Mojave Camping Trip part 1: Kelbaker to Cima

Just getting around to giving a read-out on my late March camping trip in the Mojave National Preserve.   We started out with a drive to the lava cinder cones in the western portion of the preserve. Lots of shrubs blooming along the road, and some wildflowers here and there.  Plenty of greenery on the desert floor amidst the lava flows and the cacti looked fresh and ready for the spring.

The lava tube is definitely worth checking out.  It's just a short walk from Aiken Mine Road.  The rough cinder walls of the tube are broken in spots at the top, allowing a flood of light to enter.

The cinder cone area is scattered with creosote and Yucca, with some ephemeral washes coursing through the lava flows.
You can see in the picture above that the sky was clear, although that came at a cost.  Plenty of wind across the Preserve that day.    After the lava tube we continued East on Aiken Mine Road -- a dirt road that connects Kelbaker Road and Cima Road.  If you check out, go slow and stay on the road since you never know when you'll come across a tortoise or other wildlife.  We spotted the lizard below on the road, still adjacent to the cinder cones.  Note sure which species it is, though!

Plenty of amazing desert scenery along the Aiken Mine Road if you take the time to get out of the vehicle and appreciate what the Mojave has to offer, like this cactus growing out the side of a huge boulder.

Once you get past the cinder cones, Aiken Mine Road brings you into Joshua Tree woodland as you skirt the enormous Cima Dome.   Some of the Joshua Trees were already blooming, and there were a few wildflowers blooming as well.

I also came across what looked like a moth nest being built by dozens of caterpillars on the edges of shrub branches.  I do not know what species of moth or the species of shrub that they preferred.  I did notice, however, that you would only see the nests on a specific type of shrub.
The views of the Joshua Tree woodland are impressive, even to people who grew up in the Mojave. 

As you cross the Cima area you will come across scattered remnants of the Mojave's past ranching settlements, although there is still an active ranch as you get close to Cima Road, so tread carefully.  The picture below is an old windmill at an old corral we cam across not long after leaving the cinder cones.

The road is sandy and rough at points, so be prepared and take a vehicle that has high clearance.  We arrived at Cima Road after about an hour or hour and a half of driving, although that included a lit bit of hiking along the way. If you take this route, it's worth checking out Teutonia Peak trail, which is on Cima Road and affords some nice views of the Cima Dome and Joshua Tree woodland.  I had already hiked this peak on a previous trip so we bypassed it on the way to Kelso.  I'll post some photos from the rest of trip in a future post!


  1. Great photos, makes me want to get out there!

    Zebra-tailed lizard on rock.

    Laura Cunningham

  2. I have always wanted to take the ride up Aiken Mine Rd but was worried my car wouldn't make it very far. But it does have traction control, maybe I'll try it coming down from Cima, great post!

  3. thanks! and thank you Laura for the Zebra-tailed ID! You're wildlife identification is much appreciated! I spent countless hours exploring the desert near my home with my brother when I was growing up, and I would carry around my Audubon field guide like the nerd I was! But clearly I've lost some of that knowledge (just not the passion!)

  4. I love the desert, especially in spring. Most people do not know how beautiful and full of life an area like the Mojave really is.

  5. wouw, really good trip. I should try and come from cima. thanks for pictures again.

  6. Good luck with the trip planning -- the Preserve is a great place to explore. If you ride the Mojave Road, make sure you have a high clearance vehicle, 4WD preferred.


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