Hole-in-the-Wall Rings Loop Trail Mojave National Preserve

February 21 & 22, 2016

Which hole, I kept asking Bill, is this place named for?

 

Rock face Banshee Canyon Rings Loop Trail Hole in the Wall Mojave National Preserve CaliforniaMany places in the west are called “Hole-in-the-Wall” but I’m not sure any except Mojave National Preserve offer a Rings Loop Trail with metal rings set in the rock to make a climb through the narrows of Banshee Canyon.  Listen for the howl as the desert wind blasts through multiple holes in the canyon walls like the keening of a Gaelic hag continuously carving and sculpting this volcanic landscape.  No wind brought the howl of banshees but there were plenty of places for them to hide.

 

 

 

 

 

Red tail hawks nest building Mojave National Preserve California

 

 

After a delightfully quiet night camping by Kelso Dunes we headed for Hole-in-the-Wall campground with a stop at the visitor center at Kelso Depot.  Along the way I saw a hawk, no two hawks.  I seem to be drawn to their presence.  One landed on this nest.  Then another flew in seemingly with some twigs to add to their cozy new home.  Unfortunately, the camera didn’t focus well through the windshield.  But I’m pretty sure they were a red-tail pair.  I mentioned the sighting to the same Rangers we’d seen the day before and one of them said he’d look for the nest on his way to the dunes later that day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kelso Cima Road Mojave National Preserve California

We left Kelso about noon and paralleled the tracks through a Joshua Tree forest on the Kelso Cima Road for 14 miles (22 km) then right turn across the tracks onto Mojave Road toward the Mid Hills.  About half the 6 miles (10 km) was paved before the road turned to gravel, a bit rough but doable under dry conditions.  Then another right onto Black Canyon Road, still gravel, for 10 miles (16 km) to Hole-in-the-Wall Campground.  The 20 miles (32 km) of roads coming from the south off I 40 are paved.

2005 Hackberry Fire Black Canyon Road Mojave National Preserve California

The landscape changed as we saw the burnt skeletons of twisted juniper.  The plentiful winter rains in 2005 produced abundant plant growth with a wildflower display that competed with the same show in Death Valley.  Yet as a dry summer advanced all that vegetation died creating a huge fuel source.  On June 22, 2005, lightning strikes ignited seven fires that burned 70,736 acres over the next four days.

Windmill Black Canyon Road Mojave National Preserve California

Surprisingly we saw fencing along the road, then ranch entrances, and even one for sale.  Of course long before this was a National Preserve rugged ranchers ran cattle in the Mojave.  Yet times were lean during drought through the late 1920s and 30s.  Then with passage of the Taylor Grazing Act in 1934 requiring individual ranchers to clearly delineate and fence their ranges, and pay grazing fees to the government for forage consumed by each animal on public lands many moved on.  Only a few remained by 1994 when Congress passed the California Desert Protection Act, which created Mojave National Preserve.

Gold Valley Ranch Black Canyon Road Mojave National Preserve California

In 2005 three major ranching families sold their properties to the National Park Foundation and moved out of the area, retiring their grazing allotments.  Because the government cannot directly acquire land, the foundation buys it and then donates it to the park service.  The National Park Service recognizes ranching as part of the cultural heritage that made the desert a unique and special place.  In fact the Preserve is in the process of creating the largest Historical Ranching District recorded in the National Register of Historic Places.  The Providence Ranch is the largest remaining privately owned property within the Mojave National Preserve, owned by the same family for 100 years.  Now for sale for $3,400,000.  But there’s no guarantee the public land grazing rights go with that.

Truck camper Hole in the Wall campground Mojave National Preserve California

I’ll settle with this, and the Hole-in-the-Wall campground has large sites with lots of open space in between.  It did take a few blocks to get level near the provided picnic table and fire pit.  Plenty of toilets and water pumps scattered around but I’m not sure if the water was working in the campground although was available at the nearby Information Center.  A good deal for $12/night dry camp, half with the Senior Pass, and didn’t cost millions to enjoy the views.

Rings Loop Trail Hole in the Wall Mojave National Preserve California

Is that The Hole-in-the-Wall?

Once set up we took off on the 1 mile (1.6 km) Rings Loop Trail knowing that we’d not climb the boulders using the rings with Sasha along but turn around instead.  Very easy walk up to that point towards the end of the loop.  Well signed but pay attention.

Petroglyphs Rings Loop Trail Hole in the Wall Mojave National Preserve California

About 1/4 mile (.4 km) along the trail we saw petroglyphs on a few well varnished boulders.  I later learned of more petroglyphs in Mojave National Preserve at Cow Cove located on the northeast fringes of the Aiken Cinder Cone field and off an unmarked road between Baker and Keslo where we drove in.  I couldn’t find any authoritative information about the people who made these marks.  Yet the name “Mojave/Mohave” has been used as the name of an Indian tribe who lived – and whose survivors still live – along the Colorado River.  And they claim that their true Indian name always was, and is, Aha macave (pronounced aha makav, all a’s sounded as the a in “father,” the c as in “cool,” the e silent) which translates as “people who live along the water (river).”

 

Petroglyphs Rings Loop Trail Hole in the Wall Mojave National Preserve California

 

Desert Bighorn Sheep still live in the Preserve but we weren’t lucky enough to see any.

 

 

 

 

Wild Horse Canyon Road Rings Loop Trail Hole in the Wall Mojave National Preserve California

The trail loops around a rock outcrop with wide open spaces and we could see where Wild Horse Canyon Road loops back north to the Mid Hills campground.

Banshee Canyon Rings Loop Trail Hole in the Wall Mojave National Preserve California

Then we saw a dark shadow that would lead us into Banshee Canyon.  There is actually a parking lot off this road that brings you closer to the actual canyon mouth but then you’d miss the petroglyphs.

Looking out of Banshee Canyon Rings Loop Trail Hole in the Wall Mojave National Preserve California

A slip through this crack in the rock brought us to a wonderland with rock walls like Swiss cheese and many faces.  A small alcove supported grasses and trees.

Banshee Canyon Rings Loop Trail Hole in the Wall Mojave National Preserve California

Is that The Hole-in-the-Wall?

Other cracks beckoned into usually short dead ends.  Could somebody have been climbing a stairway to heaven?  Appears to be hand and toe holes on this rock face, but I don’t think they are ancient.  Is this the hole this place was named for?

 

Rock face Banshee Canyon Rings Loop Trail Hole in the Wall Mojave National Preserve California

 

 

Actually, these holes have been enlarged by the power of that banshee wind erosion and are examples of tafoni, a rock weathering pattern.  Turns out this rock, or tuff beds, were created millions of years ago when a nearby volcano erupted, covering the area with a mixture of gas and ash.  As the ash cooled the gas dissipated leaving behind the holes in the walls.

 

 

 

 

 

Banshee Canyon Rings Loop Trail Hole in the Wall Mojave National Preserve California

Even the trail route appears to be a dead end, or one heck of a climb.  To make it “safe for hikers to continue,” there are two sets of rock-mounted ringbolts, which you can use as hand holds and steps through two dry falls of 100 feet (30 m).  Which of course we didn’t do because of Sasha.

 

Bill Banshee Canyon Rings Loop Trail Hole in the Wall Mojave National Preserve California

 

 

But we did return to the other end of the loop the next morning and still didn’t climb it.  I’m sure I could, but didn’t need to prove it.  We saw two women start down to the out-of-site ‘rings’ and spoke to them after their quick return.  They said it was a bear and decided to tackle it from the lower end where we’d been the day before.  I think climbing up would be easier than down.

 

 

 

 

 

Trails near Hole in the Wall Mojave National Preserve California

Several other trails, without the need for rings, are accessible from Hole-in-the-Wall campground.  A 1/4 mile (.4 km) nature trail leads to the Information Center where we met a very informative volunteer.  The 6 mile (9.6 km) Barber Peak Loop Trail connects to the 8 mile (12.8 km) one-way route to Mid Hills campground.

Hearing not the banshee, but the call to home, we left Mojave National Preserve with a desire to return, to see and learn more about this hugely diverse landscape.

Mojave National Preserve California

From there we left the Preserve and headed towards Lake Mead in Nevada.  My question still unanswered.  Which hole is this place named for?

How many rock faces did you see?

Note: March 28 – April 28, 2016 Kelbaker Road closure from Baker to Kelso for planned road work.  Can enter 39 miles east on I 15 on the Cima Road instead.  2/22/16 – 3/3/16 the water system at Kelso will be shut down to replace waste system infrastructure.  Portable toilets are available; bottled water is available for purchase when the visitor center is open.  Check Mojave National Preserve website for current information.

 

Camping by Kelso Dunes Mojave National Preserve

February 20 & 21, 2016

Truck camper Kelso Dunes Mojave National Preserve California

 

We thoroughly appreciated the uncrowded, free camping by Kelso Dunes in the quiet of Mojave National Preserve.  With just under 600,000 visitors last year this little known jewel should be visited before it starts to get crowded.

 

 

 

 

 

Kelso Dunes Mojave National Preserve CaliforniaBill and I enjoyed a brief time with late light and shadows on the Mesquite sand dunes in Death Valley.  We had also seen, or not seen, how blowing wind obscures the dunes, and just about everything else around.  So we were really looking forward to some time with the dunes but didn’t realize we could camp there.

Unidentified plant Kelso Dunes Mojave National Preserve CaliforniaAlways ask the Ranger.  Which I forgot to do regarding this plant.

As soon as we walked into the visitor center a Ranger at a table with tortoise information asked immediately if we’d seen a tortoise.  No, and didn’t for the entire visit.  I wanted to see at least one, but not in the road, so can live with that.  Two more Rangers behind the desk were helpful, one seemed more seasoned, the other at his first park started in winter and was eagerly learning the newest blooms.  They gave us the skinny on free camping at the dunes where you’re suppose to park by a fire ring.

Moon over Providence Mountains Kelso Dunes Mojave National Preserve CaliforniaSo off we went.  Seven miles (11 km) south of Kelso Depot on the Kelbaker Road, then 3 miles (4.8 km) west on a graded dirt road, off to the right we saw the one big tree we’d been told to look for.

 

Says Phoebe Kelso Dunes Mojave National Preserve California

 

This Says Phoebe welcomed us to camp and perched on this sign in between bug catches.  One of the IDs I got the next day back at the visitor center.

 

 

Kelso Dunes from camp Mojave National Preserve California

Truck camper Kelso Dunes Mojave National Preserve CaliforniaPerfect camp view of the dunes.  And Mojave is dog friendly on leash.

 

Kelso Dunes Mojave National Preserve CaliforniaNearly 700 feet high and covering a 45-square-mile area, the Kelso Dunes are among the tallest and most extensive dune fields in the United States.

geo map MOJA & Kelso dunes

Huge amounts of sand were needed to build Kelso’s delicate wind-created sculptures, but geologists studying the Preserve discovered that no new sand is moving in to replenish the dunes.  By studying the mineral composition and shapes of sand grains they discovered that most of the sand has traveled all the way from the Mojave River sink east of Afton Canyon at least 30 miles (48 km) away.  Wind blowing from the northwest gradually carried the sand southeastward to the base of the Providence and Granite Mountains.  Where the sand piles up researchers found that the dunes are actually made up of several sets of dunes, stacked one on top of another. Each set formed in response to some past climate change during the last 25,000 years.

Kelso Dunes Mojave National Preserve CaliforniaOver the past few thousand years plants have progressively covered and stabilized areas once covered by drifting sand.  Yet a slightly drier climate may kill some of the vegetation holding the sand in place. Once the grasp of the plant roots is loosened, the sand is on the move again.

Kelso Dunes Mojave National Preserve CaliforniaAnd all it takes is a bit of breeze (10 miles/hour or 16 kilometers/hour) to put fine sand in motion.  The finest grains may be suspended in the air and carried along.  Heavier grains tend to bounce along as they are lifted into the air, fall back to the ground, then bounce back up again.  Once sand begins to pile up, ripples and dunes can form. Wind continues to move sand up to the top of the pile until the pile is so steep that it collapses under its own weight. The collapsing sand comes to rest when it reaches just the right steepness to keep the dune stable. This angle, usually about 30-34 °, is called the angle of repose.

Kelso Dunes Mojave National Preserve CaliforniaWe didn’t walk out into them but simply enjoyed watching the change in shadows as the sun sank lower towards the horizon.  Of course that means we didn’t hear them sing.  When quantities of the sands move, they sometimes produce a “booming” or “singing” sound when sand with the right moisture content slides down the steep slopes.

Tracks in sand Kelso Dunes Mojave National Preserve CaliforniaOK, I did walk a little ways to see the patterns in the sand and discovered some unknown tracks from those who’d gone before me.

Moon over Providence Mountains Kelso Dunes Mojave National Preserve CaliforniaBonus was the rising moon over the Providence Mountains.  And I managed a shadow selfie of Bill, Sasha and myself.  Can you see us against the bushes?

Kelso Dunes Mojave National Preserve California

Sunset Kelso Dunes Mojave National Preserve California

 

Plus the color of the sand changed as the sun set.  Unfortunately my camera wasn’t auto focusing and my manual focus skills are lacking so many shots are very fuzzy.

 

Stars Kelso Dunes Mojave National Preserve CaliforniaBut I was really happy with the night sky shots, maybe because I got the tripod out, with the moon highlighting the dunes.  Will have to try more of that when the temps stay up after dark.

Holes in rock Rings Loop Trail Hole in the Wall Mojave National Preserve California

 

There are several camping options in Mojave including the dunes, roadside boondocking and two developed campgrounds.  We decided to check out one of the later at Hole-in-the-Wall for our next night in the preserve.

 

 

Note: March 28 – April 28, 2016 Kelbaker Road closure from Baker to Kelso for planned road work.  Can enter 39 miles east on I 15 on the Cima Road instead.  2/22/16 – 3/3/16 the water system at Kelso will be shut down to replace waste system infrastructure.  Portable toilets are available; bottled water is available for purchase when the visitor center is open.  Check Mojave National Preserve website for current information.

Movin’ on to Mojave National Preserve Kelso Depot

February 20 & 21, 2016

Kelso Depot Mojave National Preserve CaliforniaBill and I woke up early at Death Valley to pack and hit the road for the move to Mojave, first stop Kelso Depot visitor center for information and a Junior Ranger book.

 

Visitors Texas Spring campground Death Valley National Park California

 

Campgrounds are funny places and great for people watching.  But then it was Saturday and weekends seem to draw out a lot of people especially because of the Super Bloom.

 

 

Dumont Dunes OHV Recreation Area Hwy 127 CaliforniaWe only had a 110 mile (177 km) drive to enter Mojave National Preserve at Baker, California.  The landscape was familiar until we passed Tecopa and then became more sparse.  We drove by a BLM ORV Recreation Area called the Dumont Dunes located approximately 31 miles (50 km) north of Baker, California on State Route 127.  Not being a fan of loud noisy machines in nature I was glad we’d be able to explore the quiet at Kelso Dunes in the preserve.

 

World's largest thermometer Baker California

 

The town of Baker, “Gateway to Death Valley”, lies on the border of Mojave National Preserve and sports the world’s largest thermometer at 134-foot tall symbolizing the highest temperature in 1913.  But it doesn’t have very much else.  Limited restaurants, grocery stores and lots of closed hotels.  I think this town is dying or dead already.

 

 

 

 

 

Maps Mojave National Preserve & new National Monuments CaliforniaI’ve only driven quickly through parts of this National Park site which surrounds Providence Mountains State Recreation Area, and Mitchell Caverns which is currently closed.  And now that President Obama has set aside the three new National Monuments around this area even more protection will be provided.

Joshua Trees Mojave National Preserve CaliforniaOnce in the preserve, the Kelbaker Road took us through a Joshua Tree forest every bit as nice as the national park that bears its name and past Cinder Cone Lava Beds.  The road is more hard packed gravel than pavement for the 34 miles (55 km) from Baker to Kelso Depot.

Kelso Depot Mojave National Preserve CaliforniaAnd you can see the depot from a lot of miles away, making us wonder why it was even there.  Yet we did see a long line of rail cars far away and I failed to get a photo even when it didn’t stop at the depot.

Kelso Depot Mojave National Preserve CaliforniaOnce the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) reached Portland, Oregon in the 1860s the company turned its attention to California and the ports around Los Angeles.  But getting there meant crossing the Mojave Desert.  UP partnered with Utah Senator William Clark in 1902 who had begun constructing a line from Los Angles to Salt Lake City.  Three years and 235 miles later from Salt Lake siding #16 became known as Kelso after a worker named John Kelso’s name was pulled out of a hat.  By the end of that year the line was finished stretching from the west coast port of San Pedro to Salt Lake City and UP bought out Clark.

 

Kelso Depot Mojave National Preserve California

 

Most import was that Kelso had a reliable water source from a spring in the Providence Mountains and the steam locomotives of the era desperately needed water.  In addition, extra engines were required to assist locomotives up the 2078 foot (633 m) ascent on the steep two percent grade from Kelso to Kessler Summit (later renamed Cima).  So Kelso became the “helper engine” station.

 

 

 

 

 

Lunch Room Kelso Depot Mojave National Preserve CaliforniaThe first depot opened in 1905 followed by a post office, engine house, and eating house to serve railroad employees and passengers.  In the early 1920s UP started building new depots designed in the Spanish Mission Revival style in competition with the famous Harvey Houses along the Santa Fe lines.   The “Kelso Club House & Restaurant” opened in 1924 and included a conductor’s room, telegraph office, baggage room, dormitory rooms for staff, boarding rooms for railroad crewmen, a billiard room, library, and locker room.

 

Clock Kelso Depot Mojave National Preserve California

 

At one time the restaurant operated around the clock and through the mining boom years of the 1940s and ‘50s Kelso’s population grew to nearly 2,000.  But eventually mine closures and diesel engines replacing steam left Kelso almost a ghost town.

 

 

Crew rooms Kelso Depot Mojave National Preserve CaliforniaIn 1985 UP closed Kelso Depot and began plans to demolish the building.  The Kelso Depot Fund saved the building but restoration costs were too steep.  By 1992 title has handed over to the BLM (Bureau of Land Management),  already managing the land around Kelso as the East Mojave National Scenic Area.

 

Kelso Depot Mojave National Preserve California

 

With the passage of the 1994 California Desert Protection Act the area became Mojave National Preserve managed by the National Park Service along with the depot.  Depot renovations took from 2002-05.  It was closed during my last visit in 2002.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mojave National Preserve CaliforniaAcross the tracks there is modular housing, maybe for staff, and we saw a new building but most of town looked pretty run down.

RR Mojave National Preserve CaliforniaWe wandered quickly through the lower floor filled with interpretive displays telling about the history.  But we really wanted to get to camp located next to the Kelso Dunes so returned the next morning with more time and some plant and bird questions for the Rangers.  Plus I got my Junior Ranger badge, #21.

Note: March 28 – April 28, 2016 Kelbaker Road closure from Baker to Kelso for planned road work. Can enter 39 miles east on I 15 on the Cima Road instead. 2/22/16 – 3/3/16 the water system at Kelso will be shut down to replace waste system infrastructure. Portable toilets are available; bottled water is available for purchase when the visitor center is open. Check Mojave National Preserve website for current information.