Mojave National Preserve

Since Danielle and I spent Christmas apart, we felt the need to do something together before the end of her Christmas break. So on Thursday, January 1, 2004 we drove out to Mojave National Preserve.

On the way there, we stopped at Danielle’s dad to drop off the rats so they would get adequately spoiled over the weekend. We made it to the park without any problems, and headed down Kelbaker Road. At a point just before the cinder cones, we parked by the side of the road. After a last repacking, we walked off towards the mountain range to the west of the road. I don’t think it has a name, but it’s the one that contains Seventeen Mile Point. We followed a mixture of 4x4 road and dry creeks up a gently incline that lead us to a saddle. The map indicated a number of deserted mines in that area, and we found a number of them. They were all open holes leading straight down into the ground, usually with a pile of dirt next to them. Some had caved in, but some others looked in good shape, and even had worn wooden ladders still in them. We made camp there, and after setting up the tent wandered around a little, discovering a few more abandoned mines. While we had some snacks, we watched the sunset on the closest hill to our site. Then we made dinner and went to bed.

The next morning we went on a short hike in the area, and found another mine which actually breathed (ie. it was morning and noticeably warm air was coming out of it). A little on further we noticed a big pile of dirt on the side of the mountain. Scrambling down to it, it turned out to be a deep horizontal mine. We walked into it a short while, but not so far as to need our flash lights. I had mine with me and shone it down the tunnel, and it went back further than the light let me see. We walked a little further, startling some kind of hawk/vulture. Then we returned to camp, packed up, and walked back to the car.

At the car we refilled our water, and then drove a mile or two to the cinder cones. We snacked a little, and set off on a dirt road towards the closest one. We saw 2 people parked in their pick-ups, but after we crossed the first wash we didn’t encounter anybody else. We set up the tent pretty close to the 4x4 road on some soft, slightly raised ground. Camp all made, we decided to climb the closest cinder cone. On the way there, about 50 feet in front of us, we saw a jack-rabbit running at full speed. After a 30-foot scramble, the old road up the cinder cone was pretty easy to follow. The road was packed quite well, so we didn’t slide around very much. At the top we had some nice views of the surround area, but no comfortable place to sit down. From here it was clear that one quarter of the cinder cone had eroded away so the top was more like a C than an O. We descended on the other side.

Since this cinder cone turned out to be a lot easier than we thought it would be, we decided to also go up to another one that had a very visible V cut-out in the top. Walking through a wash on the way over there, we noticed a sun-bleached vine with about 10 squashes still attached to it. How they got there is somewhat of a mystery, since they don’t grow there naturally, and I can’t think of any farmland within 100 miles. Just a little way up the second cinder cone we saw some bighorn sheep walking around much higher up the cinder cone. We kept a lookout the rest of the time but didn’t see them again. We did find lots of sheep poop. At the top of this cinder cone it looked like somebody had dug out a huge V in the crest. We enjoyed the view for a little while, and then headed back the way we came. On the way to the tent we climbed a small pile of neat-looking volcanic rock. I also startled another jack-rabbit just a couple of feet from me. It was gone in no time at all.

Back at our campsite we found some suitable rocks to sit on and read our books. After a little while it started to drizzle a little, so we retreated into the tent. The rain didn’t let up, so we end up cooking from the tent. I had the gas stove set up right outside my side of the tent, and that all worked pretty well. It wasn’t raining hard, just hard enough that we didn’t want to sit in it. My tent’s vestibule area actually came in useful for the first time, protecting both our packs from the rain.

Saturday morning we packed up, hiked back to the car, and drove to Kelso Dunes. It was fairly windy, which had me somewhat worried. While munching on snacks in the car, a guy with a pack came down from the dunes onto the parking lot. I talked to him, and he had camped out the previous night. He said that the wind had given his tarp quite some trouble because it kept changing directions, but thought we should be fine with our tent. Encouraged by his story we trudged up the dunes to a point seemed high enough to be fun but low enough to be protected from the wind. We found a bowl and pitched our tent there, securing the rainfly to our packs to keep it more or less where we wanted it.

Next we climbed the tallest dune, which was quite a challenge. We walked a short steep bit up to the ridge, and then along the ridge to the top. There was a lot of wind at the top, doing a good job sandblasting our boots and pants. We had a pretty nice view there and from the top. For a relaxing afternoon we returned to our camp where we read some more, and periodically looked to the tall dune tracking various other hikers’ progress. Towards sunset I wanted to go up again for some pictures so we did the same hike again. The main dune was not a good spot for pictures, it turned out, because most of the remaining dunes were in its shadow. We did meet some people up there who took our picture.

The next morning we got up fairly early, packed up, hiked out, picked up the rats, and drove home.

Lessons Learned: Some people need a lot more toilet paper than other people. Let everybody pack their own quantity of toilet paper. They can then be combined if you want to cut down on zip-locks used.

About the author

Living the good life in Seattle, occasionally sharing something interesting with the Internet.