Despite its proximity to both Las Vegas and Los Angeles, the Mojave National Preserve is a seldom visited area. In fact, most people have either never heard of it, or get it confused with the more generalized area we call the Mojave desert. Here’s the deal. The Mojave desert covers a large portion of southern California, southern Nevada, and a small slice of north-western Arizona. The area is defined by rocky, barren mountain ranges, vast basins, and sparse vegetation.
This portion of desert contains some pretty cool natural areas such as Joshua Tree National Park, Death Valley National Park, and the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. It also contains the 1.4 million acre Mojave National Preserve (MNP) where you will find an isolated series of dunes that rise 600 feet from the desert floor, volcanic rock formations for hiking and climbing, the densest Joshua tree forest in the world, and an impressive collection of rare flora and fauna. You will also find some incredible camping opportunities.
There are two campgrounds in the MNP. Only one — the Hole-in-the-Wall Campground — is suitable for RVs. With 35 well-spaced campsites offering gorgeous views of the surrounding landscape and close proximity to some fun hiking trails, this is great option for camping inside the preserve.
But it’s not the only camping option in the preserve…and in my opinion, it’s not even the best option. For that you have to get out of the campground. The MNP allows what they call Roadside Camping. The general idea is that you are permitted to camp in an area that has previously been used for that purpose (which usually means an existing road and fire pit — no making your own spot). There are a number of approved roadside camping spots listed on their website, and they strongly encourage that you utilize these sites in an effort to minimize impact of the land.
Sounds great right? We first explored some of these sites when we came though here in December of 2012. A few nights camped on Cima Rd. smack in the middle of an awe inspiring Joshua Tree forest, an afternoon hiking the dunes, and a few more nights next to the craggy granite mountains near the south end of the preserve convinced us that this place was worth further exploration.
This time around we decided to check out a different area of the preserve over near the Hole-in-the-wall campground. Rumor was the cell signal was great in that area, and we liked the idea of being near a few official trails. Ideally we would have made a return trip to the dunes, re-visited the Kelso Depot Visitor Center, and maybe even made it over to the cinder cones and lava beds area. But here’s the thing about the MNP…it’s huge. And lots of roads are dirt which means slow going. So with our time limited for exploring during the week (after working hours only), we ended up simply staying in one spot for the whole week.
Which was not exactly a hardship :) We took daily walks through the diverse landscape around our camp, climbed rocky hills to take in the views, caught a few amazing sunsets, and enjoyed the solitude.
The site we picked was one of two designated roadside camping sites on Black Canyon Road. According to the listing on Campendium (where you can find exact coordinates and photos) this site is for “small RVs only”. But according to Google satellite view there was a large turn off at the beginning of the road where we could park and investigate on foot. Which is exactly what we did.
These photos were actually taken on our way out, but you can see that the dirt access road is somewhat narrow and lined on both sides with cactus and bushes. But the spot at the end was so perfect that we couldn’t pass it up. I walked alongside the RV moving bushes and directing as needed while Tim drove very carefully through the potential Airstream scratching hazards. As you can see the site was plenty large enough for us to park, but barely large enough for us to pull a tight u-turn when it was time to leave. So yeah…small RVs only. But if you’re like us and enjoy a challenge (and have an RV that is 25′ or less) the reward will be a private site with gorgeous views in every direction, and a blazing fast cell signal. Also, the campground is only a few miles down the road which makes for a good back-up plan.
Speaking of the campground, we drove over there twice to explore some of the hiking trails. The first was called the Ring Loop Trail. This short 1-mile trail makes a small loop around a bluff and then cuts through a rocky outcropping of volcanic rock. The name of the trail comes from the short, steep section that that ascends up the volcanic cliff with the assistance of metal rings. All the reviews I read of the ring section described it as only moderately difficult. In general I would agree as both sections are quite short, and since you’re wedged between two rocks the fear of falling is minimum. However, if your limbs are short like mine you might find the rings a bit far apart for your liking, and you might need your husband to help pull you up at the top because you can’t reach the upper ledge. Other than that, totally climbable for most people.
The other trail we did was the longer Barber Peak Loop Trail. The name of this hike says it all. This trail makes a wide loop around Barber Peak. It starts with a steady, gradual uphill climb on the front side, skirts around the north side through an area of burned juniper trees and cattle paths, rounds the back of the peak and makes a short uphill climb to a section of dense cactus, and then hooks up with the Ring Trail at the point where it cuts into the ledge. We decided to skip the ring section this time and instead continued around the loop, adding an extra mile making this a 6.5 mile, moderately easy hike through some truly amazing scenery.
We loved it here so much that at the end of the week we didn’t want to leave. In fact, there was some serious discussion about how we could stay longer, but as we only brought provisions for a single week and the nearest grocery store was an hour and a half away, our desire for fresh food won out (eating canned beans and dried rice for a week is not our idea of fun) and we headed down the road with promises to return again someday with enough supplies to last at least two weeks.