The Kelso Dunes cover 45 square miles and rise 650 feet above the desert floor. What do you do with such a big pile of sand? Climb it! Even if you have hiked other dunes before, Kelso will be an interesting experience. The 3-mile round trip hike to the top features fantastic views of the surrounding dunes and peaks in Mojave National Preserve.
A concentrated trail leaves from the parking area, but dissolves away the farther you go. The wind and sand constantly reshapes the dunes, preventing the formation of a permanent trail. No matter, just aim for the summit and make your own way.
As you start up the steeper slopes, your steps will become strenuous. You will start to create small sand avalanches every time you lower your boot. Don’t be alarmed if a booming sound rises beneath your feet. This is caused by hot surface sand breaking over the colder sand below. The somewhat unique rumble know as “singing sand” actually sounds more like a low-frequency jet engine or flatulence.
Spurred on by the curious excitement inspired by the vibrations, make your way up the dune. Ridgelines and old tracks offer slightly more stable footing. As your pace inevitably slows toward the top, remind yourself that it will take you much less time on your way down, when running and sliding are highly recommended. No fee or permit is required to visit Kelso Dunes in Mojave National Preserve, so get out and enjoy!
To get to the trailhead: From Barstow, drive east on Interstate 40. Take exit 78 on to Kelbaker Road. Head north for 15 miles and turn left on Kelso-Dunes Road. Take this refined dirt road 4 miles to the trailhead.
Trailhead address: Kelso-Dunes Road, Mojave National Preserve, CA92309
Trailhead coordinates: 34.886424, -115.715783 (34° 53′ 11.12″N 115° 42′ 56.81″W)
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