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Mojave Road - History's Highway

Four Wheelers
Jim Brightly | Writer
Posted March 1, 2010
Photographers: Mike Fissel

For More Than Six Centuries The Mojave Road Has Been In Use By Native Americans, Pioneers, And Four-Wheelers

Nearly all of the great pathways of the past have been buried beneath concrete, paved over, lost in the mists of time, or placed off-limits to "protect" them. One in California stands out above the rest: The Mojave Road.

The road's continuous use for more than six centuries has been documented. According to the historians, it was once the only footpath for Native Americans between the seashore and the Colorado River. Coastal tribes (Tongva and Chumash) would trade soapstone from Catalina Island (they were great boat builders), hand-woven baskets (sealed with pitch from the La Brea Tar Pits), and sea shells, to the desert and river tribes (Mohave and Piute) for obsidian and fresh-grown vegetables (from the Mohaves' farms).

When the Spaniards introduced tumbleweeds, horses, and Christianity to North America, and then founded the Puebla de los Angeles on September 4, 1781, the Mojave Road became the route to what is now called Los Angeles. It saw the likes of Jed Smith, Kit Carson, and John Fremont traveling over its route to open up California to illegal immigration from the United States (the resident Californios tried unsuccessfully to keep Americans out of California).

By the time gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill near Sacramento in 1849, the Mojave Road had become one of three major thoroughfares into California. The routes also included Donner Pass in the north and the log road across the sand dunes of what is now called Buttercup (adjacent to I-8) into San Diego. More '49ers used Donner Pass, however, thousands still used the Mojave Road because Donner was usually impassible during the winters.

Speaking of winter, today the Mojave Road could be considered an all-year-round trail, with a couple of caveats. If you're going during the winter months — November through March — make sure that you can brave some very cold temperatures, especially at night. The road tops out above 5,000 feet. By the same token, if you’re going during the summer months — June through mid-September — be certain that your air conditioning is in tip-top working order, because you're going to need it in temperatures that could reach 120 degrees F during the heat of the day. I'd suggest spring or fall as your best bets (this trip was undertaken in October). Remember the temperature extremes if you're planning on camping out on the trail.

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