Sunday, March 27, 2016

Kelso Dunes: Another Playground in Mojave Preserve

First stop was Kelso Depot, the Union Pacific Railroad depot built in 1924 which was renovated and turned into the Mojave National Preserve Visitor Center on Kelbaker Road.
It’s an impressive visitor center but the ranger we asked a few questions to was about the least helpful one we’ve ever encountered.
From there it’s another 10 miles to the 45 square mile Kelso Dune field, where of course we had to trudge 1.5 miles up the tallest dune, 650’ above the desert floor.
The sand was dotted with desert primrose at the beginning of the hike.
We started late in the afternoon and there were only a few other people around, but you can see by the footprints there we many others who went before us.
My favorite part of dune hiking is looking for tracks other than human in the sand.
And nature’s artwork created by the wind.
It was a strenuous hike, but we had a good excuse to stop frequently for photos.
There are limitless ways to get to the top but we picked what appeared to be the least steep way up.
It was two steps forward and one step sliding back down the sandy slope. At this point Jim seriously considered turning around but Suzanne encouraged him to hang in there.
The final climb was easier, along a ridgeline of sand.
I’m almost there.
My hiking partners in the distance.
Once he got to the top, Jim was glad he continued on. Had he not he would have missed the best part.
At the visitor center we learned that Kelso is one of a few acoustic dunes that produce a booming sound as sand grains compress and slip over one another. A silica coating on the grains that helps them stick together also resonates when they are moved. We got to hear this strange sound first hand as we ran down the steep side of the tallest dune.
Suzanne captured our elegant descent. I may have fallen down but it sure was fun.

It was another excellent day in Mojave National Preserve, despite being able to make our own dunes out of all the sand we had in our shoes!

Suzanne strolling down the slope.


  1. This was such a fun day! Your pictures turned out nicely. I particularly like the "stencil" print.

  2. When I was at the coast a fun thing for me was watching the dunes for clues of other critters and events. The sand can tell lots of great stories if you slow down and pay attention. Have fun.

  3. I too loved seeing the tracks in the sand. Glad you all went for the climb and got to hear the dunes sing. That we did not. Yet still seemed to have enough sand in our shoes to also build dunes. Bummer you got an unhelpful Ranger. Great shots!

    1. Gaelyn, there were some beautiful chairs in the upstairs exhibit that looked just like the old Stickley Mission Chairs, leather upholstered with the leg posts through the arms. I asked him "Do you know anything about the furniture upstairs?" He glared back at me and said "I don't know ANYTHING about the furniture upstairs!" and that was the end of the conversation. Same type answers we had gotten about the hikes, Cima Dome, etc. etc. so I don't know why I bothered to ask!

  4. The tracks are beautiful. I wonder what made the second line track. Looks like a flower.
    We found hiking in the sand it twice the workout of a regular hike. The legs sure do get a workout.
    I have never heard of acoustic dunes. So interesting and what a treat to get to hear it!

  5. I loved playing in the dunes at Sleeping Bear and at the National Monument. Your pictures of them are just gorgeous. They are works of art. Being at the top is definitely worth the climb and so is running, rolling, sliding back down. What fun!

  6. Your photos really caught the feeling of hiking in the dunes. Loved the angles and the colors and framing. Really lovely. One of our favorite places but we have yet to get there this late in the year.

    1. Agree totally about the beautifully composed photos.

  7. Finding nonhuman markings is so much fun, but not hiking up...ugh! Looked like a beautiful day:)

  8. I envy the clouds you had when there... that and the low sun made for terrific shots!
    Mohave Preserve treated you well. The Depot was closed the day we were there... i guess it was still off season. Always ahead of the curve but behind the eight ball,

  9. Love all the variety you saw in the dunes! Looks like a really fun hike (despite the sand drag!).

  10. Makes me tired just seeing you guys walking in all that sand! The tracks are wonderful as are the views so worth it I'm sure. So cool that you got to hear the "sound" from the unique sand.

  11. Were you ever able to identify those tracks in the sand? one looks like a snake.

    1. The one in the middle is most likely some kind of lizard tracks. Not sure about the others.

  12. We were in Kelso in the late 80's/early 90's - when they had just acquired the train station for renovation. We donated a bit to the cause because we had always loved that area, but have not been back since. It was soooo lovely to see how it came out! Pretty much all that was there at the time was a post office that was open some of the time. Gary had a nice talk with the postmistress.

    He reminds me that we walked those dunes, and, like you, found interesting tracks to ponder. There was also a beautiful (but deceased) butterfly just lying on the sand. The resultant photograph has long since disappeared, but I remember how the sand grains sparkled around his wings. Great memories! Thanks for bring them to the fore!!! ;->

    Virtual hugs,


  13. Yep, we definitely have to make plans to get to the Mohave Preserve. Thanks for the interesting posts on this area.