18 Mar
Posted in: photography, travel
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Take a Trip: Mojave National Preserve

Mojave National Preserve sign

All I’ve ever known is living in the shadow of mountains. The parched, cracked desert with its muted colors always seems otherworldly to me. The first stop on our 2014 spring break vacation was the Mojave National Preserve in California.

Mojave National Preserve

The varying degrees of yellow land marked by cactus, creosote bush scrub and Joshua trees is starkly different from the dark green pine and spruce trees of the Rocky Mountains. The Mojave National Preserve contains 1.6 million acres of land ranging from less than 1,000 feet of elevation in Baker, CA to the almost 8,000 feet of Clark Mountain. We drove on nearly deserted roads to Hole-in-the-Wall past numerous areas indicative of flash floods.

Hiking to Hole-in-the-Wall in Mojave National Preserve

We hiked the 1-mile long Rings Loop Trail which began at the Hole-in-the-Wall Information Center where we picked up the kids’ junior ranger workbooks. The scrubby landscape was contrasted with the bright, blue, cloud-dotted sky. There were few noises on the trail besides the crunching of our shoes on the rocky, dry ground. This trail meanders by a few barely visible petroglyphs before entering into Banshee Canyon. The canyon walls are riddled with holes, thus the name of the area.

Hiking to Hole-in-the-Wall in Mojave National Preserve

It’s impossible to stop our kids from climbing on rock piles. I’ve tried countless times to reign them in from their rock-scaling ways to no avail. Now I let them go constantly reminding them to be careful, don’t run and for heaven’s sake look before you stick your hands and feet into holes and crevices.

Rings Trail hike in Mojave National Preserve
Climbing the rings on the Rings Trail hike in Mojave National Preserve

Once we pulled the kids off the rocks at the entrance into Banshee Canyon, we found ourselves at the trail’s namesake. There are two separate spots in the canyon where several metal rings are mounted into the rock walls. The rings are there to assist you as you climb your way out of the canyon. If I were in charge of plotting the trail, I would never have considered metal rings…ever. The rest of my family was lamenting about how ingenious the solution was while I shook my head at the things I do for these people. The rings work as hand and foot holds and really were quite easy to use.

Kelso sand dunes in Mojave National Preserve

We left Hole-in-the-Wall for the Kelso Sand Dunes which cover 45 square miles of terrain and the tallest dunes rise to nearly 700 feet high. The dunes are 25,000 years in the making near the base of the Providence and Granite mountains. The kids rushed for the dunes with complete abandon. They dug in the sand and looked for small animal tracks. The dunes aren’t free of vegetation. We spotted a lizard and a few beetles while we tromped along.

Selfie on the Kelso Sand Dunes hike in Mojave National Preserve

From the dunes we headed to the Kelso Depot built in 1924 as a railroad stop. The depot was an oasis in the desert with a green lawn and towering palm trees. I’m sure laying on the lush grass listening to the wind rustle the palm fronds would have put me fast asleep. I think the park service would have frowned upon my family of six squashing their lovely grass. The kids turned in their junior ranger books and were sworn in as protectors of the Mojave National Preserve. We’ve been to over 20 national parks and more monuments/historical sites than I know. The Mojave marked our first national preserve, which is given all the protections of a national park except that hunting is allowed during certain times.

Kelso Depot in Mojave National Preserve

We spent the better part of a day in the Mojave National Preserve before heading on to stay the night in Yucca Valley, CA via a back-roads journey which included a short 4-mile stretch of historic Route 66. We’ve driven on Route 66 several times, but in various towns. This was our first drive in the wide-open of this iconic piece of Americana.

Historic U.S. Route 66 near Amboy, CAPalm trees and grass at the Kelso Depot in Mojave National Preserve

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