The stunning contrasts of Mojave National Preserve

A red snake of brake lights crawled through the San Gabriel mountains, three lanes of traffic filled with people and cargo leaving Los Angeles heading to Las Vegas.

Dikko had no idea where we were going. It was a mystery weekend to celebrate his birthday weeks before. After refueling at Barstow and eating homemade dinner while observing interesting Chevron patrons, I took the I40 heading south east. This threw my husband completely as he wondered where on earth we we’d end up…

Half an hour later the suspense was too much, so I told him we were camping in the desert, Mojave National Preserve to be exact.

Turning on to Kelbaker Road we drove and turned left again onto Kelso Road. Here we’d find dispersed camping just past a trailhead for the Kelso Dunes. We left the fly off the tent and I had trouble going to sleep with the moonlight shining so brightly.

Our home for the evening

Home for Friday night, the shadow cast by our car early Saturday morning

Soon the sun arced between the Providence Mountains and the Granite Mountains, two ranges flanking the horizon. On the opposite horizon were the Kelso Dunes, an amazing formation of golden granules, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

Crunching over breakfast Dikko’s curiosity piqued again. I finally agreed to tell him the plans for the day, we’d explore Mojave National Preserve then drive to Las Vegas to watch the LA Kings play the Colorado Avalanche in a pre-season ice hockey game. Sunday remained a mystery!

The Providence Mountains of Mojave National Preserve

The Providence Mountains of Mojave National Preserve

Parking at Kelso Dunes trailhead I’d thought the dunes would be much closer however it was good to have a hike as we’d be sitting down the rest of the weekend (sorry that’s all the clues you get for now!) The trail began with little smooth rocks and shrubs, eventually changing to soft sand and the odd reed-looking plant.

Reaching a saddle between two dunes the views were astonishing. Perfect ridglines of undisturbed golden sand formed beautiful lines that drew your eye along them to a point, below the beautiful blue sky.

We explored the top and the views in all directions. Then I set to work making the sand sing, as when you run down a steep section quickly the sand moving over itself makes a whoomping noise. It was like a small plane propellor starting up – whoom, whoom, whoom! I had so much fun Dikko was convinced it was his turn!

Kelso Dunes

Speechless in sand

I was laughing and giggling and jumping in slow motion and sweating and laughing and, you get the idea! It was fun to run around like a crazy person without pounding pavement and jarring joints. The sand was wonderfully soft and cool underfoot.

Click on the gallery below to see more photos from the sand dunes.

We ran and walked back, the sun intensified and we arrived at the car around 11am, two hours after starting out. From the dunes I decided to stop at Kelso Depot. Who knew what was there? We were about to find out…

Like a true oasis, Kelso Dept stood proudly in the desert. Within moments of arriving a Union Pacific freight train rumbled by as we investigated a tiny old gaol and railway, mining, and World War II history. Inside the depot were all sorts of amazing artifacts as part of the Visitor Centre. This mystery weekend was turning out to surprise me and I’d organised it!

Kelso Depot Mojave

True desert oasis, Kelso Depot, also the Mojave National Preserve Visitor Centre

Kelso Depot Mojave

Pretty cool old poster in the Visitors Centre

From Kelso Depot we took Kelso Cima Road and turned onto Cedar Canyon Road, then on to Black Canyon Road, taking a turnoff at Wild Horse Canyon, before reaching Middle Hills Campground for lunch. Clusters of granite boulders dotted the landscape of rock, sand and juniper trees.

Content with the interesting scenery we continued driving after lunch and turned back onto Cedar Canyon Road heading east, then turned north on Lanfair Road (which became Ivanpah Road). The Joshua Trees were impressivly dense and in the distance the New York Mountains lived up to their skyscraper name.

Granite island

Island of granite in the desert

Kelso Depot Mojave

Scenery along Cedar Canyon Road

Lanfair/Ivanpah Road

Lanfair/Ivanpah Road and plenty of Joshua Trees

Solar Panels in the distance

The silvery glimmer is a solar panel farm inside California

I enjoyed hitting bitumen after driving on some rather eroded sections of sandy and rocky road. It was about 3.00pm and time to hit the I15 and join “civilisation” in Las Vegas for the next part of the mystery weekend.

I found the contrast of colors, textures, flora and fauna in the Mojave National Preserve a fantastic surprise. The Kelso Dunes really astonished me (they were a heap of fun, literally!) And there was still a lot to do in the park including hikes and holes in rocks and old mining areas.

Not only was the visit a contrast to usual adventures in the mountains, but the desert also provided stark contrasts within itself.

Note: Mojave National Preserve is just like a National Park, however hunting is allowed, hence the name Preserve. Also, the Kelso Dunes are formed from wind carrying sand across the desert and hitting the Granite Mountains. Read more about the 1.6 million acre preserve here

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