Monday, April 23, 2012

Desert Road Trip: Joshua Tree/Mojave April 5-8 (Part 3)

Amboy 01
Saturday the plan was to see Mojave National Preserve, or at any rate as much of it as was accessible from Kelbaker Road, winding up at a motel in Barstow for the night. It was a packed schedule: lots of driving, and lots of exploring to do (and staying at Cottonwood added a good 40 minutes or so to the driving). So I got up early and hit the road a little after 6:30 am. More... 29 Palms 01
Short detour to a cool spot in Twentynine Palms: this guy (apparently) collects old motel signs, and his front yard is full of them.

I took Amboy Road out of Twentynine Palms; no traffic, just classic two-lane desert highway. Had to stop in Amboy itself (on old Route 66) to shoot the iconic Roy's sign. Amboy 01
Then north on Kelbaker Road to a turnout at Granite Pass, and a ramble around the rocky foothills of the Granite Mountains. It's a classic granitic landscape with lots of cool outcrops, well worth the hour or so I spent exploring it. Granite Mountains 02
Wildflowers: not so much. Some nice Panamint Liveforever, isolated paintbrush and Mojave Buckwheat, but not much else. Dudleya 02
Next stop was the Kelso Dunes, 45 square miles of sand topping out at 650' above the base.

I wasn't sure when I started that I was really shooting for the top of the tallest dune. The sand slog was tedious and enervating, and as I neared the base of the steepest dunes I looked up at the direct route and thought no frigging way. But when I got a little higher up I spotted a nice angled route to a saddle that wasn't much higher than I was at this point, so I figured I'd just go as far as the ridgeline to see what I could see. ("The Bear Went Over the Mountain" was going through my head at this point.) Kelso Dunes 06
And when I got there, I saw a path along the ridge to the high point--a path much easier than the one-foot-forward-two-steps-back way up the dune face. So I did make it to the high point despite myself. And it was well worth the (considerable) effort. Kelso Dunes 09
The descent was a lot more fun, half-leaping and half-glissading down every slope. Took me about half as long as going up. Kelso 01
I headed on to Kelso, a onetime railroad way station; trains don't stop here anymore, but Union Pacific still has some operations here. The Kelso Depot, a classic 1920s railroad depot, is now headquarters for the National Preserve. In addition to exhibits illustrating Mojave natural and human history, there are several rooms preserved as they would have been when it was a working depot. Kelso Depot 01
Also restored, and functioning: the old lunch counter. At the top of the dunes a young woman on a college geology trip recommended the fruit smoothies there, so I got myself a strawberry smoothy--very refreshing on a warm day. Kelso Depot 07
After a half hour or so it was back on the road, and another stop for a short walk in the cinder cone area. Cinder Cone 01
Then on to Baker, with the busiest strip since Twentynine Palms, and I-15 heading west. The freeway was a little jarring after a whole day of trafficless two-lane highways through the Big Empty, but I wasn't on it long before exiting for my final Mojave destination. Zyzzx 05
Zzyzx was a 1940s-era mineral springs and spa, founded and run by a televangelist health-food nut. Now it's the CSU system's Desert Studies Center. Much of it is still intact, a wonderfully incongruous oasis wedged between dark desert peaks and a vast dry lake bed. Great place to spend some time wandering around. Zyzzx 01
Finally, off to Barstow for a shower, dinner and a coupla Margaritas, Lady From Shanghai on TCM, and a soft bed. El Rancho 01
Heading out early Easter morning, I took the main drag through Barstow to catch a few more classic motel signs. Then onto the freeway and straight home, 6.5 wholly (happily) uneventful hours.