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Lance Cpl. Aaron Kristopik, a paralegal clerk with the Combat Center’s Staff Judge Advocate and a native of New Britain, Conn., soaks–in the night sky April 18 night in the Mojave National Preserve as his friends cook over the fire in the background.

Photo by Lance Cpl. M. C. Nerl

Aaron’s exploits; street light to starry night

24 Apr 2009 | Lance Cpl. M. C. Nerl

Lance Cpl. Aaron Kristopik, a paralegal clerk with the Combat Center’s Staff Judge Advocate and a native of New Britain, Conn., followed up his disappointing trip to Old Dale last week with an expedition to the desert in search of scenery and solitude.

Kristopik said he felt it would be great for him mentally to get away from the stresses of everyday life and be at one with nature.

“I just wanted to get away from it all,” Kristopik said. “There’s always so much going on around me. I figured going camping and being in real, unspoiled nature would be relaxing.”

Kristopik traveled to a remote campground tucked away off of Historic Route 66 in the Mojave National Preserve.

“I had a friend who said he knew the way,” Kristopik said. “I planned on going to Joshua Tree National Park, but that wasn’t isolated enough for me. I wanted to get in serious, a place where not even my phone works.”

Kristopik said it was a lot of fun to have a few close friends tag along on one of his journeys.

“It was me and eight of my good friends,” he said. “We made our campsite and sat around the fire playing guitar, singing and we tried making sausages, but I’m not much of a cook.”

Kristopik said after the long journey, the scenery was what made the driving worth it.

“It was about an hour and a half until we got there,” he said. “The long drive was all worth it. Crystal clear skies. I’ve never seen so many stars in real life before.”

Other than the skies, Kristopik said the clean, unspoiled surroundings made the experience great.

“It was awesome, the air was so clean,” he said. “With a giant mass like Lake Bandini sitting in your back yard, you forget how nice it can be outside in the desert.”

The rules at the site make it so easy for someone to just pack up and go enjoy without planning, he said.

Kristopik admitted he doesn’t always plan things before heading out.

“It’s great, all you have to do is not litter or vandalize the place, he said. “It’s totally free to go there.”

Kristopik did do some of his homework, however, thanks to http://www.nps.gov, he was able to learn the rules about the campground and its location, along with others in the preserve.

“I looked up stuff online,” he said. “A little web surfing and I was able to find everything I needed to know, which turns out is very little.”

Kristopik said aside from the roadside camping areas there were many other places for someone to go to.

“Versatility, flexibility, just pure awesome; that’s how I would describe the array of camp sites,” he said. “Roadside camping, camping in the mountains, there’s places you have to hike for miles to get to.

“My favorite part was reading that you have to be within a certain distance of water sources,” he said. “That’s hardcore camping.”

Kristopik said he wouldn’t be able to make it without a little help.

“I did a little reading, but since I don’t have a car I had to rely more or less on friend or two, or three to get me there,” he said.

Kristopik said there were other people there, and they added to the overall pleasant experience.

“Me and some buddies were just hanging around by our fire when a few students from UCLA [University of California, Los Angeles] showed up,” he said. “Who’s not going to talk to a good looking girl in the middle of nowhere?”

Kristopik said although isolated, there were several people camping in the area who added to the overall pleasant experience.

“I’m a city guy, so it means more to me to be able to go out into the boondocks and have a good time away from the busy life I have,” he said. “It’s some good stuff out there. If anyone has the chance I would totally recommend they to head out there.”

The strange roadside attractions on the way to the camp ground added to the experience one has on the way out there, he said.

“Every time that I’m out this way I have to stop at the ‘shoe tree,’ and I actually threw some shoes in there this time,” he said. “It’s a strange phenomenon, you never know what you’re going to find out here in the desert.”

To get to the preserve from the Combat Center, take Amboy Road until it hits National Trails Highway, also known as Route 66. Take a right on Route 66 for 6  1/2 miles and make a left onto Kelbaker Road. Kelbaker will take you directly into the preserve.

The shoe tree can be found shortly after passing through the small town of Amboy, Calif., on Historic Route 66.


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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms