Cool Hiking in the Mojave: Kelso Dunes

WP_20150307_008Does the picture above look like the desert to you?  If so, you are technically correct…the best kind of correct.  But also, in this case terribly misguided.  The desert has all sorts of scrubby plants in it and rolling hills, and pebbles, and rocks and boulders and cacti and skittering beetles and such.  Large piles of sand?  Not so much.

Ah, but you raise a good point (trust me on this, when someone tells you that you did something well just nod and smile even if it isn’t true)…you were technically correct, and there is a pretty compelling picture of sandy deserty goodness.

This picture is from the top of the highest dune in the Kelso Dune Field, which is the largest æolian dune field in the Mojave Desert.  Not the Mojave Desert National Preserve, which represents a small portion of the desert itself, but the entire Pennsylvania sized desert.

Aeolian processes, also spelled eolian, or æolian, pertain to wind activity in the study of geology and weather, and specifically to the wind’s ability to shape the surface of the Earth (or other planets).

How large are the Kelso Dunes then?  The powers that be, over at Wikipedia, tell me that they cover 45 square miles (120 square kilometers for you metrickers).  What that means for the normal person is that it is hard to appreciate the size of the dunes from any real distance away.  Even from the parking lot at the trailhead they don’t look that big.

The hike to the top of the dune is a little more than 1.5 miles, but that took nearly an hour.  Hiking uphill in sand is laborious stuff.  I would have been interested in having worn a pedometer that calculates distance traveled based on steps.  Every 5 steps probably amounts to 3 steps of progress.

But in March the temperature is mild enough (~80F/27C) and the humidity non-existent enough to remain comfortable despite the exertion.  Press on, it is worth it.

The view from the top is pretty impressive with dunes stretching in all directions, gradually transitioning to the more familiar scrub-desert of the rest of the Mojave.


…more pictures will follow if my internet connection decides to cooperate.

To my internet connection’s credit, I am currently composing this inside of a valley tucked behind a mountain on the southern portion of Oregon’s coast.  Not exactly a lot of major cities demanding cell coverage.  So…not really a complaint, more of an observation.

But I digress…

The coolest part of the entire dune experience is that you don’t return the way you came in, you run down the face of the dune.  This is awesome for several reasons:

  1. Loop trails are always more fun!
  2. Loop trails that can only be accomplished in one direction (seriously…I doubt you could climb this) are even more fun that regular loop trails!
  3. I ran down a sand dune…I mean wow.
  4. The dunes SING

Point 4 makes the entire hike worth it, because the dunes are not just run of the mill sand dunes, but singing dunes.

From the top one can push sand off and feel a vibration as the sand falls down the slope.

While running down the slope the act of running creates the sliding sand necessary for noise and the dune really can be heard.  It is hard to describe adequately…one person compared it to a passing airplane, but that is only similar in as much a violin sort of sounds like a bag pipe.  I can see the argument if I squint really hard and tilt my head, but honestly it just isn’t that accurate.

The time it takes to return to the parking lot is far less than the time it took to hit the peak, as it is mostly downhill.  Take the opportunity to run down every single sand hill you encounter.  They won’t sing, but it is still a lot of fun!

Do know that running down sand is detrimental to the health of your shoes…my pair were never quite the same afterwards and I wound up replacing them within a week or so.  I would probably run down barefoot next time…and this is definitely a hike I’d be willing to have a next time on.

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