What? : Aiken Mine Road is an 25 miles old mining road that runs across the Mojave desert. The half-day trip on the road includes several attractions: access to the Lava Tube, deserted Aiken Mine, Cow Cove Petroglyphs site and few old cuttle farmhouses.
This is 4x4 dirt road, although that for most sections it is wide and relatively well-graded and maintained, it can be sandy in few sections and rough in some spots, mainly near the Volcanic Aiken Mine at its south section.
Driving the road South to north:
If you are coming from Baker, CA (exit 245 on I-15):
Take Kalbaker Rd. southeast, drive 20 miles on the paved road until you will reach a left turn into Aiken Mine Rd (This road has a small street sign marking the intersection).
Google map link
Turn left into Aiken Mine Rd, this is a well-maintained dirt road and drive for 4.6 miles until you will reach to a fork. keeping left will take you to the nearby Lava Tube. For Aiken Mine Rd take right at the fork, from this point it is definitely for 4x4 car only.
If you are coming from Kelso Depot Visitor Center: 15 miles north of Kelso on Kelbaker Road; turn north (right) onto Aiken Mine Road.
Driving the road North to south:
Take Highway I-15 Exit 272 into Cima Rd. Immediately after passing the Shell gas station you will see the trailhead on your right.
When? : Late fall, winter and spring is the preferred time to visit the Mojave desert, summer is just too hot.
Due note 1: Water - Always take more than what you think you need, this is desert and temperature can be hot, in summer this is extremely hot environment.
Due note 2: Few notes about off-road driving:
For any long off-road driving activity, you must plan a head and know what you are doing!
Understand you’re driving abilities and your car limitations and analyze the driving conditions all the time. Think what if I need to turn around, can I make it back out.
Do not think “if I can pass it?” but rather “what I will do if I get stack?”.
Things can “just” happen, you may have flat tire or other car malfunction, you can get stack in “simple” to pass places, in mud, deep sand or river bad, the road can be un-passable, or you may even lose your way in the desert.
It is not about pride, if the road gets too rough for you, turn around!
In the event of an emergency, for un-trained people, staying with your car is probably the most important thing you can do.
Make sure you have a proper map and that you know how to navigate.
Know how to use your gear, change flat tire or how to drive in deep send or mud conditions.
Garmin satellite phone is always good to have with you for emergency and map.
Make sure you have a basic First-Aid kit and that you do know how to use it.
Do not travel cross-country or create new routes. This rule is strictly enforced; violators will receive citations. Driving in washes is not permitted.
In Mojave National Preserve, Groups of more than 7 vehicles or 25+ people require a Special Use Permit.
Important Notice: ATVs and UTVs Not Permitted in Mojave National Preserve at all!
Due note 3: Drive with enough fuel, no gas station in Mojave National Preserve
Due note 4: No cellular reception in Mojave National Preserve (you may have receptions near the main Highways). If you are using cellular map with GPS make sure you download the map in advance where you have cell reception (Wi-Fi connectivity is preferred).
Due note 5: Only few paved roads cross the Mojave Desert, most main dirt roads are in good conditions, but some may be impossible to pass after heavy rain. There are many off-road, 4x4 only trails, make sure you know what you are doing and what your car can handle safely.
Due note 6: The NP website state the following “A high-clearance vehicle is recommended. Low-clearance vehicles are not advised.” But I think that if it is not muddy than the first 5 miles drive to the Lava Tube trailhead can be done by any car.
Due note 7: There are no bathrooms, no pit toilets, and no trash cans. Please pack everything out.
Due note 8: During winter month, bring with you few warm cloths, you may get warm during the day and the hike, but you will need them once the sun is going down in a cold evening.
My thoughts: I enjoyed this half day off-road driving trip. The road was relatively simple to drive, several attractions to explore along the way and the amazing Joshua Tree Forest. Some large sections of the forest where damage in the 2020 fire but this drive will take you through large, unburned area.
Another thing that made it fun, once you are getting into the desert you will probably be the only one out there, during my half day drive I saw only one other car…
My trip was from south to north, but it can also be done the opposite direction.
I will not describe the road in detail, in general it is simple and easy to navigate with only few turns to take.
Start at Kalbaker Rd. and Aiken Mine Rd (see above how to get description).
Here you will reach a fork in the road, left will take you to the nearby Lava Tube and recommended stop on your trip.
After the Lava Tube you need to keep right (hard left when coming from the Lava Tube).
See my blog on this location.
From this point forward you will need 4x4 car.
Turn right on the main trail and climb the volcano cone, the climb is short and not so difficult for high clearance 4x4 car. This is probably the most “technical” section of the drive.
Here you will reach the open Aiken Mine, there are many things to see here.
You can drive up the mine roads, interesting mine to explore.
From here you will see to your north the Cima Dome landscape, a flat-looking but landscape dominate old volcano.
This is/was the largest Joshua Tree Forest in the world, unfortunately the 2020 fire burned huge sections of it, leaving behind skeletons of dead Joshua Trees.
From this location the road will go down into the flat desert and become sandy, but not so much difficult to drive.
This road section takes you into the heart of the Joshua Tree Forest in areas that was not affected by the 2020 fire.
At this mile point you will reach to old cow coral and water well. Not so much to see here.
At this junction you need to take left, here the road is following old wooden electricity line.
Here, on your right side you will see the large sections of the Joshua Tree Forest that was damage in the 2020 fire, all the way from this point to Cima Dome & road.
Turn left into less-maintained but clear road.
Turn right into well maintained clear main road.
Make sure to drive slow on this section and not miss the Cow Cove Petroglyphs trailhead.
At this location you will see on your left an old dirt road, the road entrance is block and you should not drive into it.
Park your car on the side of the main road.
From here 1.3-mile hike (one way) will take you to Cow Cove Petroglyphs, you can see from here, it is a black color section in the hills far in the distance.
See my blog on Cow Cove Petroglyphs.
Once coming back from Cow Cove Petroglyphs hike, keep driving east.
Here you will reach to the old farm.
There are few well-maintained deserted buildings, large water reservoir structures as well as cow coral.
At this location and trail junction make sure you are taking the right road straight at the same direction you came from.
You will reach Cima Road (paved), not so far from Highway I-15 and the Shell gas station (I-15 Exit 272).
This is the end (or your start) of the ride.
Overall, with all the stops along the way this is at list half day trip (I started as sunrise and finished around noon).
It is not challenging off-road drive, relatively easy to navigation, many things to see and explore and enjoy the Joshua Tree Forest landscape with only few other people.
An excellent Mojave Desert experience.