It’s like Death Valley, but with even less visitors. The dirt roads that crisscross the Mojave National Preserve offer the same backcountry roads and camping experience as Death Valley National Park in the same desert landscape. And unlike Death Valley’s developed campgrounds – which often seem like parking lots – Mid Hills and Hole-in-the-Wall Campgrounds are situated in the desert landscape with scenery to spare. Both campgrounds have sites with picnic tables, fire rings, pit toilets, and water. No reservations are available for camping in Mojave, so the roadside camping that is available throughout the preserve provides options when the developed campgrounds are filled. Keep in mind that Mid Hills is situated at more than 5000 feet in elevation and can be chilly in the fall, winter and spring. Hole-in-the-Wall is conveniently located near the visitor center that is open weekends only with access to hiking trails and ranger programs.
Why is Mojave a National Preserve instead of a National Park? In the National Park System, different designations come with different regulations and unlike national parks, national preserves allow use of resources such as mining and hunting. Be prepared to hear gunfire in the preserve if you visit during hunting season, and be prepared for campgrounds to fill on weekends. The Mojave Desert has a long and colorful mining history, with some sites still active today. The preserve is also home to a very active railroad line, where the lonely sound of trains passing in the night is easily discernible from campsites at Mid Hills.
For those who enjoy nature by gentler means, the preserve offers hiking and plenty of opportunity for photography. Two easy hikes include the Rings Loop Trail – which offers visitors the chance to descend a slot canyon via iron rings mounted in stone walls – and the Rock Spring Loop Trail as a one mile trip to Rock Spring and its boulders carved with petroglyphs. Kelso Dunes rise 700 feet above the Devil’s Playground, a system of moving sand originating in the Mojave River Sink to the north. Look for animal tracks in the sand and a rosy glow at sunrise and sunset. Ancient lava tubes are accessed via the Aiken Mine Road, and a stop at the Kelso Depot Visitor Center will put the history of the railroad into perspective.
Summer is considered the off season in the Mojave as the desert temperatures reach well over 100 degrees. Spring can bring a show of wildflowers if the precipitation conditions have been favorable, with fall and winter featuring gloriously sunny days and chilly nights – perfect camping weather!