Ever since I was lucky enough to spend 6 months working in Phoenix, the desert of the southwestern US has had a special place in my heart. There’s just something so wonderful about it.
It’s not just the cacti. It’s all the tiny plants, the animals, the quiet. Standing in the middle of the desert and just opening yourself to the vastness and emptiness, you might just feel your heart open that tiny fraction more….and you will carry the desert with you wherever you go.
So finding myself back in Las Vegas (with a rental car this time) I of course had top head out to the desert as soon as I could. After a quick trip to REI (love that company) to pick up my microspikes for the PCT (and possibly the Grand Canyon) I headed about 1.5 hours south to Mojave National Preserve.
This protected area offers some great hiking as well as the highest concentration of Joshua Trees in the US – even more than Joshua Tree National Park. And i love me some Joshua Trees (or as I like to call them: toilet brush tree) – even if they are out to poke me to death…
One area with several trails is Hole in the Wall Campground, which can be reached by dirt road from the northern entrance. The road isn’t too bad, even though there is quite a bit of washboard to get through (the bumpy, ridgy (is that a word?), compressed dirt). My experience was that an average speed between 20 and 30 mph was best for the washboard, not too bumpy, not too hard on the car’s suspension.
The visitor center was closed unfortunately, but the flush toilets were accessible. A little further on is a picknick area with several parking spots. That’s where the entrance to two major trails is located. Namely, the Rings Loop Trail (which I did) and the Barker Loop Trail. Booth can be accessed (or rather, have to be accessed) via Banshee Canyon.
This canyon has some very steep drops, and some metal rings embedded in the rock walls to help you get down safely. Now……if I was in better shape, or had any kind of arm strength to speak of, this passage would probably have been a piece of cake. As it was…it was definitely more Type 2 fun (you know…it’s only fun AFTER you’re done with it).
But once you get down, the views are incredible. And it is just so quiet and peaceful.
The whole trail is only about a mile loong and very well marked. So it is easy to follow and can be completed in about minutes. I would definitely do it again. But maybe this time, I would head out in the opposite direction (starting at the visitor center and ending at the picknick area), because then you need to pull yourself UP the rings, not LOWER yourself down. I think that might be easier…
After this adventure, I headed back north to Teutonia Peak trail. There’s a nice parking area and the trail again is very well marked. The whole trail is 3 miles long (up to the peak and back, 1.5 mi each) with ~750ft of elevation gain/loss.
The first part leads you on a sandy path through massive amounts of Joshua Trees and other desert plants. If you have never smelled juniper and desert sage, then that alone is reason enough to come here.
The trail is well prepared and marked, sometimes using switchbacks, and leads you up to the top of Teutonia Peak for some amazing views.
There’s also an amazing amount of wildlife. Unfortunately my camera skills aren’t fast enough to capture most of it, but I saw a number of lizards in all sizes, some very cute bunnies, desert quail and a desert mouse (soooo cute). And of course…wildflowers.
After I came back down, I set up my new shelter for the first time. Because that’s another positive thing about Mojave National Preserve – they allow dispersed camping. Meaning if there are open spots where you won’t harm the plants, you can pitch your tent there for free.
I made some dinner, watched the sunset, looking forward to the stars…..and then it all went to shit.
I was fairly close to the parking area, and of course my car was parked there. So i hear this motorcycle coming down the rad, slowing down. It inched into the parking area (it was fairly dark by this point, but I could see the headlights). The driver started to swerve this way and that, shining his headlights around the area. I hunched down, hoping he wouldn’t see me. Then the motor shuts off and I hear two male voices talking to each other. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but that freaked me out for sure.
After a while they drove away, but by that point I was so paranoid that some weirdo was going to search for me (as in the owner of the parked car) that I packed up and headed out. I pretty much just randomly stuffed things in my backpack and half dragged the rest and threw everything in the car.
I headed back towards Las Vegas, booked a last minute room and just felt terrible.
Why do we as women automatically assume the worst? I mean, i am well aware that nothing would have happened in all likelihood. Thise guys probably just looked for a place to stay, just like me. might have even been nice to talk to. But it is so ingrained into our female psyche to be scared of the male stranger (especially at night) that I really let it get to me. And that resulted in me missing out on the stars in the desert night sky and I had to throw money at a problem I shouldn’t have had in the forst place.
I am angry. At myself, at society, at fear…. hopefully the next outing will end better. I will definitely go back to camping as far away from raods as possible. That has served me well so far.
Until then… keeping you posted.
To all you outdoorsy women: how do you deal with irrational (or maybe justified) fear?