A number of years ago, we accidentally discovered that the week before Thanksgiving is one of our favorite times to travel. We had made a trip to Arizona to visit family and as an afterthought we decided to visit the Grand Canyon. That trip has remained one of our most memorable and special national park trips simply because we really got to connect with nature, without the crowds with nothing to distract us from the beauty of the Grand Canyon. Getting around the park was surprisingly easy, in fact everything from the roads, to parking, riding on the shuttles, eating at the restaurants and even buying souvenirs was all very “easy.” We left wishing we had more time to do all the things we still wanted to do. So, we decided that this year was as good as any to take the campervan on a Grand Canyon Part 2 trip. You know, the clock ticking on spending valuable family time with my daughter (who doesn’t listen to me and refuses to stop getting older) and all.
We decided to leave on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, spend the night at Mojave National Preserve, then make our way to the Grand Canyon to spend Monday thru Friday there. Mojave was really a quick stop to break up the drive to Grand Canyon, but boy did I underestimate how great this place was. We’ve driven by Mojave many times on the way to places and never, ever stopped here, so we were very curious to see what this place was like. We arrived at Mojave after 8 hours of driving and were so happy to finally see the park sign (off of Essex Rd exit). From there it was just 25 minutes to the Hole-in-the-Wall campground. There was a sign warning us of rough roads, so we battened down the hatches and prepared for a bumpy ride. However, we were pleasantly surprised when we found the roads to be smooth and seemingly recently paved. We encountered periodic rain on the drive to Mojave, but there was no rain in sight at Mojave, just pretty clouds. The thing about planning and traveling in November is that you never know what the weather is going to be like. The weather forecast didn’t look too good that night, predicting rain that evening and next morning, but we knew the campervan could hold up in the rain and we were itching to go camping regardless of what the weather would bring.
The Hole-in-the-Wall campground is a first-come first-serve campground ($12/night) with 35 campsites at an elevation of around 4000 ft. For a split second I did worry about what we would do if all the campsites were filled, but one look around assured me there were plenty of spaces (it was November before Thanksgiving after all). Enough sites to have plenty of space between campsites. There were mostly RVs and campervans like us, but we spotted a number of tents as well. The day time temperature was in the high 50s (°F), while the night time temperature dropped to the low 30s. Not too bad, just had to make sure we had our winter jackets on and we were pretty comfortable.
We put off getting the campervan set up for the evening and walked around the campground and the short trail to the visitor center instead. Sunset was approaching and we didn’t want to miss a second. Everything was bathed in a warm orange glow. The sky kept getting brighter, not darker, as time went on. The sky, clouds, desert landscape, and surrounding mountains all worked in harmony to put on a great sunset show for us. I wish I could have better captured the beauty of the sunsets in my photos, but that just means you’ll have to come see a sunset for yourselves. The show didn’t stop at sunset, however, the stars of Mojave’s night sky took center stage once it got dark and kept our rapt attention until it got too cold to stay outside. I have to say, I wasn’t expecting much from our stay at Mojave, I was actually thinking we would be hunkered down in the campervan keeping dry from the rain, but our one night at Mojave certainly impressed us. Mojave did a great job reminding us of how nature can be so breathtakingly beautiful!
Yes, it rained that night, pretty hard actually. The noise from the rain hitting the campervan roof woke us up. My daughter, who can sleep through anything, was back asleep in minutes, while I stayed awake until the hard rain subsided (it rained for quite some time!). At least we were warm and dry (with cell reception in the desert 🙂 ). The morning brought another different, yet beautiful feel to the desert. The campground was so quiet and mystical that I had to take a early morning walk and experience it for myself. Our only plan that day was to hike the short Rings Loop Trail, a 2 mile loop from the campground, then drive 4.5 hours to the Grand Canyon.
We started the Rings Loop Trail at around 10 am (talk about sleeping in and having a leisurely breakfast) at the end of the parking lot near the Information Center where the park ranger told us the trail started. The trail is a loop, so depending on which way you want to get through the rings portion (climb up or down), you can choose your direction. We chose to climb up, so we encountered the rings at the end of the hike and also, in our opinion, we saved the best for last.
After viewing the petroglyphs we continued on to Banshee canyon where the much anticipated metal rings are located. Banshee Canyon with all of its holes and natural carvings was pretty sizeable. I kept telling my family how mystical it all felt (remember, I was sleep-deprived). “We get it, it’s mystical” We didn’t encounter anyone else on the trail, only a couple at the end who wanted to know what the trail was like. “So much fun! You get to climb using metal rings!” They seemed convinced it was worth doing since they continued on. This Rings Loop hike was a fun morning activity before a long drive.
We’ve passed by Mojave National Preserve so many times, I can’t believe this beautiful place was here all along. Now that we know what Mojave is like, I’m sure we’ll be back, especially to catch a sunset show.
If you’re interested in our trip to the Grand Canyon see these posts: Grand Canyon National Park, How About Celebrating Thanksgiving at the Grand Canyon?, Biking the Grand Canyon Trails