If you go

THE BEST WAY TO MOJAVE NATIONAL PRESERVE

From L.A., take Interstate 10 or 210 east to Interstate 15. It takes less than four hours to drive to Kelso, in the heart of the preserve. From Las Vegas, it's about 90 minutes. Those who want to dip into the preserve from I-15 between L.A. and Vegas have many options, including the memorably named Zzyzx Road. Entry to the preserve is free.

WHEELS

If you have a four-wheel-drive, the Mojave has more than 1,000 miles of dirt backroads to explore. But be careful: Single-car rollovers are the most common accident in the preserve.

WHEN TO GO

Any time but summer. Winters are cool to cold, with occasional snow and bright, temperate days that are made for long hikes.

WHERE TO STAY

Other than campgrounds, there are no accommodations inside the preserve.

Hotel Nipton, 107355 Nipton Road, Nipton; (760) 856-2335, http://www.nipton.com. A hands-down classic. It's as if the fickle motel gods gathered up all the charm and character that was never put into the chain establishments on I-15 and gifted it all to Nipton. Guests can choose rooms in the hotel (with shared bathrooms and a wood-stove-warmed common area) for $79, including tax and continental breakfast, or eco-tents that stand in the open desert (eco-tents are only intermittently available). There's also a restaurant, with a similarly erratic schedule, so call to make sure there'll be a meal for you.

TO LEARN MORE

Go to http://www.nps.gov/moja or stop at the Mojave National Preserve Visitors Center in Barstow, 2701 Barstow Road; (760) 252-6100. Better yet, drive straight to Kelso Depot or Hole-in-the-Wall, where enthusiastic staff will tell you everything you need to know.