It was dark as we drove down the Saskatchewan-straight highway into the Mojave National Preserve. A well-known “no-no” for overlanders; we vowed we wouldn’t drive after dusk once we crossed the border further South. The full moon had risen over the hills somewhere between Bakersfield and Barstow and now we shared the road with only one other set of headlights. It was surreal peering out the window into the desert after waking up in the icebox that was Yosemite in January, surrounded by snow, sequoias and mountain faces. Now, some hours later, surrounded by cacti, tumbleweeds and sand.
We spotted a dirt road leading east into the desert and followed it in several kilometers. Our heads bobbed every which way as we navigated around rocks and through tracked out areas before finding a place clear of any cacti to rest for the night. “Uh, let me know if you hear any rain, please…”, Dane asked, trying to dismiss his fears that we were parked in a wash out. It hadn’t even occurred to me! We awoke unscathed, dry and excited to search for some caves that were noted nearby in our map. Somewhere within approximately 7km lay the Lava Tube caves. Challenge accepted! We set off to meander through the desert in search of these mysterious openings in the earth.
The desert here was not what we expected: flat, dry, void of all life. Instead, the terrain was varied with a garden of cacti where we found hares, lizards and birds. In the near distance, two small, volcano-shaped mountains, then, as we closed the gap between them and us, the ground beneath us changed from loose sand to dry, cracking clay. We weaved passed beaver tail cactus and joshua trees, along dry river beds with steep, curved embankments of red and brown rock. Then, navigating our way over lava rock, some of which was loose and treacherous and some like nature’s pavement!
We scoured the area, choosing separate paths in quiet competition to find the caves. On the side of one of the volcano-like mountains we found three caves, all quite shallow. Upon closer inspection one looked like a den, with a (very) large nest so we didn’t feel climbing inside would be appropriate! Were these the caves indicated on the map? We may never know. But we’re sure glad we sought out to search for them.
P.S. After a recent google search we can now confirm these were – very unfortunately – not the caves!! Hopefully one day we can go back to find them. Regardless, exploring the Mojave was fantastic.