California Desert


California Mojave Desert

Mojave National Preserve 2701 Barstow Road Barstow, California 92309  (760) 252-6100,

There are four deserts in North America: The Great Basin, Mojave, Chihuahuan, and Sonoran. California consists of two desert regions that are designated by high and low desert elevations. The  Sonoran desert is the low desert and Mojave desert is the high desert region. It is accessible with roads and major highways Interstate 15, Interstate 40, US Highway 395 and US Highway 95.

Mojave National Preserve: At 1.6 million acres, Mojave National Preserve is the third largest National Park Service area outside of Alaska. Death Valley National Park and Yellowstone National Park rank first and second. Mojave National Preserve was established in 1994 through the California Desert Protection Act and is managed by National Park Service. There is no admission fee as of this posting.

The Mojave Desert spans southeastern California, southern Nevada, western Arizona, and southwest Utah. Over 1 million people live in this often hot, arid land and among its major cities is Las Vegas. Receiving less than 13 inches of rain annually, and located in a region generally between 3,000 and 6,000 feet elevation, the Mojave is a beautiful desert with many places to explore. But for those heading, beware of the weather and take safety precautions. October is recognized as a prime time to visit and experience the Mojave's coolest temperatures and least likelihood for run, which easily floods the parched land.

The Mojave Desert contains a number of ghost towns, including Calico Ghost Town and the old railroad depot of Kelso.

Desert attractions include Colorado River, Devils Playground, (between Baker & Providence Mountains), and Lake Havasu, just over the state border in Arizona, Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, and the Mojave National Preserve.

While somewhat confusing in its being called the high desert, the Mojave contains the lowest place in North America, Death Valley, where temperatures surpasses 120 F in late July and early August. Hikers who become disoriented because of the heat or other reasons can quickly die if not found. The body becomes overheated and dehydrated without water. When taking a desert drive, keep a supply of water in your vehicle and on you at all times, some communication devices such as cell phones, and check road conditions for the unexpected sand storms.

The Mojave desert weather often influences what goes on at the beaches of California, believe it or not. The cool, tranquil and pleasant coastal sand spots suddenly rise 30 to 40 degrees, causes by Santa Ana winds that blow off the desert. When it happens, the temperature at the beach can be the same or hotter than the desert temps. This type of condition that creates a hot beach climate usually happens once or several times a year.

Other areas commonly influenced and affected by the Mojave includes the famous Cajon Pass, Soledad Canyon and Tehachapi. Winds from the desert create dangerous driving conditions for truck and transport vehicles, sometimes requiring closure of main highways connecting California with the nation. Such closures are usually brief, however.

Boundaries of the Mojave Desert include Tehachapi, San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountain ranges. The Great Basin shrub steppe lies to the north; the warmer Sonoran Desert, known as the Low Desert, is south and east.

Within the Mojave ecosystem are many endangered animals and plants. Some are protected by the four National Park units. Stewards of our public lands are faced with the need to make sound decisions on land use that will allow for economic, recreational, and military use, while still keeping the desert ecosystem healthy and ensuring the survival of threatened species. The Mojave desert supports up to 2,000 species of plants. Other portions of this vast desert of the Southwest are controlled and managed by six major military training bases, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

This interesting history of the Mojave Desert shows the progression from early discovery in the 1700s by Spanish explorers, to today. It yields information about some desert animal extinction. Notice during World War II that military training and a decision to rid the desert of coyotes and other animals created an imbalance in nature that continues today.

Getting there:

Mojave National Preserve is located east of Barstow, Calif., between I-15 and I-40. From I-15: Exit Kelbaker Road at Baker, Calif., or Zyzyx Road, Cima Road, or Nipton Road. From I-40: Exit Kelbaker Road, Essex Road, or Goffs Road.

Kelso Depot Visitor Center From I-15: Exit Kelbaker Road at Baker, Calif., and drive south 34 miles to Kelso Depot. From I-40: Exit Kelbaker Road (28 miles east of Ludlow, Calif.) and drive north 22 miles to Kelso Depot.

Hole-in-the-Wall and Mitchell Caverns From I-40: Exit Essex Road and drive north 10 miles to the junction with Black Canyon Road. Mitchell Caverns is 6 miles northwest of this junction on Essex Road. Hole-in-the-Wall is 10 miles north on Black Canyon Road.


1776 First white explorer crossing of desert: Fr. Francis Garces
1826 Jedediah Smith explores a route across the Mojave from the Colorado River to San Bernardino
1835 Lt. Robert Williamson explores the Mojave River while looking for a route to the Colorado River
1844 Lt. John Fremont and Kit Carson cross the Mojave
1849 Wagon party looking for a shortcut to the gold fields becomes the first mostly white (Caucasian) group to cross Death Valley
1854 Whipple expedition surveys route across the desert
1859 1,500 troops attack the Mohave Indians; Beale establishes a supply road across the Mojave from Fort Mojave to Camp Cady near present-day Barstow along Whipple's route; extends route to the east for a future railroad
1860-70 Mining strikes in and near the desert; grazing starts in the eastern Mojave to support miners
1866-68 Mojave Road used as mail route; military outposts established along the route
1871 George Englemann of the USGS's 40th parallel exploration team studies the desert and gives scientific name to the Joshua tree
1883 Railroad completed
1893 C. Hart Merriam conducts a biological study of Death Valley
1905-06 Tonopah & Tidewater railroad built from Ludlow to Tonopahvia, Death Valley; abandoned during WW II
1906 Salt Lake City–Los Angeles railroad built through the desert (later became Union Pacific Railroad)
1916 Federal Aid Road Act leads to development of Route 66 parallel to the railroad
1910-30 Homesteading in Lanfair Valley
1920s Los Angeles' population doubles; Las Vegas' population grows and gambling takes off during prohibition
1930s Great Depression drives many from cities to the desert for gold and for land to raise crops, and Las Vegas booms again with return of alcohol; jobs from building Hoover Dam
1938 Route 66 fully paved
WWII Gen. Patton trains tank troops throughout Mojave Desert. Policy to eliminate coyotes and other destructive behaviors modify large sections of desert flora and fauna
1940-60 Military bases established in California and southern Nevada
Second railroad constructed across desert
1956 Federal Aid Highway Act authorizes interstate highways
1960s Interstate highways built across desert (I-40 completed in 1973)
post-WW II regional population explosion
1980-2000 Housing booms in Antelope Valley, Morongo Valley, and Yucca Valley area of western Mojave, and population dramatically increases in Las Vegas, and in Colorado River towns with casino industry


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Mojave Desert