SPECIAL REPORT • The West's untapped treasures

The Mojave Desert is the California equivalent of flyovercountry - those endless expanses seen from 40,000 feet oncross-country flights. Every weekend, thousands of people head intothe great emptiness of the Mojave between Los Angeles and LasVegas. Few ever stop.

Unlike attractions in more traditional national parks, Mojave'smajor destinations (such as the Kelso Dunes and Cima Dome - one ofthe world's largest Joshua tree forests) are spread far and wideover 1.6 million acres. But space and distance are part of theMojave experience.

From the interstate at 75 mph, it may appear bare and lifeless.But if you catch the Joshuas in bloom or a sunset that colors theland in purples and reds, you'll never just race through withoutthinking of stopping.

WHERE: Between Los Angeles and Las Vegas with access fromInterstates 40 and 15.

WHEN: Open year-round; late October through May is best.

COST: Free.

SERVICES: Hole-In-The-Wall Campground has 35 sites, and MidHills Campground has 26 ($12, first come, first served). Lodging isavailable at Barstow, Needles, and Baker. Primm, Nevada, offers LasVegas-style resorts (800/386-7867). An information center islocated off I-15 in Baker (72157 Baker Blvd.).

ACTIVITIES: Two drives offer a good introduction to thepreserve and hiking access. From I-40, take Kelbaker Rd. past thedramatic formations of the Granite Mountains. At 14 miles, a sideroad leads 3 miles to Kelso Dunes; a 3-mile round-trip hike leadsto the 700-foot dune summit. Back on Kelbaker Rd., it's 8 miles toKelso Depot; the road continues 35 miles northwest past cindercones and lava beds to I-15. From Kelso Depot, the Kelso-Cima Rd.runs northeast to Cima. Six miles north of Cima (or 11 miles southof I-15) on Cima Rd. is a marked trailhead for a moderate 4-mileround trip on Cima Dome to Teutonia Peak.

CONTACT: (760) 733-4040 or www.nps.gov/moja.

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