The Mojave Desert is full of secrets and surprises. This remote desert in San Bernardino County is situated between Los Angeles and Las Vegas and is accessible to the south from I-40 or to the north from I-15. The Mojave is the driest desert in North America and boasts the lowest absolute elevation and the highest maximum temperatures in North America. It’s a National Preserve and is considered the high desert as opposed to its nearby desert neighbor, Joshua Tree National Park. If you’ve been, you know the majestic and arid beauty it holds, but did you know about these six incredible sites?
CALICO EARLY MAN SITE
The Calico Early Man Site is in the Calico Hills east of Yermo in the Mojave Desert. It is a site that is believed by some archaeologists to show the earliest evidence of human activity in North America. The active archaeology site sits along what was once the shores of an ancient lake, Lake Manix, where sharpened rock blades and artificially modified stones dating back to 30,000 have been found. There is some dispute over the authenticity of the site, but the discovery has challenged what archaeologists had previously understood of human migration on the planet. Currently, visits to the site have been suspended indefinitely.
An abandoned site of the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Resort off Highway 15 in the Mojave Desert. This bizarre abandoned site exudes both a peaceful and eerie feel. It’s the site of a once-famous faux health desert resort that was founded by Curtis Howe Springer, a self-proclaimed doctor, in 1944. It’s formerly the site of Camp Soda and Soda Springs. Curtis Howe Springer preached the advantageous effects of the natural mineral springs and sold bottles of the “healing” waters in addition to creating the health resort of Zzyzx. He was later discovered as a fraud and the “natural mineral spring” water was found to be fake. Today, it still hosts the abandoned and decrepit buildings of the old resort, an old bathhouse, and a small lake with a strange rock formation in the middle. According to visitors, creepiness permeates the whole location while visitors are often left all alone while exploring the secluded ruins.
The lava tube can be accessed by the Tube Trail in the Mojave National Preserve. The trailhead can be reached by car and is about 20 miles away from the Kelso Depot Visitors Center. A short hike will take you to the cave in which the lava tube can be viewed. The natural cave in the desert can be reached by descending underground on a man-made set of steps. While a little low scrambling is required in the cave, it’s worth it to take in the natural splendor of the lava tube. The light pouring through the naturally made hole is best between 11am and 1pm and dependent on weather.
The Kelso Dunes are other geological phenomena in the Mojave Desert. The sand dunes cover 45 square miles and rise 650 feet above the desert floor. A moderate three mile round trip to the top of the dunes rewards hikers with breathtaking views of the surrounding dunes and peaks in Mojave National Preserve. Some hikers report hearing a booming sound while hiking the dunes, rising below their feet. It’s caused by the hot sand on the surface breaking over the cooler sand below and some refer to it as “singing sand.” It’s best to make this hike at sunset, as the setting sun turns the desert into beautifully rich and ever-changing colors.
OLD WOMAN MOUNTAIN
Old Woman Mountain is located in the town of Essex in the Mojave Desert in the Old Woman Mountain range. The Old Woman Meteorite, the largest ever found in CA and second largest in the US, was found there in 1975. The meteorite weighs 6,070 lbs and is now on display inside the Desert Discovery Center in Barstow. To explore the area take one of the numerous hiking trails in the area where you can even find the abandoned Florence Mine ruins and Native American petroglyphs.
CALICO GHOST TOWN
Calico Ghost Town was the largest silver mining town in California from 1881 to 1896, abandoned in the late 1800s, and is now part of the San Bernardino County Regional Parks system, as well as a registered national historic landmark. With its 500 mines, Calico once produced over $20 million in silver ore within its 500 mines. Living up to its name, there are three main haunted sites within Calico. Visitors to Calico have reported seeing the ghost of Lucy Lane, the one-time owner of the Calico General Store, in a black lace dress both in and outside of her former store. Former teachers and students have been spotted at the old school house and the ghost of the former Marshal of Calico has been seen wandering around Main Street. Visitors can even take a ghost tour of Calico Ghost Town at either 6 PM or 7:30 PM. Tickets can be purchased onsite.