So far so good in Mojave; Leigh and I have slowly been adjusting to our current reality of out of touch solitude. Now that we’re settled in for the long haul, we have started to endlessly plan forays into the desert wilderness we currently call home. For our first extended outing we had our eyes on Cima Dome and the world’s largest Joshua Tree “forest.” The week before, while staffing the visitor center, we used our ample free time to pour over maps and books for tips and ideas. One of the 4 people that came into the visitor center that day was one of the Preserves maintenance workers, Therean. He was soft spoken at first, but once we told him of our weekend plans Therean came alive with information.
Leigh and I struggled to take in everything he said, but what we did retain was the building blocks for a pretty awesome adventure. Cima Dome is located in the northern half of Mojave National Preserve and unlike most of the obvious mountains, mesas and buttes in this desert landscape this unique geologic feature is hardly discernible from its surroundings. It is an almost perfectly symmetrical dome of upheaved molten rock that has long hardened. It rises 1,500 feet above the surrounding desert, is close to 10 miles in diameter and covers nearly 75 square miles. The kicker is the dome is covered in a dense forest of Joshua trees, and is part of the greatest continuous collection of these trees anywhere.
The first day of our 3-day weekend we set out into the backcountry down a dirt road to the campsite Therean suggested. It was part way up the Dome with a view to the southeast. It was an awesome little site with a couple of big junipers tucked in next to a mound of granite. Surrounding the camp was jumbles of boulders and endless Joshua trees. We settled in for the night, and tossed our sleeping bags in the bed of the pickup. We slept with nothing but the stars overhead and were rewarded by the sight of the Milky Way and flickers of shooting stars.
The next morning, the sun rose over the mountains to the east and lit the sky with a blaze of color. After breakfast we loaded our packs for the next night and left the truck behind to hike out across the dome and through the Joshuas. We slowly climbed to the crest of the dome and descended down the other side, stopping any place that looked interesting. The best part of backpacking without a trail to guide you is that you have the freedom to choose your own adventure, and hike without the burden of counting miles.
We covered a lot of ground our first day out, much more than we expected. When we finally tired and found a place to camp for the night, we were near Wildcat Butte. We settled in under a juniper tree and cuddled into our sleeping bags as the wind really picked up. Our soft juniper was like a life raft in an ocean of needle-y cholla cactus and stiff Joshua trees. As the sun set on this sea of disfigured and irregular forms, their silhouettes appeared like dancers as their limbs swayed in the wind. For me there is nothing more serene and satisfying then tossing out a sleeping bag in the center of a vast wilderness with no campsite or trail to restrict your mind from wandering towards thoughts of self-reliance and discovery.
We awoke the next day and were greeted again by an outstanding sunrise. The wind was much stronger then the day before, so strong that it was hard to talk to one another. Our goal shifted towards our final destination and we hiked deliberately. A few hours later we intersected a road and not long after we made it full circle back to the truck. Wind-blown, sore, and satisfied we drove out of the backcountry and back to our home, parked and waiting, on the other side of the Preserve.