Mojave Adventure Weekend


Mojave Odyssey

Joshua Tree, Death Valley… think you’ve seen the best deserts of the Wild West? Smack between both lies 1.6 million acres of secluded, rugged scenery. Mojave National Preserve is primed for exploration. Drop into a lava tube, climb a sand dune, and hoist yourself up ringbolts on three adventurous hikes in this remote land.

Mojave Lava Tube Trail

Lava & Java

Mojave National Preserve's got more than a few ways to get your adrenaline pumping, so go with the flow—or rather, go where the lava once flowed. One of the park’s wildest landscapes is found on the northwest side, where you can do more than gawk at the saw-toothed terrain of black volcanic rock: You can climb right down into a lava tube and explore nature’s subterranean architecture (don’t worry, no fiery magma flows through this underground chamber today). After a short walk up Lava Tube Trail, a metal staircase descends into a dark hole. Scramble down a pile of boulders and duck into a chamber resembling a subway tunnel. Skylights in the ceiling drop shafts of light into the room, allowing you to see your feet as you revel in your feat: You’re standing where lava once oozed. Underworld privilege.

COFFEE BONUS: Get a hot cup of joe at The Beanery, a café from another era located in Keslo Depot, a former Union Pacific Railroad Station that’s been converted to a visitor center and museum while preserving the restaurant (map).

From I-15 in Baker, take exit 246 and drive 19 miles east on Kelbaker Rd. to Aiken Mine Rd., an unmarked dirt lane on the left (it's another 15 miles on Kelbaker Rd. to Kelso Depot). Drive north for 4.5 miles up the sandy and rocky Aiken Mine Rd. Just past the second horse corral, turn left following a sign for Lava Tube Trail. Drive another quarter mile to a circular parking area at the trailhead (map). Walk less than 0.25 miles up the jeep trail that continues from the parking area, and turn right up a path to the entrance of the lava tube. Walk past two noticeable holes in the roof of the lava tube before coming to the steel staircase. Bring along a flashlight and this trail brochure. High-clearance vehicles are recommended on Aiken Mine Rd. Note: Mojave is very undeveloped with only a handful of maintained trails. Be sure to stop by the visitor center for extra information and maps.

Mojave Barbour Peak

Holey Grail

The Louvre may have the Mona Lisa, but even Leonardo da Vinci can’t compete with Mother Nature’s ability to create masterpieces. Mojave National Preserve is home to the impressive Hole-in-the-Wall, a canvas of unusual pockmarked formations created by a volcanic eruption. View it on the well-marked Barbara Peak Loop, a moderate 6-mile journey through the art of the matter. The trail hugs the base of the 5,500-foot Barbour Peak, setting out north toward views of Table Mountain, a long butte with a black top. A stone staircase descends past a porous cliff face as you circle west up a grave floodplain dotted with yucca, barrel cacti, even a few pinyon pines. You’ll approach the Opalite Cliffs, a daunting formation with bleached vertical walls that support a dark peak resembling the spires of a castle. The loop ends at the bottom of Banshee Canyon, Hole-in-the-Wall’s most bizarre landscape. Step into a rock amphitheater of hundred-foot cliffs with gapes big enough to climb inside. Scale two sets of rock-mounted ringbolts through a narrow canyon for an adventurous conclusion in this world of wild rocks. Holey experience.

From I-40 east of Barstow, take exit 100 and drive north on Essex Rd. After 10 miles, turn right onto Black Canyon Rd. Drive another 10 miles and turn left at the sign for Hole-in-the-Wall. Drive past the visitor center to the trailhead at the end of the road (map). From the top of Rings Trail, find the sign for Barbour Peak Loop Trail on the right and begin hiking north (counterclockwise) around the loop. Keep Barbour Peak to your left through every well-marked junction. At the end of Barbour Peak Loop Trail, turn left up Rings Trail and hike 0.25 miles back to the Hole-in-the-Wall Trailhead. Carry this trail map.

Mojave Kelso Dunes

Dunes Day

Remember trying to build the tallest sandcastle of them all? Now you can up the ante by hiking to the summit of one of California’s tallest dune fields. The Kelso Dunes comprise 45 square miles of natural sandcastles, featuring a pyramid-shaped high point that offers span-tastic views of these wind-sculpted wonders and the dramatic peaks enshrining them. There are several routes to the top, but the easiest is a 3-mile (round-trip) hike that ascends a lower dune east of the summit, letting you hike up the ridge where the ground is most stable. En route you’ll be serenaded by "singing sand" (more like sudden booms!), a phenomenon created by vibrations in the slippery grains beneath your feet. The apex offers a superb perspective of the pale rippling dunes unfurling below, bordered by the rocky terrain of the Granite and Providence mountains. Enterprising kids—or just kids at heart—can slide down the steep banks but it’s also fun to run down the singing sand, which goes much faster than the hike up!

WHERE TO STAY: Hotel Nipton (107355 Nipton Road, in Nipton, a tiny town on the northeast side of Mojave National Preserve) is a recently refurbished, century-old adobe with five rooms. Nipton also has a general store and café. There are two developed campgrounds in Mojave National Preserve including Hole-in-the-Wall Campground, with 35 first-come, first-served sites for $12/night. Amenity-free roadside vehicle camping is also permitted at no charge throughout the park, and there are several good places for vehicle camping 0.75 miles past the Kelso Dunes Trailhead at the end of Kelso Dunes Road. These low-elevation sites offer some of the park’s warmest winter camping as well as beautiful sunrise and sunset views over the dunes.

From I-40 east of Barstow, take exit 78 onto Kelbaker Rd. and drive 14.5 miles north to Kelso Dunes Rd. (8 miles before the Kelso Depot Visitor Center). Turn left and drive 3 miles to the trailhead for the Kelso Dunes (map). A Kelso Dunes Ranger Walk & Talk departs from the trailhead every Saturday at 11:00 a.m. from November through May.

Think You're a Tough Mudder?

Fire leaping, mud running, dashing across ice and through 10,000 volts of electricity—then toasting your survival with a Dos Equis. You’re officially a Tough Mudder! If you do just one hardcore (and totally fun) adventure over the next year, make it Tough Mudder—the best of its kind for testing your mental and physical strength! Tough Mudder sells out fast across the globe, but early registration has opened for dates in Southern California. Gather your friends and secure your spots for February 9, 2013; then start training, because you’ll need it! Designed by British Special Forces, the 10-mile obstacle course includes 25 military-style challenges: Conquer hills, mud, water, ropes, walls, fire, ice, and—yes—a few energizing jolts of electricity as you race (or bumble-stumble-fumble) to the end zone. Join the party at the finish line where cold beer, live music, food, prizes, and festivities—not to mention the coveted orange headband—are your rewards for being a Tough Mudder.

Tough Mudder For a Cause: Sign up for Tough Mudder Southern California and you’ll also be supporting the Wounded Warrior Project.

Sign up now for Tough Mudder 2013 before it sells out! Want more? See photos and videos from past events at

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