We had several excursions planned for our time in Las Vegas but we have found even more since we arrived. This past Sunday there was an article in the local Sunday paper about the Mojave National Preserve. The Mojave National Preserve is the the third-largest park service in the lower 48. It is only smaller than Yellowstone and Death Valley, but it its one of the least visited. This preserve is less than 2-hours from us so with weather in the low 70’s at the beginning of this week we decided to make the trek down to California (1 hour and 45 minutes) to explore the area. The drive in is quite scenic once you leave the I-15 for the Morning Star Mine Road and Kelso Cima road. On this drive you will see the largest concentration of Joshua Trees in the world. There are significantly more Joshua trees here than in Joshua Tree National Park.
The visitors center in Kelso is at a historic train depot that played an important role in the expansion of the west.
Our original plan for the day was to visit the “lava tubes” and to check out Cima dome. We decided against this for 2 reasons, the first is we didn’t pack a headlamp (needed to see inside the tube) and the day was partly overcast so we might not get to see the bright sunlight stream into the tube. on our drive into the park we noticed the sand dunes in the distance past the visitors center.
The ranger said they were a good option for a hike, so we decided to take on the challenge. The drive to the sand dunes from the ranger station is less than 20 minutes, the last 4 miles is on a very well maintained dirt road. The dunes are set in quite a ways from the parking area so the round trip hike from the parking lot to the top of the dunes is about 3 miles.
The sand is super fine and makes for quite a workout, in fact this might be the toughest 3 miles we have ever hiked.
You will want frequent rest breaks to catch your breath and empty your shoes (they fill up fast).
The last push to the summit of the peak is “straight up”. Gizmo and I decided to hang out just below the summit while John went up.
Gizmo was pretty tired from the 2 steps forward, one step back nature of the sandy hike. That combined with the fact there was no shade made it a hot hike despite the 65 degree temperature and milky sunshine. John said the final push to the summit (about .1 miles) was extremely tough. His feet were buried in the sand and he couldn’t stop for long before sliding back downhill.
Once on top of the dune it literally drops down the other side with less than a 2 inch wide summit top.
One very interesting fact about these dunes is they make noise. They are one of only 30 dunes in the world that do this. When you walk on the dunes, particularly near the top, you cause sheets of sand to move against the more stationary layers below. This creates a “boom” similar to a low flying aircraft. The hike down from the dunes was way easier than going up. Gizmo had the time of his life running down the steep sections of the dunes.
You don’t realize how much you have climbed until you start the descent back to the car.
One thing I wish I had with me was a guide to animal tracks. There were so many different kinds of tracks in the sand it would have been interesting to see what kinds of animals made them. There were lots of holes in the sand near bushes, I’m guessing snakes and other animals live in them. I was really glad it was a cooler day and the likelihood of seeing snakes was low. The park brochure says there are 3 kinds of rattlesnakes that live here in addition to the Colorado Desert Sidewinder. One sighting we are still hoping for is a desert tortoise. We see lots of signs about them but still have not seen one. The only wildlife sightings of the day were lizards
and what might have been an American Kestrel soaring through and landing on the Joshua Trees.
John and I both agreed that this place is worth another visit. The next trip will be to see the Lava tube and to hike Teutonia Peak near Cima Dome. We were just too tired for more exploration after our sandy hike. Unfortunately our drive back to the RV took over 3-hours. There was a major accident involving an 18-wheeler on the I-15 that basically shut down north bound traffic. We then hit the 5pm Las Vegas city traffic in what the locals call “the spaghetti bowl”. I think it would take us months to feel comfortable navigating around here without a GPS.