Deep in the southern Mojave Desert, some twenty miles north of Joshua Tree National Park in California, lies Cleghorn Lakes Wilderness. This vast, almost 40,000-acre landscape is managed by the Bureau of Land Management that helps protect the region’s rare and exotic wildlife and natural resources.
The area gets its name because of the dry lake beds that can be found at the center of this arid wilderness. Towards the east, the Bullion Mountains, rugged and wild, rise to the sky, with some peaks reaching elevations of over 4,000 ft. Look west, and you have the vast alluvial desert slope or bajada spreading out for as far as the eye can see.
The northern boundary of this desert wilderness is marked by the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Training Base. However, the real spectacle lies at the center of Cleghorn Lakes Wilderness, when sometimes during spring, the dry lakes erupt with life in the form of colorful wildflowers that transform this largely desert and seemingly barren landscape.
Even devoid of such rare and thrilling spectacles, Cleghorn Lakes Wilderness supports a wide array of animal and plant species, many of which are unique only to this region.
Those seeking adventure and solitude will be hard-pressed to find a more remote and exotic destination for primitive camping or recreational activities than Cleghorn Lakes Wilderness.
The most traveled route to reach Cleghorn Lakes Wilderness is via the Amboy Road. The road runs north-south between Interstate 40 and Twentynine Palms Hwy. The wilderness area lies only 16 miles northeast of Twentynine Palms, California.
Amboy Road is a graveled road that leads towards the heart of this wilderness region. The region doesn’t allow the use of vehicles for exploration so if you plan on exploring this vast region, most of it will have to be on foot or horseback.
Amboy Road is a fairly well-maintained gravel route but it is still recommended to bring your 4x4s along as you are likely to encounter some rough patches along the way.
If you are looking for a more luxurious and comfortable camping adventure, you can choose to spend your nights in more modern and accommodating campgrounds found near Joshua Tree National Park. Campgrounds like Palm Springs/Joshua Tree KOA offer full-hookup RV sites and a vast array of recreational activities to keep all members of the family happy and content.
Camping is allowed at Cleghorn Lakes Wilderness for up to 14 days at a stretch. Only primitive camping is allowed on this BLM-owned and managed area. Camping facilities and amenities are non-existent for those seeking a more luxurious or comfortable camping experience.
The camping is strictly primitive and BLM encourages the setting up of campsites in already used spaces instead of using new and undisturbed sites to protect California’s fragile desert ecosystem. When camping only collect dead or downed wood for a campfire. Cutting live vegetation is not permitted. Pets are welcome.
Most outdoor enthusiasts that visit this remote and rugged region do so for their intense love for exploring nature. The best way to do that is on foot, where you can take in every aspect and every detail of this truly spectacular landscape.
The diverse terrains and geology of the landscape make for challenging hikes that take you past striking rock formations, hidden caves, steep inclines, desert vegetation, sand dunes, and dry and dusty flat-plains that can go on for miles. Make sure to pack an extra pair of hiking boots, a compass, and lots of water if you plan on hiking in this remote region of California.
Even though the landscape may look arid and barren from afar, keener eyed viewers will be able to spot plenty of wildlife that thrive in this desert valley habitat. Desert flora such as barrel cactus, smoke trees, and Crucifixion Thorn can be found spread across this vast landscape.
Amidst these rocks, sands, and sparse patches of vegetation, wildlife such as bighorn sheep, desert tortoise, coyotes, rattlesnakes, roadrunners, and a variety of other reptiles and small mammals flourish. Whether by day or night, encountering wildlife in this remote region of California is always a likely possibility.
Cleghorn Lakes Wilderness is home to perhaps some of the most amazing rock formations found anywhere in the U.S. and for that matter, anywhere in the world. Millenia of erosion caused by natural elements like wind and water have carved out natural wonders that capture and captivate the imagination of all those who visit here.
These rock formations are concentrated in a relatively small area and can be explored at length in less than a day. The many rocky caves, hidden coves, and “window rocks” also make for some truly remote and exotic camping spots.
There is no better way to explore Cleghorn Lakes Wilderness than backpacking your way through this picturesque and remote landscape. Outdoor enthusiasts can put on their hiking boots, strap on there backpack, and embark on an adventure not soon forgotten.
Exploring this vast, rugged, and remote wilderness is not easy, so make sure you pack everything you need and only camp in areas that have already been camped in before and always adhere to the seven standard Leave-No-Trace principles.
Not bringing your camera along to Cleghorn Lakes Wilderness would prove to be a real disappointment! This place offers photographers the chance to capture pictures of not just the desert valley landscape but also that of wildlife and geology that is unique to this region.
The various rock formations can leave you snapping pictures for hours on end in an attempt to get the best angle possible through a “window rock” or a spiral arch or any other weird and wonderful rock formation you happen to come across during your explorations.
Cleghorn Lakes Wilderness lies only 20 miles north of Joshua Tree National Park. This popular national park was a National Monument until 1994, when the U.S. Congress passed the California Desert Protection Act redesignating the region as a National Park.
The park is home to Yucca brevifolia or Joshua trees that are native only to the Mojave Desert and it is how it gets its name. There is a whole array of recreational activities that can be enjoyed here as well as many campgrounds to spend the night immersed in nature.