Roughly 37 miles northeast of Edwards Air Force Base, Cuddeback Dry Lake is situated in an infrequently traveled region of the Mojave Desert. When we first found and explored Cuddeback Lake, we thought there was an ‘L’ in the name, and kept calling it Cuddleback. Since Cuddleback sounds cuter than the real name, we still jokingly use the name (and named our Cuddleback Camping Chair accordingly).
Coming from the LA Basin, you’ll likely be traveling up CA-395 from the I-15, or up the CA-395 from the CA-58 and CA-14. From the rough center of LA Metro, it’ll take about 2 to 2.5 hours to reach the turnout, depending on traffic. We typically like to enter from Fremont Peak Road, but Cuddeback Road is another common entry. Unsurprisingly, high-clearance vehicles with 4x4/AWD is highly recommended to explore this area. The entry roads are usually well-graded, but rains will occasionally rut them out.
The main Cuddeback Lake measures about 6.2mi long and 2.5mi wide at its widest. The lakebed has an elongated shape reminiscent of the shape of South America, with two smaller dry lakes down to the southeast. Cuddeback Lake was previously owned by the Air Force Test Center for use as an emergency landing strip and testing grounds for the X-15 program, but in 1992 was reverted back to the Bureau of Land Management, and has since been frequently used for offroading, camping, and recreational target shooting. We’ve stumbled upon underground music concerts, and for those old enough, this lake was also Camp Green Lake for the film adaption of Holes!
For most of the year, the weather in this region can only be described as extreme. It gets brutally hot in the summer, and frigid cold in the winter. The month or two between seasons may see mild temperatures, but also harsh winds and sandstorms. I highly recommend pitching canvas tents in this region. Synthetic tents will rustle and crinkle all night, and you will absolutely not be able to get good sleep. The wild temperature swings will also pool condensation in synthetic tents, while canvas tents will breathe and better insulate you, especially if you run a heater in the winter. We've developed our own canvas tents to tackle these conditions, but most canvas tents will do.
Maybe I’m masochistic, but I find these extreme conditions humbling. Personally, I am reminded how small humans are on this floating space rock, especially so under the desert night skies.
Before setting out to Cuddeback (or any dry lake), make sure you have properly researched the geography of the region. Pay attention to natural landmarks such as hills and ridges, as it’s very easy to become disoriented. When locating a campsite, stick closer to the edges. This reduces the risk of collisions with speeding off-roaders, and helps orient you relative to the lake. Pay attention to prevailing winds, and situate vehicles to shield your camp from gales. Since there are no trees, make sure there is enough shade in the day to hide from the searing sun. If there is a chance of rain, sticking closer to the edges of the lake will also reduce the risk of being stuck when the lakebed turns to mud.
Our crew typically sets up base camp in one of the two smaller lakebeds, then conduct explorations from there. The hills to the northeast and southwest help provide slight wind and sun protection. A couple noteworthy points-of-interest around the area are the main lake (obviously), the Husky Memorial, the Black Mountain Rock Art District, and just general abandoned buildings from the Air Force days. We’ve even found a large shooting range with intact berms and galleries, presumably from previous military use.
Clear skies are normal here, and the vibrant night skies never get old. On especially dark nights, the Milky Way is visible to the naked eye. The main appeal of camping here, personally, is the seclusion and silence it provides. The remoteness really slows down time and connects you with the surrounding nature. It’s an easy way to make a weekend vacation feel like a week!
Thanks for reading, I'll be back with more destinations soon!