Mojave National Preserve
This unique and isolated dune system rises more than 600 feet above the desert floor. The dunes were created by southeast winds blowing finely grained residual sand from the Mojave River sink, which lies to the northwest. The dunes' color is created from many golden rose quartz particles. When the dry sand grains slide down the steep upper slopes, a notable booming sound is produced. In some years, the dunes offer a nice spring wildflower display. A hike to the top and back takes approximately two hours. The area is closed to vehicles.
This extraordinary dune system has an unexpectedly mysterious history. Huge amounts of sand were needed to build Kelso’s delicate wind-created sculptures, but geologists studying the Preserve discovered that no new sand is moving in to replenish the dunes. Where did the sand originally come from? What made it stop accumulating? The Kelso Dune sands remained a mystery until very recently.
By studying the mineral composition and shapes of sand grains that make up Kelso Dunes, we know that most of the sand has traveled all the way from the Mojave River sink east of Afton Canyon (map). Wind blowing from the northwest gradually carried the sand southeastward. In the path of the prevailing winds lie the Providence Mountains and the pink pinnacles of the Granite Mountains. The rocky crags and sloping fans of the two ranges block the moving sand. Sand piles up at the base of the mountains and along their flanks, forming dunes and sand sheets.
Where the sand piles up researchers found that the dunes are actually made up of several sets of dunes, stacked one on top of another. Each set formed in response to some past climate change! The Kelso Dunes depend upon times when the sand grain (sediment) supply is enhanced. This happens whenever the climate is dry enough to expose the raw material of dunes, sand, to the wind. In fact, most of the eastern part of the Kelso Dunes formed when water-filled Soda Lake and Silver Lake dried up, exposing the lake bottom sediment. The entire dune system was stacked up in five major pulses over the past 25,000 years.
Plants move in:
Over the past few thousand years plants have progressively covered and stabilized areas once covered by drifting sand. As you explore the dunes look for tracks left behind by the many creatures that call these dunes home.
For a Book and Map of the area see our
Mojave National Preserve Introductory Package
Other locations to visit in Mojave Desert
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Joshua Tree National Park - Black Eagle Mine Road Video - Beginning 6.5 miles north of the Cottonwood Visitor Center, this dead-end dirt road runs along the edge of Pinto Basin, crosses several dry washes, and then winds up through canyons in the Eagle Mountains. The first 9 + miles of the road are within the park boundary. Beyond that point is BLM land. Several old mines are located near this road.
Ocotillo Wells - Are You Riding Your ATV Over Gold? One of the most famous prospectors of the time, trapper/gold seeker "Pegleg Smith" traveled through the Anza Borrego region. It's rumored he discovered black gold somewhere in the east part of the Park. Where he found his gold has never been discovered, or if it has, the location has never been published or verified.
Randsburg, Living Ghost Town Video
Randsburg, California is located southwest of Ridgecrest, just off of Highway 395. Gold was first discovered here in 1895 at the Yellow Aster Mine. The mines of the area have produced over one million ounces of gold. Today the gold mining activities have been replaced by tourists shopping for antiques, part-time prospectors, and off-roaders looking for food and a rest stop.
Road Trips Videos
Exploring Route 66 - Historic Mohave Desert Sites
Amboy Road at Sheeps Hole Pass looks into the big basin of Bristol Dry Lake, which was covered by the sea about four million years ago. Across the salt lake, Amboy Dry Crater rises in the distance. The town of Amboy dates back to 1858; it became a critical gas and rest stop on Route 66 after World War II. When I-40 bypassed it in 1972, Amboy almost became a ghost town. Follow the DesertUSA team as they revisit old Route 66 in the Mohave and take a look at some historic sites along the way.
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