This is another in Vittles series on our National Parks, Monuments and Preserves
Unlimited space and recreational opportunities await at the Mojave National Preserve. Administrated by the National Park Service the Preserve was established in 1994 and encompasses some one and one-million acres. In this vast area one finds dry lakes, salt beds, sand dunes, mountain ranges and a surprising amount of wildlife.
The Preserve received a big boost and new opportunities for visitors when the Kelso Depot opened as the Visitors Center earlier this year. Except for the Kelso Train Depot, now remodeled and renovated by the Park Service, little is left of Kelso which in an earlier era had some 2000 people. It lies as a station on the Union Pacific railroad which built the Depot, in the Spanish style, in 1924 as a waystation on the rail line which goes from Los Angeles through Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and then East.
We spent an exciting day exploring some of this unique expanse of desert and mountain in May before summer temperatures make it much less inviting. We advise that if you wish to explore this unique Preserve, which includes parts of the Mojave, Great Basin and Sonoran deserts, the Kelso Visitor Center is the place to start. Here there is a helpful Ranger, maps and brochures which will make your visit both informative and pleasurable.
Kelso is reached by paved roads either from Interstate 15 or Interstate 40. We used Highway 40 for our day long tour of the region, stopped at Kelso for a briefing at the Visitor Center and then followed a short section of the original Mojave Road. This trail dates back ages to when various Indian tribes used it for travel or trade. Indians then guided the Spanish explorers on it and still later settlers, miners, ranchers and the U. S. Army all used the Mojave Road. Today it can still be explored its entire length in four wheel drive vehicles.
We departed from the trail to check out Round Valley which has two campgrounds, Mid Hills and Hole-in-the-Wall . These campgrounds are at an higher elevation so can be used throughout the year. At Mid Hills campground we enjoyed our take along lunch and stretched our legs while looking at the Jack Rabbits which also studied us. Mid Hills camp is situated at an elevation that offers stands of cedar, juniper and pinon trees.
Nature has been severe on this part of the Preserve the last few years. Two years ago unusual summer rain storms flooded many of the roads in the park. Then last summer lightning started a forest fire which swept through much of the higher elevations including some of the timber at Mid Hills camp. On our visit nature was making amends with huge expanses of blue wildflowers giving color to what was otherwise a drab blackened landscape.
On what is called Black Canyon Road we proceeded to the second campground, Hole-in-the-Wall. Here there is also a Visitor Center. During the summer it is open only Friday through Sunday. The Campground is open year round and offers interesting trails through most unusual rock formations.
Next stop along Black Canyon was a side road leading to the Providence Mountains State Recreation area. Here is Mitchell Caverns which has been a California State site for many years.
In fact we first took the escorted tour through the Caverns almost thirty years before. Besides the Caverns tour the site offers a small campground and spectacular views since it is situated on the flanks of the Providence mountains.
From Mitchell Caverns it was only a short drive on Essex Road back to Interstate 40. So we completed a large loop which showed us much of the country. Besides the route we took there are others to the Preserve. A road at Baker, called Kelbaker Road, leaves Interstate 15 and travels south to reach the Kelso Depot Information and Visitor Center. It offers its own scenic wonders including the Cinder Cone Lava Beds and for a short stretch parallels the original Mojave Road.
Still further east on Interstate 15 another route, called the Cima road, also winds south to Kelso Depot.
We did not take either of these routes this trip but were familiar with them from explorations in the far distant past before the Preserve was created. Certainly just our loop trip and then the long journey back to Los Angeles was more than enough driving for one day.
There is so much to see and enjoy at the Mojave National Preserve that one trip can only offer a sample of what is available for the visitor. It is a vast area and as often as not you will have it all to yourself. On our whole loop trip we met only three other vehicles. On weekends there is probably slightly more traffic.
Thanks to a tip from fellow restaurant writer Allan Borgen we stopped for a very excellent dinner in Barstow en route back to Los Angeles. Called Idle Spurs Steak House it proved to be a real oasis with excellent food and friendly, attentive service. Address is 690 Old Hwy 58, Barstow, telephone 760 256-8888.
For more information on Mojave National Preserve call 760 255-8801 or on the web at www.nps.gov/moja. For information about Mitchell Caverns tours call 760 928-2586. Tours are offered daily but times vary for the season.
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