At 1.6 million acres (almost 650,000 ha), the Mojave Trails National Monument in southern California is an instrumental part of a large system of preserves, wilderness areas, national parks and national monuments to protect the Mojave Desert habitat through the Desert Protection of Act of 1994. Almost half of the size of this national monument was purchased and donated as public lands for conservation by The Wildlands Conservancy, the same organization working in the Sand to Snow National Monument. Like the Sand to Snow National Monument, Mojave Trails was also designated in 2016 by President Obama (read the Proclamation). We visited Mojave Trails in October, when the sun was still scorching in the middle of the day, arriving via the Amboy scenic road from Joshua Tree National Park. Twentynine Palms is a small desert town community next to Joshua Tree NP, where you can find accommodation, gas, food and supplies before venturing into the Mojave (the area is very popular with visitors, so it’s best to plan ahead for accommodation). Once inside the Mojave Trails National Monument the landscape is breathtaking for any desert lover: a plateau bordered by absurdly rugged mountains, volcanic lava fields, and bright pink sunset colors. Among the impressive geological treasures lie ancient Native American trade routes, trilobite-fossil beds older than 500 million years, the remains of old settler communities and the best preserved original section of the historic Route 66. In Amboy, at Roy’s Café, you’ll find a still functioning relic of the old Route 66, where you can purchase souvenirs, refreshments and gas. While in the area you can also do the nearby four-mile hike to the Amboy Crater amid a surreal landscape where, if you pay attention, you’ll spot dozens of fast-moving zebra-tailed lizards (not recommended to hike during summer). However, the highlight of our experience was to catch the sunset and the sunrise amid the outstandingly beautiful sand dunes of the Cadiz Dunes Wilderness, where in the evening we could marvel at the millions of stars above us. You can head here for a good description of the area and of how to reach it. And if you want additional impressive dunes, you can head to the Kelso Dunes Wilderness within the larger Mojave National Preserve managed by the National Park System, adjacent to the Mojave Trails National Monument from which it is separate by highway I-40 (check this online map containing information on both the national monument and the preserve). If you drive along I-40 toward the BLM office in the gateway town of Ludlow, you’ll be passing by the Bigellow Cholla Garden Wilderness, which is part of Mojave Trails and hosts the largest density of Cholla cacti in all of California. We accessed it from an unpaved utility road visible on the map recommended above, but there are no trails through this wilderness area. Exploring Mojave Trails in a car generally requires a 4WD or AWD vehicle, and like all desert roads, it may become impassible with rain and could be prone to flash-floods. Don’t venture far if you’re not experienced with orientation and travel in remote places, because you could get lost in the middle of nowhere with no facilities nearby and no cell connection. Explored responsibly, the Mojave Trails National Monument is a jewel of California and absolutely worth the trip. Aside from The Wildlands Conservancy, another active local organization involved in the protection of the Mojave is the Mojave Desert Land Trust.
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