Field Trip to Mojave Trails National Monument, Mojave Desert, California
24 Jul

Field Trip to Mojave Trails

Posted by Lori Rennie

by Vickie Waite – 7/24/2018
You can live in the desert for decades, and never see it all, or really know it. All that land out there, those wide open spaces? They are filled with seeds waiting to sprout under the right conditions, alive with critters adapting to their ever-changing environment, and home to mountains and washes and trails containing the history of ancient inhabitants.

From my desert front yard in 29 Palms I have an unobstructed view for 50 miles to the Sheephole Mountains in the east, and my kitchen window has a fine view of the mountains in Joshua Tree National Park. I am not much of a hiker, so watching from a distance is just fine with me. My preferred experience is sitting with a glass of wine on my front patio watching the rose-tinted hills at sunset. Ahhh.

So when our local tourism folks asked me to accompany the group* on a field trip to the new Mojave Trails National Monument, I can’t say I jumped at the chance. In fact, I had to be coerced. You mean, actually go out there into that desert wilderness?

Mojave Trails National Monument encompasses a mammoth swath of Mojave Desert—1.6 million acres of rugged mountain ranges, ancient lava flows, spectacular sand dunes, early Native American trading routes, World War II-era training camp history, and the longest remaining undeveloped stretch of Route 66. The monument was established on Feb. 12, 2016, and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In 2018, the City of Twentynine Palms and the BLM signed an agreement designating our city as an official “Gateway to Mojave Trails National Monument.”

Well, okay, considering that I do some tourism marketing for the city, and this monument literally begins on our eastern border, I decided I’d better go along for the ride so I would know what to tell visitors. And what a ride it was.

Amboy Crater Natural National Monument, Mojave Trails National Monument, Mojave Desert, CaliforniaOur first stop was Amboy Crater Natural National Monument, an hour’s drive east, located on part of the historic Route 66. I hadn’t seen the crater in years and was amazed at the site improvements. Paved road and parking lot, restrooms (vault toilets), shade ramadas, picnic tables, interpretive signs, and a beautiful handicap-accessible ramp leading up to an observation deck with a commanding view of the ancient 10,000-year-old crater. It was very visitor-friendly, and so Instagrammable!

There is a 1.5-mile hiking trail up to the 250-foot-high crater, accessed through a field of black lava. Allowing about 3 hours for a round trip is sensible, but hikers need to bring plenty of water for the hike and wear a hat and clothes to protect from the sun and hiking boots or sturdy shoes. DO NOT attempt this hike in the summer when temperatures can exceed 110 degrees. Due to the extreme heat the basaltic rock reflects, it is suggested that hikers visit the area between October and April.

Cadiz Dunes Wilderness, Mojave Trails National Monument, Mojave Desert, CaliforniaNext was a bumpy ride on sand roads further into the desert to reach the Cadiz Dunes Wilderness, one of the most pristine and remote sand dunes in Southern California. While the Kelso Dunes in Mojave National Preserve might afford easier access, the reward for finding and exploring Cadiz Dunes lies literally in its peaceful remoteness. It’s a relatively easy hike to the tops of the dunes from the nearby parking area. The views are spectacular, and the peace and quiet is palpable. As for getting there, 4-Wheel Drive is recommended for this part of the journey. Seriously.

Camp Iron Mountain, Mojave Trails National Monument, Mojave Desert, CaliforniaCircling back towards 29 Palms on a series of roads that I tried to track on the map, our fearless leader, BLM Manager Kyle Sullivan, took us to Camp Iron Mountain, one of the Desert Training Center sites used by General George S. Patton Jr. to train soldiers in World War II. It’s amazing to see the stone altar still standing in the spot where troops once had open air church services in the desert encampment near their tents and training fields. A chain link fence around the site helps to protect it from vandals or desert trash hunters. Removing artifacts from the area is forbidden, and the BLM warns visitors that unexploded ordnance could still be present in the area.

Camp Iron Mountain was one of 11 camps in an area covering 18,000 square miles of desert terrain, which made it the largest military training area in the world. Close to 1 million troops were trained there between 1942 and 1944. Camp Young in the lower desert was the headquarters and is the site of the General Patton Memorial Museum, located off Interstate 10 at Chiriaco Summit. BLM is working to preserve and interpret the remaining features of these camps, and all of the camp sites are considered Historical Period Archaeological Sites eligible for the National Register.

After a full day of driving across the expansive desert, we had covered only a portion of the Mojave Trails National Monument. There were still many sites and thousands of acres left to explore. But it was nearing 5 o’clock and time to head back to town. Besides that, it was wine time.

As I sat on my patio that night, looking out across the desert, I felt more of a connection with the history of this land. I vowed to explore other sites in the monument and learn about those ancient trading routes that gave Mojave Trails its name.

For visitors who want to explore the Mojave Desert outback and really step back in time, the Mojave Trails National Monument is a quiet, remote, fascinating journey. But again, don’t do this in the heat of summer; plan this trip for next fall or winter. And heed all the warnings for safe desert travel: have plenty of water, snacks or food, gas and oil in a well-maintained vehicle (preferably 4WD), good hiking footwear, hat and sun-protective clothes. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return, and leave the pets at home. Enjoy your adventure, but remember the desert is bigger than you, a lot bigger.

See our Mojave Trails National Monument page on Visit29.org for a MAP and links to more information.

*The May 2018 field trip group included representatives from the BLM, the City of Twentynine Palms, Visit 29! TBID Advisory Board, Historic Inns of 29 Palms, and Mojave Desert Land Trust.

Vickie Waite is a freelance writer, author, editor, and marketing specialist, who has been a Mojave Desert resident for nearly 29 years in 29 Palms, California.

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