Home-2021- Mojave National Preserve trip --Sitemap-About
Mojave National Preserve trip

The year was ending and like so many times, I celebrated the New Year by making a short road trip. My sons brought me sand from Kelso Dunes a year earlier, and it was time to see where the sand came from for myself.


Gallery of my favorite photos


Drive south

It was an end of a very busy weather week that brought inches of rain to much of California, and 15+ feet of snow to Tahoe. After delaying my trip a bit for work reasons and to time the weather, I was chasing the last push of the stormy weather as I headed south. It was a cold storm that hit southern California hard, which proved to be a problem as the most direct route over the Tehachapi Pass was reporting a six hour delay because of a tractor trailer accident. An alternative route toward LA was closed too due to snow on Tejon Pass, 4,160ft. A few inches of snow would probably not cause a disruption around Tahoe but it was a reason to close a major interstate in southern California.

Having made a stop in Bakersfield to shop and have an early dinner, I continued as soon as I-5 reopened. Light rain and drizzle was rapidly diminishing as I descended from Tejon Pass toward Lancaster. Google showed a major backup ahead toward Mojave and suggested a route on minor roads through the desert. These eventually turned into dirt roads, and became a mud fest after all the rainfall of the previous days. Other than a coating of mud, it was no problem for the Wrangler and I finally reached Barstow late in the evening.

My early start the next morning was rewarded by a rare sight of fog in the desert landscape as I drove toward the southern entrance of the Mojave National Preserve just off I-40.

photo

photo photo photo photo photo
Pacheco Pass Sunrise motel view Truck stop Ludlow Cafe


Amboy

South of the preserve on the other side of I-40 is the town of Amboy. It is on historic Route 66, next to Santa Fe Railroad that is still used by BNSF, and long past its heyday which came after Route 66 opened in the 1920s. Its fortunes took a dive in the 70s when the interstate bypassed the town. The school building and a church are testimony to the days when more than a handful people made Amboy its home. A post office still appears open, at least at some hours. Roy's Motel and Cafe with its big sign is a tourist draw and features gasoline, snacks and a gift shop.

photo

photo photo photo photo photo photo
Roy's sign Motel room Roy's motel Church benches Amboy church
photo photo photo photo photo photo
Palm tree Memorial to trash? Amboy post office Jeep and Roy's sign Mustang restroom?
photo photo photo photo photo photo
Jeep and Roy's airport Gas pump
photo photo
Amboy school in BW


Amboy to Kelso Depot

As I drove north toward the preserve, the clouds put on a show, amplifying the empty space feeling of the desert landscape around the road. Upon entering the preserve, the Granite Peak to the west features a lot of interesting rock formations I figured I could visit the area later and continued to Kelso Depot. Originally built to provide services for the railroad employees and passengers, as well as to serve as a water stop for the steam locomotives of the the time, the depot now serves as a visitor center for the preserve.

photo

photo photo photo photo photo photo
Route 66 closure Rumbling along Space More space Road in BW
photo photo photo photo
Entrance sign Kelso Depot arcade Kelso Depot Kelso post office


Kelso Dunes afternoon

I backtracked a bit and headed for the sand dunes. A graded dirt road was waterboarded but an easy drive otherwise. Most visitors park at a trailhead about three miles in to make a hike up the sand dunes. Undeveloped camping is available another mile or two down the road. Compared to descriptions, the site may have been improved in recent years as sites with fire rings are available as well as dry toilets. With the forecast calling for very high winds overnight, I decided to sleep in the car instead of pitching a tent, and headed up the sand dunes.

As I approached the dunes, the clouds increased, depriving me of the shadows I was looking for. When I made it to the top of the main ridge, the sun peaked out for a shrt time as if to tease me. The western horizon was mostly clear but a long cloud persistently blocked the sun and moved with it as the sun approached the horizon.

photo

photo photo photo photo photo photo
Kelso Dunes Layers Main ridge Self-portrait Ridges BW self shadow
photo photo photo photo photo
Sandy space Desert stripes Sand patterns Bertie digging in


Kelso Dunes sunset

My patience was rewarded a few short minutes before the sunset. The sun finally came out, and illuminated the dunes and the remaining clouds in a colorful display of colors and shapes. I made the best of it in my location, that I had had plenty of time to select earlier. With the last sun rays illuminating the ridge leading up to the tallest dune, I considered making a run for its summit, but instead decided to relish the views I had. After the sun disappeared below the horizon, I hiked back and reached the camp just as it got dark. I prepared for the night and toasted the upcoming New Year with some bubbly that I drank from my coffee mug.

photo

photo photo photo photo photo photo
Patterns of the sand Sun! Ridges and clouds Wider view Two sides
photo photo photo photo photo photo
Sunset colors
photo photo photo photo photo photo
Shadows play Sunset Last sunlight Colors of the sunset
photo photo photo photo photo photo
Sunset Last rays Dunes and alpenglow Dusk on the dunes Last look Toasting the New Year


Kelso Dunes morning

It got quite windy overnight but it did not really register inside the Jeep. Given the forecast, I anticipated the winds to continue, and skipped my plan to get up for the sunrise. To my surprise, there was no wind when I woke up and even though it was too late to catch the rising sun from the top, I made another trek up, if for nothing else than to set my foot on the highest point. Having been up many dunes, I picked an easy, even though longer way up. When I reached the top shortly after the sunrise, a hiker who happened to be camping right next to me was already enjoying the view. He worked at JPL and studied at CU Bpulder. What a small world!

photo

photo photo photo photo photo photo
Summit Northeast ridge Main ridge in BW Taking in the sun Hikers on the ridge
photo photo photo photo photo photo
Dog energy Two sides Elevation 3,100ft Dark side of the dune Pointing into space
photo photo photo photo photo photo
Feeling small Tracks Ridge Bertie in Kelso Dunes
photo photo photo photo photo
Tallest dune Bertie Jeep and Kelso Dunes Providence Mountains


Hole in the Wall

I said goodbye to the sand dunes, knowing I would be back one day. I drove to the other side of the preserve to a place known as Hole in the Wall. There was some snow in the higher elevations along the way there. The wind picked up again, naking the conditions seem outright frigid. I hiked the Rings Loop Trail, a 1.5 mile hike through nice desert scenery and a small rocky canyon.

photo

photo photo photo photo photo photo
Jeep on Cedar Canyon Rd Windmill in BW Round Valley Rings Loop end Bertie
photo photo photo photo photo photo
Barrel cactus Petroglyphs Petroglyphs Cholla cactus Entrance of the Banshee Canyon
photo photo photo photo photo photo
Sun in the Banshee Canyon Rings Banshee Canyon narrows Canyon lookout Bull
photo photo photo photo photo photo
Desert view Joshua sun star Jeep on Cedar Canyon Rd Joshua tree


Joshua tree forest

The railroad by Kelso Depot is still active, and Union Pacific freight trains come through. I caught one of them in a Joshua tree forest near Chima.

photo

photo photo photo photo photo photo
Union Pacific railroad Union Pacific train Charred remains Graveyard Memento Desert scenery
photo photo
White Cross World War I Memorial


Sunset

My plan was to hike Teutonia Peak Trail but with the sun quickly approaching the horizon, I spent the remaining time along Cima Road, taking in the views of Joshua tree forest. It was a surreal sight in places as the forest became a Joshua tree gaveyard in the Cima Dome fire of August 2020. The charred skeletons are mostly still standing, some have toppled, and some still have green branches and will survive. As the sun set, it painted the trees orange and red, soon to be replaced by the purple hues of the dusk. The chill finally got to me, and I parted ways with the mesmerizing scenery.

photo

photo photo photo photo photo photo
Kessler Peak Frozen puddle Cima Road Curve Fire victim
photo photo photo photo photo photo
Joshua trees and Kessler Peak Tree sunset Glowing mountains
photo photo photo photo photo
Solitary Joshua tree Colors of the dusk Jeep on Cima Road


Southern Eastern Sierra

After another night in Barstow, it was time to embark on a long trip back home, which I made even longer by deciding to drive on the east side of the Sierra. I cannot get enough of the views of the Eastern Sierra as rises abruptly out of the Owens Valley and the Mono Basin, and could not pass the sights up. As I drove north, I reminisced about my small backpacking adventures there. My first stop was at Convict Lake, just south of Mammoth Lakes area. With the landscape decorated by fresh snow from a snowstorm just a few days earlier, it was a very picturesque scene. Curiously, the lake was not completely frozen over even at its elevation of 7,850 feet. It was probably under similar conditions when a group of teens broke through thin ice in 1990, leading to seven drownings.

photo

photo photo photo photo photo photo
US 395 toward Ridgecrest US 395 CA 136 and the Eastern Sierra Highway and the mountains
photo photo photo photo photo photo
Jeep and the Sierra Leaving Bishop Leaving Bishop US 395 US 395
photo photo photo photo photo photo
Road to Convict Lake Convict Lake and Laurel Mountain Convict Lake reflection Laurel Mountain reflection Picnic wonderland
photo photo photo
Ragged flag


Northern Eastern Sierra

Continuing past Mammoth Lakes, I soon arrived at a turn to the June Lake loop. The snow covered road was quite slippery and the valley itself was a winter wonderland. The loop was closed for the winter at Silver Lake and I backtracked, making a stop at Gull Lake and June Lake. There were a few ice skaters on June Lake off June Lake Beach. I did not venture onto the ice myself much as it seemed dangerously close to being too thin. While they said the lake was shallow there anyway, it was already very cold and I was not looking to get wet...

The view from Conway Summit over Mono Lake and farther south was as good as I had even seen. The final cold front that ended the snowy spell brought behind it some dry air and the visibility was as good as it gets.

More wintry scenery followed farther north on 395 by Bridgeport, Topaz Lake, and all the way to Gardnerville in Nevada. I ran out of daylight just around Carson Pass where I crossed the Sierra on Hwy 88.

photo

photo photo photo photo photo photo
Bear and Bertie Jeep and Gull Lake Bertie ice skating Ice skaters on June Lake June Lake ice reflection BW ice reflection
photo photo photo photo photo photo
Carson Peak US 395 toward Lee Vining Bertie and US 395 Mono Lake House near Bridgeport US 395
photo photo
Topaz Lake Topaz Lake reflections


Epilogue

Road trips never get old but they can get cold.


Last updated: March 31, 2022
Please send any comments to  or, if you prefer, sign an entry in the guest book.