April 20, 2015

Kelso Dunes

"I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs and gleams..."  
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince 1942

The drive from Pahrump, Nevada to the Kelso Dunes offered the standard scenic, "Nevada Desert" sights. It got interesting though when we arrived in Baker, CA., crossed I-15 and jumped on Kelbaker Road. For 34 miles, the distance to Kelso Depot, this road made every effort to dislodge every brain cell from our cranium cavity, drop all overhead cabinets in the Fox to the floor and flatten anything with the name Goodyear on it. Talk about a "trial by fire" and one of Caltrans' forgotten highways.

Kelso Depot began operation in 1924 and served as a train station, restaurant, telegraph office and employee housing for Union Pacific Railroad. Then in 1994 Mojave Scenic Area passed into the hands of the National Park Service. Renovation of the Kelso Depot began in 2002 and the building reopened to the public as the new visitor center and museum for the Mojave National Preserve in 2005.

photo courtesy of Melinda Stanfield

The Dunes are located 7 miles south of Kelso Depot and then 3 miles west on a "graded, don't drive faster than 10 mph" dirt road. You can see them for miles, as creosote bush, which only conceal jack rabbits, dominate the Mojave Desert landscape. Desert Solitude. That is what you would come to expect when you venture into a 1.6 million acre park. But with over a 1,000 miles of dirt roads open for exploration and the attraction of Kelso Dunes, we did come across a "handful" of fellow desert lovers, especially when our targeted campground features the only tree(s) on this moonscape. Leave it to Dick and Melinda to find us the campsite with the One Tree by the dune. Other than some minor distractions and passerbys, we were alone.

Kelso Dunes were created over the course of 25,000 years by winds carrying sand grains from the dried Soda Lake and Mojave River Sink. Nearly 700 feet high, they are among the tallest and most extensive dune fields in the United States. And during our brief stay, they provided us a strange and unique phenomena when ever visited by hikers. They produce a cool "booming" or "singing" sound every time sand slides down the steep slopes. Sydney did not think it was that cool, but fortunately dozens of lizards kept her mostly distracted.

"Boondocking" for a few days was pretty easy this first time. But we were mentored and watched over by some awesome veterans who are capable of taking boondocking to the next level. The Arctic Fox tank holding capacities were awesome, dual pane windows and insulation kept the rig pretty snug and with our solar, batteries never got below 90%. We feel confident to experience two weeks+ without hookups for our next adventures.

A huge "highlight" of this trip was witnessing "the kids", Melinda, Carol, Dick and baby Imkelina summit Kelso Dune (Woody and I were given the stressful task of keeping the white wine chilled...so we had to return to camp). At almost 700 feet to the top and slogging through soft sand a foot deep up it's steep slope, it was no easy accomplishment for this dedicated group. They did however get warmed up by hiking over 1 1/2 miles over, down and through ravines and small sand dunes just to get to the base of that big bad boy.

Then they had a blast sliding down on their derrières, all the while initiating the booming and singing of the dunes. Naturally the belly aching dunes freaked out Sydney, so she rode down on the laps of Melinda and Imkelina, a hilarious visual that could only be interpreted as a desert hump.

"Mountains compliment desert as desert compliment city, as wilderness compliments and completes civilization." 
Edward Abbey,
"Desert Solitude"

After a brief few days together, we had to bid farewell to Woody and Carol who had to head back north. No doubt we will again be sharing a few meals, campfires, one or two glasses of wine to fuel our storied yarns. And for the rest of us, time to pack up the wagons, hook up the mules and reluctantly begin our journey home.

At Waypoint 34.925893°-115.729736°
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