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HIKING

Cima Dome Highlights East Mojave

April 18, 1993|JOHN McKINNEY

Bordered by Interstate 15 to the north, Interstate 40 to the south and U.S. 95 to the east, the 1.5-million-acre East Mojave National Scenic Area stretches from Barstow to Needles and the California state line. Don't let its freeway boundaries fool you: Beyond the highway lies a desert land that invites exploration.

Within this "lonesome triangle" is another equally lonely triangle bordered by Kelbaker Road, Cima Road and I-15. This region is highlighted by the distinct geologic formation of Cima Dome, a mass of once-molten rock, and the world's largest Joshua tree forest.

While the diverse sandscapes of the East Mojave are unknown to most motorists zooming along I-15 on their way to Las Vegas, who may see this desert as nothing more than a vast wasteland, the lack of recognition may soon end.

Legislation to create Mojave National Monument and place the East Mojave under National Park Service protection is expected to pass Congress this year.

To learn more about the East Mojave, I-15 travelers should consider stopping in Barstow at the California Desert Information Center. Natural history displays, maps, books and touring information can be found at the center, which is reached by the Central Barstow exit.

Cima Dome is one of the easiest East Mojave sights to reach, yet it's not a geologic formation that you can really see from close up; the dome slopes so gently, it's best viewed from a distance.

Two places to get the "big picture" of Cima Dome are from Mid Hills Campground and from I-15 as you drive northeast of Baker and crest a low rise.

The dome is a mass of once-molten monzonite, a granite-like rock. Over thousands of years, it has been extensively eroded and now sprawls over some 75 square miles. It measures more than 10 miles in diameter.

Another distinctive feature of the dome is its handsome rock outcroppings--the same type found in Joshua Tree National Monument to the south.

The word to remember about Cima Dome is symmetry . A geological rarity, the almost-perfect dome has been called the most symmetrical natural dome in the United States.

Symmetry is also a word used in conjunction with the area's other natural attraction: the Joshua tree. Botanists say Cima's Joshuas are more symmetrical than their cousins elsewhere in the Mojave.

Cima's Joshua trees are measurably tall--some more than 25 feet high--and several hundred years old. Collectively, at an elevation of about 4,000 feet, they form the world's largest and densest Joshua tree forest.

In April, the Joshuas burst into bloom, adding clusters of white flowers to their already photogenic forms.

The mellow, two-mile Teutonia Peak Trail, which begins at the signed trail head just off Cima Road, meanders through the Joshua tree forest and ascends to a lookout over Cima Dome. From the lookout, it's a quarter-mile scramble over rocks to the top of Teutonia Peak (elevation: 5,755 feet).

A spring weekend in the Cima Dome area could be ideal: a hike plus an exploration of other nearby natural attractions such as Hole-in-the-Wall, a twisted maze of red rock, and Cinder Cones. You can camp at the Bureau of Land Management's very pleasant Mid-Hills or Hole-in-the-Wall campgrounds, or head for Hotel Nipton, a Southwestern-style bed and breakfast inn a few miles off I-15 in the town of Nipton, on the way to Las Vegas.

Take a hike with John McKinney's guide, "Walk Los Angeles: Adventures on the Urban Edge" ($14.95). Send check or money order to Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Dept. 1, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

East Mojave Desert: Cima Dome, Teutonia Peak Trail Where: East Mojave National Scenic Area. Distance: 4 miles round trip. Terrain: A geologically rare symmetrical dome. Highlights: The world's largest, densest Joshua tree forest. Degree of difficulty: Easy to moderate. Precautions: Prepare for high temperatures; carry plenty of water. For more information: Contact the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, 101 Spikes Road, Needles, Calif. 92363, (619) 326-3896.

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