Explore Utah's Mojave Desert Country
Snow is falling and it is a chilly 21 F as I write this, sitting in my office in Provo, Utah. Snow conditions are great at the nearby ski resorts. But I'm dreaming about sunshine, remembering how warm the sun felt on my bare arms as I explored the warmest part of Utah over the weekend.
St George, in southwest Utah, is famous for its mild winter weather. But the warmest temperatures in the state are found a little farther to the west, along the Beaver Dam Wash, where the Mojave Desert pushes up into Utah. The point where the wash crosses the Utah/Arizona border has an elevation of about 2,200 feet. That's about the same elevation as Las Vegas, and about 300 feet lower than St George, so the Beaver Dam Wash area gets Vegas-like weather (slightly warmer than St George).
What is there to see in the Beaver Dam Wash area? Not much, unless you like cacti. The Joshua tree, trademark of the Mojave Desert, grows tall and proud along the wash. So do barrel and chollas cacti. The area is stark, desolate, remote, rugged... In short, it is my kind of country.
The Mojave is a high desert. In winter nights are usually cold and days are mild. It is probably close to 50 F today - perfect weather for hiking.
Before I-15 was pushed through the Virgin River Gorge, Old Highway 91 was the major route west from St George. Today it is a scenic backroad that crosses the Beaver Dam Mountains and dives into Utah's Mojave Country. A dirt track, called the Joshua Tree Road, loops below Hwy 91. In years past it wound through a beautiful Joshua tree forest, but vegetation in that area was destroyed by a major brush fire a few years ago and the desert is just starting to recover. Joshua trees are slow-growing and it will be many years before the forest returns.
We had to probe deeper into Mojave country to find substantial stands of Joshua trees. We drove the dirt Eardly Road and Indian Springs Trail along the east side of Beaver Dam Wash to get the photos that illustrate this report. Both roads have steep spots and we encountered plenty of mud. We definitely needed high-clearance 4-wheel-drive on our trip. During drier months a 4X4 may not be needed.
Most people don't visit southwestern Utah just to explore the Beaver Dam Wash area. You come to visit the National Parks or play golf. (February and March are ideal months to hit the links around St George, before they become crowded in April.) But I enjoy solitude and stark beauty and so I recommend the Beaver Dam Wash area as a pleasant day trip.
Note: There are no services - no gasoline, food or water - in the Beaver Dam Wash area of Utah. If you go, bring along a good map, emergency gear and plenty of food and water.
- Dave Webb