Along with abandoned mines and homesteads, a telephone booth, and at one point, a secret swimming pool, the Mojave Desert is, and has been full of interesting objects. Out of all these objects, the most controversial has been the White Cross World War I Memorial ("Mojave Memorial Cross"). Erected in 1934 to honor the veterans of World War I, the cross had an unremarkable life for roughly sixty years outside of Cima. However, at the end of the twentieth century, and the beginning of the twenty-first century, opponents of the cross mounted a number of legal challenges against the cross, stating that it violated the prohibitions in the Constitution regarding the separation of church and state, as it was on public (National Park Service) land.
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.
Hole-in-the-Wall Petroglyphs, Main Boulder
If I said to you, "Riddle me this, Bat-boy, which is the third largest national park/preserve in the lower forty eight states?", you'd probably pause for a minute, and respond with, "Yellowstone", "Yosemite", "Grand Canyon", or maybe if you were feeling erudite, "Big Bend". But you'd be wrong: the answer is the Mojave National Preserve. In this respect, Mojave National Preserve ("MNP") is probably the stealthist park in the National Park Service network, which is quite a feat considering how large it is! While I can't say exactly why this is - perhaps it's because it loses visitors to its more popular siblings, Joshua Tree and Death Valley, to its South and North, respectively; or perhaps its because it's in a remote area (halfway between Las Vegas and halfway between Los Angeles); what I can say for sure is that it's full of interesting items and adventures.
For example: the Hole-in-the-Wall Petroglyphs. These petroglyphs are located within a quarter of a mile (.25) from the Hole-in-the-Wall Visitor Center on the Ring Loop Trail, and yet, are relatively unknown, undiscovered, and even on a weekend, berefit of visitors. These petroglyphs are roughly ten to twelve thousand years old from what I've been told, and from what I saw, are in good condition, considering they are on some exposed boulders, and have likely been visited by thousands of people.
Directions: Take the Ring Loop Trail from the Hole-in-the-Wall Visitor Center. Follow the trail South/Southeast for a quarter of a mile (.25). Before the trail turns West, there will be a grouping of boulders. The petroglyphs are on the main face of a larger boulder, but smaller groupings appear on other boulders in the cluster.
Tips: The petroglyphs are faint in places, and if you are booking along, and not paying attention to your desert surroundings, you will pass them easily. Take your time, and scan the exposed rock faces as you pass by. In addition, should you want a good 360 degree view of the surrounding hole in the wall region, the hill above the boulders can be scrambled up easily for a great view! It's also worth noting that the interpretive rangers at Hole-in-the-Wall are conducting programs about the petroglyphs once a week, at this point, occurring on Saturdays (check with the Visitor Center should you visit to ensure that this is still the correct day when you visit). And, as it is the desert, do take plenty of water, and be respectful of the ancient art that exists on these rocks.
Hole-in-the-Wall Petroglyphs, Main BoulderHole-in-the-Wall Petroglyphs
It’s quiet. That’s usually the first thing you notice when you are in the desert. It’s not the quiet of a city, where things stop for a split second, leaving only the hum of lights burning the fluorescent orange glow into the low hanging clouds of the night sky, and then the noises restart so quickly that one forgets that there even was a moment without sound. It’s not the quiet of the mountains, where winds whisper across the rocks and make them groan from the cold long nights. It’s not the quiet of the forest, where the trees talk to the ground, the ground talks to the stars, and the animals walk between all of those noises. It’s not the quiet of the jungle, where the day shudders with the sound of constant growth and the chatter of bugs. It’s not even the quiet of the ocean, which murmurs comfortable nothings, nor the quiet of ice that blinds your ears with the sound of death. The desert is none of those things. It is the quiet of the unknown.
It is not just the quiet of the unknown that permeates the desert. It is the quiet of the unexpected. It’s the silence of the calm before the storm. It’s the silence of rapidly building heat. It’s the silence of icy cold. It’s the silence of a coming storm, of wind that scourges sand over your bones, or rain that floods and rushes over all that it sees. It’s the silence of shifting terrain, from flat plateaus, to boulder strewn hills, to impossible mountains and shifting dunes, and everything in between. It’s the lack of water where springs are marked on maps, and impossible wells where there should be none. It’s the quiet of a changing landscape, where things fade out of wavy lines into substance, and then disappear again, and of things that stay fixed in one spot, but should not be corporeal. Above all, it’s the silence that is the desert, a silence that seems to be watching you at all times.
One cannot travel in the desert and not be changed by it. Whether it is a simple case of nerves, or actual oddities, the desert changes you, just as surely as your tracks change its features. Just as easily, if you are not prepared, a desert can make you fade from existence with its sliding sands and vastness as if you never existed. Desert travel involves a lot of risks because of the unknown and unexpected variables. But, in my opinion, the risks are well worth it, as the desert possesses a cold and majestic beauty, and many undiscovered wonders. Practically, deserts cover over one fifth of the earth’s surface, and in some instances are growing. In fact, some leading scientists believe that should global warming continue to go forward, eventually, the earth’s surface will be one large desert, an idea that’s somewhat popularized in the upcoming movie Obselida (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qhly0dt8Fj0). Despite how the world may or may not end, there are many amazing things to see in deserts; things of wonder; things of beauty; and unexpected and unknown things. Since I’m in Southern California, I’m fortunate to be near a number of deserts – if not one large un-named desert, so the next couple weeks will be stories from things I’ve seen this year as I once again explored some new and favorite locations this winter and spring. So, let me be your guide, and follow me out into the invisible unknown wastelands that I know.