The Kelso Dunes are a central feature of the Mojave National Preserve, visible for miles around to visitors in the western portion of the park. The graceful peaks and valleys of this large dune field are even more gorgeous at sunset and sunrise. The dunes show off their texture as every little ripple and wave in the sand forms its own shadow. The sand that forms these dunes is transported by the wind from miles away. The mountains around the dune field interrupt the wind, releasing each fine grain of sand from the sky and forming dunes over time.
This happenstance of geography, geology and weather creates a home for many specialized desert species. Grasses and shrubs take root throughout parts of the dune field. There are insects found only in these dunes, such as the Kelso Dunes Jerusalem Cricket and the Kelso Dunes Shieldback Katydid. The Mojave fringe-toed lizard enjoys the sandy soils and is known to bury itself just beneath the surface to hide from predators and the blazing midday sun. The dune evening primrose blooms here when the desert receives sufficient rain.
Like the rest of the desert, many animal species are nocturnal and you can find evidence of their nighttime wanderings in the form of various tracks across the sand. Like the distinctive hop pattern of the kangaroo rat, the imprints of the sidewinder rattlesnake, and paw prints of a kit fox.
Visiting the Dunes:
- The dunes trailhead is easily accessible along a maintained dirt road off of Kelbaker Road.
- As with all travel in the Preserve, go slow and keep an eye out for wildlife in the road. I have encountered a desert tortoise on the dirt road leading to the trailhead. Also remember to check under your parked vehicle before driving away - tortoises sometimes take shelter in the shade of a parked car.
- Bring water. The dunes don't look far, but walking in the sand makes it much more difficult and there is no shade from the sun. It's better to get this hike in during cooler hours of the day and don't underestimate how quickly you can become dehydrated.
- When hiking out to the dunes, keep to already disturbed paths. You'll see a lot of plant life in the sand that can easily be harmed by humans treading across it, and will not quickly grow back.
- Stay tuned to all of the animal tracks. You may not be lucky enough to spot the many wildlife species that call the dunes home, but you can count on seeing their tracks!
- There is a treat in store for those that make it to the top of the dunes. As your steps along the crest of the dune cause the sand to fall, it creates a booming sound. This "singing dune" phenomenon is rare among dunefields.