Before President Obama channeled Teddy Roosevelt earlier this year, the Mojave National Preserve was missing a key piece bordering Nevada in the northeast section of the park. This newly conserved 21,000-acre parcel, now protected and designated the Castle Mountains National Monument after its namesake range, was originally left out due to a large then-operational gold mine. Reaching the only officially marked hiking corridor among the desert grasslands en route to the rugged spires, at about 4 miles to the peaks, requires a 4×4 with high clearance. Speak with a ranger before even attempting to do this. If you prioritize gas mileage and ease of exploration over off-road capabilities, there are still plenty of accessible viewing opportunities via cross-country treks. Drive carefully along the unpaved Ivanpah Road north of the intersection with Cedar Canyon and park where you please, venturing into incredibly dense Joshua tree forests mixed with buckhorn cholla and the occasional blackbrush scrub environment. As you wander, gaze to the northeast and keep an eye out for three prominently pointy, slender pinnacles that help visibly define the Castle Mountains.
AWESOME CAMPING BONUS: If you like solitary camping, you’ll love Mid Hills Campground, a 26-site, $12/night, first-come, first-served tent-only area sitting at 5,600 feet. It’s virtually unpopulated, even on prime weekends. Though the vegetation was burned in a 2005 fire, most campsites still offer shade from pinyon pines and juniper trees, as well as some of the best star-gazing in California. To get to Mid Hills, take I-15 to I-40 east and exit north at Essex Rd. Take a slight right at Black Canyon Rd. and a left on Wild Horse Rd., following signs for the campground.
To get to the Castle Mountains, continue north on Black Canyon Rd. and take a right on Mojave Rd. After this turns into Cedar Canyon Rd., take a left on Ivanpah Rd. If you have 4-wheel drive with high clearance, drive north 15 miles and take a right on Hart Mine Rd. Continue straight for 5 miles and veer left at the intersection. After another 3 miles, you’ll reach the parking lot and trailhead. NOTE: Talk to a ranger before embarking on the 8-mile round-trip hike, and remember there are plenty of options for enjoying good views and a nice stroll without requiring 4-wheel drive clearance. Dog-friendly!