Mojave National Preserve


I've hiked in the Mojave National Preserve in all four seasons. Winter can be darn cold. I've had water freeze in water bottles at night. And due to the mountains, which exceed 6,000 to 7,000 feet, summer temperatures are moderated somewhat from the low-desert country so that hiking in July and August is not as stupid as it first sounds. Just bear in mind that hiking at high noon is not recommended. Wear a hat and drink plenty of water. The best time to visit, however, is between October and May. October and November may be the best months because the days tend to be clear and are not as windy as the spring months.

There are currently no facilities in the preserve. You must bring all the gas, food, and other supplies you need with you. You can obtain water in a few locations, including the Post Office at Cima, Providence Mountains State Recreation Area, and Hole in the Wall Campground. Regulations often change. Be sure to inquire at the visitor centers in Baker or Barstow and get the most up-to-date information.

Like most desert wilderness areas, there are few established trails in Mojave National Preserve. Most of the hiking involves walking up a wash or climbing a ridge. There are no paths. There are, however, a few old mining roads that now serve as trails, some of which are described in the following pages.

Day Hike - Caruthers Canyon - New York Mountains

One way length: 1.5 miles
Low and high elevation: 5,570 to 6,150 feet
Difficulty: Moderate

Caruthers Canyon lies in the New York Mountains and provides access to the granite heart of the range. Due to its higher elevation, there is more water here than elsewhere in the desert, supporting some unexpected plant distributions. For instance, species exist here that are more typical of the California coast, including manzanita, ceanothus, and oak. Pinyon pine and juniper are plentiful. The hike up the canyon follows an old mining road to the Giant Ledge Mine—an abandoned copper mine.

To reach the canyon from the north, drive east from Baker on I-15 for 25 miles to the Cima exit. Turn south on Cima Road and drive 28.5 miles to Cima Junction. Turn southwest (right) on Kelso-Cima Road and go 4.9 miles to the dirt Cedar Canyon Road. Turn southeast (left) onto Cedar Canyon Road and follow it across the New York Mountains for 22.3 miles to Ivanpah/Lanfair Road. Turn north (left) on Ivanpah Road and go 5.7 miles to the OX Ranch. Watch for New York Mountain Road on the west (left), which you then take for 5.9 miles to an intersection and turn right to Caruthers Canyon. It is 1.8 miles to a wash. Park there and begin hiking.

If you are coming from the south, exit I-40 at the Fenner exit. Gas up here then follow old Rte 66 to Goffe, where you take a left onto the paved Ivanpah/Lanfair Road. The road becomes a good dirt road after 9.6 miles. Continue on the dirt road for approximately six more miles until you reach the intersection with Cedar Canyon Road described earlier. Continue straight for another 5.7 miles to the OX Ranch and then follow the directions provided in the previous paragraph.

The hike follows the old mining road. Avoid side spurs leading to campsites and just continue up the main canyon. You cross the wash several times about halfway to the mine, and often there is water in the wash in winter and spring.

As you walk, there are plenty of opportunities to admire the oddly shaped granite boulders that line the ravine and sometimes almost block the old, deteriorating road—making for slow going at times. Once you reach the mine area there are a number of open mine shafts and an old wooden chute to investigate, then return back down the canyon to your vehicle.

Day Hike - Cima Dome - Teutonia Peak

One way length: 2 miles
Low and high elevation: 5,020 to 5,643 feet
Difficulty: Moderate

Until you are practically on top of Teutonia Peak, it is hard to tell where the dome is really located. Cima Dome is shaped like an inverted gold pan. Huge, more than 10 miles in diameter, the nearly circular swelling of monzonite (granitic rock) rises 1,500 feet above the surrounding desert. It is considered the most symmetrical, natural domed feature in the United States. The dome was formed when a molten plume of magma rose toward the earth's surface and cooled in place as a giant mushroom-shaped granite bubble that erosion has subsequently exposed.

The surface of this dome is covered with the world's largest Joshua tree woodland. The species here, Yucca brevifolia jaegariana, is a slightly different subspecies from those seen at Joshua Tree National Park. This species possesses a greater number of bisymmetrical branches and attains an overall larger size.

To get to the trailhead, take the Cima Road exit off I-15 and head 11 miles south toward Cima. If coming from the south, go 6 miles north from Cima on Cima Road. Trailhead parking for the 2-mile hike to Teutonia Peak lies on the west side of the road.

The trail climbs gently uphill across a sandy landscape dotted with cholla, Joshua tree, and yucca. Along the way you pass several fences—an indication that this area is grazed by domestic livestock. At a half-mile you cross a dirt road. At 0.9 mile you cross another road (neither road is marked on my topographical map), which you follow past some mining ruins to a marked path leading off to the west. The path climbs briefly to a ridge. Follow the path south and watch for cairns that signal the way to the rocky summit. Great views of the Ivanpah Mountains are directly east of the summit. Scramble around the summit boulders to get views in other directions.

Day Hike - Silver Peak - Granite Mountains

One way length: 4.3 miles
Low and high elevation: 4,000 to 6,375 feet
Difficulty: Moderate

Silver Peak is the highest point in the northern portion of the Granite Mountains and affords one of the best views in the entire preserve. The hike to the summit follows an old mining road most of the way. Those attaining the summit are rewarded with sweeping vistas north across the Kelso Dunes and Devil's Playground, and intimate views of the rugged Providence Mountains to the east and the Clipper Mountains to the south beyond I-40.

To reach the trailhead, take the Kelbaker exit off I-40 some 78 miles east of Barstow. Go north 10.1 miles, crossing Granite Pass en route. Just a few hundred feet beyond the pass watch for a dirt road heading west. Follow this rough, narrow road as far as you dare or until you come to the wilderness boundary some 1.8 miles from Kelbaker Road. You can also reach the trailhead coming from the north. Just find your way to the "town" of Kelso. Continue on Kelbaker Road to Granite Pass, then follow the same directions given previously.

From the parking area, follow the old mining road up Cottonwood Wash. It is 4.6 miles to the end of the road near the summit of Silver Peak. Lovely Cottonwood Wash Valley has oak and other vegetation you might not expect to find in the desert. It is also one of the places where cattle are still grazed, so you may see some of these hoofed locust en route. Don't be confused by the numerous cattle trails that wander here and there about the valley. The old road eventually curves uphill and up the northern slope of the valley as it winds up toward the peak. The road ends at an elevation of 6,075 feet just below the summit. A "use" path climbs the last 300 feet to the summit. Cattle seldom climb such steep slopes, hence there are beautiful grasslands beneath the scattered pinyon and juniper stands about the summit. I lingered on the peak until sunset. Nevertheless, I was able to follow the old road quite easily back to my vehicle with the aid of moonlight.

Day Hike - Hole in the Wall - Mid Hills

One way length: 8.4 miles
Low and high elevation: 4,265 to 5,600 feet
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous

The Hole in the Wall Trail is only one of two official trails in the preserve. The path crosses rolling terrain with canyons and pinnacles, and sagebrush mixed with pinyon and juniper woodlands. It is well marked and distinct, and can either be hiked as an overnight backpack trip or a long point-to-point trek if a vehicle shuttle or pickup has been previously arranged. If you don't mind walking down a dirt road for several miles, at about the halfway point one can also leave the trail and follow an old mining road to Black Canyon Road (which doesn't have too much traffic) to hike back to the starting point. It's difficult to get too terribly lost since dirt roads lie a couple of miles north and south of the hiking route on either side of the trail.

To find the trailhead, take I-40 44 miles west from Needles to the Essex Road exit. Turn north and head toward the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area. Go 9.7 miles to the intersection of Essex Road and Black Canyon Road. Turn northeast (right) on Black Canyon Road, which you then follow 8.5 miles to the Hole in the Wall Campground and Visitor Center. The trailhead is located at the picnic area just beyond the visitor center.

The first part of the "trail" may be intimidating to some, particularly if you are accompanied by small children. Immediately on leaving the parking area you must descend 215 feet in less than 0.2 mile into Banshee Canyon—a narrow slot in the volcanic rocks. To aid in the descent there are metal rings imbedded in the rock walls as handholds. In very short order you come out of the canyon and into an open wash. For those not inclined to take on the narrows of Banshee Canyon, you can drive to this point and begin the hike here. The trail continues across cholla- and yucca-covered rolling terrain to a wash. Follow the wash (there are signs) to a trail junction about 1 mile from the trailhead. If you turn left you reach the Wild Horse Canyon Trailhead to the Hole in the Wall Trail (yet another optional starting point) some 0.25 mile south. To continue the hike, turn right (north) and head upslope. At 1.7 miles you reach a low pass (elevation, 4,460 feet) surrounded by barrel cactus and boulder outcrops. You soon cross a gate with a sign that reads "6.2 miles to Mid Hills." You descend to the wash and continue to an old road, which you follow for 0.3 mile, then the signed trail takes off to the left. The trail follows a wash, then climbs among granite boulders. At 4.3 miles you cross a road that leads to the abandoned Gold Valley Mine.

If you are not inclined to hike to Mid Hills or you wish to make a loop of the trip, you can turn to the right at the road intersection and follow Gold Valley Mine Road east and southeast back to Black Canyon Road, which you then follow southwest back to the Hole in the Wall Campground and Trailhead.

If Mid Hills is your goal, continue heading north up the path. You pass through another gate that states the remaining mileage to Mid Hills. You soon intersect another abandoned road, which you follow for 1.3 miles. Just after passing another gate marked "Mid Hills 3.1 miles," there is a sign that points to a trail that heads off to the right. Continue following the signs and the trail to the high point of the hike (elevation, 5,600 feet)—some 8 miles from the Hole in the Wall Trailhead. At this point you can see the windmill that lies near the end of the trail. From the high point it is only another 0.4 mile to Mid Hills.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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