Mojave National Preserve: Kelso Dunes

January 24, 2019

by Jenny Hohner

A sand dune in a desert seems out of place.  At the Kelso Dunes in Mojave National Preserve my eyes kept searching the horizon for a lakeshore.  But there wasn’t a drop of water in sight.  A place with so much sand created and moved around by wind not water.  It’s hard to comprehend sand dunes and no lakeshore when you hail from Michigan, the Great Lakes State.

We climbed the dunes mid-morning on a Thursday. Like the handful of other visitors at the site, we walked across the sandy plain toward the tallest dune — which was also the steepest.  We met a younger couple half-way up.  Molly, our Portuguese Water Dog, took them by surprise but they loved meeting her.  We were working our way up with trekking poles. They were climbing on hands and knees. They stopped to take selfies while throwing sand up in the air and opted not to continue to the top.  

It was a heart pumping hike but the view from the peak was amazing.  The steep dunes extended north into an area with smaller dunes known as the Devil’s Playground.  Off on the horizon we could see the white salt stain of Soda Lake —dry and empty of water.   We watched a train chug along off in the distance and also noticed semi-trucks moving along I-15, even though the vehicles were so far away they looked like a mirage. 

While resting at the top a French speaking woman offered to take our photo.  We stayed up there long enough to have the spot to ourselves.  We took advantage of full bars of cell service and called our parents, checked our email and looked at Instagram posts.  

Not ready to call it a day we walked along the spine of the dunes in a westerly direction for the next two hours.  The only other footprints we saw were from crows, rabbits and mice.  All the other hiker just climbed up and down the steepest dune. When we ran out of water we headed back to our van.  It was so windy in the afternoon, the outer pockets in our backpacks filled up with sand.  It was another great day on the trail.