Corbitt's National Parks
               National Preserve


1994: National Preserve

Size: 1,460,304 acres

200 visitors: 618,215

Stamp: Yes

Rating (1-5):

About the Site

This huge preserve is the meetingplace of three great ecosystems: the Mohave, the Great Basin, and the Sonoran Deserts. Mohave National Preserve holds a great scenic diversity. There are Joshua trees, cinder cones and the Kelso Dunes to the south; in the Mitchell Caverns Natural Preserve are several types of cave formations; and Hole-in-the-Wall offers a challenging climb down a vertical chute into Banshee Canyon.

Mohave National Preserve was authorized only in 1994, so it's still getting off the ground, visitor center-wise. Baker Desert Information Center is no longer open; it's been replaced by the scenic Kelso Depot Visitor Center. Hole-in-the-Rock Information Center is accessed via an unpaved two-lane road. This is the third-largest National Park Service area in the lower 48 states, so there's plenty of land to get lost in.

What You're Going to See

This is a largely undeveloped area, so come prepared. There are a few privately owned areas; the largest is tiny Cima. Temperatures in the summer can be extreme, so make sure your vehicle is running properly, and bring a gallon of water per person per day for your trip. There is no off-road driving allowed; all vehicles must be street-legal. Climates vary throughout the Preserve, as does the elevation. From a low of 800 feet above sea level near Baker, the land rises and falls, reaching a peak of 7,929 feet at Clark Mountain. Yearly precipitation ranges from 4 to 14 inches annually.

Outdoor enthusiasts love the opportunity for solitude here, an opportunity not easily found at other southern California parks. Adventurers will find that desert tortoises burrow in creosote bush flats, while the black and yellow Scott’s oriole nests in Joshua trees higher up the slopes. If you come across a desert tortoise, please leave it alone. These hardy-looking animals are threatened and their population has been in decline for decades. Mule deer and bighorn sheep roam among pinyon pine and juniper in the Preserve’s many mountain ranges.

Mojave Desert experiences change with the seasons. Infrequent winter snows sparkle on the mountains. With enough moisture, spring wildflowers carpet the desert with vivid colors. Summers are hot; hikers and campers explore the higher elevations such as Mid-Hills and the New York Mountains. The cooler temperatures of fall mark hunting season. A network of dirt roads offer year round opportunities to explore by 4-wheel drive vehicle.

Personal Observations

We managed to drive through a part of the Preserve on our 4-Site trek in March of 2006. A visit to Mojave was an afterthough on this trek, so I didn't get to see much beyond the road from Baker to the Kelso Depot to I-40. Our two-wheel drive Suburban was acting up, and we didn't exactly trust it on dirt roads far from service. As I've mentioned regarding other desert-oriented National Park Sites, I grew up in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, so parts of Mojave looked very familiar and thus less than fascinating. So I acknowledge the possibility of "familiarity breeds contempt" syndrome in giving Mojave only two Subbies.

The Kelso Depot is striking, especially when approached from the south. It is a true former train depot, built in 1924 when Union Pacific was competing with the Harvey Houses offered by competing Santa Fe Railroad. It enjoyed a boom time through World War II, but by 1985 it was hardly being used and was shut down. Local residents managed to save it from being razed, and work began to restore it in 2002. In March of 2006 it had its grand opening as the main Mojave National Preserve Visitor Center. The original coffee counter has been restored, though it's not operational. Two rooms upstairs have been restored to show how they looked when Union Pacific employees lived there. A short movie tells the story of the Preserve.

It was at the Kelso Depot visitor center that I came across, for the first time, an openly cynical National Park Service Ranger. I was stunned. Then again, looking outside the window of the Suburban as we drove south, I decided to cut the Ranger some slack. This isn't Zion, after all.

Getting There

From Las Vegas, drive southwest on I-15 about 44 miles to the Preserve boundary, and turn east for 3 miles to the Ivanpah Road into the Preserve; or, continue west on I-15 for 14 miles to the Cima Road, or for 40 miles to Baker and the Kelbacker Road.

From Los Angeles, take I-15 northeast to Barstow. Then choose either I-15 to access the Preserve from the north at Baker, 69 miles to the east, or the Cima Road, 95 miles to the east, or the Nipton Road, 112 miles to the east. Or from Barstow go east on I-40 for 77 miles to the Kelbaker Road, or for 99 miles to the Essex Road.

Nearby Attractions

About 40 miles to the north lies Death Valley National Park. To the east, Las Vegas-way, you will find Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Grand Canyon National Park, and Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument. 30 or so miles south you'll find Joshua Tree National Park.

Visited March 2006.

Additional Photos