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Desert Tortoise Occasionally we're somewhere that we want to experience and explore but for various reasons don't. In this case, Mojave National Preserve where our focus is on work, ahead of Sterling attending a conference next week.

The Preserve covers a vast area in California encompassing dramatically eroded mountains, wide open valleys, dune fields, Joshua Tree forests, dry lake salt flats, remnants of previous human activity and of course the endangered Desert Tortoise.

The latter are only just emerging from hibernation and we are fortunate enough to catch a glimpse. If you look closely, you'll notice something green sticking out of its mouth; presumably breakfast after a long winter's nap. Staff at the visitors centre claim that it is the first reported sighting of the year and whatever the truth in that, it's our only one.

Zzyzx It's a landscape of tremendous variation in mood. Grey skies create a monotone appearance to the area of the Preserve around Zyzzx where the remnants of a mineral spa sit on the edge of the salt covered bed of the former Soda Lake. The spa area was reclaimed by the BLM back in 1974 when it was discovered that its owner didn't in fact own the land and it is now used as an education centre. Whilst the original spa accommodations are used to house visiting students, unfortunately the baths themselves have not been maintained.

At Zzyzx we come across a reference to the US army and camels. We first read about this last year when visiting Fort Davis in Texas and here it is again. I won't bore you with the details; in the mid-eighteen hundreds the animals were imported for use in the desert southwest and whilst they were perfect for the job the project had to be abandoned, at least partly, because the bad-tempered, spitting dromedaries scared the army's more conventional steads, the horses and mules.

Kelso Dunes We camp for a night on the edge of Kelso sand dune field, half expecting to see a string of camels appear. The clouds have lifted and in the late afternoon the steep vertical sides of the dunes are cast in shadows, accentuating their shapes as they change colour in the light of the sinking sun. Off in the distance, across the desert floor the lines and shapes of the rugged Providence Mountains become more accentuated as sunset approaches. Kelso Dunes Camp We're tucked in amongst a stand of Tamarisks, a Lesser Goldfinch serenading the end of the day, as we sit and watch the shadows lengthen and feel the warmth seep from the air. It's a beautiful place and one that we'd stay in for some days if we didn't need to dump and fill the tanks.

Our next stop is Hole-in-the-Wall campground, named for the distinctive results of erosion. Time is pressing and it's noses to the keyboards for the next few days. The clouds are building and we have a day of heavy rain, much needed in the drought-dried lands of southern California. Hole in the Wall Camp It's a novelty after so many weeks hardly seeing a drop. The views close in, the tops of the surrounding mountains and the distant desert plains disappear and we're uncharacteristically cocooned in cool moist air.

Hole in the Wall Whatever the weather, this is a wonderful area and we'll definitely be back to give it the attention it deserves. When we arrived in California in early January we thought we'd only be here for a couple of weeks but now find ourselves reluctant to leave. Sterling is flying out of Las Vegas, heading for San Francisco and a conference on the up and coming wearable devices such as smart watches and Glass. I'm heading for Red Rock Canyon and we'll meet up again later in the week.

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