We visited the Mojave National Preserve two days in a row. Our first day was a late start and we incorrectly “assumed” that we could see the Kelso Dunes, hike the rings loop trail and visit the lava tubes before it got dark. What we didn’t realize is that it takes an hour to drive from one place to another in this park because it’s so large. Our first visit consisted of the sand dunes and it got dark as we were leaving. In fact, we couldn’t hike the dunes themselves because it took us 30 minutes to get to the dunes and the sun was going down. We did, however, get some great sunset pictures.
Rings Loop Trail
The next day we got up early and drove back to the park. We arrived at the rings loop trail after hours of driving through roads marked with signs indicating that people occasionally drown in the cars when it rains. The roads are not much wider than one lane and they are nothing more than plowed desert sand and rocks. So travel is slow, even in a Jeep. Once we arrived at the visitors center we discovered that they are only open on Saturday from 10am to 4pm. The restrooms here have running water and are open all the time.
The trail loops around a mountain and ends up at a look out. The look out is just up a short road from the visitors center so we parked at the visitor center and hiked around the trail. The trail itself is flat and easy, except for the rings. I would recommend gloves if you have them. Fortunately, we carry crag gloves in our packs because we do rock scrambles and rocks in sunlight get hot.
Sand Dunes – Again
So we drove back around the park after hiking the rings loop trail and we decided to see the sand dunes. The previous night was a bust because we had gone too far down the road and attempted to hike to the dunes from a camp ground. That hike was long because of the distance to the dunes and it was rolling hills of sand (which was difficult to scale). This time we knew where the actual trail was and it turns out that the trail was flat and easy to walk. It was, however, still a long trail to the dunes and we cut our losses and headed back to the car. Our time at the park was still limited because we wanted to see the lava tubes and still get back for a show we had scheduled for 6pm in Las Vegas. It was also very hot during the day time. One of these days, we’re going to return to this park and see it all. Including the actual dunes!
The lava tube was worth the drive. Now, about that drive… Did I mention we rented a Jeep? Don’t attempt this road with a car. It was sand and rocks plowed to resemble a one-lane road. I saw a small SUV on that road, but anything lower to the ground would probably not make it. We had to drive between 10 and 15 miles per hour in order to keep the vehicle from shaking off the road due to the washboard-like surface. The road is about 5 miles to the lava tube.
The trail from the parking area to the lava tube starts out as a rocky road. There is a small, well-worn trail that splits off the road towards the right. This trail leads right to the stair steps that allow you to enter the tube. Bring a flash light. We used our iPhones to see where we were going. That worked pretty good.