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Mon, Nov. 18

Column: ’Tis the season for desert hiking
'Hiking Arizona'

Ted Johnson enjoys hiking in the desert as much as he does more 'scenic' locations.

Ted Johnson enjoys hiking in the desert as much as he does more 'scenic' locations.

Claudia asked, “Why hike in the desert?” Like any nature lover, she associates a more positive outdoor experience with green landscapes because they foster a feeling of refreshment. Where there is greenery, there is also water: creeks, fountains, lakes, or waterfalls. Of course, plants and animals crowd into these places too. These sites are soothing and relaxing. They nourish us in body and soul. Most of the hikers in Arizona are from such places. But, welcome to Arizona, as in “arid zone.”


As a native of Arizona, I am quite familiar, hence comfortable with being uncomfortable. That is, hiking in harsh, stark, and austere environments. One thing I especially like about desert hiking is the openness. The bright sunshine, clear skies, and obstruction-free panoramic views foster a feeling of being free, unconstrained, and boundless.

Another thing I like about desert hiking is the dramatic landscapes. Craggy peaks seem to shoot skyward like jagged rockets out of flat basins and valleys. The colors are bold. The lines up the cliffs are clean and well-defined. They seem to dare me to rise higher. It’s challenging. It’s inviting. Additionally, deserts have traditionally played a vital role in purging the landscape and the ones living there of impurities. Clutter simply burns up or shrivels up and blows away. You are left with only simple places where the clutter has been destroyed by being killed off. All that remains is what is essential and very tough. If you can endure these places, then you are probably smart or tough or both. If you actually like them, well that’s another story.


I had never been to the Mojave Preserve, but noticed this spot on regional maps: a patch of green, denoting a scenic area between Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Park. How do you research a hiking destination you have never been to? Guidebooks? Word of mouth? Online? I got on the Web where the National Park Service provides official information on the Preserve. Online information is probably more current, hence preferable over print sources.

The managing agency’s information is probably more reliable too than other sources on the Internet. I found three possible day hikes for the timeframe I had available. The Mojave Preserve is north of I40 and south of I15 west of Needles California. There are no fees to enter the Preserve and well-maintained roads provide access to these three hikes: Kelso Dunes, Teutonia Peak, and Barber Peak. Due to space limitations, I will focus on the Barber Peak hike but include all three in the hiking directory I produce.


In the heart of the Preserve is a Visitor Center and campground at the base of Barber Peak. Most of the official hiking trails in the Preserve stay off the highest peaks. The official trails are short and focus on low peaks or, as in this case, circle the peak at its base.

Nevertheless, this trail is 6 miles and includes some curious “climbing” with the help of some rings that have been anchored in the rock to serve as handholds. The geology is fascinating and the terrain is classic Mojave Desert

Currently, evidence of fires and floods illustrate the awesome power of nature to transform landscapes. All in all, it’s an eye-opening experience and if you could only do one hike here, this would be my recommendation.

Next: hiking in the Sonoran Desert.

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