The national parks get all the press--who hasn't heard of Death Valley? and thanks to U2 even Joshua Tree is vaguely familiar to most people. But "East Mojave National Preserve" lacks both a sexy name and a high-profile iconic element. That's okay. I like it uncrowded. But still--it's worth a closer look. At 1.6 million acres, it sits out in the middle of nowhere in SE California, between Interstate 15 and Interstate 40. Remember the movie "Baghdad Cafe"? It was more or less set, and filmed, in Amboy, just on the south side of the park.
The variety of landscapes in the Preserve is amazing--though all is desert, it ranges from the Kelso Dunes (at about 2200', among the lowest parts of the park) to the Midhills Campground at 5500' in the Providence Mountains, to the Joshua Tree forest on the Cima Dome (around 5000'). Then there are the mountains--rough, rugged, and tall enough to have forests and water in the high reaches, if you can get there. We've been all over (except the mountains--we lack 4WD, and we go in the spring, when it's cold enough at 5000 feet). Here are some of my highlights.
|First the map. The kids in the story the last two weeks walked from somewhere up on the Cima Dome down to where the "town" of Cima is now.|
|Early morning at the dunes--the best time to climb them is before sunrise. We were slowed by the flowers!|
|The next year, the flowers have dried and formed a "birdcage".|
|Providence Mountains from the informal camp area at the base of the dunes.|
|Looking north toward the Kelso Mountains from the top of the dunes.|
|Kelso Depot, now the Visitor's Center|
Down inside, the floor is dusty, and the roof full of holes, making this less cool and pleasant than some lava tubes I've known, but also making for great photos!
|Returning to the mother ship.|
Over in the Providence Mountains, the Hole in the Rock Trail is otherworldly as well, for those willing to do a little scrambling, or at least climb down a series of rings set in the rocks.
|Entering the Hole in the Rock from below, after hiking down from Midhills Campground.|
Meanwhile, surrounded by the National Preserve, Mitchell Caverns State Park offers an easy cave walk in a limestone cave, with great formations.
|Inside Mitchell Caverns, accessible only on ranger-led tours.|
|The Joshua tree grows only in the Mojave Desert, and only between about 1300 and 5900' elevation (it's very temperature dependent, so the outlier elevations are limited). It is a type of yucca, and not a tree at all.|