Mojave National Preserve

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Entrance sign south of Baker. Photographed 12/22/2012 at Mojave National Preserve, California.

After a week of work in California, my coworkers and I spent the first part of our day off visiting Death Valley National Park. From there we continued our whirlwind Mojave Desert tour through Mojave National Preserve. We limited ourselves to a drive down the west side of the park on Kelbaker Road, but even this portion was pretty amazing.

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Cinder cone volcanoes and Mojave Desert plants. Photographed 12/22/2012 at Mojave National Preserve, California.

The first features that jumped out at me were the cinder cone volcanoes near the northwest corner of the park.

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Cinder cone volcano and Mojave Desert plants. Photographed 12/22/2012 at Mojave National Preserve, California.

The basaltic magma that formed these volcanoes had low viscosity and flowed freely. The cinder cones formed in the early stages of eruption. Initially the magma had higher gas content, and early on it sprayed into the air like a fountain. These small bits of molten rock cooled quickly and collected around the vents, creating these cones of accumulated scoria cinders. Later in the eruptions the gas became depleted. At this point large amounts of runny lava burst from the base of the cinder cones, flowed for great distances, and left behind the lava beds of black basalt seen today.

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Black basalt lava flow from the nearby cinder cone volcanoes. Photographed 12/22/2012 at Mojave National Preserve, California.

Not far down the road we got our first glimpse of a Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia, Asparagaceae):

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Joshua tree and other Mojave Desert plants. Photographed 12/22/2012 at Mojave National Preserve, California.

Although we would see a lot more of these later at Joshua Tree National Park, there were still quite a few to be seen here. These impressively tall yuccas are found almost exclusively in the Mojave Desert:

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Joshua tree and other Mojave Desert plants. Photographed 12/22/2012 at Mojave National Preserve, California.

Further south we caught our first view of Kelso Dunes, part of the Devil’s Playground:

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Kelso Dune Field, photographed 12/22/2012 at Mojave National Preserve, California.

This is the largest field of sand dunes in the Mojave Desert, and some of the dunes exceed 600 feet in height.

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Kelso Dunes photographed 12/22/2012 at Mojave National Preserve, California.

The sand here originated from the erosion of the granitic San Bernardino Mountains to the west. Wind carried the sand eastward until it reached a trap between the Providence and Granite Mountains, where the wind slowed and dropped its sand load.

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Kelso Dunes against the Providence Mountains. Photographed 12/22/2012 at Mojave National Preserve, California.

Plants eventually took hold in the dunes, locking them in place. New sand is still being deposited to the northwest, but in this area the dunes are now relatively static.

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Kelso Dunes photographed 12/22/2012 at Mojave National Preserve, California.

As we exited the south side of the park, we passed by some spheroidally-weathered granite near the Granite Mountains:

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Weathered granite near the Granite Mountains. Photographed 12/22/2012 at Mojave National Preserve, California.

Throughout the park there were signs warning to watch for desert tortoises (Gopherus spp., Testudinidae) crossing the road. Although we looked around quite a bit for these interesting creatures, none were to be found. They spend most of their days in underground burrows, coming out only to feed, defecate, and in the late winter, to breed. Although we didn’t see the tortoises themselves, we did find many of their burrows and piles of feces. I would love to return to this national preserve to again try to find these elusive animals, as well as further explore the lava beds and eastern reaches of the park.

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About Jeremy Sell

Science and nature nerd.
This entry was posted in Botany, Ecology, Geology, National Parks, Vertebrate Zoology and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Mojave National Preserve

  1. Mike Powell says:

    Beautiful shots of what looks to be an amazing place. I lived in Arizona for a few years and really grew to appreciate the beauty of the desert. Best wishes for a sighting of the tortoise next time–I guess you have to be patient and persistent, like the stereotypical view of the character of a tortoise.

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  2. Jeremy Sell says:

    Thanks for your input, and I’m envious of your time in Arizona. I’ve been through there a few times and the Sonoran Desert is one of my favorite place in the US. Although I also love the Mojave and Chihuahuan Deserts, there was something unique about southern Arizona. I almost went to grad school in Tucson because I loved it there so much.

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