Mojave Desert National Preserve

Last week we were staying in the Mojave Desert National Preserve, which as you probably can determine from the name is located within the Mojave Desert.  What this doesn’t really tell you is sheer scale of the Mojave Desert.  It is large.  And I’m not talking Hoover dam large (which I found depressingly small…perhaps it was their unfriendly stance towards four-legged friends that I found small), or Lake Mead large, or Rhode Island Large.  I’m talking bigger than the state of Pennsylvania.

"Mojave Desert map" by Cephas - North America second level political division 2.svgTerrestrial ecoregions of North America : a conservation assessment. Taylor H Ricketts; et al. Washington, D.C. : Island Press, ©1999. xxiv, 485 p. : ill. (some col.), maps (some col.) ; 28 cm. (ISBN 9781559637220). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
The desert is the bit shaded in green. Because…you know, deserts are green.

So, here is a partial list of things found in the Mojave Desert:

  1. The Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas
  2. Death Valley
  3. Desert Kangaroo Rats (Dipodomys deserti)WP_20150307_001
  4. Joshua Trees
  5. 700′ tall Sand DunesWP_20150307_008
  6. Lava TubesWP_20150307_14_45_41_Pro

I may have missed a thing or two, but that is fairly good starting place.

A couple things you won’t find in the Mojave desert?

  1. Showers
  2. Good roads
  3. Cell phone service

As repeat readers may know (or maybe not, I’m not here to judge) cell phone service is important for any place we stay as Wren is taking distance classes and her teachers from time to time expect her to watch classes and turn in homework.  Go figure.

But despite this limitation we were sorely tempted to stay a bit longer than the 2 nights we did.  The campsite we stayed at was Mid-Hills and is one of two developed campsites in the Mojave Preserve.  If a smidgen of dirt road (~10 miles) and lows in the 30’s (~0 for those using measuring systems based on water) doesn’t sound too onerous then this would be the site I would recommend.  It isn’t that Hole-In-The-Wall is a bad campsite per se….but Hole is located in a fairly flat stretch of desert where the tallest thing between you and your neighbors (and if you come in early March expect neighbors) is a fairly scrubby Joshua tree at best.  Mid-Hills on the other hand is about 1000 feet higher in elevation (which probably would come in handy later in the year, as it was we saw the temperature hit 80F/27C) and the terrain is more rolling than flat.  Also the scrub has been replaced with pinyon pine and juniper.  The combination is a great deal more privacy.  Also, I can say confidently that you are likely to see Kangaroo rats at Mid-Hills, but I can make no such claim for Hole as I did not stay there.  And I for one believe that my life is more complete for having seen one.  They are tremendously adorable in a way that is hard to express in words.

Oh, and this is important to note for those with RV’s – the water taps are unthreaded so you’ll need to use a jerry-can or similar to fill your fresh tank.

Getting to either campsite involves taking heavily pot-holed (looked like mortar fire) to heavily wash-boarded dirt roads if you come from the I-15, or if you are coming from I-40 your option is a pretty good looking asphalt road (which I did not drive on) to Hole-In-The-Wall, and then either the aforementioned heavily wash-boarded road or a road that is technically a 4-wheeldrive route but is probably a bit better than the alternative…

In any case, consider your dental plan before hitting the dirt roads – it gets bumpy out there!

Speaking of 4 wheel drive roads, if you are into that sort of thing the Mojave has a lot of it.  We got into the spirit of it and took a “shortcut” over the top of Cima Dome on Power-line Road.  Some intrepid designer took note of the road’s name and decided to put power-lines beside it.  Don’t try to tackle this one without being able to send power to all four wheels, you just won’t make it.  Its not terribly rough terrain, but a couple of hills are quite steep with low traction.

Other roads, like the Mojave Highway, we took one look at and decided that getting stuck, although fun sounding, wasn’t something we were terribly interested in doing today.

A neat thing about Cima Dome is that is home to the worlds largest Joshua Tree forest.  Prior to about 2 weeks ago I wasn’t really sure what a Joshua tree was.  We were exiting Arizona via Highway 93 or Joshua Tree Scenic Highway and kept seeing these horribly mutated Yuccas.

For those of you who only know yucca as the large ugly tubers at grocery stores, this is what a yucca looks like:

and sometimes they are on stalks like this:

A word of warning…Yucca’s are sharp!  They can and will cut you if you have perhaps had a beer or two and keep running into it while trying to tend your campsite’s grill that has been inconveniently placed adjacent to a particularly prickly pair.

But when we started seeing the Yucca’s grow arms and get freakishly tall we suspected we were seeing something else.

WP_20150307_027

I mused that we may be seeing Joshua Trees…hence the name of the highway?  The highway, having been planned by clairvoyant civil servants, had a sign posted not 2 miles up the road that read simply “Joshua Trees ->” with the arrow pointing off towards a large desert plain full of what I now know to be Joshua Trees.

I for one think all roads should include signs that point at things of interest and state simply what they are.  “White Oaks ->” or for those of you in Atlanta “Kudzu ->” or perhaps “Poison Ivy” depending on what stretch of Ga-400 or I-285 you are on.  The poison ivy sign lacks an arrow because lets be honest, it is everywhere.

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