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By Mel Makaw
contributing writer 

Two more winter walks

Day Trippin’ with Mel


March 16, 2024

The weather this winter has been iffy, mostly rainy and cold. But if you can find a nice day in the forecast, this is a great time of year to stay active and take a winter walk in some of the lower elevation, desert locations, as I've noted before in this space. Here are some more suggestions to do just that:

The California City Desert Tortoise Preserve is one of my favorite places to take a winter or spring stroll. I've been there several times over the years as it is a peaceful desert park/landscape full of interesting plant and animal life. I do recommend going in the winter, spring or fall months to avoid the heat of summer (it is suggested that if you want to see the tortoises being more active in summer, the best time to go is right before or after a thunderstorm). I like going in the cooler weather as that is the season the tortoises are supposed to be most active, however I have yet to spot one in the wild.

This time of year, it's not unusual to see wildflower ground cover (tiny goldfields) all over the desert floor, or blooming rabbitbrush, even if you don't spot a tortoise. There are over 200 species of annual and perennial plants that flower in the Preserve, which provide food and shelter for the desert dwelling wildlife. As many times as I have been there, I always seem to learn something new about the desert and its many living organisms.

There is no charge to enter the Desert Tortoise Preserve, and usually a ranger intern is on the premises to answer questions. The trails are marked well and are mostly flat but a bit sandy and rocky. The whole area is very primitive but there is an accessible bathroom and information gazebo.

If you go, take the 58 East to the 14 North, then take the California City exit, which puts you on California City Blvd. Follow that to the far east side of town, then turn north (left) at the stop light onto Randsburg-Mojave Road. Follow the signs to the Tortoise Preserve – past Borax Bills – which will include a good 4-5 mile stretch of dirt road (still named Randsburg-Mojave). At the entrance to the Preserve, follow the one-way half-mile dirt loop/road into the parking lot.

In Lancaster, the Prime Desert Woodlands Preserve is a little gem in the middle of the city, established to teach visitors about the flora and fauna and geology and history of the area. There are three miles of well-groomed and accessible trails through the acreage, complete with information boards and tags so you know what you're looking at.

The Elyze Clifford Interpretive Center is also located there, which is a small museum only open on Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays (10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and well worth a visit if you can go during their open hours).

The walking trails at the Woodlands Preserve are open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and while you're there in the middle of the Joshua trees and other flora, you'll forget you're in the middle of a metropolitan area.

If you go, the easiest way to get there is to take the 58 East to Mojave, then jump on the 14 South to Lancaster. Take the Avenue L exit in Lancaster and go west (right) all the way to 35th Street West. Turn north (right) on 35th and in a few blocks the entrance to the Preserve will be ahead to your left. The Preserve is located at the intersection of K-8 and 35th St. West (43201 35th St. West).

The whole area is wheelchair and stroller accessible, with outdoor porta potties and nice, wide, mostly flat trails. No dogs (not even on a leash), no alcohol. No bicycles. Great for running or walking. Trail maps are available in the interpretive center. The preserve and the interpretive center are free of charge, but of course, as is true of most free places like this, donations are always welcome.

© 2024 Mel Makaw. Mel is a local writer and photographer and avid day-tripper; she welcomes your comments, questions, and suggestions at


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