Early on Saturday morning I braved the snow that fell to a rather low elevation overnight and drove south to Bakersfield and then east over Tehachapi Pass to the small town of Mojave. There I met Jeffry (a.k.a. Heredoggy), a friend from Backpacker.com, and we carpooled on east to Mojave National Preserve.
Mojave National Preserve, at 1.6 million acres, is the third largest National Park Service managed area in the Lower 48; only Death Valley and Yellowstone are larger. It was set aside in 1994 as part of the California Desert Protection Act. This was the same legislation that changed Joshua Tree and Death Valley from National Monuments to National Parks. The Mojave National Preserve is a huge triangular shaped area bounded by I-15 to the north and I-40 to the south and it extends east from the Baker area all the way to the Arizona state line.
I had visited a small corner of Mojave National Preserve last year when I stopped for a little while and hiked a short trail at Zzyzx. I have been eager ever since to go back and explore more of this vast and beautiful desert.
The Mojave National Preserve encompasses a wide range of landscapes from granite mountains to volcanic cinder cones to limestone caves to sand dunes. Elevations range from 880’ near Baker to 7,492’ at the top of Clark Mountain. There is a huge variety of plant and animal life as three major desert ecosystems are present in the preserve; the Mojave, Great Basin, and Sonoran Deserts. From white fir atop the Clark Mountains and the New York Mountains down to Pinyon pine and juniper forests to Joshua Tree forests to cactus and creosote in the lowlands the plant life is very diverse. Kit fox, coyote, mule deer, bighorn sheep, desert tortoises and other reptiles, and many types of birds and small rodents call the Mojave National Preserve home.
Jeffry and I met at Jerry’s Diner in Mojave at 8:00 a.m. and had breakfast. I had a very yummy Belgian Waffle and orange juice. Then we drove over to the house belonging to Bill, a friend of Todd’s. Bill was happy to watch over Jeffry’s car for the weekend and he told us a bit about how he loves living in the desert. The town of Mojave is on the edge of the Mojave Desert and is not far from the Sierra Nevada and Tehachapi Mountains. Then we headed out east. We stopped at the small town of Newberry Springs for gas then headed for the Kelbaker Road which took us north into the Preserve.
I have the Falcon Guide “Hiking California’s Desert Parks” and had picked out a few places to visit and hike. We drove along the bumpy rutted road up to the Silver Peak Trailhead and here is a nice car camping spot. Dispersed camping is allowed in the Preserve; just pick a spot that’s traditionally been used and don’t impact a new site. There was only one other car at the trailhead which is right on the boundary of the wilderness area that encompasses the Granite Mountains.
We started hiking up the wash west towards Silver Peak but got sidetracked. This area is a fascinating mix of interesting rock formations, wonderful cactus gardens, pinyon pine and juniper woodlands, old ranching and mining artifacts, and in the side canyons we even found a couple of little flowing streams. We saw lots of birds and Jeffry saw his first jackrabbit who posed just a few feet away from him.
We didn’t make it up Silver Peak as we spent way too much time wandering the valley east of the mountains. We turned back as the sun was going down and the wind picked up and it got colder. When we got back at the trailhead a couple caught up to us and reported that they almost made it to the top of the peak. They drove away leaving us the campsite at the trailhead for ourselves. As darkness fell I set up my big car camping tent and Jeffry made a campfire. We cooked dinner and Jeffry showed me his secret s’mores recipe. It is different and very very yummy! I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the traditional s’more…
After gazing at the stars for a while we turned in and the night was quiet. In the morning I awoke, stuck my head out of the tent, and discovered that it was snowing! The snow didn’t accumulate but it made for a beautiful brisk morning. Jeffry and I made breakfast then packed up and we headed north towards Kelso.
More pics here and stay tuned for part 2
The mountains are calling and I must go. ~ John Muir ~ www.tarol.com