Mojave National Preserve is an area of stark, quiet desert landscapes in the southeastern desert of California. Protected as a United States national preserve, it is part of the National Park System.
Mojave National Preserve's vast expanse of desert lands include elements of three of the four major North American deserts: the Mojave, Great Basin, and Sonoran. The preserve's unique ecology is attributed to its remarkable geology. The desert is a land of old mountain ranges, sand dunes, great mesas and volcanic features such as cinder cones, domes, and lava flows; these features contribute to the remarkable beauty of the landscape. The most ancient rocks in the preserve, found in the Clark Mountains, are 2.5 billion years old.
Flora and fauna
Changes in elevation and soil type, combined with dozens of seeps and springs, many in sheltered canyons, create a wide range of microhabitats that support a rich diversity of plants and animals. Some species are only found in this area. Notable plant assemblages include one of the largest and most dense Joshua Tree forests, cactus gardens, and reelect plant communities of white fir and chaparral.
Signs of animal life are subtle and easily overlooked. Birds and lizards are seen most frequently, but time of day, weather, and season all play a role in determining which animals are active. A large percentage of desert animals are nocturnal: being active at night rather than during daylight hours allows them to avoid high daytime temperatures and predators. Typical nocturnal animals include most desert rodents, bats, owls, mountain lion, skunks, and foxes. Other animals are crepuscular, active at dawn and dusk, and include coyotes, bighorn sheep and jackrabbits. Diurnal animals, those active during the day, are the most dynamic in that their activity periods will change based on temperature and season.
|Mojave National Preserve|
|Climate chart (explanation)|
The weather is generally most comfortable in the spring and fall. Temperatures vary greatly by elevation. At low elevations, daytime highs are in the 70s (°F) in March; lows are in the 40s. Highs over 100 °F (38 °C) typically begin in May and can last into October. In the mountains, daytime highs are in the 70s in May; lows are in the 50s. Winters can bring freezing temperatures and occasional snows, with daytime highs in the 50s and 60s.
Annual precipitation ranges from 3.5 in (89 mm) at lower elevations to nearly 10 inches in the mountains. Most rain falls between November and April; summer thunderstorms may bring sudden, heavy rainfall. The driest months are May and June. Winds are a prominent feature of Mojave Desert weather. Strong winds occur in fall, late winter, and early spring months.
- 1 Hole-in-the-Wall Information Center, 2 Black Canyon Road, Essex, ☏ +1 760-252-6100. F-Mo 10AM-4PM. This information center offers basic orientation, and a 12-minute film about the preserve. There is also a bookstore, restroom, water and telephone available. Exhibits under renovation.
- 2 Kelso Depot Visitor Center, 90942 Kelso-Cima Road, Kelso, ☏ +1 760-252-6100. (closed for repairs; expected to reopen Spring 2023). Opened in 1924 as a train station, Kelso Depot is an old two-story Union Pacific station built in the Spanish style. The depot narrowly escaped demolition in the 1980s before being taken over by the National Park Service, renovated, and reopened in 2005 as the visitor center for Mojave National Preserve. Former dormitory rooms contain exhibits describing the cultural and natural history of the surrounding desert. The baggage room, ticket office, and two dormitory rooms have been historically furnished to illustrate life in the depot in the first half of the 20th century. A 20-minute orientation film is shown in the theater. Downstairs. the Desert Light Gallery features rotating fine art collections by local artists, focusing on the cultural history and natural splendors of Mojave National Preserve.
The preserve is easily reached via I-15 or I-40 east of Barstow, and west of Needles and Las Vegas. There are six freeway exits that provide visitor access.
By train and bus
Baker, the northwest entrance to the preserve, is served by Amtrak's bus service, providing connections to Amtrak trains.
The nearest airport is north in:
- Las Vegas at Harry Reid International Airport (LAS IATA), 60 mi (97 km) from the eastern boundary of the preserve.
A little further away to the southwest is:
- Palm Springs at Palm Springs International Airport (PSP IATA) — 125–175 miles (201–282 km) from the western boundaries of the preserve.
- Ontario at Ontario International Airport (ONT IATA) — 140–160 miles (230–260 km) from the western boundaries of the preserve.
Fees and permits
There are no entrance fees to the preserve, but some of the preserve's campgrounds do charge a usage fee for overnight camping.
Road conditions vary from paved, two-lane highways to rugged 4-wheel drive roads. Access is possible on foot, by bike, by horse, or by car.
- 1 Cima Dome. A broad sloping upland dome, the erosional remnant of granite plutons that formed deep under the Earth's surface. Best viewed from Teutonia Peak Trail that leads through the what was once the densest concentration of Joshua Trees in the world (severely damaged in a 2020 fire).
- 2 Ivanpah Lake (Ivanpah Windsailing Special Recreation Management Area), ☏ +1 760-326-7000, firstname.lastname@example.org. A dry lake bed used for land sailing located just outside of the preserve boundaries on BLM managed land (Permit required for individual use of the dry lake bed for non-motorized sport; special permit required for commercial, organized groups, competitive events and film)..
- 3 Kelso Dunes (Kelso Dunes Rd off Kelbaker Rd). The massive Kelso Dunes are easily accessible by car (no four-wheel-drive needed). Second highest sand dunes in California, up to 700 ft (210 m). They are created from wind that carries dust and is reflected off a mountain. The top of the highest dune has beautiful views of the surrounding desert. Beyond their large size, these dunes also have a phenomenon called "singing" or "booming" dunes. When the moisture content is right in the sands, they emit a low thrumming sound as sand slides down the slope. Try running down the slope of a dune to trigger the sound. From the parking area, the dunes do not appear to be very far away or very large. This is an optical illusion. The hike is about 3 miles (5 km) round trip with a roughly 600-foot (180-meter) elevation gain, and hiking in sand is a lot more work than on solid ground. Allow 2–3 hours to climb to the top of the dunes and back, bring plenty of water, wear sunscreen, and take off your shoes or prepare to get sand in them.
- 4 Lava tube. Formed by lava 27,000 years ago. Bring a flashlight.
- 5 Mitchell Caverns, ☏ +1 760-928-2586. F-M 8AM-5PM Sep-Jun; closed Jul & Aug. Available only by guided tours at 11AM and 2PM. Cave tours at the Mitchell Caverns in the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area (administratively not part of the preserve, but entirely surrounded by it). (park day use: $10/vehicle; tours additional: $10/adult; $9/seniors; $5/children).
- Mountain biking — Seasoned mountain bikers will enjoy the challenges of some of the preserve's backcountry roads. Bicycle Camping in and around Mojave National Preserve provides a travelogue of a sample bicycle trip in the area.
- Four-wheel-driving — The multi-day drive along the historic Mojave Road is a favorite of serious four-wheel-drive enthusiasts (off-road riding not permitted however).
- Barber Peak Trail. 6 miles (9.7 km).
- Kelso Dunes Trail, (refer to See section above).
- Hole-in-the-Wall Nature Trail (trailhead at the Hole-in-the-Wall information Center). An easy hike, 0.5 miles (0.80 km).
- Mid Hills to Hole-in-the-Wall Trail (Mid Hills Campground). 8 miles (13 km) one way. The trail may be difficult to navigate; bring a map and pay attention to it.
- Rings Loop. A loop trail, 1.5 miles (2.4 km), which goes through Banshee Canyon and past ancient rock art; you climb out of the canyon using metal rings attached to the rock.
- Rock Springs Trail. 1 mile (1.6 km). Trail with information about the area's mining and military history.
- Teutonia Peak Trail. 3 miles (4.8 km), about 2–3 hours. Goes through an area that was once home to a Joshua tree forest, but it was severely affected by the 2020 Dome Fire. The landscape is expected to change significantly as the fire-damaged trees die and grasses colonize the area.
The Kelso Depot Visitor Center and Hole-in-the-Wall Information Center have bookshops specializing in books related to desert topics.
There are no restaurants in Mojave National Preserve. Restaurants are available in Baker, California. El Oasis Cafe at Nipton, on the northern edge of the preserve, provides home-cooked food six days a week.
There is no commercial lodging inside the preserve. Motels are available at Primm, Nevada and a small, antique bed-and-breakfast is available at Nipton on the preserve's northern edge.
Car camping is available both in developed campgrounds or along roads in sites that have traditionally been used for that purpose. Do not camp along paved roads, and never camp within 200 yards of water sources.
If a fire-ring is already there, camping is permitted. It appears that the rangers have built fire-rings in many obvious camping sites. Do not build a new fire-ring. Firewood collecting is not allowed in the preserve, nor is firewood available for sale.
- 1 Black Canyon Equestrian & Group Campground (across the road from Hole-in-the-Wall Information Center), ☏ +1 760-252-6100. (year round) Facilities include pit toilets, water, and a picnic shelter with tables. ($25 per group per night; reservations required).
- 2 Hole-in-the-Wall Campground, ☏ +1 760-252-6100. (year round) First-come first-serve; resevations not accepted. Surrounded by sculptured volcanic rock walls, the Hole-in-the-Wall Campground is at 4,400 feet elevation. The 35 campsites are large enough for motorhomes and trailers. Two walk-in tent sites are also available. Facilities include pit toilets, picnic tables, fire rings, and trashcans. There are no utility hookups but there is a dump station. ($12 per site per night; $6 per site per night for Golden Age/Access Passport holders).
- 3 Mid Hills Campground (access road is unpaved; not recommended for motorhomes or trailers), ☏ +1 760-252-6100. No water. First-come first-serve; resevations not accepted. Nestled in pinyon pine and juniper trees at 5,600 feet, Mid Hills Campground is much cooler than the desert floor below. The road to the campground is not paved and is not recommended for motorhomes or trailers. There are 26 campsites with picnic tables and fire rings. Pit toilets, trashcans, fire rings, picnic tables. ($12 per site per night; $6 per site per night for Golden Age/Access Passport holders).
- Providence Mountains State Recreation Area (Mitchell Caverns), ☏ +1 760-928-2586. Offers six campsites on a first-come, first-served basis. Cave tours of the Mitchell Caverns attract many people. This is a small campground that is entirely surrounded by the preserve, though administratively not part of it. The location is on an east-facing mountain ledge with beautiful views and sunrises, where the wind can sometimes be quite fierce.
The preserve also offers undeveloped or dispersed camping and backcountry camping opportunties
Much of the preserve is federally designated wilderness, where mechanized travel by car or bicycle is prohibited. Only travel by horse or foot is allowed in these areas. A network of backcountry roads, often suitable only for four-wheel-drive vehicles or, sometimes, well-equipped mountain bikes, provides access to many of these areas.
Campsites are often found sporadically along backcountry roads in the preserve. If a fire-ring is already present, camping is permitted.
Carry lots of water. There is very little water available in the preserve. Bottled water can be purchased at the Hole-in-the-Wall Information Center, along I-15 in Baker and at the gas station and store at I-15/Cima Road, at the general store in Nipton, at the Cima store (which isn't always open), and at the gas station in Fenner near the junction of I-40 and old Route 66 on the south side of the preserve.
Public drinking water is available at the Mid Hills and Hole in the Wall campgrounds, at Mitchell Caverns campground (Providence Mountains State Recreation Area), and from water fountains at Kelso Depot visitor center washrooms (open 24 hours a day) or inside Kelso Depot during open hours.
In the backcountry, water is often available from the cistern at Marl Springs along the old Mojave Road (needs to be filtered or treated). Numerous small springs with varying (and sometimes non-existent) quantities of water exist throughout the preserve for folks with water filters, such as Butcher Knife Spring[dead link]. Research prior to travel relying on such springs is required. For example, a tiny stream of filterable water was available during one camper's visit at Indian Springs off Kelbaker Road[dead link] a day after Christmas 2007.
Cellular phone service is "sporatic and unreliable; generally, it is better within view of the two highways", per the NPS, so don't count on being able to use it in an emergency. You may be able to call 911 from some locations, but there is no guarantee. However, in an emergency always try 911: even if you have no service it may connect with another carrier.
If using maps on your phone, download maps before you go. Take a paper map with you, and know how to read it.
- Baker — A tiny town on the park's northwestern border, Baker is the only significant town on I-15 in the remote desert stretch between Barstow and the Nevada border. It offers food, fuel and lodging, is home to the world's tallest thermometer, and is the starting point for those journeying north to Death Valley National Park.
- Las Vegas, north — 60 miles (97 km) from the park's eastern border, Sin City is America's playground.
- Amboy and Route 66, south — The Mother Road routes through the California desert through a the ghost town of Amboy.
- Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree National Park, south of Amboy — This large national park south of the town is home to two desert ecosystems and is a favorite for campers, hikers, and rock-climbers.