Mojave Desert 2021

Last March when lockdown was really hitting a fever pitch, Kayla and I were trying to figure out what to do with her spring break. This had typically been a week when we’d do a big international trip (we’d done Bali and Patagonia the last two years) but luckily last year we’d planned to stay domestic and do a backpacking trip on the Lost Coast. This seemed like a pretty Covid-safe activity but just a week before the trip the state revoked our permits and shut down access to most of the wilderness in the state.

We were not interested in sitting in our house for an entire week of vacation, so we decided to go somewhere else instead. Somewhere where we were certain not to encounter any other people but that access was not shut down by the government. Somewhere that was would be beautiful and let us enjoy some recharge time in the outdoors. The place we decided on was the Mojave Desert. It was spectacular and we enjoyed it so much that we decided to return this year.

Mojave Sunset in 2020

The Mojave is a massive desert that spans across the southeastern part of California and into Nevada. It’s a relatively hight altitude desert with much of it above 4,000 feet in elevation and it’s the driest desert in North America. One of the coolest things about the Mojave is the presence of Joshua Trees, the cool Dr. Seuss looking tress, which only grow in the Mojave.

The best part of the Mojave, or at least the part I like best about it, is the solitude. Not just solitude from people, which is great, but seemingly complete solitude from life. What comes along with this solitude is a silence that you won’t get many other places. No birds chirping. No waves pounding. And no gargling brooks. Just an extreme silent that, along with the landscape, really makes you feel that you are on another planet.

We spent a total of 3 nights in Preserve, camping at an incredible site that we’d found the year before. It’s at about 5,000 feet in elevation and is a rare zone in which Joshua Trees cohabitant with California Junipers.

You can see our van at the campsite in the middle of the pic

The site is also at the foot at one of the biggest mountain ranges in the area, the New York Mountains, with adds to the drama of the landscape.

New York Mountains

The Juniper trees produce wood that has a beautiful red and cream color and smell just like cedar. The wood is also bone dry due to the climate and makes for the best fire wood I’ve ever found. Chopping up the downed logs during the day and then the ritual building of the fire each night is one my favorite parts of the desert. The wood is so dry that it produces virtually zero smoke but has an amazing aroma that makes you feel like you’re hanging out in a cedar closet.

This particular campsite has a primitive fire pit that is built up on the side of a huge rock that serves as a hearth. It looks like something that our cave dwelling ancestors would have used to keep warm and cook their meals.

Cooking dinner on the fire pit

This fire pit along with the slow paced, survivalist attitude adds to the sense that you’re living in a more primal, ancient time. Of course there’s a reason that there isn’t much life out here in the desert, and that’s because it’s harsh and brutally dry. After 3 nights in this habitat we were about out of water and ready for a change of scene so we drove a few hours to Joshua Tree National Park.

Our campsite at Joshua Tree National Park

We ended up camping for 2 nights at Joshua Tree before meeting up with my sister and brother and their partners to stay in a house (yay showers!) for 3 nights. Joshua Tree National park is an extremely similar landscape to the Mojave National Preserve. I’d say it’s 10-15% more spectacular (more and larger rock formations, larger Joshua Trees) with infinitely more people. If the Preserve feels like Mars Joshua Tree National Park feels more like Disney Land. I’ll definitely be back to this desert many times in the future but will err to the more desolate and remote areas in the future.