A Brief Tour of the Mojave Desert Preserve

Much of the Eastern Mojave Desert is now protected as the Mojave National Preserve. Motorists tend to zip by it on their way between Los Angeles and Las Vegas without giving it a second glance. But the prettiest parts are off the interstate.

The preserve has over a thousand miles of roads, many of them paved, which makes exploration easy. The Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA) has a great map of the area. The National Park Service also has a great map, but you have to know how to get to their visitor center at Kelso Depot to pick it up. Just take Kelbaker Road out of Baker, CA to get there.

Housing at the Desert Studies Center

Vic and I led a field trip for his birding class out there last month. We stayed at the Desert Studies Center in Zzyzx, an adventure in itself. Guests provide their own bedding, towels, soap, shampoo, etc. The bathrooms are open air community bathhouses, mens and womens, with hot and cold running water, curtains on the shower and toilet stalls, and coffee cans over the toilet paper to keep mice from using it as nesting material.

Our room at the Desert Studies Center. We brought our own bedding (sleeping bags) and towels.

Dawn at Lake Tuendae, an artificial pond at Zzyzx

Dawn at Soda Dry Lake

A mirage on Silver Dry Lake. There is no water.

Silver Dry Lake north of Baker, CA

Fall foliage at Horsethief Spring

Antelope Ground Squirrel


Freight train going through Afton Canyon

The Mojave River flows above ground in only three places: Afton Canyon and Upper and Lower Narrows in Victorville. The water flows under the desert sand everywhere else along its course.

Dawn at Zzyzx, day 2

Breakfast in the dining hall. The food was really good.

Corriente cattle are a Mexican breed that is adapted to dry desert life. Unlike other cattle breeds that eat grass and hay exclusively, they can eat browse (tips of bushes) like a deer.

Juvenile Western Fence Lizard

The chef at the Desert Studies Center prepared a nice box lunch for our group.

Red-tailed Hawk

Pancake Prickly Pear

The Visitor Center at Hole-in-the-Wall has no electricity, but it does have running water.

Because this was a birding trip with Vic's class, not a photography trip, I had to grab this shot of Wild Horse Canyon out the car window.

Cooper's Hawk

Animal tracks at Kelso Dunes

Two hikers atop Kelso Dunes

Kelso Dunes at sunset

Providence Mountains at sunset

Sunrise at Soda Lake, day 3

One of Vic's students in a tiny dorm room.

Dawn at Soda Dry Lake

View of Lake Tuendae and Soda Dry Lake from the dorm balcony

Vic's Irvine Valley College bird class in front of a smoke tree.

Pygmy Blue Butterflies in Afton Canyon

Variegated Meadowhawk in Afton Canyon

Fall foliage along the Mojave River in Afton Canyon

Another tarantula

The Mojave River at Harvard Exit near Camp Cady is just drifting sand

Camp Cady, an historic stop along the Mojave Trail

We spent four days out there and barely scratched the surface of things to see and photograph. And this was November! Imagine how pretty it will be with spring wildflowers.

About Lou Murray, Ph.D.

I'm a retired medical researcher, retired professional writer/photographer, avid gardener, and active environmentalist living in southern California. I wrote a weekly newspaper column on environmental topics in the Huntington Beach Independent for many years. I also supervised environmental restoration projects and taught at the Orange County Conservation Corps before retiring in the summer of 2016. This blog chronicles my efforts to live a green life growing as much food as possible for my husband and myself on a 4,500 sq ft yard that is covered mainly by house, garage, driveway, and sidewalks. I am also dedicated to combatting global climate change.
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6 Responses to A Brief Tour of the Mojave Desert Preserve

  1. Lita Murray says:

    Lou, I loved all your pictures. Dennis and I are hopefully leaving this Friday for four days to our home in Bullhead City. I can’t wait to take a ride out in the dune buggy for a good day of photography.
    I do hope someday that we will get to meet.
    Stay in touch!


  2. Tracy Z says:

    gorgeous photos!


  3. Gorgeous photos! What an amazing looking trip! Despite coffee-can covered toilet tissue, it looks like roughing it slightly on accommodations was very much more than worth it. The sunrise at Soda Lake photograph is absolutely stunning!


    • Clare, not only were there coffee cans over the toilet tissue to keep out the mice, but we had to carry flashlights at night to watch out for rattlesnakes, scorpions and tarantulas on our way to the loo. A gray fox roamed the grounds at night and several of the students saw it. Lodging was only $16 a night, and one has to be a member of an organized group with a desert-related focus to stay there. Food was $32 a day, I think. Well worth it.


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