Backcountry Camping in Mojave National Preserve
Our first camping trip together was at Mojave National Preserve. It was a cold, cozy, fun trip and we spent our time camping at a developed campground (Hole In The Wall). Mojave has two excellent campgrounds, but they also have a plethora of backcountry, off the grid, camping options. For our second camping trip here, we took a long weekend opportunity to hit the road and go see what we could find.
The rules of camping in Mojave are pretty simple, and allow for a lot of options. There are sites designated all around the park where camping has happened before and is allowed to continue happening. Mojave has a list on their website of where these spots are tucked away. You can typically find them by looking for a well-built fire ring. Standard desert principles apply - don’t light fires unless they are in a designated ring or rock pit. The sites are frequently just right off the road, where you can park right next to your spot.
For our camping spot, we came in on the 15 Freeway, and headed towards Sunrise Rock - or the “White Memorial Cross”. This is located on the north west side of the preserve, and is at a higher altitude. This can lead to cooler temperatures, which are great in the summer, but require some planning in January.
Our route took us from the 15, to Cima Road. After about 12 miles on Cima Road, the Memorial Cross site will appear on the left side of the road. Just slightly past that area, there is a dirt road turn off. Turning in here and following the road around, you’ll find a few little spots. We chose the first one, which is just left off of the dirt road, with a parking spot on the right. It had boulders, Joshua Trees, and some flat spots for tent options. It also had a very good fire pit, and someone had left a grill for others to use.
One thing that attracted us to this location is the forest of Joshua Trees that surrounds it. This is one of the densest Joshua Tree forests in California, and it is obvious when you look around. You can see trees for as far as you can see, and they are large, well developed, beautiful trees. You’ll have a pretty good view of Kessler Peak from this area. Tuetonia Peak is just across Cima Road, and makes for a great little day hike.
We enjoyed this campsite, despite being cold and rainy for our time there. We try never to complain about rain in California, but at times, it’s a bit annoying. For instance, when you’re camping in a tent, in a spot that forms a puddle, and the temperature isn’t even touching 40 degrees. Despite thinking we might float away during the downpours throughout the night, we had beautiful blue skies during the day. It rained so hard at times that we got to lay awake and listen to the raindrops roaring on the tent roof, honestly wondering if the tent was going to make it. The area has plenty to explore, including our favorites… huge rocks to climb on.
We had a few extra adventures occur during our time there. A pack of coyotes was howling in the distance for few hours after sunset and during the night, between the downpours. While typically a fan of coyotes, hearing what sounded like a large group of them was not exactly fun. We typically hear just one or two howling, this honestly sounded like a herd.
The next day, while exploring the area, we came across a large skeleton that looked like a vertebrae with some ribs attached. The desert is just full of life and death and surprises. We contacted some desert experts over at Joshua Tree after we got home, and they said it was probably a mule deer. That made the coyote howls just a bit more intimidating the next night. (Yes, I can be a scaredy cat.)
And of course, overnight rain storms were a fun thing… we’ve slept in rain before, but not such heavy, loud, cold rain. Drying the gear out the next day was easy enough, because the sun popped out soon the next morning, and allowed for some extra coffee time.
This was our second time out to Mojave and will certainly not be our last… this National Preserve (not Park) is full of surprises and beauty.