Continuing on about our mid-December trip in the Mojave National Preserve -
After leaving the Kelso Depot visitor center we traveled north on Kelso Cima Road 14 miles to the well-graded Cedar Canyon Road. Six miles east brought us to another well-graded dirt road, Black Canyon Road. Black Canyon is paved from I40 up to Hole-in-the-Wall, but is a graded dirt road north for the next ten miles until it joins Cedar Canyon Road. There is a visitor center and a family campground with pit toilets, fire rings, picnic tables and water if you don't enjoy primitive camping, first-come first-served for $12 a night.
The brightly colored sculptured rock formations at Hole-in-the-Wall (elev. 4400 feet) are the result of a violent volcanic eruption approximately 18 million years ago. A ground-hugging cloud of ash and rock fragments covered everything in its path, fosillizing birds, animals and plants below the ash layer. The rock fragments were so hot that they welded together, forming tuff. The caldera (cone-shaped depression) was formed when the ground collapsed along several fault lines. It was then partially filled with volcanic debris. Later, lava oozed out of the magma chamber to form plugs and domes. Well, at least, that's the very summarized supershort version.
To the south there is a very short hike (if it can even be called a hike) up to an overlook with a view that kicked my vertigo into full gear. To the west is the Rings Trail down into the canyon. The steep descent/ascent through a cleft in the rocks is aided in spots by the strategic placement of ringbolts.
I scrambled down the rocks a ways until I came to the first set of rings, but the rest of the group decided they weren't feeling that energetic. Besides, it was mid-day so the light wasn't good for photography, and we were pressed for time if we were going to reach the dunes in time to hike out for sunset, so that hike is saved for another day.
Back at the jeeps we realized we had spent more time than planned here and were way behind schedule. We consulted our topo map to determine the quickest way to reach the Kelso Dunes. Sticking to maintained roads meant driving about 60 miles down Black Canyon Road to Essex Road, then 20 miles west along I40 until we reached the southern end of Kelbaker Road which would take us to the road out to the dunes. Alternatively we could retrace our steps and loop around to the north, but that would still be over 40 miles, and we wanted new scenery. Then I noticed a jeep trail that cut through Foshay Pass in the Providence Mountains about ten miles south of where we were, and would put us on Kelbaker Road right near the road to the dunes. Bill popped into the visitor center to ask the ranger about the condition of the trail and they warned
him that it was deeply rutted and washed out due to the recent rains. We figured that would be no problem since we came for adventure and both of our jeeps were fully modified for extreme terrain, so off we went.
Several trailheads converge at the spot where Black Canyon and Essex Roads meet up, so it took us a few minutes of consulting the maps and gpsr's to make sure we took the correct one, which begins as Pipeline Road. It was a nice wide, flat and sandy trail for several miles. If you've ever traveled on jeep trails through the desert you know that they can quickly disappear and it can sometimes be difficult to determine if you're still on the main trail. Since I was playing trailboss on this trip I didn't let on that I did a little eeny-meeny-miney-moe at some points, hehe. It seems that somewhere along there if I had beared to the right instead of the left I would've put us on Vulcan Mine Road, which would've put us a bit north of dunes but is an easy trail. A little further on and if I had beared left instead of right I would've put us on the graded trail that runs parallel but climbs higher up the side of the mountain. Instead, my choices put us on a trail that wasn't maintained at all that consisted of endless miles of 30 foot, 30+ degree descents and ascents. This was the road the rangers had warned us about. The descents were very deeply rutted and washed out, fully capable of rolling of a vehicle and requiring very careful wheel placement. Toad didn't have any problems, but my back end slid on one of the descents, giving me a momentary heart attack as I envisioned rolling my jeep in the middle of nowhere. Toad commented that at least now she knew what line NOT to take and proceeded to skillfully navigate her way to the bottom
Here's Toad descending one of the milder hills. BullFrog decided to watch from outside the jeep.
The climbs, although steep, were smooth and no problem. But still, halfway through my nerves were still shot from my previous mishap and I let Bill take the wheel. When the Kelso Dunes finally came into view I breathed a sigh of relief, but we still had another fifteen or so of those rollercoaster hills to conquer and the sun was already so low that I knew I'd never make it to the top of the dunes before nightfall. I thought it would be forever before we reached flat grounds, but we eventually met up with Kelbaker Road directly across from the road to the dunes.
We raced down the road to the hiking trailhead for the dunes and took a minute to check it out. There is a small parking lot here and restrooms, which we made use of. The ranger at the Kelso Depot visitor center had told us to keep going after the road ends and we would find a primitive camping area, so we jumped back in the jeeps and headed down the road. The camping area was easy to find on the boundary of the wilderness area and we had our choice of spots. It is deep sand here so it's really only recommended for 4WD vehicles, but what a beautiful spot to set up camp. In front us where the Kelso Dunes, behind us where the Granite Mountains and to the east were the Providence Mountains. Gorgeous!
After circling a few times we found the perfect spot. Bill started setting up camp and I selfishly grabbed my gear and raced out to the dunes just as the sun was sinking below the horizon.
Alpenglow on the Providence Mountains
The Kelso Dunes will be the topic of tomorrow's post.