Desert offers beauty, serenity and lots of heat


Photo by Raul De Paz / Correspondent

Light streams through the partially collapsed ceiling of a lava tube at Mojave National Preserve.


Mojave National Preserve

150 miles

$12 per night

No reservations; first-come, first served

Trailers and motorhomes not recommended

Before planning your own adventure through the Mojave National Preserve, visit


By Maritza Velazquez

Staff Writer

As I sat in the blistering heat, it was hard to remember why I had decided to visit the desert in the middle of June.

The sun was intense, even under the protection of the thick green tarp we had tied to a couple of trees. It was 106 degrees in the shade. Unfortunately, we had set up camp as the summer’s first heat waves scorched Southern California.

But the raw beauty of the Mojave National Preserve made it all worthwhile. The 1.6 million-acre park is located in the heart of the Mojave Desert.

Our weekend getaway offered a glimpse into a simpler and quieter kind of life. When many think of the desert, the word “desolate” might come to mind. But that doesn’t ring true in this huge and inviting landscape, even in the summer months.

We set up camp in Mid Hills Campgrounds, approximately 5,600 feet above sea level, where it’s slightly cooler than the basin below.

Most campsites and attractions are accessible only by dirt road, so make sure you have a truck or 4-wheel drive vehicle that can handle the sometimes rocky terrain.

Although some of the Mid Hills Campground was burned by a fire in June 2005, our camp site was still surrounded by the beautiful juniper trees and pinyon pines. The site overlooks the basin below, revealing vibrant colors of reds, oranges and browns.

The sunsets were stunning, silhouetting four different mountain ranges, including Mt. Whitney.

As I stood atop a plateau near the edge of a cliff, the cool breeze blew through my hair. I felt blessed to have the opportunity to experience something so amazing.

Over the next three days, we visited a few of the many sights this arid landscape had to offer.

Our first stop was the Lava Tubes, where hot molten magma once flowed to form this underground haven. It was just about a five-minute hike from the dirt road where we had parked our vehicles.

With a ladder already in place, it’s easy to get down into this incredible sight. The cool interior was a welcome break from the heat.

Climbing down, we made sure not to kick up too much of the fine dust that covers this geological wonder. The dust could carry particles infected with the hantavirus from infected rodents. (If you breathe in the dust and develop flu-like symptoms, be sure to see a doctor promptly.)

Although holes in the roof of the tubes offer light, bring a flashlight to see some of the great formations on the walls.

Back above ground, at least six cinder cones, the remnants of former volcanoes, can be seen in the distance.


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