Date:............April 14, 2001 Destination:.....Mojave National Preserve Duration:........8 hours Departure Point:.Westwood Studios Weather:.........clear & mild Adventurers:.....Steve, Anne, Mike, Maria, David, Ted, Angie, Amy, Chris, Eric, Joe, Hector, Colin Vehicles:........4 Photos by:.......Joseph Bostic, Mike Legg, Eric Gooch
East of Las Vegas lies the Mojave Desert National Preserve. We explore this area and discover trains, an old railroad depot, a ghost town, cactus flowers, snakes, cows, cinder cones, lava tubes, and even more surprises. The trip also revealed more options for future trips. We just didn't have enough time to see it all. It was quite an adventure as you will see and read below.
What is the Mojave Desert National Preserve?
Rose-colored sand dunes, volcanic cinder cones, Joshua tree forests, and mile-high mountains are all part of the scene at Mojave National Preserve. Located in the heart of the Mojave Desert, this new park was established in 1994 through the California Desert Protection Act. The Preserve encompasses 1.6 million acres of mountains, jumble rocks, desert washes, and dry lakes; outdoor enthusiasts appreciate the opportunity for solitude here not easily found at other southern California parks.
Plant and animal life varies by elevation. Desert tortoises burrow in creosote bush flats, while the black and yellow Scott’s oriole nests in Joshua trees higher up the slopes. Mule deer and bighorn sheep roam among pinion 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.
The trip into the Mojave Desert Preserve followed a different path than the last time. This is largely because this time we knew where we were going. Along the way to the first planned destination (Cima ghost town), we discover flora and fauna. Flora in the form of cactus blooms and fauna in the form of free range cattle.
We also discover that this path through the desert has been traveled for quite some time. It seems to have been used by early settlers and Indians.
The Mojave Road
Long ago Mojave Indians used a network of pathways to cross the Mojave Desert to reach the Pacific coast from their homes along the Colorado River. In 1776, the Spanish missionary Francisco Garces became the first non-Indian to trek these trans-desert routes. In 1826, Jedediah Smith trod these trails to become the first white man to reach the California coast overland from mid-America. The routes became a military wagon road in 1859 when Fort Mojave on the Colorado River was established. This travel route remained a major link between Los Angeles and points east until a railway was completed across the desert in 1883.
Cima & Kelso
The towns of Cima and Kelso are a combination of ghost town and living town. The ghost town parts consisted of decrepit buildings on the verge of falling down as well as preserved buildings planned for future renovation. The Kelso Train Depot was the most impressive. It was built in 1924 to service the steam locomotives traveling between California and Nevada. A sign posted at the Depot had this to say:
The small town was developed in 1905 as a railroad stop on the route from Los Angeles to Salt Lake because water was easily obtainable for the steam engines. Boiler water was needed for the locomotives pulling trains up the 18-mile, 2000-foot grade to Cima.
Later the line was sold to Union Pacific Railroad, which built the Spanish-style depot in 1924. One of only two depots built in this style still in existence, the two story building had overnight accommodations upstairs for railroad employees, a telegraph office and a waiting room for passengers. Later, a restaurant, nicknamed the "Beanery," served home-style meals and large rooms in the basement served as a community center for local residents.
The site once contained a roundhouse and other maintenance facilities. During World War II the community was home to nearly 2,000 people, many of whom worked to mine and process iron or for the war effort. After the war, an increase in the use of diesel engines eliminated the need for water stops along the route. As a result, the population dwindled and in 1985 the depot closed. The National Park Service is currently documenting the history of the depot for possible restoration and use as a visitor center for the Mojave National Preserve.
As we were wandering about the ghost towns, Mike and Eric discover a snake. The snake appeared harmless, so they thought it would be funny to hide it in the back seat of Ted's SUV (where Angie and Amy would discover it). For some unknown reason, Angie and Amy didn't find this as humorous as the rest of the group. Instead of laughing, they were screaming.
Around this time a train comes racing by the Kelso Train Depot. This is probably the same train that spooked us when we were on the Spooky Canyon trip. This train was definitely on a mission to go someplace and this reminded us that, we too, needed to go someplace. And that place was known as Ring Canyon (a.k.a., Robber's Roost).
The place contained the Mojave Preserve Visitor's Center, picnic tables, a small outdoor theater, and steel rings. The steel rings were securely bolted into the rock and followed the vertical crevasse down the canyon. The idea was to use the rings as hand/toe holds.
At the bottom of the canyon, there was a cliff with nothing but a rope hanging down and some shallow depressions in the cliff, ostensibly to be used as footholds. Only Chris was crazy enough to attempt the climb. Unfortunately, on the way down, there was a nasty fall. He climbed down without incident, it was his hat that fell.
The rocks in this area were riddled with holes. These were often big enough the crawl through. Chris took this opportunity to do some "hole climbing" as well.
Near this area we also discovered a very tall rock pile. Eric climbed to the top while the rest of us loitered around the bottom. There were tunnels here as well in addition to a water tank. The water tank actually had water in it.
We know, because we looked -- there was a convenient ladder attached to the tank. From here we proceeded to an unmarked area that legend tells of a lava tube.
We have several different maps of the Mojave Desert Preserve, none of them reveal the location of the lava tubes. Mike discovered a reference to their existence in an ancient manuscript. After much driving, we enter the lava fields. From here, exploration continues on foot. It wasn't long before the entrance was found. The entrance was vertical and dark. Fortunately someone left a ladder.
We descended into the depths. The ceiling became lower and lower until at one point, we were almost crawling. We could see some kind of light ahead. The ceiling rose up and before us was The Chamber.
It was something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark. There, in the middle of the chamber, streaming down from the roof was a brilliant beam of light.
With the added light in this chamber we soon discovered that we were not alone. We were being watched from above. Cold beady eyes, sharp teeth, and sharp claws, perched directly above us, ready to strike. Yes, it was a bat!
Was this bat friendly? Was it carnivorous? Was it ill tempered?
There was some evidence of foul play nearby -- a dead rabbit and a rabbit mummy.
This bat took to flight and buzzed by Maria just as she was in the narrow part of the lava tube. It almost got tangled in her hair or maybe it was trying to bite her neck. Neither option seemed pleasant so we took this as a warning and climbed back out to the surface.
It turned out that the surface wasn't safe either. On the surface, right next to our vehicles was a nest of rattle snakes!
These were big, mean, slithery, and rattling. They could slither between the rocks and could leap out at any moment. Naturally, Eric crawled up to within a few inches of one to take a picture.
There was an expectation for us to bury a Geocache (like last trip) nearby, but after discovering the rattlesnake nest, we thought it best to avoid digging a hole. The Geocache will have to wait for another miniquest trip.
Until next time... pleasant trips and don't let the bats/rattlers get ya.