Trona Pinnacles Weekend Trip

Tufa Towers near Ridgecrest, California

by Lara Hartley

Cars can drive into the bowl-like area at Trona Pinnacles to camp primitive-style amidst the tufa towers.

On a hazy winter day, unique cathedral-like shapes float above a coppery layer of atmospheric dust with no apparent connection to the desert floor — part mirage, part reality.

Captain Kirk was suspicious of the appearance of ‘God’ here. Mark Wahlberg crashed his space ship here on the planet of talking apes. And Jack Robinson flew by a pitted monolith in search of his daughter Penny.

More than 500 tufa columns erupt from the Searles Dry Lake basin giving the area its otherworldly appearance, making it the perfect location for science fiction movies.

Mike Smith, 19, of Ridgecrest, celebrates his climb to the top of one of the tufa towers.

Scenes from “Star Trek, The Final Frontier,” the remake of “Planet of the Apes” and “Lost in Space” are only a few of the movies, TV shows and commercials filmed at this remote site in the Mojave Desert called Trona Pinnacles.

The pinnacles are located eight miles south of Trona, 20 miles from Ridgecrest in Kern County. Visitors have a wide variety of activities available at this unique landmark. Hiking, picnicking, photography and geologic sightseeing are all encouraged by the Bureau of Land Management which oversees the area. Only primitive camping is allowed, as there are no developed sites.

Teenager Mike Smith and his friends decided on a balmy winter day to “follow a dirt road out of Ridgecrest — and we ended up here.” Here turned out to be the top of one of the towers.

Scientists have determined hot springs rich in calcium bubbled up under Pleistocene era Searles Lake; mixed with lake salts and alkalines creating calcium carbonate which bonded with algae and formed the tufa pinnacles. Over thousands of years, the lake dried and the columns grew up to 140 feet tall, covering 15 square miles.



According to online encyclopedia Wikipedia, there are three distinct sets of formations, categorized by age and elevation. The groups are dubbed the northern, middle, and southern groups which formed during three ice ages. There are four tufa forms: Towers — taller than they are wide, 30 to 40 feet tall. Tombstones — stubby and squat, 20 to 30 feet. Ridges — massive toothy tufa ruins. (Trona has three ridges — one ridge is 800 feet long and 500 feet wide and 140 feet tall.)

The unique landscape of the Trona Pinnacles consists of more than 500 tufa (calcium carbonate)
pinnacles rising from the bed of the Searles Dry Lake basin.

Designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1968, the Pinnacles are located within 3,800 acres of Federal property managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

They are inside a BLM Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) designed to protect and preserve unique resources.

On the highway between Trona and Ridgecrest are "Fish Head Rocks" originally called "Whale Heads." I think they look more like sharks.

On the highway between Trona and Ridgecrest are "Fish Head Rocks" originally called
"Whale Heads." I think they look more like sharks.


Other Photo Stories by Lara Hartley

St. Andrews Abbey: A World of Wonder
Cassini Call Home: Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex
Birthday Road Trip: Route 66
Ludlow for Lunch


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