Stipulated: the perfect travel time for a three-day weekend getaway is four hours. More, and you waste your vacation. Less, and you’re still near home. Hence our series, The 4hr. Rule, dedicated to revealing the best destinations that are far away, yet still close to home.
Planning for a November camping trip? Go to the newly reopened Mitchell Caverns in the Mojave Desert.
Gear: SOG Shovel and Camp Axe
Your correspondent recently tested SOG’s camp axe and folding shovel while road-tripping around California (more on that to come), and found both of them incredibly useful. The axe has a flat, hard base he used to hammer tent stakes into the ground. You’ll find that helpful when confronted with the desert’s hardpack. And the shovel proved useful for fanning flames, putting them out, and with digging our trailer out of trouble. These guys are sturdy, lightweight and fit nicely in your backpack.
Eat: The New Camp Cookbook
The best way to cook in the woods? Prep as much as you can ahead of hitting the road. There’s literally no food worth stopping for in the Mojave area, so plan for picnic lunches. For that, check out The New Camp Cookbook, an incredibly helpful tome that shows you how to prep and pack a cooler and make some delicious dishes. Our favorites: egg-in-a-hole grilled cheese, skillet scones, Thai quinoa salad, campfire pizza and whiskey-spiked sweet tea (natch).
The Mojave Desert will have cooled from its summer highs by November, and hopefully it’ll get some rain. The last time we ventured into the area it rained the night before, causing a short-lived bloom of desert plants that was stunning.
Campground: Mid Hills Campground
Mid Hills Campground is great because it’s a mile above sea level, providing a nice cool evening. It has some trees around it, which is good for hanging hammocks, trash bags, you name it. You’ll see a lot of stars, so plan to bring binoculars or a telescope. And you can have a fire, so plan to cook over the flames.
Do: Mitchell Caverns (REOPENING NOV. 3)
The Mitchell Caverns have been in operation since before our states were united. The Chemehuevi people used to hide out here, and they’re still home to skunks, rattlesnakes and Townsend big-eared bats. From 1937 until a few years ago, the caverns were open to visitors. After a brief hiatus, they’re reopening with extensive renovations, including the addition of LED lights that better illuminate the limestone walls, jagged stalagmites and sparkling crystals. Tours will be done by the Friends of Mitchell Caverns, and you can learn a bit more about the history here.