Without a question, the Mojave National Preserve is one of the wildest units in the National Park system, as it spans over 1,600,000 acres of the Mojave Desert. In this vast area, visitors will find abandoned mines, abandoned homesteads, memorials, and a variety of other things. The park also has a number of rock art sites, ranging from the easy to find (along the Rings Loop Trail), and difficult to find, requiring four wheel drive, exploring and directions. In between the easy to find, and the hard to find is the rock art site commonly called "Seventeen Mile Petroglyphs". The site is named for the nearby Seventeen Mile point in the park; and does have some rock art. Having said that, the site is somewhat difficult to locate, and the rock art along the wash in part, has been defaced, or supplemented by additional drawings, leaving the visitor to wonder which drawings are real, and which are modern. Having said that, attempting to find the rock art is a great adventure for those visiting the Mojave National Preserve for a first time, or repeat visit.
For those that have never visited a desert, there is a popular perception that such areas only have miles and miles of flat, featureless terrain. In reality, however, deserts have a huge variety of terrain, ranging from mountains, sand dunes, slot canyons, sunken basins, and a variety of things in between. One of the most interesting things about deserts is that many of them provide evidence of dormant volcanism (such as the Ubehebe Crater), and active volcanism (such as the Mud Pots in the Salton Sea). In the Mojave Desert, there are a number of locations that one can see evidence of dormant volcanism, from the Cinder Cone area within Mojave National Preserve, and the Amboy Crater National Natural Landmark.
Joshua Tree National Park is renown for its signature tree, and for its rock climbing routes. Interspersed through the park, however, are some excellent hiking trails. Although a lot of “hiking” occurs within the confines of the campgrounds, and to and from climbing routes, the most popular trail is the park’s second highest mountain, Ryan Mountain. At a glance, the 5,456 foot tall mountain does not appear to be a challenging hike; especially as it is only one and a half miles to the summit, but with over one thousand feet of elevation gain, along with a number of other desert factors, this trail, and hike is not to be underestimated. But, for those hikers willing to brave the conditions, and at times, the crowds, the payoff for this hike is a desert summit with great three hundred and sixty degree views.
Prior to being National, State, and other protected public lands, California’s eastern deserts were honeycombed with a variety of mining claims. While some of these claims were more successful than others, all of these claims had a variety of unique structures, and methods to extracting minerals. Today, many of these structures have disappeared, or have been closed off by various governmental agencies. Those that remain, fall into a number of categories ranging from easily found and known about (such as Bodie State Park), or unknown and visited, to known or unknown and closed off (such as Carey’s Castle in Joshua Tree National Park). The first and third categories are easily dealt with, as they provide explorers and visitors with clear direction. The second category, however, provides writers with difficulty in both reporting, and describing them, but in general, my approach to such things is to provide information, as they are on public land, and the best way to preserve them is to allow people to appreciate them and experience them.
Dotted across the deserts of California are remnants of mining history. Some areas, like the Pegleg Smith Memorial, represent the more otherworldly aspects of this time period. Other areas, like Scotty's Castle, and the Rock Spring Cabin represent the more practical aspects of this time period. During the late nineteenth century, and early twentieth century, physicians would regularly recommend patients head to various deserts in an effort to cure a variety of ailments. While there are no definitive statistics on the success rate of this placebo, it did ensure that the patients lived out the remainder of their days with warm weather and lots of sunshine.
From the United States-Mexico border, up through the high desert near Bishop, California is spotted with a number of unique locations that are now protected as public lands. However, as any history buff knows, these public lands were once a variety of wild locales marked by official and unofficial mining claims that were inhabited by scoundrels, mountain men, prospectors, and general never-do-wells. During these times, the men who lived in these areas were in some respects, bigger than life because of the lives they had lived, and the stories of those lives that may or may not have occurred. While John Samuelson of Joshua Tree, Gus Lederer of Corn Springs, and Shorty Borden of Death Valley all had fantastical tales and lives, the desert dweller with the most impressive tales that remain to this day was none other than Pegleg Smith.
From the Salton Sea to the east, and the expanse between near the Mexican border to the south and the Santa Rosa National Monument to the north, Anza-Borrego State Park has a number of interesting geologic features that can be seen with a little effort. Some, like Font’s Point require at times, four wheel drive to visit, but have a great payoff in terms of sunrise and sunset. Others, like the Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves require both four wheel drive, and a willingness to explore and adventure. Out of all of these locations, none is more accessible than Clark Dry Lake Bed.