Let's Camp: Mojave National Preserve
We decided to take a camping trip. Quite impulsively, this decision was made. We had never been on a camping trip as adults, and our experiences from when we were younger were very limited. A few day trips to the desert of California caused this strange idea of "let's go camping" to occur to us. So, we started planning, making lists, making piles of stuff to take. Looking back, it's a little funny how much we took, but who wants to be unprepared in the wild? And we didn't have a real good idea of how to be prepared.
We purchased sleeping bags on Amazon, picked up a few little camping essentials, loaded the car with food and a lot of stuff we didn't need. A few hours later, we were deep in the California desert and setting up a tent that I purchased about 15 years ago for $20 at a grocery store. It was in the high 80's. By night fall, it was in the 40's. We had a very windy, very cold, first night in that cheap tent with our new cheap sleeping bags and not enough whiskey or clothing to stay warm. Not to mention that it seemed that the tent may just blow away from around us at any moment. Windy + cheap tent = terrifying first night of camping.
All fear aside, when the sun went down, the sky put on a show that was not to be forgotten. The moon was full and huge, and peeked over the tall rocks on one side of us. Eventually, it settled high in the sky and the stars began to explode. I'd honestly never seen so many stars in the sky in my life. And the moon ended up being a great "night light" for our kind of scary first night sleeping out in the desert. We had an owl hooting at us most of the night, and what I think was small fox scuffing around our campsite.
We got up the next morning, sleep deprived and groggy, made some almost-hot coffee by trying to boil water in a tiny fire that we didn't quite know how to build. I mostly just burnt the pan and had warm water. Ah, learning experiences. :)
After warm coffee and cold muffins for breakfasts, we headed out for a day hike. Through the Hole-In-The-Wall campground (where we camped), to the trail, and down into a deep canyon to explore. The path out of the canyon is assisted by some large steel rings they installed to help you out. We saw some gorgeous rock formations and had fun bouncing around on the rocks. This was a short walk through the desert, but very quiet and secluded. And very pretty.
We took off by car after that hike and ended up at Kelso Depot, an old train station. A quick look around there, and we were headed further out to the Lava Tubes. It's a fairly long desert drive away from the Hole In The Wall campground, and there is no gas available, so be prepared with a full tank of gas. Also, take flashlights. The final 4.5 miles of the drive is on a very bumpy dirt road. It takes you from the desert browns to fields of black lava. This is a very bumpy road, so be prepared to take it slow and easy. At the end of the dirt road, there is a small parking turnout and the spot to begin the very short, very quiet walk (.25 miles or so) to the lava tubes. Unfortunately, we got there after the sun was too low to shine light beams into the tunnels, and we forgot our flashlights, so we didn't get too far underground.
We headed back to our campsite and arrived just in time for the sunset show. Kim built a much better fire on night two and we had wonderfully roasted hot dogs and marshmallows as the sun fell and the moon rose. The second night in the tent ended up being much colder and much more windy. I got up at around 4am, and quietly apologizing to the other campers, and moved the car to try to block the wind. It helped a tiny bit, and gave me a glimpse at the thermometer in my car - 37 degrees of brrrr. We actually managed a couple hours of sleep then, and climbed out of the tent in time to catch the sun rising and moon falling.
Our second morning, I managed to get the water a little more towards hot and had some more cold muffins and almost-hot coffee. We packed up our camp, calling this first sleep-out a success. Before leaving, we stopped at Kelso Dunes. These are large dunes that formed from the wind blowing sand from a dried up river into a nearby valley many, many years ago. The wind still blows, and the sand circulates, but never blows away, being somewhat "stuck" in this area. It creates some big, hot hills and pretty sand! This was easily the hottest hike we've ever done, and is not to be approached without appropriate footwear, lots of water, and clothing to protect from the sun. I got a pretty nasty sunburn from about an hour out on the dunes, and that's with a lot of sunscreen. Be advised, white sand is hot sand.
Three days and two nights since leaving home, I was honestly quite glad to be at home again. A hot shower was amazing and I very much appreciated being able to wash my hands!
We went into this little adventure very uncertain of the outcome. Partly expecting to return home as soon as the sun set and things got dark and creepy. I didn't expect to last long. But I actually found myself loving it. The solitude and peace, the lack of noise and distraction (other than a hoot owl) was amazing. We were planning the next trip on our drive home. There is a lot of world to see, and our list has grown long since this first camping trip.
- 3 days, 2 nights in mid-February 2015, to Mojave National Preserve
- Hole-In-The-Wall (This is one of two campsites in the preserve, though backcountry is allowed.)
- Hole-In-The-Wall "Rings Trail": 1.5 mile loop. Minimal elevation, though you get to pull yourself up via rings at the end!
- Lava Tubes: Out and back, about .50 miles. Minimal elevation.
- Kelso Dunes: 3-4 miles out and back, depending on route. This hike is in sand, so it is much harder than it looks. Moments of moderate elevation. Did I mention this sand is HOT?
- There are no gas stations inside the preserve, so plan ahead. Fill up about 10 miles from the preserve, at the last station on the main highway.
- There is no admission fee! National Preserve vs. National Park.
- The sun is hot - take hats, sunscreen, long sleeve shirts, pants to help shield your skin on hikes.
- The wind is strong and (sometimes) cold, be sure your tent (and you) can handle it.
- Pack layers. The temps swing wildly in the desert from sun-up to sun-down.
- Take a lot of water - you will want to drink every drop after an hour or two in the dunes.
- There are fire rings, but you'll have to bring in your own wood. Try to buy it locally.
- As always, pack it in and pack it out. Leave it better than you found it.