Mojave National Preserve

Mojave National Preserve is a 1.6 million acre park in California near the Nevada border. As the name implies it is with the Mojave Desert and has many diverse features such as volcanic formations, towering sand dunes, and the largest Joshua Tree forest. We spent three nights in this vast desert preserve (much to Ashby’s dismay). We parked in a new location each night that was close to the attraction we were exploring the next day.

Kelso Dunes

View of the dunes from our site

We parked at a dispersed campsite next to the Kelso Sand Dunes our first night. The dunes are 500 feet tall at their highest point, encompass an area of roughly 20 square miles and are in a location on the map called “Devils Playground”. Naturally, I spotted the tallest dune and decided to climb to the top for a sunset vista over the dunes and surrounding mountains. I left our campsite about an hour before sunset with our action camera strapped to my head, water in camelback, a Clif Bar, the GPS device, my headlamp, and you guessed it, bare feet. Making my own way up through the dunes, I reached the summit about 45 minutes after my departure in time to catch the sunrise. The view of the sunset over the dunes and surrounding mountains was a reward well worth the climb. I was even lucky enough to hear the “singing” of the sand dune which is a low rumbling noise that occurs when the sand on the dune shifts. My only regret is the amount of sand I was covered in when I returned to camp (I think there is still sand in the van).  

View from the top!

Volcanic Cones and Lava Flow

On day two we visited the Cinder Cone Lava Beds on the northwest side of the park. This area consists of 32 volcanic cones of deep red volcanic rock that tower above the desert floor. The cones really stand out against the backdrop of sagebrush and grass of the surrounding desert. Within the cinder cone area lies a natural cavern created when molten earth and lava flowed called a lava tube. The lava tube itself is about 30 feet at its widest point and is about 300 feet long. There are a few holes in the ceiling of the flow that allow daylight into the cavern. This light reflects off the dust in the air and creates a beam of light streaming from the ceiling to the floor. After doing some research, we found that the beam of light is supposed to be most visible from the hours of 11am to 1pm. 

Beam of light caused by hole in ceiling

Granite Peaks Camping

We spent night two nestled against the granite peaks on the south end of the park to the west of Kelbaker road. These granite formations resemble those that can be found 70 miles to the south at Joshua Tree National Park. It took a little finesse but, Peligroso found his way to a nice secluded spot right next to the rocks. We had the area to ourselves and it was a lot of fun to scramble around the rocks and view the surrounding desert from on top of one of the peaks. Ashby enjoyed some solitude for meditation and yoga practice in the silence and stillness.

Peligroso parked in the granite

Hole In the Wall Canyon and Barber Peak

On day 3, after barely making it to a gas station 70 miles away for a fill up, we returned to the park and head to the area know as “Hole in the Wall”. This area is famous for its unique rock walls that are made up of thousands of pockets and holes that are the result volcanic ash clouds from nearby eruptions that cooled and settled at this location. We hiked the Rings Loop and Barber Peak Loop trails totaling 8 miles. The Rings Loop is 2 miles leads you passed some ancient petroglyphs to Banshee Canyon, a narrow canyon with tall hardened ash walls covered in pockets and holes. Barber Peak Loop is 6 miles in length and took us past some impressive formations of volcanic ash. The trail intersects with the Rings Loop and we decided to take another trip up through Banshee Canyon.

Banshee Canyon narrows

Teutonia Peak, Cima Dome and Joshua Trees

On our way out of the park we stopped to hike up Teutonia peak. This is a 3 mile out & back trail that leads you through the lush Joshua Tree forest within the park which happens to be the largest of its kind. Both of us have visited Joshua Tree National Park before coming here were astonished at the density and quantity of Joshua Trees prevalent at Mojave. This trail also offers a closer view to a formation called Cima Dome, a broad domed landmass that encompasses 70 square miles and is 10 miles at its widest point.

Hiking through Joshua trees to Teutonia Peak

Takeaways

We loved the solitude, the desert vistas, and peaceful sunrises we experienced while visiting Mojave National Preserve. Definitely would return in the future!

The only downside of this park is that all of the points of interests and hikes are a minimum of 30 miles apart and the nearest gas stations were 70+ miles away. The miles rack up pretty quickly when driving between points of interest. We had to leave the park to get fuel and barely made it to the nearest gas station (70 miles away).

Click here for more photos from out visit to Mojave National Preserve!

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