We spent 3 days enjoying Kelso Dunes with good friends from Oregon and California. It was a trip we had been planning for a long time and it was well worth the wait and the time spent getting there. Be sure to read BlaNicS Waypoints for another telling of our story at Kelso Dunes.
The Kelso Dunes are one of only a few dunes in the world that produce a singing or booming sound. Singing sand dunes, an example of the phenomenon of singing sand, produce a sound described as roaring, booming, squeaking, or the “Song of Dunes”. This is a natural sound phenomenon, lasting as long as several minutes, that occurs in about 35 desert locations around the world. The sound is similar to a loud, low-pitch, rumble, and it emanates from the crescent-shaped dunes. The sound emission accompanies a slumping or avalanching movement of the sand, usually triggered by wind passing over the dune or by someone walking near the crest.
The dune field covers 45 square miles (120 km2) and includes migrating dunes, vegetation-stabilized dunes, sand sheets, and sand ramps. The tallest dunes rise up to 650 feet (200 m) above the surrounding terrain.
The Kelso Dunes are located in the Mojave National Preserve, California. The trail head is at the end of a three mile (5 km) graded dirt road splitting from Kelbaker Road. This road can be accessed from both Interstate 15 (at Baker) and Interstate 40 (east of Barstow). The dunes themselves lie just southwest of the Kelso ghost town and the Park’s Visitor Center located in the historic Kelso Depot, Restaurant and Employees Hotel.
Kelso Dunes are closed to off-road vehicles, but are open to hikers. The gravel road out to the dunes has a lot of washboard but it’s well worth the slow four mile trip out to the sand dune trailhead.
The hike to the top of the dunes is a challenging hike but the view from the top is worth the effort. Be sure to take water and sunscreen and give yourself plenty of time so you can stop and rest on the way up. Coming back down is a piece of cake. We tend to go up on the left side if you’re looking at the Dunes from the BLM parking area, but those coming from the official parking area usually prefer to hike up the right side.
We entered Mojave National Preserve from I 15 at Baker. Kelbaker Road between Baker and Kelso Depot is a bit rough and full of potholes so be sure to drive slowly.
Before going to the dunes, we stopped at the Kelso Depot which is the location of the old Kelso train station. The Kelso Depot or Restaurant and Employees Hotel or Kelso Depot, is now also the Mojave National Preserve Visitors Center.
The KelsoDepot was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and along with the adjacent ghost town of Kelso, was declared a United States Historic District in 2000. The first depot opened in 1905. In early 1923 the railroad began construction of the new “Kelso Clubhouse & Restaurant” which opened the next year. The Kelso Depot was built to provide services to passengers and railroad employees, and a water stop for the steam locomotives.
The Depot has been renovated and is now a museum. Be sure to watch the movie they provide in the museum if you visit.
When we left the Kelso Depot we continued south on Kelbaker Rd and soon we were able to see the dunes in the distance.
About 8 miles from Kelso we got to the gravel road leading to the dunes and started our very slow 4 mile trip to our camping site. It is 3 miles to the trail head, but we chose to boondock in an area about a half mile past the trail head.
There is good BLM parking for RV boondocking about a half mile past the official parking lot and if you’re lucky, you might find the RV parking spot under the only tree available out there.
We settled in the for evening and were treated to a beautiful desert sunset.
The next morning we were up at 6am and starting our hike to the top of the dunes at 7am in order to avoid the heat. The hike is typical of most desert hikes with no shade.
The best way to get the dunes singing is to sit down on the steep side (you will know it when you get up there) and then slide down the dune using your legs to pull you down the steep slope. The more people you can line up and slide with you, the louder the dunes will sing.
Be sure to watch the whole video. Getting down the dunes starts at 1:38. Enjoy!
Hiking Kelso Dunes is a great memory and experience. Don’t miss it.