Saturday, February 14, 2015

Mojave National Preserve - Exploring Day One

Saturday, Feb 7 - HITW CG Mojave NP; 47

HITW is Hole In The Wall… the area we’re in for a few days in Mojave National Preserve. We’re looking at this visit as a “survey course” of the Preserve, an orientation of the area and what it has to offer.

We started the day driving the 20 mile loop around the Mid Hills and HITW. We did it clockwise, starting at the campground, then south to Wild Horse Canyon Rd. which swings west and then north on the opposite side of the hill we're camped against, eventually connecting with Black Canyon Rd. which brings us back to our HITW camp.

Now, by “road”, don’t get yourself thinking about wide smooth asphalt or even a well cared for gravel roads. Oh no. Of the 20 mile length of this loop, 19.7 miles of it are dirt, sand, wash-out spots, ruts, and a lot of corrugated wash-board surface. Not the kind of road we'd take the bushouse on, ever.

Along this loop, we found a few places where roadside camping is permitted. I guess this would be as good a place as any to talk about camping in Mojave NP. First, there are two “developed” campgrounds… HITW campground (the one we’re in for two nights) and Mid-Hills Campground about 10 miles north. There is another group/equestrian camp, but since we’re not a “group” and we don’t have a horse, I’m not counting that one.

Besides the two campgrounds, they offer what they call roadside camping. The rule of thumb is that if the area alongside the road is large enough and it’s already been “disturbed” (a rock fire ring is a reliable tip-off), then you can camp overnight. The key is to reuse existing sites and to not disturb any new or natural area. We were given conflicting information from two different sources about “disturbed” areas that don’t have a fire ring. Another rule is no camping in washes or alongside paved roads. A plus for us is that most of these roadside areas are just inappropriate for larger RVs. Most RVers will shun most of these dirt roads and many of the roadside campsites are too small anyway. With our little truck and camper combo, we could go and stay almost anywhere in the preserve.

OK, back to the loop drive. It was slow going for sure, but that was OK as we had the morning to kill anyway. Stopped often and soaked in the view. This is relatively high country around HITW. Our campground is about 4300 feet and the north end of the loop, at the Mid-Hills Campground is a tad over 5000 feet. It can be breezy and cold.

During much of the drive on the north end of the loop there’s evidence of the big wildfire that swept through the area in 2005… a lot of evidence. Even though it’s been almost 10 years, nature is rebounding slowly, very slowly, as you’d expect in a dry sensitive climate like this.

Ducking in to Mid Hills Campground there are a couple dozen campsites on the far end that were spared the effects of the fire. All sites are available, it's just that many are kind of barren. Very few campers when we were there, and many of the sites are very small, really designed more for tenters than even small RVs. That said, we would have had no problem finding something that would work for us if we’d wanted. Because it’s situated on a high point in the Mid Hills, the view into the surrounding valleys is quite nice.

Not far from Mid Hills, as we continued the loop trail, is the intersection with Black Canyon Road. But just to the North of that intersection is a jumble of rocks that, from a distance and with a little imagination (and perhaps a little help from various mind-altering substances that may or may not be illegal??), look a little like a large turtle. We refer to it as turtle rocks, I don’t know if anyone else does. We found a little niche in the rocks that offered protection from the wind, had an early afternoon snack, and climbed around the rocks looking for, and finding, some really uniquely weathered granite blocks. One can camp here too, as it looks like it’s considered a valid roadside camping site.

So, then back toward camp, about 8 miles south on Black Canyon Rd. At 3pm, from the visitor center, we tagged along on a ranger-guided hike to some petroglyphs alongside the Rings Loop Trail. There are many petroglyphs in the Preserve, most of which are not publicized in order to protect them from curious vandals visitors. The ones we visited with the ranger are consider their “throw-away” collection… the ones tourists can visit and ogle and touch all they want.

After the guided hike of the petroglyphs, we continued the rest of the 1 mile loop on the Rings Trail, which is probably the signature hike of the preserve. The last few hundred feet of that mile are why visitors are attracted to it… it’s nearly vertical in a number of spots and they’ve driven large metal pins into the rocks, attached large metal rings to those pins, and let hikers figure out how to use them to climb the walls of Banshee Canyon and to the parking area/visitor center beyond.

After the hike we still had a half-mile or so to get back to the campground. We opted for a piece of the Barber Peak trail that cuts close to our campsite, which turned out to be a moderately strenuous hike… loose rocks on trail, vertical challenges both up and down, and, by that time, it was getting dark. On top of that, we were pretty pooped from a long day. It was good to get back to camp.

Later, while kicking back with an adult beverage, we did some cypherin’, and figured we’ve now spent 75 nights in the little 4 Wheel Camper. After we first got it and after a few nights in it, my positive vibe about it was waning a little - (maybe too small?). But since then and, it seems, the more we use it the better it feels and the better it’s working for us. The vibe is starting to grow again.

For the day: 22m, odo 20,239, HITW CG 2nd night; sunny, breezy, 70s

On top. We had just climbed out of Banshee Canyon.