Just north of China Lake Naval Weapons Center is a tiny little wilderness area called the Coso Range Wilderness. It’s small, around 50,0o0 acres, with limited access (4WD desert road/old mining road). There are no facilities, no signs, no visitor center. It’s not a place to stop and gawk at nature from paved RV-sized pullouts – for that, continue on a few miles to Death Valley.
However, if you want a remote place to enjoy a night of desert car camping or a solitary hike, it’s great. Quiet, relatively quick to access from pavement (though high clearance/4WD might be necessary depending on conditions), with a variety of things to see and do. Old mining cabins, lovely canyon hikes, some classic desert peak scrambling, and wild horses are some of the few things in the Coso Range Wilderness.
One great thing about this area is the ability to see some of the famous Coso Petroglyphs without having to go on one of the prearranged tours via the NWC. In Centennial Canyon you’ll find some of the distinctive sheep glyphs that the Coso Petroglyphs are known for. They aren’t quite as abundant as the sites within the boundaries of the Naval Weapons Center, but they are quite amazing on their own.
Over Memorial Day weekend we spent a night in the Coso Range Wilderness including an evening hike to the glyphs (it was too hot to hike to them during the day). The hike is a really nice one, and short – about four miles round trip. We saw lots of desert wildflowers and plenty of wildlife (including an angry badger).
Rather than include all of the details about this hike, I am being a bit vague since a lot of the fun is figuring out where they are on your own. Here are more pictures of the glyphs we found (along with the great views and flowers of the Coso Range Wilderness)