Mojave Desert National Preserve

Hole-in-the-Wall Campground
Nights: 5
Hikes: 2
Desert Hare sightings: too many to count

In an effort to get caught up, I’m doing a short post on our time here, but that in no way reflects how much we liked Mojave. Again we are finding that some of our favorite places are not the “official” national parks, but other national lands like this national preserve. Wondering what the difference is? Apparently everyone does, because they printed it in the brochure. The only difference between a national park and a preserve is that a preserve allows hunting. Luckily for us it wasn’t hunting season, but the park was busy with a steady stream of folks arriving each evening. With many organized groups of students I figured it must be spring break. Still the campground was never full and with the well spaced sites in the upper loops, we had plenty of space for ourselves.

Our site at the base of Barber Peak.
Watching wildlife.

This is another spot where we spent much of our time sitting outside enjoying the sunny views and watching the wildlife. We saw desert hares bounding through the campground at all times of the day. In the morning the Antelope ground squirrels were chasing each other up trees and onto rocks, perhaps it’s mating season. There were also plenty of lizards scurrying over rocks and under bushes.

Can you see the desert hare?

We hiked an awesome trail right from the campground. The Barber Peak Loop is 6 miles of varied views with a surprise at the end. We started at the north end of the campground heading counter-clockwise around Barber Peak, which I’d recommend. You quickly hit some interesting rock formations, then have a long, dry stint along a wash in the desert scrub.



Around the back side you enter a valley with pinyon trees and then climb a hill to a rocky cactus garden.



Heading back down you pass through another wash before heading into the eerie, holey rock walls of Banshee Canyon.




To get out, you make your way between the rock walls and climb two sets of rings. This rock climbing stuff is getting fun!


A long drive (13 miles of which were on on a rugged dirt road) brought us to the Kelso Depot Visitor’s Center. Housed in the original train depot for the area, we learned how steam-driven trains stopped here to get water and helper engines for the steep grade ahead. Later Route 66 also passed along here. We opted to take the longer paved route back. I was glad we had driven the dirt road though because our GPS wanted to route us that way when we left. Even though the ranger said the road was fine for trailers, we discovered many spots that were narrow, soft, or had deep ruts and decided against it.

Kelso Depot
Trains stopped for only 20 minutes so service at the lunch counter had to be quick. It’s now the gift shop.

The next day I decided I liked the rings so much I had to climb them again. This time I was by myself while Chuck let his ankle recouperate from our first hike. Opting for a shorter loop, I started from the left of the visitor’s center on the Rings Loop trail.

Hole-in-the-Wall Visitor Center

This mostly flat trail skirts a large rocky hill east of Banshee Canyon. I was surprised to find an area of petroglyphs and enjoyed the cactus on the rocky hillside before heading into Banshee Canyon again.

It was just as mysterious this time through and the rings were fun too.

Coming out by the picnic area I followed the Barber Peak Loop along the base of the hill above the campground and found another wonderful cactus garden among the rocks.


This mutated barrel cactus was a surprising find. It reminded me of the crested saguaros we saw in Arizona.

All that hiking earned me a treat. After a couple of disappointing forays with the GoSun Solar Oven (one in which I put too much batter in the muffin cups so they got stuck all over the inside of the tube when they rose—cleaning that tube was not fun!), I made some awesome fudgy brownies! Served with ice cream they reminded me of the brownie sundae we used to get at the Bonefish Grill.


Fudgy Flourless Brownies
6 servings

3 T coconut oil
3 oz. chocolate chips
1/3 cup coconut sugar (regular sugar should work too)
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
3 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt

In a small pan over low heat, stir coconut oil and chocolate chips until completely melted. Take off heat. Stir in sugar until it dissolves some (mine was still a bit grainy). In a medium bowl beat egg and vanilla for about a minute. Add about 1/4 of the chocolate mixture and mix until incorporated. Mix in the rest of the chocolate mixture and beat well. Add cocoa, cornstarch and salt. Beat on low speed until combined, they beat on medium speed for 1-2 minutes. Mixture should be glossy and thick. Line GoSun tray with parchment paper. Spread batter evenly into tray leaving 1-2 inches empty at each end. Place tray in GoSun Stove. Cooking time will vary with the intensity of the sun, but brownies should be set in the center. Mine took about 25 minutes on a mostly sunny day. You do not want to overcook. Cool 5 minutes in tray if you can wait. Great served with vanilla ice cream and a sprinkle of nuts or raspberries!

Though I didn’t try it I think you could make these in a regular oven. Double the recipe and place it in a 8” square pan lined with parchment or foil. Bake at 350 degrees until set in the center, about 20-25 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in pan then move to wire rack to finish cooling.

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