Mojave National Preserve – Essex Road to Kelso Dunes (4x4 Drive)


What? : This blog describe the one hour, 13 miles 4x4 offroad drive from Essex Road (Hall-in-the-Wall) to Kelso Dunes.


Related blogs:

Mojave National Preserve – Hole-in-the-Wall

Mojave National Preserve – Kelso Dunes

Mojave National Preserve – visit planning, 2 days trip itinerary

Mojave National Preserve – Visit Planning


Where? : My off-road drive starting point was at the junction of Essex Rd., and Black Canyon Rd.

Google Map Link


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: This road cannot be done by regular car!

In some places high clearance, good tires and 4x4 drive is needed, not recommended for AWD.


Due note 3: 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 send 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 Firs-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 4: Drive with enough fuel, no gas station in Mojave National Preserve


Due note 5: 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 6: 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: Moderate difficulty to drive dirt-road. Simple to navigate, just drive straight to the mountain pass and from there to the dune’s valley below. I had fun and save me the long 50 miles road drive.


The Drive:

After visiting Hall-in-the-Wall I headed to Kelso Dunes. For that I need to drive the main road south to I-40, drive west and get back into Mojave National Preserve on for Kelbaker Rd (exit 78), drive additional 15 miles and then get to Kelso-Dune’s trailhead, this is a 50 miles long drive (one hour).

Looking at the map I saw 13 miles off-road trail that is crossing the mountain range with a straight-line, following high voltage electricity line, all the way to the dunes area.

I decided to drive it, maybe it will take the same amount of time as the paved road loop will take me but for sure I will have a lot more fun.


I did not have any information about the road conditions, even if you read something on the web a recent rainstorm can change the road conditions.

I do have many years of off-road experience but because I’m driving alone, it is only me and my car, I need to careful not to get stack. I told myself that if I encounter real challenging to cross section I will drive back and take the longer paved road drive.


Although it is only 13 miles it took me almost an hour to drive, the section that climb the mountain pass is rocky, and I tried to avoid getting flat tire.


The drive starts at the junction of Essex Rd., and Black Canyon Rd.

There is a trail that start exactly at the junction (I think it follow an underground gas-pipe), but I went 0.4-mile north on Essex Rd. until I saw the power line and a clear road to my left.

I turn left and start to drive straight toward the mountain pass at the horizon.


After 1.7 mile the power line road connect to the underground gas pipe road.


The first 3 miles of the drive are easy, and you are crossing many dry riverbeds.

The road start to climb and the river gravel and send changed into rocks, still no problem with passing any obstacles.

Looking back from here and you can see the dirt-road and the power line stretched all the way back for at list 20 miles of straight line in the valley below.


The road start to climb moderately but constantly, after 6 miles you start to get into a narrower section and the road start to climb the mountain ridge. No “drama” or major obstacle, soon you will find yourself on the ridge line crossing over to the west.

This point called Foshay mountain Pass, this is 7 miles from the starting point.


From here you can see the road continue straight west into Kelso Dunes basin.


Start driving down and after 1 miles (8 miles from your starting point), you will see a trail to your right, keep left (straight) on the main road.

From here the road cross many dry river creeks, although overall descending you will go done to a creek and climb up on the other side.

Taking this road east to west, as I did, is much easier than the opposite directions, angles are steeper going done and less challenging when going up. Good driver with 4x4 high clearance car can drive it west to east.


I did not have any issues with passing obstacles or even use 4x4 low, just good driving skills and some momentum overcome any climb.


After 13.2 miles from my starting point, I reach back to a paved road.

Here turning left will take you to I-40 (38 miles), turning right will take you to Kelso Dunes (0.25 miles to the turn left junctions) and to Kelso Depot (8 miles drive).

I turn right and headed to Kelso Dunes parking lot and trailhead


It was a fun drive with a nice desert view, overall, not difficult but heavy rains can damage the road, especially at the river & creek crossings.









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