Mojave National Preserve
Between Barstow and the CA/VA Border is the Mojave National Preserve on the south side of I-15. We found there’s a lot of rich history in the desert if you’re willing to look for it. It almost seems there was more human activity in the desert 50 to 100 years ago than there is now due to mining, WWII training camps, etc. It’s also hard to believe, but there is a lot of wildlife in the deserts, they’re just harder to see, are smaller and blend in to the surroundings better, and are more active at night.
Wildlife, No Really!
The Mojave National Preserve is a great example of both human history (pictographs) and preservation of land for wildlife. In the preserve there are beautiful sand dunes with some pretty amazing wildflowers in the spring, as well as forests of Joshua trees, pinyon pines, and desert scrub oak. Animals include mountain lions, roadrunners, coyotes, jack rabbits, deer, snakes, big horn sheep, etc.
There are also some great geological features and some nice hiking during cooler months. One hike in the area is to a lava tube. You can hike down in to the lava tube and explore the cave formed by it. Within the tube and at the right time of day, sunrays shine through holes in the tube similar to Antelope Canyon. Pretty awesome. Many thousands of years ago the area was quite geologically active, and the lava tube is just one example of it. Another great visit is the hole in the wall area with hundreds of small to large holes in the cliff walls, some accessible and large enough to climb into.
As hard as it may be to believe int he desert, there is also a great cavern to visit at Mitchell Caverns in the Providence Mountains State Recreational Area. The cavern was discovered by Jack and Ida Mitchell in 1929 while prespecting for silver in the area. He eventually turned it onto a tourist attraction and after his death in 1957, it was added to the state recreation area. There’s a couple of rooms to explore connected by passageways. There are classic cave features to see in this journey below the earth.
Kelso and the Dunes
The Kelso Dunes are a great example of some classic sand dunes. Rising over 650 feet above the surrounding terrain, there are 5 distinct sets of dunes from 5 different climatic periods. The Kelso Dunes are also known as singing or barking dunes. People climbing to the top of the dunes and riding them down, often hear sound coming from them. Researches say that several of the correct factors have to be in place for this to occur, but it’s a cool phenomenon that only happens in a few places in the world. While we were there, we had a chance to hike the dunes, see some stunning evening primrose made all the more beautiful by the light of the sunset. If you plan to visit the dunes, do so at sunrise or sunset not only for cooler temperatures, but for the incredibly dramatic shadows that dance over the dunes making the ripples in the sand standout like mountains.
Kelso Train Depot
We stopped by the Kelso train depot which is also a pretty cool, well-preserved train station in the middle of nowhere. When it was built in 1923 along with the town of Kelso (as a result of iron, borax, gold, and silver mining) there was certainly a lot of activity and there is still some today. The depot was built in the classic California Mission Style and is really a beauty. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. Standing at the depot under the shade of the roof, I felt transported back in time to a different age, when the desert was even more wild and treacherous than it is today.