Mojave National Preserve offers a short drive to solitude

The 1.6 million-acre Mojave National Preserve is only one or two hours by car from Las Vegas, but it is a world apart, offering opportunity for solitude amid sweeping desert views of the east Mojave.

A good specific activity there, for this time of year, is the Teutonia Peak Hike. The trailhead is at 5,027 feet — about 3,000 higher than Las Vegas, so you should expect temperatures about 15 degrees cooler. Therefore it’s advisable to take the hike before winter sets in. Also, this can be a windy area, so be prepared with a hat and a windbreaker.

The hike is about 4 miles round-trip with an elevation gain of about 500 feet. The hike isn’t advised for small children, as there is uneven and rocky terrain in the last section.

This isn’t your classic peak hike up a steep mountain, but rather to the summit of Cima Dome, the summit being a rocky outcropping atop an almost perfectly symmetrical geologic formation 1,500 feet above the desert. Originally, it is thought, the formation was an irregular mass of granite pushed above the surrounding surface by surrounding forces, but over an almost unimaginable period, wind and further geologic activity rounded it off.

The entire dome itself is best seen from afar, such as from Interstate 15 outside Baker. From the signed trailhead, just head up the old and abandoned Jeep road. The walking is fairly flat and easy as you make your way to the dome. A treat of the hike is passing through a Joshua tree forest, with some of the picturesque trees snaking more than 20 feet toward the sky. In fact, this area is the largest concentration of Joshua trees in the world. Joshuas usually grow at an elevation between 2,000 and 7,000 feet, in sandy soil on a flat or gently undulating landscape, so they are not a widely distributed tree. Along this trail you will also find other more common desert plants such as Mormon tea, cholla and yucca.

About a mile from the trailhead you will be near an area full of abandoned mines. While they are now grated, be careful when exploring these old silver claims. From here you will start to gain some elevation as you hike up toward the outcropping. Follow the faint path up as far as you feel comfortable. The true summit is hard to access and isn’t worth your while, given that from the ridgeline the views are just as grand.

The panoramic views once on top are spectacular. To the north you can see Clark Mountain, at 7,929 feet the highest peak in the park. This is the prominent peak you approach near Mountain Pass on I-15, but the view from here is much better. To the west and still within the preserve, you can see the cinder cones and lava beds that make up the Cinder Cone National Natural Landmark, designated in 1973. Farther west, with a good pair of binoculars, you can see the world’s largest thermometer in Baker, California, and the outlines of the San Jacinto and San Bernardino mountains.

To the south you can see the Kelso Sand Dunes, which rise about 600 feet from the valley floor. Visiting these sand dunes is a great side trip. Also worth a stop is the park visitor center at Kelso. Besides the usual functions, this center has the charming feature of being built in a former train station on the Union Pacific Railroad. The station was wisely restored to capture the ambiance that prevailed when the iron rails and iron horses were the best way to traverse the Mojave Desert. Adding to the experience are the freight trains that still rush by every hour or so, behind a secure safety fence but still only a few feet from the station’s front door.

Deborah Wall’s book “Base Camp Las Vegas: 101 hikes in the Southwest” ($24.95, Imbrifex) is available on Amazon. She can be reached at deborabus@aol.com.

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