Well we’re at Episode 4 in the saga of George’s Birthday Adventure. This is where Camp Granola finally gets to breathe a sigh of relief for having finished the extensive (i.e. epically butt-numbing) drive from Georgia to California. To do this we set to exploring the Mojave Desert. Truthfully, with only one full day to visit, it was really more of a scratch-of-the-surface. A place so large and diverse simply can’t be explored in a single day… it is 1.6 million amazing acres after all.
This will make you wonder of course, why we didn’t spend more time. Given the time-frame of this particular trip and George’s thirst for discovery, it was more of a whirlwind adventure of seeing a lot of different places. While we obviously all have a say in the matter, it was technically George’s trip so we let him determine our course as much as possible. With more experience and little guidance I’m sure he’ll become a more settled traveler and discover the joy of slowing down and digging deeper into the places we visit rather than blasting from place to place.
Travel philosophy aside, here’s where you find out that Camp Granola doesn’t always have great timing. We arrived at Mojave National Preserve after the visitor center had closed for the day on Sunday. It turns out that it would be closed Monday and Tuesday as well…the only days we’d be visiting. Not much we could do about it; we didn’t have flexible enough plans to adjust for the problem.
The lack of ranger information was a slight bummer. It’s not that you can’t explore a park without it, I just always enjoy the interpretive services they provide, even more so now that I’m pursuing my own naturalist certification for the Smokies. Plus I think it helps the little explorers understand more about the park, helping them put the pieces together as far as why the place has been set aside as a natural treasure.
At any rate, a closed visitor center just means you have to embrace independent exploration, figuring out for yourself what a place is all about. Fortunately there were at least some brochures and maps to be had to get us started. We did have to leave minus our National Park Passports stamp but that’s how it goes sometimes.
The Rings Loop…
So, embracing the afore-mentioned spirit of independent exploration and going with the recommendation of our knowledgable camp host, we set to exploring the Rings Loop that sets out from the visitor center…closed as it was. The loop wraps around some super-groovy rock formations and ends with a climb through the Hole in the Wall that leads back to the visitor center. At only around a mile, it was an easy trail that allowed for lots of Camp Granola examination without having to feel pressed to cover a lot of ground.
The last time Fred and George visited a desert, they were only 6 and 9 years old. An additional two-and-a-half years at their young ages is significant gain in maturity and provides them with an almost new perspective on this dramatic environment. They marveled anew at cacti and the massive exposed rock formations that we don’t get to see in the lush southeastern U.S. Our leisurely pace let us stop, take photographs, call out into the echoing rock walls, and get lost in the geologic wonder of this remarkable place.
The fun-factor of this loop was ramped up by the “rings” section that requires you to make use of large metal rings to haul yourself through the gap. This unique challenge for any explorer proved a little extra challenging for us with our little quadriped in tow. But the beagle proved himself game, only requiring portage in the steepest sections that his short little legs couldn’t possibly stretch or even jump.
The only other complication was me climbing with camera gear and a not-terribly-light pack. Camera gear is notoriously heavy so hauling myself and gear up the rings was not at all graceful…not that I’m graceful even without a pack but you get the idea. At one point I even teamed up with another hiker who kindly gave me a shove from “behind” shall we say, in exchange for a hand up from above once I’d cleared the narrow, steep gap. Somehow I think I got the better “end” of that deal. (Ba Dum Bum!)
After our little excursion and still recovering from the long haul to reach California, we all needed some time to chill and not be rushed and shuttled…which means some camp time was in order. Fred and George played freely while Jester and I got in some exercise to combat the marshmallow feeling that accompanies days on your rear in the car. You know, I prefer to roast the puffy confections, not impersonate them.
Unfortunately our efforts to combat Stay-Puft Syndrome were cut short by Fred and George getting involved in a sibling squabble. It seems several days of family closeness finally caught up with them. With some parental intervention and diversion, we got the minions back on track. It helped that George became enthralled with desert sage. He’s our budding chef (a skill and interest he did not get from me BTW) so he found wild-growing sage to be intriguing.
It’s those kinds of discovery moments that remind me you don’t necessarily have to go deep into the backcountry to get your kids excited. Turns out he found his bliss right there at camp. Granted, we drove thousands of miles to get to that particular camp so it’s a mixed bag. Happy Birthday George!
So my final (and horribly random) thoughts on our visit to the Mojave are such:
- I really want to go back and explore more in-depth. I think I’ll continue to be astounded by it even after multiple visits. It ranks as a must-see in my book if you’re headed to the area.
- Even though I would have loved to explore more, it was the right move to let Camp Granola have some down time.
- I will forever find rocks totally fascinating even if my geologist memory banks are a little dusty.
- Man, those are spacious campsites!
- and…I love chatty campground hosts.
That just about sums up Day 5 of George’s Birthday Adventure.