The Mojave Desert – birthplace of DOS and proving grounds for DOS product testing, lies a relatively short distance out of the Los Angeles basin. Those unfamiliar with the Mojave Desert may think it’s just an endless void of barren nothingness (partly true). With brutal weather seemingly year-round, the Mojave is host to a surprisingly varied number of natural and historical wonders. While it’s initially difficult to fathom the sheer expanse of the desert, you’ll find the Mojave has its own way of rewarding the curiosity of brave adventurers. We’ve been venturing the Mojave for many years, and new discoveries still await us every time we explore. Before we get to our feature destination, I must remind readers that the deserts are dangerous. Proper research, preparation, and precautions are necessary to safely explore these lands. We will likely prepare a guide in the future on prep-work for exploring public lands.
Our feature today is Jawbone Canyon. Located within 30 minutes from the City of Mojave, this region sits near the southern base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range on Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. As such, it can be subjected to pretty brutal desert winds. Temperatures regularly exceed triple digits in the summer, and falls well below freezing in the winter. It is very dry pretty much year-round, although winter does see some occasional snow. If you’re still with me, then this article is for you!
Jawbone Canyon is a designated OHV area right off Highway 14. The region was initially settled in the mid 1800’s as part of the Kern River Gold Rush, which saw multiple successful mines yield impressive amounts of gold and quartz from the canyons. Today, Jawbone Canyon features a large wind farm deeper in the canyon to harness the desert winds, but is primarily used for OHV, target shooting, and camping. There is no fee to enter the area, and the relatively easy accessibility makes Jawbone Canyon a great beginner spot for new overlanders.
The main valley floor of the OHV area is full of beginner trails for dirt bikes, ATVs, side-by-sides, and other off-road vehicles. Outside of holiday weekends, the OHV area is typically not too populated. RV campers often occupy the large graded dispersed camping areas, so we typically venture a few miles into one of the smaller side canyons for more peace and quiet. During the months of more extreme weather, we’ve regularly been the only souls around for miles. Although the road in is paved, and arterial trails are dirt, so high-clearance 4WD/AWD is recommended if you plan to venture further on the trails.
One of larger side canyons, Alphie Canyon, is down a named trail, Gold Canyon Road. Past the large RV campsites, the trail takes you next to some fascinating rock formations that carve out small little campsites. Any of these sites are suitable for camping, but keep in mind the sun’s pattern. If you like to sleep in a bit, select a site where the east side is covered, shielding you from the morning sun. Depending on the time of the year, the trail can either be sandy or washboard, but there should not be any large rocks or boulders.
One very neat POI down this canyon is the E.O.M. Amphitheatre. I’ve tried to figure out what it stands for to no avail, but it is an acoustical chamber rock formation that served as a venue for underground music concerts decades ago. There’s a fairly large clearing right next to it for camping, albeit unshaded. No pictures, you guys will have to see this for yourselves! We will document the other side canyons such as Hoffman and Little Jawbone in later articles.
Once you’ve set up base camp, make sure you hike around and do some exploring on foot. Take in the silence, and most importantly, enjoy the vibrant night sky. If conditions are optimal, you’ll be able to distinguish the Milky Way with your naked eye!
Nearby down Highway 14, Red Rock Canyon State Park has miles of hiking trails to explore the dramatic landscape. Part of this park is a paid area. There are also paid campsites available in Ricardo Campground on a first-come, first-served basis. Many movies have been filmed in these colorful cliffs and canyons, and the park is considered a great classroom for geology, paleontology, and photography. The side of the park east of Highway 14 is largely undeveloped, and high-clearance 4x4/AWD with good all-terrain tires are necessary down some of the canyon trails. There can be some pretty sharp rocks, and regular road tires can very easily receive sidewall cuts. We will provide a guide later exploring this ‘Inyokern’ region!
If you missed the previous Log on Anza-Borrego, check it out here!
Thanks for reading!