Current Location: Mojave National Preserve 41 F
It isn’t yet 6AM and I am watching the waning crescent moon rise through long black clouds to the east. There is just enough light to see the outline of Mesa Mountain, east of the Hole in the Rock where we are camped. Venus is brilliant nearby, and I wish I had the will to dig out the telephoto, dig out the tripod, hook it all up and see if I could actually create an image that would remind me of this moment. Instead I’ll write of it, and know that it would take a better photographer than I am to catch the feeling.
We will be home on April 1st. This may be our last night in the wild darkness of the desert, and a wild rocking night it was! After spending such magical time near Virgin, and wanting more, we initially planned to travel north through Cedar City and then take another back road to the Great Basin National Park.
One of the blessings of boondocking in our sweet spot, was the perfect Verizon signal for our JetPack and the ability to check on the weather. For the first time in the entire three months of winter travel, we had to shift our plans completely to accommodate the weather gods and our common sense. Predictions for the next few days included high wind warnings, snow and temperatures in the 20’s at the lowest elevations near Great Basin near Baker, and unknown snow and wind over the entire western side of Nevada. No way home.
We studied maps and weather and more maps and checking our calendar, came up with a simple plan. Head south on I-15 toward Barstow on the gorgeous sunny non windy day we had left, and then hunker down at Edwards AFB Family Camp and wait the three days of harsh weather with hookups and a place to do laundry. Then, once the snow warnings lifted over the Tehachapi 58 route, we could get over the pass to the I-5 route north and home. Sigh. I-5 again? Not even 395?
With predictions for snow at home in Rocky Point around the time of our arrival, we may decide to go to Grants Pass instead. We will see. Weather predictions are often a lot worse than the actuality. Then again, sometimes they are spot on. Predictions for our westward direction included wind, and last night was possibly the windiest we have ever experienced on the road. I was glad we were in the west, where tornadoes are extremely rare, but there were a few times last night when I thought surely we were going to be blown over.
We pulled in the slides not long after camping, but during an especially dramatic gust, I even picked up the levelers. It somehow seemed a bit safer to me to have the MoHo settled solidly on all six tires, even if a bit less than level.
Driving west from Las Vegas on I-15 was fast and smooth. Vegas from the high vantage point of the freeway looks different, even bigger somehow that the view along the strip. Traffic was heavy but moving steadily on a Tuesday afternoon. Just past the state line, we were suddenly shocked by the brightest artificial light I think I have ever seen. Huge towers were beaming intense white light and below them something that looked like a strange lake was reflecting the sunlight.
Sometimes it is fun to have the iPad along with a great signal. Searching “bright lights near the Nevada California border” I came up with this. We were passing the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, which just came online on February 13. Mirrors concentrate light and then somehow the light heats water for power generation. Sounds like science fiction, and it certainly looked like it. Funny, with all the hoopla about Solara, neither of us had ever heard a word of this successful solar power generating project.
Near the state line in California is a rest area, and it was time for an Abby walk. What a great surprise. Many states in the south have beautiful state of the art visitor centers, and we love to visit them. Here, however, a simple rest area was gorgeous, and rich with information about this part of California, including the nearby Mojave National Preserve, spanning 1.6 million acres between I-15 and I-40 and east to the Nevada border.
The rest area was artfully designed, with outdoor displays that told the story of the area in a way that could be enjoyed without entering a building or requiring staff to disperse brochures. It was beautifully kept, and even the bathrooms were tiled with images and stories.
Even before reaching the rest area, though, Mo and I had decided to stop in Baker to fill the tanks so we could boondock another night. The excitement of camping at the AFB wasn’t all that alluring, and we thought, what the heck, let’s slip into the preserve, boondock for another night and then we can continue west to Edwards.
Mo had visited the preserve in the past, not only in this decade with the baby MoHo, but in the 60’s when she was teaching at China Lake, California. Our first stop was at Kelso, where the visitor center is located in the beautifully restored Kelso Depot. Anyone reading this blog for any length of time, knows how much we love desert, but often the Mojave experience is filled with development and dotted with desert garbage.
Not here. I am so incredibly grateful for this space. Unlike Joshua Tree, which we also love, it is farther from most of the big cities of Southern California and so far, is blessedly empty. Incredibly empty, and at first it seems like what my daughter calls a lot of “white hot nothing”. With just a little time and a bit more effort, the fascinating diversity of the Mojave becomes clear in a space that feels more remote than either Joshua Tree or Death Valley, if not quite as dramatic.
The roads through the preserve, even the paved roads, can be a bit rough and bumpy, and are two lane narrow routes without shoulders. There are only two developed campgrounds, but after visiting with the staff at the beautifully restored Kelso Depot Visitor Center, we learned that “roadside” camping is allowed in places where there has been a fire ring and previous use.
The Visitor Center is wonderful, with beautiful photographic displays on the walls of the restored Craftsman style rooms. There is a gift shop, interpretive exhibits, three excellent movies to view in the small theater, and art exhibits. I especially enjoyed the recordings of the “booming sands” of the Kelso Dunes
Traveling back toward the northern part of the preserve toward Cima, we turned northwest again to find the World War I memorial. There is a white cross on the hill, which after some lengthy controversy, remains. Mo camped here in back on her solo desert trip back in 2009.
Just behind the cross is a small campsite, with a fire ring and a table provided by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and before dark we were settled in for our first gorgeous, if wildly windy night. The winds didn’t come up until midnight or so, but with the associated cold front, by morning we felt a huge difference in the desert air.
There are several boondock sites that we found in that vicinity, and in other parts of the preserve as well, and I decided to do a separate post about boondocking in the preserve. That post will come later.
The morning was dramatic with wildly speeding clouds flying by and the winds never let up as the day progressed. We headed south back toward Cima and Kelso, with plans to see the magnificent Kelso Dunes, some of the highest in the country. The Kelso Depot Visitor Center is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, but there is an open restroom with a jug friendly spigot. Our water was low, and we filled our extra jugs, just in case we decided to boondock another night at the dunes. Still couldn’t quite get our heads around giving up the wild desert for the luxuries of camping at the base. After several nights being out, we weren’t really as well prepared for more boondocking as we could have been, but we had turned off the water pump, to be sure we didn’t run the tank dry.
Seven miles south of Kelso is the ‘2 wheel drive unpaved’ road leading west to the Dunes and another possible campsite. Within the first few hundred yards, however, we were badmouthing the folks that think roads should be surfaced with gravel. The washboards were so very bad that Mo decided it was too much for the rig and we found a place to unhook and turn around. With the winds at 40 plus mph, the dunes looked less and less inviting. One of the reasons I most wanted to see them was to hear the booming singing sound that the sand makes at times. I figured that with the high winds I wouldn’t hear it anyway.
With a bit of disappointment, we once again decided on going to Edwards, with hookups and WiFi, to wait out the winds and the weather. Continuing south just a short distance, we found another dirt road leading back into the Granite Hills, and couldn’t resist unhooking once again and taking the Tracker for a little spin around the hidden campsites tucked away in the boulders. Mo camped here in the 60’s with some of her students from China Lake and had fond memories of climbing around on the boulders. These sites could make us want to get the tent out again if we had it with us!
Back to the rig, and looking at the map, we saw the road to the Hole in the Rock developed campground was about 50 miles to the east and north. Even after the fill up in Baker, fuel was getting low. If we wanted to see that part of the preserve, we needed gas. We could travel some miles out of our way to find a new wild world, or we could travel west and do the common sense thing and camp at Edwards.
Once again, the desert won, and we finally found a gas station just off I-40, 7 miles west of the Essex Road leading north in the preserve toward the Hole in the Wall area, where there would be a dump station, and potable water to fill our tank. We paid 4.99 per gallon for 87 octane gas, and laughed about how our free boondocking had turned expensive. It is funny how you can figure anything out, and messing with the numbers, we decided our average cost for the two nights in the desert was about $20 per night, factoring in the half price $6. fee we paid for our second night at Hole in the Rock.
The gas station, by the way, is located right on the famous unnamed Route that we visited previously in the unnamed T city in New Mexico. I decided to NOT take photos or even mention the place because I would rather not create another firestorm with all the folks who probably love it. It was rather interesting, with lots of memorabilia, a cute little nook for hamburgers, and a lot of interesting people around. I felt much of the famous route culture at the spot, so if you are a lover of that route, search it out.
The winds had never let up, and by the time we were on I-40, the sandstorms were everywhere, reducing visibility dramatically. We could barely see the mountains, even as we approached the campground. We dumped, filled the water tank, and settled into a nice site in the upper area of the camp. It was a luxury to turn on the water pump, for sure! We weren’t technically boondocking on this night, but it felt as big and dark and empty as if we were. Only a few campers have braved the winds and sand storms to camp here.
After making such an effort to get here, we thought in spite of the dingy skies, we should try to see a bit of the area. The Hole in the Wall visitor center at this location is only open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, but they did have some trail brochures outside that gave a general idea of the local routes.
Another two wheel drive unpaved road took us north toward the one other developed campground in the preserve, Mid Hills Campground. This is definitely not a place for RV’s, mostly because of the rough road access, and with a recent fire leaving behind the skeletons of old junipers, it wasn’t very inviting. I can imagine it once was a lovely place to tent camp, cooler than the surrounding desert.
Now, as I write, the winds are almost completely still and the dust has settled from the skies. To the west, everything is crystal clear. To the east I can see a low brown cloud of dust obscuring the distant hills. Once again, we will head for Edwards AFB, with only one night instead of three. With WiFi again available, I will post the blog, read others, write about boondock sites in Mojave Preserve, and check weather sites and snow predictions as we decide which route to take home Friday morning.