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Kelso Dunes and the Scientists from Zzyzx

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Panic Grass on the Kelso Sand Dunes
Panic Grass on the Kelso Dunes, the Sierra Nevadas just beyond

Allison and I drove to the Mojave National Preserve in California on Friday. Aside from camping in the most desolate and possibly most terrifying + lonesome campsite ever, we had a great time.

The Mojave Preserve is in the very southern region of the desert, but it encompasses a fairly large area, probably 80 miles or so across. It’s managed by the BLM, which always does a pretty good job of keeping up the roads. We drove into the belly of the park, down a long, narrow, red paved road flanked with miles upon miles of dense forest of Joshua Trees.

We got lost a couple of time on some slow going back dirt roads. There would be nothing for miles and miles except the abundance of rather crepuscular black tailed jack rabbits playing chicken with my tires and the occasional scary lone double wide at the end of a sandy driveway.

We finally got to our campsite around eight thirty or so, and it was pretty dark. It looked like a fire had gone through the campsite, because all the pinion-junipers were stark and black. There were little green creosote bushes growing up like phoenixes around their predecessor’s skeletons.

There were no crickets in this part of the desert, so it was so quiet we could hear the beating of wings of black desert hawks as they passed by. I sprayed around our tent to keep out the scorpions and tarantulas, and we set up camp.

We ate some cheese bratwursts and kettle chips. We kept seeing these things swoop down by us and we thought they were bats but we realized later it was the little gray desert hummingbird. We heard weird, unidentifiable bird calls somewhere in the distance, toward the mountain range just 2 miles beyond. We talked for a long while and then after the fire died out, we went to bed. We thought we were alone for miles in any direction, but we kept hearing voices.

It was hard to get to sleep, and the night seemed to get creepier by the minute. We kept hearing voices and then we thought we heard some footsteps by the tent, at which point, Allison and I spent a long, scary moment completely still, staring wide eyed at each other in anticipation of death. However, I opened the tent, and there was nothing there.

We finally got to sleep, and woke up around 7 am. We saw some people walking by us, which was surprising because we thought we were isolated from humans at like a 30 mile radius, but at least it explained the voices from the previous night. Turns out, we realized later, a few hundred yards down the road there were actually several people camping in a lush part of the campsite that hadn’t been ravaged by fire. We had to laugh at ourselves.

Our Camsite on the Barren Grounds of Midhill, in the Mojave National Preserve near Cima, CA
Our campsite, with my new tent from Eureka

We ate some breakfast and packed up camp and drove on to Kelso. Kelso was a hard place to reach, we had to drive deep into valleys and along several slow-going roads that were rickety gravel.

Kelso Depot
Kelso Depot

We reached Kelso about 10:00 or so and stopped at a little old train depot that had been converted into a museum/gift shop. There wasn’t much else in Kelso, except an old post office that seemed to no longer be in use. I didn’t see any sign of houses or anything. It was a weird little town. But we toured the museum and then drove on to the dunes.

Blackbrush on the Kelso Dunes
Blackbrush (aka Tumbleweed) on the Dune Plane

The dunes are 600 feet high, and stretch for a mile or so. You have to walk through about a half a mile of sandy stepped ground until you reach the dunes. It is hard walking through sand, especially when it’s 100 degrees.

Kelso Dunes and the Scientists from Zzyzx
Scientists from Zzyzx

We passed several scientists from Zzyzx who were recording the behavior of lizards, birds, sidewinders and other animals crawling in the sand.

Grass on Kelso Dunes
Dune Grass with what look like to be Kangaroo Rat tracks in the upper right

Well, we had a limited time frame and it was really hot, so we didn’t make it to the base of the dunes. However, we did get pretty close to them, so that was good enough for the moment. I would like to go back and spend a real day there, climbing the dunes and taking pictures on them, but that will probably have to wait until the winter, or at least the fall, when it’s a bit cooler.

Kelso Sand Dunes
View heading back to the car, away from the dunes, Sierra Nevadas in distance

Kelso Dunes

Kelso Dunes

On the way out of the park,we took a different exit, out towards Baker. The roads were so empty. It was a single two way road that crossed through miles and miles of empy desert, rocks and cacti. I saw some teddy bear cactus, which was exciting, but I didn’t stop to photograph, because I was on a time schedule. There were so few other cars on the road that I ignored the 55MPH speed limit sign and started barreling through there at about 80. Why not? It was perfectly sunny, perfectly empty, and almost perfectly straight. At one point, I even got up to 100…which was the first time that I’ve gotten going that fast. It was a little scary, because cars start to shake a little when you approach those speeds, so as soon as I saw the needle cross the 100, I slowed way down again to 80. But it was thrilling, just for a moment.

Alien Fresh Jerky
I saw this sign on the way back to Vegas, in Baker, California, where gas is $3.85 per gallon.

Currently listening to Cure for Pain by Morphine


Written by pocheco

May 28, 2007 at 8:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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