The Mojave National Preserve is one of the best places to explore and seek adventure while any van or RV nomad is visiting Southern California. The Mojave National Preserve is located between Interstate 15 and 40, but the entire region is known as the Mojave Desert.
The Mojave Desert offers anyone endless adventures who is willing to visit. The places mentioned below will satisfy any nomad looking to explore the desert. These places are either located within the Mojave National Preserve or on its outskirts.
The unique places to visit in or around the Mojave National Preserve are:
- Kelso Sand Dunes
- Afton Canyon – Mojave Road
- Amboy Crater
- Calico Ghost Town
- Mojave Memorial Cross
- Dumont Dunes
When to Visit
The best time to visit the Mojave Desert is in the fall to springtime. The springtime is my favorite because of the wildflowers, blooming cactuses, and an average temperature of 75 º F. Summer temperatures average above 100º F and occasionally get as high as 115º F. Still, the evenings are peaceful with warm breezes and clear skies. Only the bravest of nomads visit the desert during the heat of the summer. The average minimum temperature during the winter is 33º F.
There are two criteria for being a unique place to visit in the Mojave Desert. The first criteria is the location must be in or around the Mojave National Preserve. The purpose here is to visit the Mojave Desert and explore its surroundings, not far-off locations.
The second criteria is the location must be easily assessable to both vans and RVs. Anyone in a van or RV can access these places and will not have to worry about getting stuck.
Both criteria will make sure you have an enjoyable time experiencing some unique places in and around the Mojave National Preserve.
Kelso Sand Dunes
The Kelso Sand Dunes are located within the Mojave National Preserve and can reach over 650 feet. The main reason most visitors venture here is to hike the dunes. When hikers reach the summit, they are rewarded with a surreal backdrop of sand that seems to extend forever. Although this is the most popular trail in the Mojave National Preserve, potential hikers can still expect solitude.
These dunes are also known as “Singing Sands.” Visitors will hike up to the top of the dunes and slide back down to encourage the sands to sing. The result is a low rumbling sound that can be heard and felt through the ground.
Another good point about the Kelso Sand Dunes is that there are no off-road vehicles allowed. This allows you to have the dunes to yourself without the fear of being run over like other dunes in the region.
There are rarely more than a few vehicles at the trailhead, and parking is plentiful.
Visit: Kelso Sand Dunes
Zzyzx is in the Mojave National Preserve and has been a unique place to visit for over 100 years. It offers any nomad a history lesson of the past when it was a natural springs resort.
The natural spring system, called Soda Springs, was used by the Mohave and Chemehuevi people for many generations. In the 1800s, it was also used by western explorers and the US Army while traveling through the Mojave Desert.
In 1944, everything changed for Zzyzx when Curtis Springer moved to the area and opened a mining claim. Throughout the 1940s, he developed and operated Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Resort on his mining claim lands.
The resort’s grounds consisted of a two-story castle, a dining hall, library, lecture room, pool house, goat farm, and rabbit rooms.
Although only the foundations of the resort remain, it is fun to explore these remains and wonder what they might have looked like in the past. The most considerable foundation that remains is the pool house.
There is plenty of parking, and only a few people are usually there. It is located about 5-miles from Interstate 15.
Mojave Memorial Cross
The Mojave Memorial Cross is located deep in the Mojave National Preserve. It has been the center of legal action for the last 20-years and provides a fascinating history lesson.
The cross was erected in 1934 to honor those who died in World War I and subsequent wars. The cross was constructed by a group of veterans and a local prospector named John Riley Bembry, who served as a medic in World War I.
The cross has been maintained by volunteers ever since but was boarded up in 2002 after a court ruling declared it illegal because of separation of church and state constitutional concerns.
In 2010, the US Supreme Court ruled on Salazar v. Buono in a 5-4 decision that sent the case back to a lower court. The high court ruled there was no violation of the separation of church and state when Congress transferred the land surrounding the cross to a veteran’s group.
The Mojave Memorial Cross is a good place to visit while exploring and driving through the Preserve. You can hike up to the cross and explore its surrounding.
Visit: Mojave Memorial Cross
Afton Canyon – Mojave Road
Afton Canyon is located just outside the Mojave National Preserve along the Mojave Road. The canyon is known locally as “The Grand Canyon of the Mojave” for its dramatic geological formations. It is an excellent place for any nomad to explore the desert and spend a few nights camping under the stars.
Activities in Afton Canyon include camping, rock climbing, hiking, photography, horseback riding, and touring the historic Mojave Road, which runs through the canyon.
The Mojave River also runs thru the canyon. This is the only place where the Mojave River flows above ground year-round – providing significant wildlife habitat amid the desert.
Afton Canyon is only 10-minutes from Interstate 15, down an easily passable dirt road.
Visit: Afton Canyon
Amboy Crater is located off Historic Route 66 by the town of Amboy on the outskirts of the Mojave National Preserve. It is in one of the youngest volcanic fields in the United States.
The crater is 250 feet high and 1,500 feet in diameter. The hike from the trailhead to the crater rim is approximately 1.5-miles. The trailhead offers parking, picnic tables, restroom facilities, and an overlook for viewing the crater.
Along with Amboy Crater, there is the town of Amboy to explore. Amboy was a popular destination along Route 66 in its hay day. It is a unique little ghost town with an abandoned motel, restaurant, and the famous Amboy Sign.
Amboy Crater makes an excellent escape for any nomad looking to explore a unique feature of the desert and go hiking.
Visit: Amboy Crater
Calico Ghost Town
Calico Ghost Town is a unique place located outside the Mojave National Preserve for any nomad wishing to visit and explore a relic of the past. The ghost town was founded in 1881 and is a former silver mining town that has been converted into a county park.
There is a lot to do in Calico to include learning about the town’s unique history, shop, enjoy their restaurants, hike, and camp.
Several hiking trails allow you to explore the desert wilderness surrounding the ghost town.
Calico Ghost Town is only 10-minutes from Interstate 15 and has plenty of parking.
Visit: Calico Ghost Town
Dumont Dunes is located the furthest away from the Mojave National Preserve. It is well worth visiting for any nomad into off-roading and riding dunes.
The dunes are large, steep, intimidating, and a load of fun. Bordered by steep volcanic hills and the Amargosa River, the region is easily recognized from a distance by these distinctive dunes.
The elevation here varies from 700 feet, at the river, to 1200 feet at the top of Competition Hill, the tallest of the dunes.
Most of the dunes are incorporated in the Dumont Dunes Off-Highway Vehicle Area, administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as a recreational area for off-road vehicle sports, hiking, camping, rock climbing, and rock collecting.
You can boondock here for up to 14-days.
Visit: Dumont Dunes
The Mojave Desert is a fantastic place to visit and explore for any van or RV nomad. There are unique and exciting places that will captivate and keep you coming back. The sites mentioned here are only a handful of unique places in and around the Mojave National Preserve. I recommend you visit them all and find a few more on your own. Keep on Exploring!
References and Other Adventures:
What are the top 5 boondocking locations in SoCal for van and RV lifers? The top 5 boondocking locations are: Anza Borrego Desert Joshua Tree