Want to climb around on some sand dunes, surrounded by the solitude of the Mojave Desert? You’ll find some towering dunes on the south side of the Mojave National Preserve that are fairly easy to access, and provide some great views of wind-sculpted silica. Views are probably best at sunrise, and not quite as great at sunset — as you’ll see below.
Mojave National Preserve is sandwiched in between Interstate 15 and Interstate 40, in southern California, east of Barstow. The Kelso Dunes are located south of the visitor center at Kelso, on the southern side of the preserve. From Kelso, take Kelbaker Road south to a marked side-road, then go 3 miles to the trailhead.
My day was winding down, and I still needed to get to Barstow for the night, but I couldn’t resist one more excuse to hike. I also thought I might catch some dramatic sand dune shadows and a nice sunset. The Kelso Dunes were on my way, and the timing seemed right, so I drove out to the dunes and started walking.
I quickly figured out that, to be properly enjoyed, the Kelso Dunes would require more time than I had, or that the setting sun would allow. From the parking area, it’s at least a 15-minute walk to get to an interesting point at the edge of the dunes, and probably another half-hour to reach the top of them.
I did spot some nice flowers blooming along the path…
… but I was getting discouraged by the angle of the sun. The dunes are positioned in a southwest-to-northeast orientation, and I was on the southeast side. In other words, I was in the shade.
I hiked quickly, but it didn’t take long to realize that I wasn’t going to be able to reach the sunny side of the dunes. If this were early morning, and the sun was rising, everything would be perfect. I’d be in the right place.
I still found a few nice places to take pictures…
… and the sunset was pretty nice.
On the walk back to the car, the horizon was beautiful…
… and so were Granite Peak and Silver Peak to the south…
… and some other mountains to the east.
I’d suggest planning a couple of hours for a nice hike on the Kelso Dunes. Any time during the day would be fine, but for photography, early morning will probably be better than late evening — unless you have enough time to get onto the “other side” of the dunes (and don’t mind hiking back in the dark).
Here’s a look at the time-lapse video of the drive through Mojave National Preserve: