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Kelso Sand Dunes

Mojave National Preserve

Mojave Desert, California

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Kelso Sand Dunes

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  • Natural beauty of the desert dunes.- Kelso Sand Dunes
  • Impressively large dunes in the Kelso dune field.- Kelso Sand Dunes
  • Beginning the hike up the big dune.- Kelso Sand Dunes
  • Reaching the summit takes some real work.- Kelso Sand Dunes
  • Climbing the ridge feels almost like an alpine endeavor.- Kelso Sand Dunes
  • Nearing the summit of the biggest dune.- Kelso Sand Dunes
  • Rainshower moving in across the Mojave.- Kelso Sand Dunes
  • The best part! Running down the big dune.- Kelso Sand Dunes
  • A fall can be dangerous, so be careful.- Kelso Sand Dunes
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Huge "booming" sand dunes. Short or long hiking options.
Cons: 
Summer heat. Rather remote.
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Region:
Mojave Desert, CA
Congestion: 
Moderate
Pets allowed: 
Yes
Parking Pass: 
Not Required
Preferable Season(s):
Winter, Spring, Fall
Current Local Weather:
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Adventure Description

Adventure Description

Pro Contributor

Kelso Dune Field is the largest single area of wind-blown sand dunes in the Mojave Desert. The highest dune rises to over 600 feet above ground level, and many other sand summits in the central ridge are nearly as tall. Smaller dunes are spread out across an area of 45 square miles.

These are "booming" dunes, named for a strange acoustic phenomenon that occurs at only a few dune fields around the world. When the wind blows just right, the reverberation of millions of cascading sand particles create a low rumbling noise, which is sometimes quite loud. It is believed that this happens due to a particular combination of slope gradient and sand composition, but it has not been totally explained.

A few miles of straight gravel road leads from the highway to the parking area. You can easily view the dunes from here, but you must hike a mile on a sandy trail to reach the base of the large dunes. From there you can make the steep climb to the ridge and conquer the summit. Running or sledding down the dunes is super fun, but a bit dangerous. They are steeper than they look.

You can walk anywhere in the dune field, but be sure to tread only on sand. A surprisingly large amount of vegetation clings to the shifting sands, and trampling them can compromise their fragile existence. In fact, many of the plants here are very rare elsewhere. There are also several species of endemic insects that call these dunes home, and the area is home to a rare kind of lizard that uses fringed toes to "swim" beneath the sand.

The Kelso Dunes are a worthwhile stop if you are traveling through Mojave National Preserve. They are located between I-40 and I-15, close to the old junction town of Kelso and not far from Baker, California.

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Location + Directions

Location + Directions

Nearby Camping + Lodging

(1 within a 30 mile radius)

Nearby Adventures

(4 within a 30 mile radius)

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