Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Mojave National Preserve

Mojave Desert
Now this place is pretty desolate, at least it was for us…even as we are actually hitting a region (the deserts) at peak season.
I had been really excited to visit Kelso Dunes, which are singing dunes that boom and hiss when you slide down them. But there has been so much rain that the sand is too wet. Darn.

For us, the best part of Mojave National Preserve – which differs from national parks in that hunting is allowed – was Kelso Depot, a restored Mission Revival style train station along the Union Pacific Railroad. In its heyday, during the 1940s, the depot was host to trains carrying a daily load of 2,500 tons of low-grade iron ore hewn from a mine nearby. Boasting a reliable source of water in the desert, the station served Union Pacific employees as well as local residents.

If you've ever wondered how settlers went about naming places, here's what happened in Kelso: two guys put their names and that of their friend in a hat. The absent man (Kelso) won, and thus the town was christened.

Now, the Depot has been converted into one of the preserve’s main visitor centers, with the café reinstated to feed and water tourists and locals alike.

Trains still run through, though, and boy is it exciting to see those super-long freight trains close-up. Having breakfast at the cafe, you can start to imagine what it was like back in the day.

Unsure of where we were going to sleep that night - having decided to give the main campgrounds’ high altitude and dirt road access a miss – we stumbled upon an RV park that had fallen into disuse. Apart from the three or so residents, all of whom work at the Depot or on the railroad, the place is a ghost town – no toilet, no electricity, no water, nothing.

But there we stayed. All we had to do was give Julia, who runs the bookshop at the Depot, $10, our record low lodging spend!

Having enjoyed a chat with Larry, who told us we could indeed stay, we invited him in for a drink. What a guy. A former employee at the resuscitated Roy’s Motel & Café in Amboy along Route 66, he knows everything about the area.

We hard all about how Brad Pitt had offered to buy Amboy, how big the mark-up on Snickers bars is, how delicious the water at Kelso is, and what it’s like to grow up a Seventh Day Adventist.

Daniel said the whole experience reminded him of the movie ‘Baghdad Café’.

It was good to be back to basic camping, able to see the stars and enjoy a truly silent night, mostly alone in the high Mojave Desert.

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