One of the fascinating things I have learned living out west is that no two deserts are truly the same. Case in point, Mojave National Preserve! Located throughout southern California and Nevada, the Mojave Desert is considered “high desert”, or desert between 2,000 and 4,000 ft. Endemic to the area, Joshua Trees are one of many different types of flora and fauna that are native to the area. Distinct from the Sonoran Desert, the Mojave Desert is warmer in temperature – and knowing it contains Death Valley, it seems no surprise to read temps that go well and above 115 F each year! Mojave is named after the indigenous Mojave tribe, which is federally recognized as part of the Colorado River Indian Tribes. Included with Chemehuevi, Hope, and some Navajo, these tribes maintain their individual traditions, religions, and identities without outside involvement. Mojave’s host the Native American Days Fair & Expo annually in Parker, Arizona the first week of October.
I’ve lived part-time for work the past nine or so months in Mesquite, Nevada and the difference between Page, Arizona is evident during summer and winter. It gets COLD in Mesquite – not snowy, just very cold at night; and during the summer, it can get ridiculously hot for a very long period of time. Did I mention the insects? HUGE. But all of them have two things in common: picture-perfect sunsets and amazing starry nights. Do yourself a favor when visiting the Mojave Preserve take in a gorgeous sunset before finding the darkest place you can safely visit in the park after 10 p.m. and be prepared to forget how to breathe.
One of the most interesting places in Mojave National Preserve was Zzyzzx. When I asked the California State University students who work/study there at the Desert Oasis Center, they told me about Curtis Springer, a man who opened up a mining claim in the area turned millionaire. In addition to the spa (plus other luxurious amenities), he hosted a radio show. During his time owning the resort, he mailed out over four million packages for items such as “Antediluvian Herb Tea, Nerve Cell Food, and Hollywood Pep Cocktail”. Eventually, his scheme caught up to him. After serving a few months in jail, he retired to Las Vegas.
The Desert Oasis Center has year-round studies by students from Cal State. Meeting and talking with them was a treat, as was the gorgeous viewshed. Strangely, since part of the area is still within the Preserve, visitors can still drive down the road and park just outside the center to view gorgeous landscapes such as the picture shown here…but it still is a living, and working, educational program. Be aware that visitors should not be walking around the buildings in this location as students are living, working, and studying year-round.
The history of Mojave Preserve and how it came into existence goes back to the passage of the Homesteading Act in 1862. Any American (any! including women!) could earn 160 acres of land out west. To earn rights to the land, homesteaders had to complete a number of tasks: pay a small filing fee; build a house 10 ft by 10 ft or larger; clear and have under cultivation ten acres the first year, twenty the second, and forty the third; and live on the place seven months each year, for three years. Farming was hard, especially since the Mojave Desert rarely gets more than 10 inches of precipitation a year.
By the late 1800s, miner and ranchers had joined the homesteaders – and with impressive stats! By 1894, over 10,000 cattle roamed the vast, harsh Mojave Desert. From just a couple natural springs, ranchers were able to design sophisticated water distribution methods to support the cattle and life in the desert. There is still active ranching today!
Another great place to visit during your time at Mojave is the Kelso Depot. When the Union Pacific was created in 1862, it strived to reach into rich California markets in Los Angeles. The path for construction lie within the Mojave Desert – hence Kelso Depot! The first depot opened in 1905 and was soon followed by a post office. The Depot ended existence in 1962, but when plans were made to demolish the building locals organized the Kelso Depot Fund to save the building. They stopped the demolition of the building but were unable to raise the money for restoration. By 1992, the Bureau of Land Management (which already owned most of the land around the area) were able to secure the building. With the passage of the California Desert Protection Act of 1994, the Depot was transferred to the National Park Service with renovations beginning in 2002.
If you have some time, go down to the Lava tube and play around! Be careful, the tube itself is not monitored and rangers are not present, but it is an interesting part of the park you would never think to see in a desert! The road getting to the lava tube is unpaved and we definitely recommend using a high clearance vehicle for the drive. There is a short hike after the road ends to the tubes and the view along the way is amazing!
Hopefully you take some time if you are in the area and stop through Mojave National Preserve. It is an amazing part of the park service with so many different ways to experience the desert.