There is a lot to this long, remote road. It passes through a region where evidence abounds of prehistoric as well as historic inhabitants and travelers, from Mojave Indians to 19th-century soldiers who endured one of the West’s most inhospitable postings. Once known as the Government Road, the mostly single-lane road follows an ancient route that links a series of desert springs between the Colorado and Mojave rivers. The old Mojave Trail was used first by American Indians, then by Spanish padre Francisco Garcés in 1776, followed by trapper-explorer Jedediah Strong Smith in 1826 and a government surveying party in 1854 that was searching for an east-west railroad route. With the establishment of Fort Mojave later that decade, the old trail evolved into a road for freight wagons, the military and stagecoaches. Small military outposts, such as Fort Piute, were located at springs along the way. But with the arrival of the railroads in the 1880s, much of the Government Road fell into disuse and was forgotten. Mojave Road historian Dennis G. Casebier, author of the definitive history and driving guide Mojave Road Guide: An Adventure Through Time, and the group Friends of the Mojave Road have, however, revived interest in the old trail. Natural features include such rare desert wildlife as the disappearing desert tortoise, basin-and-range-type panoramas, vast forests of Joshua trees, assorted cacti, perennial springs, a dry (one hopes) ancient lakebed, and the year-round Mojave River. Topographic anomalies include Kelso Dunes; Cima Dome, a 75mile-square-mile blister in the earth’s surface; and the 300-foot-high walls of Afton Canyon, thought to have been created when Pleistocene Manix Lake drained through a rift in the earth caused by an earthquake 15,000 years ago. Human history is recalled at numerous prehistoric rock-art sites, abandoned homesteads, the crumbling remains of Fort Piute, and rustic Kelso Depot, an old railroad station that today serves as MNP’s visitor center. If you have time for a detour, you can visit Mitchell Caverns State Natural Preserve as well.
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