Who knew the mojave desert was packed not only with nature, but with some truly Out There trivia? Some highlights of the roadside minutiae …
REAL OR VIRTUAL? Did you know that youíre driving through a video-game environment? Online searches for Mojave locations such as Primm, Nipton and Goodsprings brings up just as many images from Fallout: New Vegas, a 2010 video game, as of the actual locations. In the game, you play a courier who travels from Goodsprings to Las Vegas and eventually Hoover Dam, and you encounter characters voiced by Wayne Newton and the real owner of the Goodsprings Pioneer Saloon, Noel Sheckells (in the game, he’s Chet).
DESERT SMELL That camphor-like smell in the Mojave after storms or at dusk comes from the creosote bush, evergreen shrubs about six feet high and spaced evenly apart. You might find the smell unpleasant, but it means moisture and life for the desert dwellers. The shrubs are hardy, drought-tolerant and were a vital medicinal resource for Native Americans.
BURNS AND BUBBLES IN THE ROAD Like drummers in Spinal Tap, cars tend to spontaneously combust on I-15. If you look closely, youíll notice fire-damaged pavement near many of the emergency roadside call boxes. The marks are a good reminder of how hard your vehicle works to get you safely across the desert. Might be a good time to check those tires and top off your car’s fluids.
SNAKES! Most of us know to keep our distance from snakes, but the I-15’s Mojave region has a special treat for us: the Mojave rattler, or crotalus scutulatus. Most active after rains and from April to September, it’s an aggressive snake with one of the most deadly venoms in the Americas. You’ll need rapid treatment if you’re bitten. Don’t let children or pets poke around old burrows, rock crevices or bushes that might shelter snakes, and ask the Kelso Depot rangers about recent snake activity.
WANT TO KNOW MORE? David Darlington’s The Mojave: A Portrait of the Definitive American Desert covers the region’s people, its recent history and its chronic land-use battles. Brian Hayes’ hefty Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape, created in response to his childís questions during road trips, gives insight into the manmade objects in the desert. Bill Mann’s Guide to 50 Interesting and Mysterious Sites in the Mojave, Volumes 1 & 2, are treasured by desert explorers. History and photography buffs will appreciate Nicholas Clapp’s Gold and Silver in the Mojave: Images of a Last Frontier.
A NOTE ON SAFETY Don’t trust GPS or map shortcuts (some maps have telephone or gas-station markings that are incorrect), have a full tank of gas, carry lots of water, donít trust cellphone coverage (very limited off of I-15) and drive alertly (there are some surprising potholes and bumps on the desert roads).