Kelso Dunes

April 6, 2017.

3 mi. | 650′ ele. gain | 2 hrs.

I arrived at the Kelso Dunes Parking area at 5:30 pm with the intention of enjoying sunset from the expansive dune field. The dunes lie within the Mojave National Preserve in southern California. Miraculously, these dunes are not open to off-road vehicles, creating a little haven for hikers who want to explore the sand on foot.

Having done a few night hikes on sand dunes before, I looked forward to the cooler weather, diminished crowds and sense of solitude that an evening hike would bring. There were a few other parties out on the dunes but most were wrapping up their day.

I put my shoes in my backpack and set off on the trail heading towards the dunes. Gray clouds cast a moody glow over the massive piles of sand. On either side of me, gorgeous flowers bloomed in purple and yellow. “Look what we can do!” they seemed to shout. I was in no rush, so enjoyed each little splash of color that caught my eye.

Once I reached the open sand, footprints went every which way. There was no marked trail here, just an open invitation to explore the dunes. I plodded up the steep and slippery sand, feeling the ground move under my feet with each step. As I climbed higher the views got better and better. The setting sun began to cast brilliant colors across the landscape. “Look what I can do!” the sun said.

All along the way I kept noticing these weird tracks in the sand. What made them? A snake? I couldn’t really tell. Something was working harder than me to cross this desolate landscape.

I reached a ridge leading to the highest dune and walked methodically towards the summit. There was a group of people taking videos and goofing around up there. Fortunately for me they were packing up just as I was arriving.

Sitting atop the dunes, I was stunned at what I saw. Mountain ranges in every direction. The sun setting underneath a blanket of clouds. It was like sitting in the middle of a painting, hearing onlookers say, “ugh, that is so not real.”

And then a visitor arrived. It was the same critter that made the tracks I’d seen earlier. A beetle! And it was heading straight for me. Luckily, it was just as hard for the beetle to move quickly on the sand as it was for me, so he approached slowly. I picked up and moved so as not to be in his path. He shifted trajectory. What the?? This beetle had it out for me. I stood up and walked around a little, noticing all the shadows, all the features, all the beauty that was laid out in front of me. Incredible.

Before the sun had the chance to set, I headed downhill. My goal was to get back to the car before dark. No problem, as getting down the sand dune was far easier than getting up!

I turned to look back at the bright sun dropping behind the biggest dune. And up ahead, primrose flowers began to open. What a sight. At dusk, I reached the trailhead and brushed the sand off my feet. A spectacular end to an adventurous day.

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