Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Wildderness Immersion: Camping at Hole in the Wall

This is not a hiking post. It is about our camping experience in the Hole in the Wall campground and the flora and fauna we saw there, because there are already many photos in the Rings Loop trail post :-)  
All the photos in this post were taken by Papa Quail and me in the campground area. 
Sunrise at Hole-in-the-Wall campground

Dates: November 29-31
Place: Hole in the Wall campground, Mojave National Preserve, California
Coordinates: 35.04551, -115.39361

The mesa east of the campground
Hole in the Wall campground is in the south tip of the Providence Mountains In Mojave National Preserve, just 1/4 mile from the information center there. It is a primitive campground with well-spaced sites. We were told that Thanksgiving was their busiest time of the year but when we got there late on Thanksgiving Day afternoon, it was far from full. And it did not fill up at all while we were there.
Desert Sage (Salvia dorrii)
We were warned that it will be cold there. That was true enough. Desert nights, particularly in high grounds (over 4000 ft where we were) can be very cold indeed. The moment the sun set, the temperatures dropped. Since at this time of year sunset is about 5:00 pm, that left us with about 3 hours of darkness and chill to keep the children busy and happy until dinner was ready and until it was time to hit the sack. Sitting around the campfire wasn't enough and art activities we brought for them turned out to be very useful indeed.

Desert Sage (Salvia dorrii), close up
Other than early nightfall, cold nights also require appropriate planning. Unlike camping in mild weather, where one can get away with bringing mediocre equipment, having suitable equipment can make the difference between a good experience and a really miserable one when it comes to cold nights.  We were well equipped and had a very good camping experience there.
Pleuraphis rigida
As far as deserts go, Hole in the Wall area is rich with vegetation. There is surprisingly little bare ground there: various shrubs, cacti and yucca plants cover most of it. I was surprised to see how many of them were blooming so late in November.
A DYC I wasn't able to identify
Some, of course, were already fruiting.
Coyote Melon (Cucurbita palmata)
As rich as the area is with vegetation, it was also rich with wildlife. We've seen there cottontail rabbits and jack rabbits and squirrels.
Jack Rabbit
And many, many birds too.
Black-throated Sparrow
Papa Quail had walked around the campground with his camera and documented many of them, of which I post the nicest ones. Still, I was disappointed not to have seen a roadrunner on this desert trip.  Next time, perhaps.
Cactus Wren
One of the reasons I enjoyed so much camping there was the silence. No traffic, no partying neighbors, no banging on tin cans to scare away bears. Just blissful silence (with occasional coyote howling, but that's ok).
Another thing I absolutely loved about it was the STARS! We were there on moonless nights and I got to observe the night skies without the light pollution that drowns the stars in the Bay Area. After the chikas and Papa went into the tent for the night I took the time to slowly wash the dishes, pack everything in the car and enjoy the solitude, silence and the amazing desert night skies. I wouldn't switch this experience, cold and all, with any fancy resort in the world!

We don't have the right equipment for night photography, so I don't have a photo of the pretty constellations that decorated the sky. Papa Quail, however, had taken this twilight photo of Venus, shining over a darkening butte, as beautiful as the goddess after which it is named.
Sunset and Venus

Many thanks to members of the California Native Plant Society for their help in identifying plants!

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