Exploring the Mojave Lava Tube – Retro Post 2011

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“In a world of ancient lava fields and much more”

Saturday, March 26th 2011

On Saturday, March 26th 2011, I set off on a journey into the deep Mojave Desert with a few friends for a day of exploration. It was early Spring, the weather was perfectly cool and clouds were scattered sparsely as the sun shined brightly. The makings of a perfect road trip were underway.

“One of many extinct cinder cones which litters the Mojave National Preserve.”

Mojave Lava Tube

GPS Coordinates: 35.2163997° N, -115.7546891° W

The gang and I made our usual stop at Baker, CA for some Alien Fresh Jerky and plenty of water for the trip. Even though the weather was decent, a day out in the Mojave can still be a dehydrating experience. Our first stop along this journey would be a 10,000 year old lava tube which I have frequented in the past, but would a first for my friends.

“Ready to hike underground, the porous rocks were extremely light for their size.”

The dirt road to the lava tubes is called Aiken Mine Road, but it’s not an easy one to triangulate on since it is unmarked and there are many dirt roads which break off from Kelbaker Road as it is, so knowing where to look is very helpful. Once you find it, it’s a 4.7 mile (7.6 km) washboard/rocky road so driving slow is mandatory for keeping your suspension from rattling apart.

The trailhead starts at the small dirt parking lot and is a really short hike to the lava tubes. (1,200 ft. or 366 m)
The lava tube is not clearly marked so you have to keep an eye out for rocky holes in the ground. Just don’t try jumping down into the bigger ones because it’s roughly a 16 ft. (4.9 m) drop to the bottom and you will get hurt.

“Looking down into one of the larger holes in the ground, it’s quite a fall,”

“The surface of the extinct lava field consists of highly vesicular and rough textured volcanic glass.”

“My friend Doug analysis the weight and strength of the pumice stone.”

It was time to find the access point for the lava tube below. As we hiked further up the volcanic slope, we spotted a fabricated metal staircase footed in concrete. The access point was a collapsed portion of the lava tube. On the east end of the tube, the collapse had completely buried the entry way, but on the west end, the passage was open.

“Doug and I explored the east end of the tube which did not go very far.” 

We all headed toward the west end of the tube and had to make a subtle descent toward the entrance below. The temperature dropped to a balmy 55 Fº ( 12.8 Cº). There was a very low ceiling which we practically had to crawl under. It was just a brief section which ultimately opened up into a very large room about 120 ft (37 m) long and roughly 18 ft. (5.5 m) wide). It was large enough to park a semi truck in!

“Doug crawls through the low ceiling entry way to the big room and stands in the epic light beam.”

“My buddy Paul was entranced by the powerful light beam piercing from up above.”

There were several holes in the ceiling of this lava tube making it a natural treasure. I have been here a total of 4 times now and it never gets old. I love seeing the reaction of awe in those who get to experience it for the first time. From what I I have read on the Cima Lava fields, there are many other lava tubes remain hidden below the earth. It would be amazing to discover another tube like this nearby. The only other tube I know about is smaller and located at the Pisgah Crater which is much further south of this location.

“JoEllen, Doug, and Paul were channeling their inner Indiana Jones here…lol”

Granite Pass

GPS Coordinates: 34.8119351° N, -115.6193251° W

After we got our fill of the lava tube, we stepped back out into the sun and hit the road about 34 miles (55 km) south along Kelbaker Road. Our destination was a place called Granite Pass near a large granite boulder field. We started hiking in made some pretty good distance while minding the Jumping Cholla along the way.

“Doug and JoEllen scan the distance while navigating the large boulders.”

Nothing screams “Spring!” like Western Tent Caterpillars swarming all of the bushes in the area. These little fellas are not poisonous, they don’t bite, and will not transmit any diseases to humans, so they are pretty harmless. They are quite interesting to watch though. With the arrival of Spring, comes the resurgence of cold blooded creatures such as Mojave Green Rattlesnakes. We did our best to make sure we did not have a run in with any of those as they are highly venomous.

“This was one of hundreds of silk clusters lodged in the bushes throughout this region.”

 “This area was so beautiful, we decided to stay here for a while.”

“Paul soaks in the vast scenery from a most excellent vantage point.”

Kelso Dunes

GPS Coordinates: 34.8943549° N, -115.7067661° W

Before we ran out of daylight, we hauled off to Kelso Dunes about 9.6 miles (15 km) northbound. The dirt road to get there is called Kelso Dunes Road (Unmarked) and is another lengthy washboard type of road, so again, mind your speed. There are vault toilets at the trailhead and loads of soft sand everywhere. The hike to the top of the tallest dune is about 1.72 miles (2.77 km). It doesn’t sound like much, but when you take into account the soft sand, it feels like 2-3 times that distance. The tallest dune here rises 650 ft (198 m) above the surround desert floor which is tall enough to swallow the St. Louis Arch.

The best part about these California based dunes is that they are located in a Non OHV area unlike Glamis and Dumont. That means no off road vehicles allowed which keeps the place peaceful and serene.

“We started our hike on a flat ground that was partially sandy.”

“The texture created by the winds here really comes out during the last hours of the day.”

“It was a long way up the tallest dune but we eventually made it and were treated to a beautiful sunset.”

“The wind at the top was no joke, the gusts were up to 40 mph (64 kph)”

The way down was very fast, overall, the trip from the trailhead to the top of the sand dune and back was 2 hours and 10 minutes and 3.44 miles (5.54 km) for the roundtrip. It was well worth the physical exertion to make the ascent, the view was remarkable! Unfortunately, the little point and shoot I brought with me succumbed to the wind and dust, but it stayed alive just long enough to take some great pics and videos.

“A brief video of our hike to the top of the tallest Kelso Dune.”

“The Sunset was so outrageously gorgeous, it was a perfect way to end the day.”

Hitting up the Mojave National Preserve during the early spring is the best time to go. There is so much nature going on and the weather makes it very tolerable. I am looking forward to returning here so that I can explore much more of the underrated treasure.

Until the next travel blog, remember to get out there and “Shoot the Planet!”



©Indigoverse Photography. All Rights Reserved.


©Indigoverse Photography. All Rights Reserved.

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