Mojave National Preserve - Exploring Days Three and Four

Kelso Depot
Monday, Feb 9 - Teutonia VFW b-dock Mojave NP; 47 sunny

Broke camp at our VFW/Teutonia Peak b-dock campsite and headed south. 6 miles to Cima, then another 19 to Kelso. This is all paved road, but most of it is very pot-holed and broken up. It requires a keen eye and quick reflexes to keep the vehicle from falling into one. It also seems that a lot of higher-end cars, Mercedes, BMWs, Cadillacs, etc., are using this road as a cut-through of some sort. They catch your eye if only because they're so out-of-place in this land of jeeps and four wheel drive. Las Vegas is just 40 or so miles north of the preserve, so I guess it’s possible these “high-rollers” are itchin’ to get there and try to win enough for the next car payment.

At Kelso we found the Kelso Depot. Besides being the main visitor center for the preserve, it also has an interesting museum and some interpretive exhibits that can educate the willing mind. The depot was constructed in 1924 by the Union Pacific Railroad. While it did have a lunch counter (The Beanery) and other facilities to service passengers, the depot also served as a boarding house for employees and staff working for the UP. Kelso was a watering stop along the main line and it was home base for a number of pusher or helper locomotives that were needed to provide additional power in assisting trains up the Cima Grade. As trains move northward the elevation increases by about 2,300 feet (a 2.2% grade) between Kelso and Cima (remember the Cima Dome from yesterdays post?), a linear distance of just 19 miles. The helper locomotives (steam engines in those days) would push trains up to Cima and then return to Kelso for the next train to assist. The crews slept in the depot.

The National Park Service refurbished the old depot a few years ago and brought much of it back to the way it looked in the 20’s. It’s a good stop and it’s in good shape. A fine piece of history. (see more pics in our online album)

From Kelso we headed south on Kelbaker Road, about 7 miles, to a road that goes to the Kelso Sand Dunes. Visible from most spots in the southwest corner of the preserve, the Kelso Dunes cover about 45 square miles and rise to about 650 feet above the surrounding terrain. This is one huge pile of sand… and one landform that’s hard to miss.


During the afternoon we hiked a ways into the dunes, explored the area, and found a b-dock campsite just a short distance from the dunes trailhead where we watched the reddish light from sunset add some bright color to the dunes.

For the day: 40m; odo 20,341; Kelso Dunes b-dock 34.890, 115.705, elev 2600

Tuesday, Feb 10 - Kelso Dunes b-dock, Mojave NP; 51 sunny, quiet
We have a light day today - not much to see or do. There’s a large historic mine site on the opposite side of Kelbaker Road from where we’re camped near the dunes. Dar thought we might attempt to get out there and see what’s around.

I estimated it’s about 5 miles or so out to the Vulcan Mine. There are a couple different roads that go out that way so I picked the one that appeared to be slightly shorter and in better condition. These are both Jeep roads. The first mile or so was slow but good going. As we moved along the road got worse, more washed out, and full of larger loose rocks. But we pressed on. At about the halfway point we came to a large wash with water-cut gullies. We stopped and I walked ahead to see things from a different vantage point. Just beyond the wash was a steep uphill section and it was very rocky as well. OK… how badly did we want to see the old mine site? Not bad enough to go further… at least with the standard issue road tires the truck came with. Remember… we’re not dealing with a little Jeep CJ here… it’s a 5-ton long-ish wheelbase truck. Perhaps I’m being over-prudent, but I didn’t feel like pushing my luck today. We did a standard 17 point u-turn and returned to the highway.

The last thing on the agenda for our visit was the Granite Mountains area at the south end of the preserve. These are a small collection of sharply peaked mountains made of (go ahead- guess now…) granite. We heard there were some decent boondocking sites near the summit and we thought we’d perhaps be close enough to pick up a good Verizon 4G signal from the Interstate just a few more miles to the south.

And that’s exactly what we did: found a superior place to make camp well off the main road and we had a pretty good 4G signal as well. So the rest of the afternoon was spent getting caught up on email, browsing, processing photographs, and writing (not too much writing). Near the summit like we were, the wind was significant, but we managed and enjoyed the stay.

For the day: 25m; odo 20366; Granite Pass b-dock 34.7935, 115.603, elev 3780; v. breezy

The last four days and nights were spent removed from civilization, radio, TV, and internet. It was wonderful - even after we returned to homebase, the TV hasn’t been on since. The Mojave National Preserve is high on our list… our kind of place. I think we’ll be back.




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