Mojave National Preserve is a scenic wonder but it also a truly remote place. A visit here means leaving the safety net of the modern world behind!
The information that follows is not designed to scare potential visitors out of visiting the Preserve but remind everyone that traveling into the Preserve isn't to be taken lightly. Rangers want to be sure motorists understand that travel here requires specialized vehicles, equipment, and planning to avoid or recover from a mishap. Improper planning could result in getting stuck and paying a very expensive third-party towing company. The fact that you are reading this means you are the right track as you prepare for a safer visit to the Preserve. Thank you!
You are responsible for your own safety and you must be able to self-rescue
A high clearance 4x4 with tires designed for off-pavement use is the most important safety item you need. Most rescues involve vehicles stuck in the sand. Other rescue reasons include flats where rocks ripped up tires only rated for street use. Additional reasons include vehicles getting stuck in mud or high-centered on uneven road beds, or vehicles suffering some kind of mechanical breakdown.
Scroll to the bottom of the page for definitions of terms like "All-Terrain" tires, the difference between a "high clearance" and "very high clearance" 4x4, and what a "short wheelbase" is.
Recommended Safety Equipment and Supplies
Roads Risk Assessment
USE ROADS AT YOUR OWN RISK.
Potential Road Hazards
All-Terrain/Mud Terrain Tires: For full size vehicles the ideal tire is a good condition E-Range All-Terrain tire. Examples of All-Terrain tires include BF Goodrich AT/KOs, Cooper ST-Maxx tires, Firestone Destination ATs, etc. This is a tire that has a very thick rubber tread, more flexible rubber, and much stronger steel belts inside the rubber to handle driving over rocks. Load range E is equivalent to a 10-ply tire, where there are 10 layers of reinforcement in the tire. Load Range D tires are equivalent to 8-ply tread, and C is equivalent to 6-ply tread. You also want 3-ply sidewalls on your tires as the rougher roads have rocks along them that will rip open thinner sidewalls.
Rental 4x4 Warning
Rental 4x4 trucks and SUVs often come with street tires not designed for off-pavement use. Just because the vehicle is a 4x4 doesn't mean it has the right tires. Check the sidewall to see if it says "All-Terrain."
Lowering the tire pressure greatly increases traction by flattening out the tire.
Many new vehicles including pickups come with tire pressures up to 75 pounds per square inch. This is very high pressure. Many off-road motorists lower their tire pressure to 20 psi when traveling on soft sand, then fill the tire back to recommended pressure when they return to pavement. The risk with highly pressurized tires on unpaved roads are blowouts. As tires go over rocks they are so rigid from the high pressure they can't flex and absorb rocky surfaces, so instead they rupture.
High Clearance: Any factory stock full or mid-size 4x4 pickup or SUV. Running boards, step bars, and plastic bumpers can get ripped off when going over rough sections. Moderate-clearance crossover vehicles as well as some station wagons designed for off-pavement used would be considered Medium Clearance and can travel many Preserve roads so long as they are equipped with off-pavement tires.
Short Wheelbase: These are vehicles where the front and rear axles are closer together, as well as 4x4 pickup trucks with a short bed (less than 6' long) and a regular cab. Short wheelbase vehicles create a situation where the rear tires start to climb a hump in the road or obstacle before the front tires go down the other side. This lifts the center of the vehicle up and over the hump, preventing scraping.
Bumpers and Running Bars Defined
Last updated: May 2, 2021