Part I: Less-Beaten Paths In The Mojave National Preserve
The Mojave Road bisects the Mojave National Preserve on its way from Afton Canyon to the Colorado River. Perusing a map of the Mojave National Preserve, it's easy to come up with a one-word description of what's beyond the Mojave Road: plenty.
Maps and guidebooks in hand, we packed up the 4Runner to see the preserve firsthand. It's impossible to talk about the Mojave National Preserve without some background information about how the preserve came to be.
The Mojave National Preserve was created in 1994 after many years of controversy and legal wrangling. The political ball was set in motion during the 1980s by the late Senator Alan Cranston, who proposed making the area into Mojave National Park, along with re-designating Death Valley National Monument and Joshua Tree National Monument as National Parks. When first penned by Cranston, giant swaths of what was then called the East Mojave National Scenic Area were slated to become federal wilderness areas, which we'll refer to as "Wilderness" for the balance of this story. This legislation was called the California Desert Protection Act.
Cranston's legislation outlived his political career. Cranston was caught accepting $1 million in campaign contributions from a savings and loan that wanted a "problem solved." Cranston left office in 1991. His successor, Dianne Feinstein, chose to carry the bill through Congress. When the California Desert Protection Act passed, mining, ranching, and off-roading became even more restricted in the Mojave. It pains this author's hands to even type the names of those who ramrodded this legislation down our collective throats. If there's a silver lining, it's that the intended Mojave National Park was instead designated the Mojave National Preserve, a designation that allows certain economic and recreational activities that would be banned within a National Park.
Another silver lining is the vehicular corridors that pass among the newly created Wilderness Areas. These corridors are previously established routes that were left open and intact. In the desert, the sheer distances combined with a general lack of water make it impractical to explore very far on foot. Vast Wilderness designations in the desert without vehicular access amount to nothing more than a land grab. The vehicular corridors are the key to discovering what's out there. For those who like to hike (of which the author is one), the vehicular corridors are the key to getting close enough to the trailheads to have the time and energy to see what’s inside the Wilderness.
With the ugly political stuff dispensed with, let's talk trails.