Day Trippin in the Desert

Mojave National Preserve Travel Blog

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JUMP!
I don't remember whose idea it was to begin with but Sal (sincitytraveler), Nancy (fancynancy), Nhi(hirondellenhi), and I were able to coordinate our weekend schedules to enjoy the desert wildflower bloom and to scour the desert in search of the elusive desert five spot. Since an entire weekend in the middle of nowhere was out of the question, we opted to do a long, Long, LONG day trip.

Death Valley was the first suggested meetup spot, however it would be a six hour drive from Los Angeles. I suggested Mojave National Preserve...a two hour drive for Sal and Nancy heading west from Las Vegas and a four hour drive for Nhi and I heading east from Los Angeles.
At Kelso Depot
We planned to meet between 7-8am at Kelso Depot Visitor Center in the center of the preserve.

I woke up about 330am...sheesh I can't believe I woke up THAT early! As 4am neared, I called Nhi to make sure she woke up and was on her way to my house because we had quite a long road trip ahead of us. Fortunately, I was able to borrow my dad's Toyota Tacoma because my Toyota Corolla really wasn't long road trip ready.

The drive went smoothly as there was no traffic on the highways. Nhi and I got to see the sun peaking out in the distant east. Somewhere between Victorville and Barstow, we stopped at a McDonald's for a restroom break and to grab brekkie. Unfortunately, the McDonald's we stopped at was chock full of high school students who were on some sort of bus trip.
Crawling up the sand dune!
So the lines for the restroom and food were extremely long! We waited patiently in both lines, besides we made good time from the city through the Cajon Pass into the high desert.  

Google Maps advised me to take the Interstate 40 East...I didn't like driving on this road because the morning sun was glaring in my face which made it difficult to see the distance ahead. I had to enlist Nhi to be on the lookout for our exit for Kelbaker Road. Along the highway, Nhi marveled at the abundance of blooming wildflowers...we could only hope we would see such bloom within the confines of the preserve!

We entered Mojave National Preserve's southern entrance via Kelbaker Road. The landscape that towered around us were the Granite Mountains and the Providence Mountains, sun-baked and rugged.
Sal, Nancy, and Nhi chillaxin on a sand dune
Much further down the road, the landscape opened up to a vast open area called Devil's Playground. The only definitive landmark was a HUGE hill of sand. Amidst the beautiful scenery is Kelso Depot, a former railroad stop and town during the steam locomotive days. Kelso Depot still stands as it was saved from demolition and restored/renovated as a visitor center.

It was perfect timing...just after we parked the car, Sal and Nancy pulled into the parking lot! We hoped the visitor center would be open so that we could ask a park ranger about good day hikes in the preserve to see the wildflower bloom but it was still closed. So we settled on hiking Kelso Dunes. Sal suggested we carpool in his car to the trail head because he had plenty of passenger room and because his car had a slightly higher ground clearance since we had to traverse an unpaved road with loose gravel just to get to the trail head.
Nhi trying to make the sand go BOOM


As we drew closer to Kelso Dunes, the pile of sand was larger than expected. According to the display case near the trail head, Kelso Dunes rises at least 600 feet from the desert floor and covers at least 45 square miles

The trail was well marked from the parking area through the desert shrubland. As we walked towards the dunes, we all keenly looked at the desert floor around us in search of color...lavender, yellow, white...any sign of desert flowers. Unfortunately, we found very few and far between. Most of the shrubs were brittle and dry, many were dead ...a somber reminder of the harshness of this ecosystem. The tiny wildflowers we were able to see were tiny miracles

Probably less than a quarter mile away from the parking area, the shrubland began to thin out and the sand began to gain some elevation.
The Fearless Foursome
From this point on, the trail disappeared and we ended up following in the footsteps left behind by other hikers. Hiking in sand is TOUGH business!!! Some of the dunes were so steep that we had to do a vertical crawl up the sand!

Along the way we saw a group of boy scouts trudging their way up the sand with boogie boards, toboggans, and even flattened cardboard boxes. Kelso Dunes is one of the few places on Earth where you can go sand boarding. I was tempted to bring my snowboard but it would have been such a hassle carrying it up the dunes.

We probably hiked about 1.5 miles from the parking area when we decided just to chillax on a hill of sand. We basked in the late morning sunlight, gazed at the higher dunes to see sand boarders ride the sand, and sat in silence trying to hear the shifting sands boom from layers of sand rubbing against each other.
Balancing Act!


After having our full of vitamin D, we decided to head to Mitchell Caverns Natural Preserve in the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area within the Mojave Nature Preserve to see if we could join a tour of the caverns. So, we headed back to Sal's car but not before Sal and Nhi attempted to make their own sand boom by running down the slope of a sand dune. We lingered around the shrubland near the trail head because a fellow naturalist pointed out a desert iguana hiding at the base of a bush.

Back at Sal's car, I attempted to empty my hiking boots of all the sand that had crept in from hiking the dunes. Unfortunately, my boots are partially made of fabric and the fine sand was trapped even with my vigorous shaking. No wonder I felt so tired...I was carrying extra weight!

Sal's air conditioned car was a much welcomed respite from the midday desert sun and heat.
Cima Dome & Volcanic Field National Natural Landmark as seen from Kelbaker Road
We took Kelbaker Road south to Interstate 40 east to Essex Road north to get to Mitchell Caverns. There are other routes but they were unpaved, loose gravel roads...we took paved roads. The drive to the caverns was full of mountain vistas and blooming Joshua trees. At the Mitchell Caverns Natural Preserve information center, we learned that we had just missed the final tour for the day. Boo!:( I would like to return someday to experience the limestone cave system.

It was probably 1pm and we decided to head to Baker, on the northern border of Mojave National Preserve along Interstate 15, to grab lunch. Along the way, Sal dropped Nhi and I at Kelso Depot so I could get the truck. We all headed north on Kelbaker Road and passed Cima Dome & Volcanic Field National Natural Landmark, along the way. At the famed Mad Greek, the four of us ravenously devoured gyros with dill yogurt sauce, baklava, and strawberry milkshakes. What a satisfying end to a wonderful day! 
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JUMP!
JUMP!
At Kelso Depot
At Kelso Depot
Crawling up the sand dune!
Crawling up the sand dune!
Sal, Nancy, and Nhi chillaxin on a…
Sal, Nancy, and Nhi chillaxin on …
Nhi trying to make the sand go BOOM
Nhi trying to make the sand go BOOM
The Fearless Foursome
The Fearless Foursome
Balancing Act!
Balancing Act!
Cima Dome & Volcanic Field Nationa…
Cima Dome & Volcanic Field Nation…
The dawns early light...
The dawns early light...
Kelso Dunes in the distance
Kelso Dunes in the distance
Kelso Dunes Trailhead
Kelso Dunes Trailhead
TBs scouring the desert!
TBs scouring the desert!
Be mindful of the flora and fauna
Be mindful of the flora and fauna
On the Kelso Dunes Trail looking e…
On the Kelso Dunes Trail looking …
My macro photo of wildflowers that…
My macro photo of wildflowers tha…
Jump for joy at Kelso Dunes
Jump for joy at Kelso Dunes
Sand and shrubs
Sand and shrubs
Bizarre sighting...a monkey in the…
Bizarre sighting...a monkey in th…
Kinda looks like an ostrich
Kinda looks like an ostrich
fancynancy is The Next Karate Kid.…
fancynancy is The Next Karate Kid…
Sand, shrubs, and mountains
Sand, shrubs, and mountains
sincitytraveler shows excellent cr…
sincitytraveler shows excellent c…
Sal and I jumping with joy!
Sal and I jumping with joy!
Jumping Vegas peeps
Jumping Vegas peeps
Be very very careful!
Be very very careful!
Flying monkeys and jumping TBs
Flying monkeys and jumping TBs
A desiccated barrel cactus
A desiccated barrel cactus
Nancy wandering the dunes
Nancy wandering the dunes
Nhi and George in the desert
Nhi and George in the desert
Julius at Kelso Dunes
Julius at Kelso Dunes
Wildflowers!
Wildflowers!
Sal and Nancy
Sal and Nancy
TBs at Kelso Dunes
TBs at Kelso Dunes
Nancy atop a sand dune
Nancy atop a sand dune
TBs sunbathing
TBs sunbathing
Sal trying to make the sand go BOOM
Sal trying to make the sand go BOOM
Fountain Peak and Edgar Peak, I th…
Fountain Peak and Edgar Peak, I t…
The view from Providence Mountain …
The view from Providence Mountain…
Me, George, Julius, and Nhi
Me, George, Julius, and Nhi
Mojave National Preserve
photo by: TimothyMoffett