Friday, January 7, 2011

Mojave National Preserve

From Joshua Tree National Park, we travel north to the Mojave National Preserve, which is only about 50 miles from Lost Wages, er, I'm mean Las Vegas.  We are still in California, and the drive through the desert is breathtaking somehow.  I'm not sure what it is about the desert that attracts us so.  It reminds me of being in Scotland in 2003 with my sisters.  England was lush and green and full of trees and rhododendrun bushes the size of trees, and Ireland was also lush and green everywhere, but the landscape of Scotland had a starkness to it that appealed to me most of all.  It was still green, but there were very few trees, mostly small bushes and lots of heather, and rocky, craggy bluffs - a naked, vivid beauty that was breathtaking.  For me, it is the same in the desert, but where Scotland is wet, the southwest U.S. is dry, where Scotland is green, the southwest U.S. is brown.  The brush is composed of various kinds of cactus - cholla (choy-ya), yucca, rabbit brush, mormon tea, prickly pear, barrel cactus (whose spikes are a beautiful red and yellow in a circular formation), and other spiky grasses designed so that they are not eaten.  Everything struggles to survive, the elements seem to be always against life, but yet some species thrive.  Searing, dry heat in the summer and cold in the winter, in the 20s (Fahrenheit) at night and only about 40F during the day.  The ground is sandy or a small pebble stone.  We are fortunate it isn't windy while we're here.

Brad at Hole-in-the-Wall, Mojave National Preserve
This is also a big park, and we decide to divvy it up into two parts.  Our first camp takes us to the Hole in the Wall area on the east side of the park, where we camp about a 1/4 mile from the Visitors Center just off of Wild Horse Canyon Road.  Here we are by ourselves, although within site of a ranch and along the Rings Loop Trail.  But the view of the mountains which surround us, and the valley are spectacular.  Why camp in the campground which has no services for $12/night when we can camp in this site for free?.  There is also private land here and cattle and horses roam freely; it's called an "open range".  It is not unusual to hear cows lowing close by at night.  We hike the Rings Loop Trail through a canyon which has holes in the rock and on which we also have to haul ourselves up a steep incline using metal rings. 
Marilyn climbing the rings on the Rings Loop Trail at Hole-in-the-Wall
This is only a 1 mile loop trail, but the canyon is so fascinating, it takes us a couple of hours to complete.  The holes in the rock remind us of Swiss Cheese.  The rock here was formed by volcanic ash; the holes were formed by gases that were trapped in the ash as it cooled.  The canyon also reminds us of Red Mountain, just north of Flagstaff in Arizona, a cinder cone we visited a couple of years ago.  We also hike the 6 mile Barber Peak Loop Trail which takes us all day, again because we go off trail so often to see other features, study the rocks, take photos, etc.  The first half of the trail is amazing.  Within 10 minutes of starting the hike, we hear a noise that almost sounds like coyotes yipping, but it's unusual for them to do that during the day.  As I investigate I find it's a group of birds which are running on the ground, about 20 or 30 of them.  They keep a distance of about 30 feet from me, but don't fly away.  I don't think they are roadrunners as they're too small, so perhaps a type of quail?  We will have to ask the rangers.  Then five minutes later, four horses come running up from a gully.  I love horses (I was in the riding club in high school), Brad is afraid of them.  I call them over with a clucking noise and all four of them come running towards us.  Brad is taking photos, and backs away saying "Uh oh, this might not be a good thing."  Silly, if they're wild horses, they won't come near us.  If they're ranch horses, they'll be perfectly tame and probably looking for food.  Most horses love people.  The lead horse comes right up to me and I rub his nose.  Their coats are heavy, furry almost, likely to withstand the cold winter here.  Another horse approaches me and I pet him too.  Brad also conquers his fear and reaches out to rub one's nose.  Once they determine that we have nothing to eat, they run off across the desert towards the ranch in the distance.  Further along the trail, we can clearly see where they've been by their droppings and find the scrubby grasses they've been eating.  It's amazing that they're not bothered by the numerous cacti here as they are grazing.  What a treat that was for me.

Funny Grady story:  Before we make our way over to the area of the park with the sand dunes, we have to dump our dirty water and refill with fresh water at the campground.  Here the Campground Host stops to talk to us; he is from B.C. and just arrived yesterday.  While we are chatting about how he was able to come here as a Canadian, Grady is meowing at us from inside the truck, and he steps on the electronic controls on the driver's door panel arm rest.  Clunk.  Grady locks the doors.  "Brad, where are the truck keys?"  "Umm, they're in the truck!"  Grady has just locked us out of the truck.  Brad and I start laughing.  Gary, the Campground Host, thinks we're nuts.  I'm talking to Grady, pointing at the button on the arm rest.  "Step on the button Grady.  C'mon, over here.  That's a good boy.  You're almost there.  No, that's the button for the power windows.  Just a bit to the left."  "Meow.  Meow."  And then he goes to lie down in the back seat.  Gary says, "This is pretty serious, isn't it?"  "No," Brad says, "I have a spare key under the hood of the truck.  I can still get in, although I never thought it would be because the cat locked us out!"  Two minutes later, Brad has the spare key, althought he's pretty dirty, and we're back in the truck.  Now Gary is laughing too.  Grady can't figure out what the fuss is all about.

Marilyn on the Kelso Dunes
In Part Deux of the park, the Kelso Dunes area, we again camp for free in another dispersed site near the base of the dunes which rise 700 feet.  There are mountains to the west, east and south of us and a golden valley further behind the dunes to the northeast.  The views are stunning.  And all of these mountain peaks are about 5,500 feet high and create their own weather systems, meaning dark clouds and a great sunset the evening we arrive.  At Kelso Dunes, we are again alone in the desert, at least for the first night.  On our first morning, the sun is shining brightly in a clear blue sky until about 9:00 when a fog rolls in so quickly, Brad barely has time to run out with the camera to take photos.  The fog remains for over an hour until the sun burns it off, reminding us of San Francisco in the summer.  "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."  Mark Twain.  We hike the dunes, but decide not to go all the way to the top of the highest one, although many people do.  It's cold and the sun is setting and we're getting too old.  The view from the altitude we're at is unbelievably beautiful.  We can see for at least 15 miles or more in all directions.  And quiet!  All I can hear is a very distant train engine about 10 miles away down in the valley and a tiny, round piece of brush the size of my baby fingernail tumbling along beside me being pushed by the breeze blowing up and over the crest of the dune.

Brad and Marilyn in the lava tube - note the laser beam of sunlight
It is when we get back to our trailer this evening that another Jayco Designer trailer, just like ours only a bit bigger, drives by where we are camped.  We wave, as all RVers do - it's like a club.  Fifteen minutes later as we are making dinner, there's a knock at our door, and it's the owner of that trailer.  He didn't like the other free campsites down the dirt road and wondered if we would mind sharing our site with them.  Well no, off course not.  And it's already dark, so we're not going to send them away.  Besides, they're also Canadians - from Quebec.  In the morning we chat with them about where they've been, where we've been and the differences in our trailers - theirs has all the bells and whistles.  Brad is very excited.  So now we are going to outfit our trailer with a solar panel to charge our batteries, and an inverter to run our TV from our batteries instead of our generator.  And wow!  Jean has plexiglas over his screen door for cool days like this, and his bottom step to the bedroom lifts up for extra storage space, and all of his cabinets have drawers instead of just shelves, and the list goes on.  Brad will have a very busy spring when we return home.  Anyway, back at the park, we head off to the Visitors Center which we couldn't get to yesterday because of a stalled train across the track, and then to the trail to the lava tube.  As we drive up to the trail, we can see about 5 or 6 cinder cones that are covered in red or black lava stone.  The lava flowed very slowly, and didn't go very far, perhaps about 10 miles in total across the desert floor.  At the lava tube, we actually get to descend into the tube about 30 or 40 feet.  The ceiling is cave-like with tiny pointed stalactite formations.  At the bottom, we have to crawl about 15 feet and then we are in a large cavernous room that is about 20 feet high, 15 feet wide and 60 feet long.  There are two holes in the ceiling that allow light in and another ceiling hole at the very far end where the sunlight is piercing through like a laser beam onto the wall.  It's like being on another planet.

Brad, Marilyn, Denyse and Jean - new friends
As we are climbing out, we run into Jean and Denyse, our Quebec neighbours.  We invite them to dinner chez Gris and for a campfire since we are still carrying around our firewood from New Mexico.  Brad makes his famous spaghetti and they bring a bottle of wine and we have a fantastic evening, laughing at stories.  In the morning we are all sad to go our separate ways, but we have exchanged email addresses and plan to stay in touch.  Another RV friend made.


  1. OK, I love the scenery, the adventure, the discovery, but most of all the humour. And Grady locking you out of your vehicle is the best story yet - this should go viral.

  2. It’s a heaven for adventurers. There are lots of activities like hiking, horseback riding, back packing, hunting and camping.