and in the side
canyons we even found a couple of little flowing streams. We saw lots of birds and
Jeffry saw his first jackrabbit who posed just a few feet away from him.
We didnâ€™t make it up Silver Peak as we spent way too much time wandering the
valley east of the mountains. We turned back as the sun was going down and the wind
picked up and it got colder. When we got back at the trailhead a couple caught up to us
and reported that they almost made it to the top of the peak. They drove away leaving
us the campsite at the trailhead for ourselves. As darkness fell I set up my big car
camping tent and Jeffry made a campfire. We cooked dinner and Jeffry showed me
his secret sâ€™mores recipe. It is different and very very yummy! I donâ€™t think
Iâ€™ll ever go back to the traditional sâ€™moreâ€¦
After gazing at the stars for a while we turned in and the night was quiet. In the
morning I awoke, stuck my head out of the tent, and discovered that it was snowing!
The snow didnâ€™t accumulate but it made for a beautiful brisk morning. Jeffry and
I made breakfast then packed up and we headed north towards Kelso.
|The aptly named Granite Mountains
|Looking across to the Providence Mountains
|A dry streambed full of colorful rocks
|Mojave Yucca above
A selection of interesting rocks below
|The biggest prickly pear I've ever seen!
|This is cholla, stay clear!
We both had a few run-ins with this and other prickly
plants as we were wandering out there...
|My botany professor in college always told me deserts
do not have grass... hmmmm...
|This was the first jackrabbit Jeffry ever saw... He
(or she) was very kind to pose for us so he could get a
good look and I could get a good photo :)
|We both liked this tri-colored rock, above, and natural rock window, below