Sunday, March 1, 2015

Photo Monday: East Mojave National Preserve

 Since my story from the last two weeks (here and here) landed in the East Mojave among the Joshua Trees, I was inspired to do a post on that area, one I love and hope to be visiting in a few weeks.

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.

The Kelso Dunes are the #1 attraction, and over the years we have watched them get discovered. So far, park management has kept them from getting trashed.  In 2008, we arrived at the right time for the most amazing bloom of the desert primrose, a flower that looks far too delicate for the environment. Each blossom lasts just a night, and by the end of the next day is a little pink rag. We returned the following year, but there were few or no flowers--the desert only blooms when the rains come just right.
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.
Not far from the dunes you find the historic Kelso Depot. The trains still go through, but don't stop, and the building is now the Visitor's Center and houses some great historical displays as well as an art gallery. The diner has been restored to 1930s style, and when we last visited (2009) was serving burgers and shakes again. My husband remembers stopping there as a kid, when you drove in over 50 miles of dirt road, and a shake or ice cream cone was the best thing in the world!
Kelso Depot, now the Visitor's Center
NE along Kelbaker Road you find an unassuming hole in the ground. It's surrounded by cinder cones and is, in fact a lava tube--a cave formed when hot lava flowed on out from under a hardened crust.

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.
And, of course, I can't leave without a shot of the Joshua Trees.
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.
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015


  1. Wow, all I can think of is Louis L'Amour books.

    1. His characters rode through there at times, though he seemed to stay more in the Four Corners area. (Oh, yeah, I read his books in quantity as a teen!).

  2. These photos are always amazing, Rebecca. I mean the "mother ship" one---wow! And that Visitor's Center looks very impressive, too! lol

    1. Thanks! The "mother ship" was of course a lucky shot, but getting ourselves in the right places at the right time is a huge factor! The VC was built in 1905, I think, as a train depot, back in the day when such places were meant to look good! In a side note, Mary Hunter Austin's novella "Cactus Thorn" features that depot.


We want to hear from you! Tell us your reactions, or whatever's on your mind.