Sometimes you’ve just got to hop into your RV and get out of Dodge. At nearly 1,500 miles from Houston, the Mojave National Preserve in California’s Mojave Desert is perfect for those who want to shake off the city and have an adventure exploring more than 1.5 million acres of remote desert wilderness, scenic hiking trails, and historic abandoned mines—without the overcrowding of other popular parks. It’s an arid place, a massive expanse of extremes with winter temperatures plummeting to 25 degrees Fahrenheit and lower, while the summer months send the thermometers soaring to 130 degrees Fahrenheit. All of this in a windswept spot that is one of the driest in the United States, only getting roughly two inches of rain a year.
If you want a hands-on experience, the preserve has got you covered, with numerous hiking trails to take in the Mojave at your own pace. Get up early and set out along the popular three-mile Teutonia Peak Trail, charted through a dense Joshua Tree forest and up a rocky peak where you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular view of Cima Dome, a broad, sloping hunk of rock rising 1,500 feet above the surrounding desert that provides the perfect habitat for the world’s largest concentration of Joshua trees.
But don’t let the rugged look of the place fool you. There’s so much to see and do here, whether you are itching to find out what all the fuss is about with Death Valley or wanting to duck out of the sun by taking a 40-minute drive from the Mojave National Preserve to explore the nearby Providence Mountains State Recreation Area.
“It’s such a wild, vast landscape, and it seems so desolate and raw, but it’s really intricate and detailed,” says Mike Gauthier, superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve. “It provides a wonderful experience to kind of check out and get away and discover.”
Enjoy a night under the stars at Hole-in-the-Wall Campground (nps.gov/moja, from $12 per night) in the preserve—no reservations required. Campsites offer water, restrooms, picnic tables, and fire rings if you want the full wilderness experience.
If the great outdoors isn’t your ideal place to hang your hat, the nearby Desert View RV Resort (desertviewrv.com, from $44 per night) in Needles, near the southeast entrance to the preserve, offers visitors all the comforts of the great indoors with Wi-Fi, laundry facilities, showers, utility hookups, a fenced-in dog park, and a swimming pool.
Be advised, a trek along the iconic Kelso Dunes, also located in the national preserve, is a must. Enjoy a three-mile roundtrip hike walking along—or sliding down if the mood takes you—these magnificent heaps of windswept sand. This hike can take several hours, so go at sunrise or sunset if you want to enjoy the sand in more comfortable temperatures. Don’t be surprised if you hear an occasional boom: That’s just a fun bonus of the sand shifting under your feet.
Be sure and check out the Mitchell Caverns Natural Preserve (parksca.gov), a pair of solution limestone caves that were nicknamed “the eyes of the mountain” by the Chemehuevi tribe who once considered the caves to be a sacred space. Located in the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area, the cool, dark caves are just a 40-minute drive from the Mojave National Preserve. Need we say more?
In Nipton, on the park’s northeast border near Nevada, the Whistle Stop Cafe & Saloon (760-856-2335) offers homestyle pub food with a fantastic view of the Mojave Desert. Grab one of their delicious burgers, and enjoy kicking your feet up in this historic mining town in the Ivanpah Valley. While you’re there, be sure to grab a local craft beer from the Nipton Brewing Co. (niptonbrewingco.com) and take in the weird and wonderful at the Magical Nipton Art Gallery (facebook.com/MagicalNiptonArtGallery).
An hour’s drive from Mojave will get you to the Calico Ghost Town Regional Park (calicotown.com), plunging you back into the heyday of one of California’s mining boom towns. Prospect the depths of the Maggie Mine, or hitch a ride on the Calico & Odessa Railroad to explore the history of the American West.
Mojave National Preserve
Distance from Houston: 1,485 miles
Drive time: 22 hours