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ADV RidesRide Guide: 10 Must-See Sites in the Mojave National Preserve

Ride Guide: 10 Must-See Sites in the Mojave National Preserve

 See what's waiting to be discovered inside this unique desert landscape.

Published on 07.21.2016

Mojave National Preserve

Millions pass by Southern California’s Mojave National Preserve every year on their way to good times in Las Vegas. It doesn’t look like much staring out of a car window on Interstate 15, but for those who travel a bit further into the interior, the Preserve holds many surprises.

The area is blessed with geologic wonders like volcanic cinder cones, lava tubes, granite peaks and giant dune fields. It’s home to the densest Joshua Tree forest in the world and when conditions are right, spring wildflowers bloom throughout the 1.6 million acre park. A diversity of wildlife also exists in the Mojave National Preserve — get lucky and you might spot a Bighorn Sheep, Desert Tortoise or even the elusive Gila Monster.

Evidence of a rich human history can be found as well. The Mojave Road that traverses the park, was once a traditional thoroughfare for Native American tribes, and their ancestors left behind a treasure trove of well-preserved petroglyphs of all shapes and sizes. From more recent times, remnants of long-abandoned mines, military forts and failed homesteads dot the landscape.

Yet it’s the lack of human presence in the park that makes the Mojave National Preserve even more appealing. It’s the fourth largest nationally protected area in the contiguous United States and just a few hours drive from several major population centers, but the Preserve is visited by relatively few people, making it the perfect refuge for those seeking peace and solitude.

And for those Adventure Riders in pursuit of a more exhilarating experience, a vast network of trails and roads run through the park providing access to all of its riches. Terrain varies from lonely paved roads and dry lake beds to rocky double-track trails and sandy washes.

While there are plenty of scenic and interesting places to keep you busy exploring for weeks, we’ve compiled a list of 10 of the best places in the Mojave National Preserve you can visit during a 2- to 4-day Adventure Ride. We also provide all the information you need to plan your own trip, including maps and GPS tracks. So get suited up and ready for a taste of what’s waiting to be discovered, as we take you on a virtual tour of the Mojave National Preserve!.

1. Zzyzx

Zzyzx Mojave National Preserve
This natural oasis was once a popular stop for Native Americans along the Mojave Trail. It was converted into a health spa in the 1940’s. (Courtesy Flickr/Tom Hilton)

Just five miles off Interstate 15, on the edge of Soda Dry Lake, is the site of what was once a thriving mineral hot springs health spa. In its heyday, Zzyzx (pronounced “Zye – Zex”) included a 60-room hotel, church, zoo, airstrip and even a castle. The enterprise was founded in 1944 by radio evangelist and self-proclaimed doctor Curtis H. Springer. Springer came up with the name Zzyzx as a marketing gimmick, calling it “The last word in health.”

Mojave National Preserve Zzyzx
The natural spring at Zzyzx is a great place to take a break from the hot sun. There are even picnic tables and benches along the shoreline for visitors to enjoy.

Springer made his fortune selling bogus health tonics to the elderly he claimed could cure everything from constipation to cancer. Even the “natural” hot springs he offered were fake, instead heated by a hidden boiler. Eventually, the government caught on to his shenanigans and put the quack doctor in jail for a short time. His right to operate Zzyzx on the land was also found to be invalid and operations were shut down it down permanently in 1974. Today, California State University manages Zzyzx as a Desert Studies Center but there is still a beautiful palm tree-lined oasis and remnants of the old abandoned health spa scattered around the facility that make this an interesting stop..

2. Soda Lake

Mojave National Preserve Soda Lake
Soda Lake is a 15-mile long dry lake on the western edge of the Mojave National Preserve (Courtesy Flickr/klz)

Soda Lake is a 15-mile-long dry lake that sits on the western edge of the Mojave National Preserve, but there are no Bonneville-style speed runs going on here. The surface maintains a moist mucky state year-round and there is only one route across it, the Mojave Road. Even the dirt road crossing Soda Lake can be treacherous if there have been recent rains. Slick mud can make the road impassible, trapping 4x4s and motorcycles alike. When conditions are good, the view from the road, looking out across the dry lake, is stunning.

Soda Lake Travelers Monument
It’s a tradition to bring a rock to add to the Travelers Monument. At the center of the rock pile is a plaque with a secret message, but only visitors get to know what it says.
Soda Lake Mojave National Preserve
The Mojave Road crossing of Soda Lake can turn into a sloppy mess after it rains.

Near the halfway point on the lake is an interesting structure called the Travelers Monument. The Monument is huge pile of rocks, which is a curious site here because there are no rocks like these around for miles. Where did they come from? It’s an off-road tradition to bring a rock for the Travelers Monument. The Monument continues to grow over time as more travelers add to the pile. At the center of the rock pile is a plaque with a secret message, but only visitors get to know what it says, so go see it for yourself!.

3. Shaman’s Eye

Shaman's Eye Mojave National Preserve

A unique geologic formation known as Shaman’s Eye is just three miles down a dirt road from the Halloran Summit exit off of Interstate 15. Geologists say Shaman’s Eye was created when a solid column of magma formed and cooled inside an active volcano long ago. The volcanic basalt pillar was later uncovered as the softer surrounding rocks eroded away, exposing the giant monolith underneath.

Shaman's Eye Mojave National Preserve
Visit around the time of the Winter Solstice (December 21st) to witness a beam of sunlight shine through the Shaman’s Eye near dawn.

During the Winter Solstice, the oculus in the center of the rock formation lines up perfectly with the setting Sun. If you time your visit right, you’ll witness a beam of light shine through the hole onto the desert floor below. According to Native American legend, the great Shaman came down through this eye in the sky to create mankind. Keep an eye out for the Shaman!.

4. Evening Star Mine

Evening Star Mine Mojave National Preserve

Evening Star Mine began as a copper claim in 1935. It passed hands two times before producing anything of value. New miners continued sinking an ever-deeper shaft until they hit pay dirt in 1939. But it wasn’t copper they found, it was tin! And Evening Star Mine became the only tin mine in the entire Mojave Desert. From 1939 to 1944, the mine cranked out more than 400 tons of tin ore and several tons of tin concentrate before being abandoned.

Evening Star Mine Mojave National Preserve
The Evening Star Mine’s sixty foot head frame has been reinforced for visitors and can be climbed (using caution).
Evening Star Mine Mojave National Preserve
The Evening Star Mine’s giant shaft gives some perspective on how many tons of rock where excavated from the hillside during its five years of operation.

A 4-story head frame is still in beautifully-preserved condition and has even been reinforced with new supports and cabling, allowing visitors to explore the historic structure in relative safety. One unique feature of the Evening Star Mine’s tower is the ore crusher located at the top of the head frame. An amazing feat of engineering considering the tremendous amount of weight and energy the wooden structure had to support from all the shaking. The mine shaft openings have all been covered with bars and wire but there are still plenty of interesting artifacts to explore around Evening Star Mine..

5. Aiken Mine

Abandoned Aiken Mine in the Mojave National Preserve.
Abandoned mining equipment left behind when Aiken Mine ceased operations in 1990 (Courtesy Flickr/gsec).

While it may look like an active mining operation, the Aiken Cinder Mine has been closed for 26 years. Operators abruptly shut down the mine and simply walked away after the company could no longer pay their rent, abandoning all of their equipment along with 7.8 million tons of cinder still laying in piles.

Abandoned Aiken Mine in the Mojave National Preserve.
Cinder is a type of small volcanic pebble mined for its use in decorative landscaping, BBQ briquettes, road construction and various home building supplies. It can be a tough surface to ride on too.
Abandoned Aiken Mine in the Mojave National Preserve.
A small lava arch can be found just a few hundred meters to the east of Aiken Mine.

Of the 1.4 million tons of Cinder sold by the mine, 22,000 tons were used to build the Las Vegas Strip. The well-preserved mining equipment, trucks and structures left behind give the appearance that the mine could restart operations again tomorrow. While you are there, take a few minutes to explore the lava arch formation just off the side of the road.

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Author: Rob Dabney

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24 thoughts on “Ride Guide: 10 Must-See Sites in the Mojave National Preserve

    • Yes, there are a lot of interesting spots in this park. One of them that is missing from the list is Mitchell Caverns. They are one of the most impressive cave systems in California but were closed in 2009 due to Federal Budget cuts. Fortunately, they have been hard at work remodeling the facilities and Mitchell Caverns is expected to reopen soon! Keep an eye out here for news about it:
      http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=615

  1. Good article with lots of helpful information.
    But going to the link to download the map takes me to a pay wall. Apparently one must have to sign up for a $59.99 year membership to get it. ugh!

    • Hi Stephen. Registering a new account on REVER is free and you don’t need to pay anything to download the tracks. If you are registering for the first time, it asks if you’d like to upgrade to a premium account. Upgrading is not required! Just go back to our story and click the download map link again after completing registration, then login with your new account and it should take you directly to the map download page.

      • Rob, I think a paid (59.99 yearly 0r 5.99 monthly) premium membership is needed to download GPX tracks. I’m unable to the tracks for this ride. I copied this from the FAQ section from the Rever site under the Support tab:

        How do I get rides from Rever onto GPS devices like my Garmin?
        This is a Premium Feature but it’s super easy. Just click the button on the ride detail page that says ‘Download GPX’. This will turn your ride into a .gpx file that you can download to your computer. From there you’ll need to plug in your GPS device and transfer the .gpx file to it. You may need to use Garmin Basecamp or MapSource to do this if you have a Garmin.

        • Hi Kenny. Looks like you are correct that a premium membership is required to download the GPX file from REVER (for use on dedicated GPS devices). Sorry for the confusion on this. However, users of the ‘free’ version can still download the ride and navigate our tracks using their Smartphone. We have updated the link so that you can download the GPX file directly from our page. Thanks for the heads up!

  2. Great article. Thanks. Is the same route accessible (legally and technically) by 4WD if I want to make it a family camping trip rather than riding it on the GS with the guys? Is any of the terrain too technical for a stock Jeep or similar, unmodified 4WD? I would guess it wouldn’t be too technical tough if the terrain is accessible by GS with moderate riding skill.

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  5. great article!! my friend and I are going to do this ride (starting in the SF bay area) at the end of april. I’m a rever user but would like to get thetracks on my garmin aswell, but when I click the “download GPX files here” link it sends me to a blank page. any ideas?

    • Hi Jeff. Thanks for the kind words. Just tested the download of the gpx file and it seems to be working. Give it another try and see if it’s works for you now. Have a great trip!

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