April 6, Friday
Yesterday my best friend Julie flew into Las Vegas, where I picked her up and we drove back to my boondocking spot in Mojave National Preserve across the border in California. She’s camping with me for a long weekend.
Longtime readers know that she’s stayed with me in the Casita before, having the Spirit floorplan means I can turn my side dinette into a second bed for visitors, one of the reasons I chose this model. Although I think she’s probably the only person I could live with in this small a space without issues.
Not wanting to waste any time, today we get up bright and early for a hike.
Barber Peak Loop Trail starts and ends at Hole-in-the-Wall Visitor Center, most easily accessed from exit 100 off of I40. You can come in from the north, but it’s a very washboard dirt road. The visitor center is small but neat, and there’s a campground right next door
Hole in the Wall campground is dry camping with pit toilets, water comes from the visitor center next door. I didn’t have the chance to tour the sites, but what really stood out was the mountains to the east, they look terraced. I believe it was $20 a night to camp there. Not bad, but I’ll take my awesome free spot with the boulders anytime.
So why is it called Hole-in-the-Wall? Well, the rock face behind the visitor center is extremely cratered and pitted. I’ve never seen anything quite like this before. The first part of the 6 mile hike takes us right beside it. We opt to take the loop counter-clockwise, as the ranger prefers that direction.
There’s a lot of desert plants in this section. Bushes are few and far between, but yucca, cholla cactus, and pink barrel cactus are in abundance. In places it looks like a garden.
We come across a pitted rock formation that reminds me of a decoration you’d put in a fish bowl, with all the little holes and tunnels going through it. The rock here is dark and warm to the touch. The day is warming up fast, I’m glad I wore a tank top.
The trail circles Barber Peak, so while there’s some up and down, the elevation change is not extreme. During one down section, we descend a staircase and are surprised to see the white rock face on the left is littered with holes, like a giant wedge of Swiss cheese. The visitor center talked about the different types of rock found here, I can’t remember what this lighter colored one was. Of course, the holes require some exploration.
I spy several animals along the trail, the final tally includes four jack rabbits. This one was aware of our presence but unlike most of its kind, was supremely unconcerned by us. We also saw two cottontails.
The part of the trail farthest from the visitor center follows a broad and shallow wash and is decorated by blackened tree skeletons. A fire some years ago took out all the juniper and pine. This area is where we see most of the wildlife. We also see a spot of red from the distance, at first I think it’s trash but as I get closer I see it’s actually a flowering cactus! This is the only one flowering on the whole hike, it’s still early.
All around are signs of spring though. In places shoots of grass are poking up out of the sandy soil and small yellow and purple flowers dot the landscape. We climb up out of the wash and I turn around for this view of the valley below.
As we get closer to the visitor center again, the crazy pitted rockface comes back into view. From this angle it’s even more unusual looking. The trail goes right through a crack into a canyon with walls rising up on both sides. Which is nice, the shade provides some relief from the relentless sun.
Then we arrive at the one truly challenging part of the hike. We’re down in the canyon, but have to go up to get back to the visitor center. In two places metal rings are nailed into the rock wall, and you have to climb up them. For an able-bodied person it’s not that hard. If you’re mobility challenged, you’ll want to avoid this section of the hike. There’s a loop that goes around the canyon that takes longer but avoids this obstacle.
Back at the RV later in the evening, IT FINALLY HAPPENS. I say that in all caps because I had yet to see a 10/10 sunset this winter and was losing hope, I’m use to getting multiple 10/10 sunsets when I come to the southwest. But tonight I finally get one and bonus, Julie is here for it too.
What makes a perfect 10 sunset? For me, it’s one that lights up the whole sky, where you can face towards or away from the sunset and it’s still beautiful. It also morphs over time, offering a variety of colors and cloud textures.
To say I’m giddy is an understatement. I love sunsets. They are one of the things I used to encourage myself before I hit the road, when it felt like becoming a nomad was too hard and I’d never accomplish it: think of all the sunsets you’ll get to enjoy. For the longest time I had my first sunset as a full-timer as my cellphone wallpaper even though it wasn’t very impressive. Dreams do come true, as long as you have patience and don’t give up.
April 7, Saturday
After a relaxing day, Julie and I head out to hike Cima Dome late in the afternoon, home to the densest Joshua Tree forest in the world. Yes, denser than any in Joshua Tree NP. The wind that brought the beautiful clouds yesterday is still blowing which makes both hiking and photography a bit challenging, but we manage.
This is an in-and-out hike of about 3 miles round trip. You go through the forest, then climb up a rocky hill to the peak, then turn around and come back down. The wind blowing on the hill is intense, and I have to plant my feet pretty wide on the summit to stay put.
Some clouds moving in bring sunset early.
We don’t quite making it back to the truck before it starts getting dark out. Getting to see the Joshua Trees silhouetted is pretty cool though.
April 8, Sunday
Today’s adventure has two parts. Early in the morning, before it gets too hot and before the wind picks up, Julie and I drive to Kelso Dunes, one of the oldest and most extensive dune fields in the West. This is the most popular destination in Mojave National Preserve, and despite our early arrival there are already people coming back from the top.
The trail here is more of a suggestion than a rule, the route is constantly changing as windstorms move sand around and change the path. At the start of the trail there’s a lot of brush. Farther in the brush gives way to grass. As the way gets steeper the grass disappears entirely – this is the part of the dunes that is changing fastest.
Hiking across loose sand is tough. It takes more effort, and as the way steepens you slide back half a step when you take a step forward. The tallest point of the dunes rises over 600 feet from the surrounding landscape, and it’s quite the workout.
The view from the top is worth it though. These are called booming dunes, something to do with the grain of the sand cascading down among other sand creates an unusual noise. This happens naturally on windy days, but on quiet days you can induce it by running along the edge of a ridge and making a lot of sand fall. Julie does this on the way back down and we get the noise. Cool!
The sand is already getting quite hot on our feet by the time we make it back down. Luckily our second stop of the day is a cooler one – touring a lava tube on the northern end of the preserve. It’s five miles down a rough dirt road (high clearance recommended), but worth the drive.
Lava tubes are formed when the crust of a lava flow slows and hardens, but the center stays liquid and continues to move. Sometimes the liquid lava drains completely from a section, leaving a hollow tube behind. What makes this particular lava tube so cool is the ceiling has collapsed in small areas, leaving openings the sun can shine through. Fine dust collects in the tube, blown in from wind, and when people walk through the tube they kick it up. The result, is this:
Pretty awesome. The best time to come is when the sun is high in the sky so the beams of light are hitting the ground, there’s a pretty small window of time to get this effect. Of course you also want to come on a sunny day. Also if not enough people have been walking through to kick up dust, you can throw handfuls of stuff in the air to artificially induce it. You do need to climb down a steep staircase and duck through one low ceiling area to get here, some sort of light source to get through the dark part is recommended – a cell phone light works fine.