Thursday, February 19, 2009
KELSO in the heart of the Mojave, used to be an important train depot on the Las Vegas to Los Angeles route. In the thirties this was a great looking building where you could chow down at a restaurant, sit in shade (always important in the Mojave) or just enjoy a cold beer while waiting for your train. We first visited Kelso in the early '90s when the building was in disrepair. Closed for years, you could look in the windows, peek in the doors which sometimes were slightly ajar, or rest in the shade while your car cooled off. Signs proclaimed that Kelso was going to be the visitor center of the Mojave National Preserve with an opening date of several months ago. Apparently the funding was slow to come, and we all got tired of the promises over the years. Kelso became kind of a joke; whenever anyone went through the Mojave we'd ask "Is Kelso open yet?" The answer, inevitably, was no.
Then a couple of years ago, well into the new millenium, the miracle occured. Kelso was finished. My daughter and I routed a trip to Joshua Tree through the Mojave, out of our way, just so we could finally say we'd been to Kelso. When we got there it certainly lived up to expectations. Very sparsely visited, it was big, cool inside, and informative, everything a visitor center should be. The rangers did such a good job of selling the beauty of their park that we changed our plans and spent the remainder of our trip in the Mojave, at an area called Hole-In-the Wall, which evoked memories of Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch, but actually was inhabited only by range cattle who wandered placidly through our campsite looking for edibles. The aforesaid Holes are naturally occuring gas pockets which exploded centuries ago creating hand holds for climbers. Even at my advanced age I was able to do some climbing. My advice is go in high summer when you can experience the Mojave in its natural state: HOT! It's a great place, not my favorite desert perhaps, but one of the Great American Deserts.