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Mojave National Preserve

There is evidence of volcanic activity throughout and around this 1,500,000-acre preserve. Amboy Crater, a 250-foot-high cinder cone, is 10 miles south of the preserve, and there are more than 30 smaller cones and extensive lava beds off nearby Aiken Mine Road. Cima Dome, a rounded landform rising 1,500 feet above the surrounding desert, was created when a molten mass of rock was pushed up from far beneath the surface. The world’s largest, densest forest of Joshua Trees grows on Cima Dome, one of the few places in California to see the Gilded Flicker, a desert relative of the Northern Flicker.

Many roads and trails wind through the preserve. The New York Mountains, which reach 7,532 feet, are covered with White Firs and pinyon pines. Three hundred kinds of plants have been found in these mountains, including several endemic fern species; many of these plants were more widespread when the area had a wetter climate but now form isolated communities. Clark Mountain, the area’s highest at 7,929 feet, is surrounded by desert. White Firs grow on its northern slopes, which support a population of Bighorn Sheep. Although the peak of Clark Mountain is hard to reach, birders looking for rare eastern migrants climb it each spring.

Kelso Dunes is a 600-foot dune system created by wind-blown sand from the Mojave River basin. Golden-rose quartz grains give the dunes their rich color. When the sand slides down the steep upper slopes, a loud booming sound is produced. A hike to the summit may yield sightings of Mojave Fringe-toed Lizards and Sidewinders, plus wildflowers when conditions are right.

East of the Kelso Dunes, Bighorn Sheep roam higher elevations in the Providence Mountains, which loom 7,000 feet above the desert floor. At the eastern end of the preserve, Piute Creek arises from a spring and supports a narrow ribbon of mesquite, willows, and cottonwoods; although at the end of a rough road, this is an excellent spot for wildlife observation.

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