Mojave National Preserve/ Lava Tube

So much to see, so little time. Happens all to often when exploring distant places. After planning my trip to Death Valley I was searching for the most attractive route back to my base in Lake Havasu City. One trick I use involves Google Maps/Earth. In Earth mode I focus on routes while scanning the photo uploads of other travelers. This enables me to see places that might go unnoticed while scanning a traditional map.

I call it 'Exploring through Google Earth'. As you move down (dragging) along your planned route, the photos change revealing points of interest. Choose a photo, click and explore. I then do more research through traditional google searches. I have discovered so many places that would have passed me by if not for this method. The biggest challenge is that you discover far more attractions than you have time for. Click on the image below to see the live example of how I discovered the Lava Tubes.

Mojave Google Earth

This is what brought me to an amazing place called the Mojave National Preserve. Not named a National Park but part of the National parks system. I quickly learned that this area had so much to offer. With time constraints I was only able to concentrate on three points of interest.

After spending the morning on California Route 66, we headed up the Kelbaker Rd off Interstate 40 and up into the Preserve. Our first stop was the Mojave Lava Tube. The Amboy crater had got us in the volcano mood and the Mojave Preserve contains dozens of well preserved Cinder cones. This area of the preserve is referred to as the Volcanic Field National Natural Landmark, or Cinder Cones National Natural Landmark. Within the lava field is a short trail leading to a tube formed long ago by molten lava. A ladder takes hikers down into the tube where skylights (holes in the rock ceiling) illuminate a subterranean world.

Ladder to Lava Tube

The road to the trail head is approx 4.5 miles off the Kelbaker Rd. Consisting mostly of sand and gravel the road conditions were good enough for any vehicle but I would check at the visitor center for current road conditions on your visit. The hike from the parking area to the ladder took about 5-10 minutes. At the bottom of the ladder you can only go in one direction. The opening narrows where you can either stoop or crawl ( I'm 5'11' and could bend over without scraping my back on the ceiling). I recommend a flashlight not because it is total darkness but more for seeing exactly where you are stepping.

I won't get into the geology details of the tube but basically the top of lava flows cool while liquid lava continues to move underneath often creating these these tubes as the lava emptied out at the end. What you are left with is a very cool subterranean world. The tube isn't very long. Maybe a couple a few hundred feet. But standing in it is an amazing experience. The rays of sunlight shining through the holes in the roof got a little help from us kicking up dust as we walked. and once again we lucked out by not having to share the experience with anyone else. Click on the photos in the gallery below to expand them.

Here is a short video of the experience in the Lava Tube.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I love trains. The next stop in Mojave is the historic Kelso Depot. I knew very little about the depot which is always a treat. In fact, I had read a little about it in trip planning a year ago but had completely forgotten about it until we passed by on our way back from Death Valley. Kelso was a crucial stop as the Union Pacific railway constructed it line across the Mojave desert to service Southern California in the early 1900's. You can read about Kelso and the railway by clicking Here.

The Depot also serves at the Visitor Center for the Mojave Preserve. A great combination of railway history and everything you need to know about this fabulous part of the California desert. And if you are fortunate enough, a long haul freight train will rumble by.

Running out of time we quickly headed back towards Interstate 40 with a brief stop at the stunning Kelso Dunes. On our trip back from Death Valley a few days earlier we witnessed the sunset on the dunes from the road north of the depot. It Would have made for some great photos but by the time we arrived the sunset was gone. The Kelso Dune field is different from others I have visited due to their height. At almost 650 feet they are some of the tallest in North America. Did I want to climb it? Heck yes! Did I have time? Sadly no.

The dune field covers an area of 45 sq miles. Kelso Dunes represent part of a much larger sand transport system, which includes the nearby Devils Playground region. Who doesn't want to play in a place with a name like that?

I kept wondering what those first railway passengers thought as the crossed through an area of Cinder cones and giant sand dunes.

Kelso Dunes

After the Dunes we headed back to the interstate for the 2 hour ride back to Lake Havasu. One more highlight of the day. One we would like to forget. The longest I have ever been in a McDonald's Drive through. We pulled off the highway in Needles to get a Milkshake. We were told that their computer system went down. 18 minutes! About the same amount of time we spent in the Lava Tube.

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