I’m not always great at slowing down when I travel. When I visit a national park, I want to see all the things and hike all the trails and explore as many nooks and crannies of the place as I possibly can. So I go and go and go until I collapse into a dreamless sleep around 9 p.m. only to wake up before the sun the next day and do it all again.
I’ve tried, over the years, to chill the fuck out and relax my travel style. It’s mostly worked. I’ve learned a few tricks, like creating an extremely limited, prioritized list of what I want to do and see and eat instead of trying to see and do and eat everything.
And that’s why I couldn’t decide what to do about Mojave National Preserve.
In addition to a long weekend with girlfriends in Palm Springs, the focus of my last trip to the West Coast was Death Valley National Park. I gave myself three days to explore and scamper, hike and wander, but Mojave National Preserve was close, just a slight detour on the way to Las Vegas to catch my red-eye home.
I went back and forth, changing my mind twice on my flight to California, then changing it back again while in Palm Springs and then changing it two or three more times while driving to Death Valley.
“Don’t do too much,” said my rational self, while staring at the map of Death Valley National Park, the largest U.S. National Park outside of Alaska.
“It’s right fucking there,” said my louder self, as I scrolled through the park website’s section on how to explore Mojave National Preserve as a scenic detour. “You have to go.”
Obviously, I went.
I didn’t have enough time, not even close, but I went anyway.
I got to Mojave National Preserve in the early afternoon and even though my flight home didn’t leave until late, I knew sunset would pretty much signal the end of my visit as night isn’t exactly the best time to see the sights.
Still, I was determined. This was the end of what had been an incredible and illuminating trip and I wanted to go on one last hike. I wanted to say goodbye to the desert.
One of my least favorite things is walking into a visitors center at a national park, relaying my limited timeline and asking for suggestions on what to see. It is by far the best way to get good advice on how to see the park, but it makes me feel like an asshole, like an imposter who doesn’t understand the value of visiting and exploring these places.
Anxiety aside, I asked the ranger what to see and how to spend my time and then engaged him in a multi-minute conversation about the other places I’d been, about other parks in the area, about the other places I should visit in Utah, New Mexico and Arizona and I felt, when I finally set out for my adventure, that he was very much aware of my nerdiness, that it was both appreciated and recognized.
“You could hike the Teutonia Peak Trail,” the ranger told me. “Lots of people like that one, it’s not too hard and if you hustle you can make it to the top in about an hour and you can see Cima Dome from up there too.”
“Perfect,” I said and headed out to get a closer look at the Kelso Dunes and the railroad line that’s run through the area since the early 1900s before heading for the trailhead.
Teutonia Peak Trail is on the northern side of the park, a dozen miles south of I-15, on Cima Road. The trail is just three miles, out and back, and winds its way through the densest Joshua tree forest in the world.
The first mile is flat and then, in the last half mile or so, you gain just under 650 feet of elevation.
As you go up, the view gets better and better.
I’d read about Cima Dome before visiting the park. Fellow bloggers said they wouldn’t have noticed it if they hadn’t known about it beforehand, but the above photo isn’t a camera trick – it’s the Cima Dome and I found it hard to miss as I continued up the trail.
The dome is volcanic remnant rising 1,500 feet about the volcanic plain and covering approximately 70 square miles.
I made it to the top of the trail in just about an hour. I had hustled, for sure.
At the top, I did what I’d been doing all week after reaching a peak. I took my pack off, sat down, cracked open a beer and a packet of Pringles and just sat for a while.
Like I said, I needed to say goodbye to the desert.
I savored the climb back down the trail. I hadn’t seen anyone else along the way. It was just me out there. Just me and some lizards and a few very fast rabbits who scampered across the trail as the sun started to fade.
When I got back to the car, I reorganized my gear, packed my suitcase and tried to get myself ready for the end of the trip.
And then, because I needed to change my clothes, I got naked right in the middle of an open parking lot.
“Why not?” I figured. I was alone.
I used to be a girl who was afraid of being alone. But I’m not that girl anymore.
Mojave National Preserve is located in southeastern California, along the Nevada border. Kelso Depot, the park's main visitor center is located 90 miles west of Las Vegas. The park is always open and admission is free.