February 20 & 21, 2016
We thoroughly appreciated the uncrowded, free camping by Kelso Dunes in the quiet of Mojave National Preserve. With just under 600,000 visitors last year this little known jewel should be visited before it starts to get crowded.
Bill and I enjoyed a brief time with late light and shadows on the Mesquite sand dunes in Death Valley. We had also seen, or not seen, how blowing wind obscures the dunes, and just about everything else around. So we were really looking forward to some time with the dunes but didn’t realize we could camp there.
Always ask the Ranger. Which I forgot to do regarding this plant.
As soon as we walked into the visitor center a Ranger at a table with tortoise information asked immediately if we’d seen a tortoise. No, and didn’t for the entire visit. I wanted to see at least one, but not in the road, so can live with that. Two more Rangers behind the desk were helpful, one seemed more seasoned, the other at his first park started in winter and was eagerly learning the newest blooms. They gave us the skinny on free camping at the dunes where you’re suppose to park by a fire ring.
This Says Phoebe welcomed us to camp and perched on this sign in between bug catches. One of the IDs I got the next day back at the visitor center.
Huge amounts of sand were needed to build Kelso’s delicate wind-created sculptures, but geologists studying the Preserve discovered that no new sand is moving in to replenish the dunes. By studying the mineral composition and shapes of sand grains they discovered that most of the sand has traveled all the way from the Mojave River sink east of Afton Canyon at least 30 miles (48 km) away. Wind blowing from the northwest gradually carried the sand southeastward to the base of the Providence and Granite Mountains. Where the sand piles up researchers found that the dunes are actually made up of several sets of dunes, stacked one on top of another. Each set formed in response to some past climate change during the last 25,000 years.
Over the past few thousand years plants have progressively covered and stabilized areas once covered by drifting sand. Yet a slightly drier climate may kill some of the vegetation holding the sand in place. Once the grasp of the plant roots is loosened, the sand is on the move again.
And all it takes is a bit of breeze (10 miles/hour or 16 kilometers/hour) to put fine sand in motion. The finest grains may be suspended in the air and carried along. Heavier grains tend to bounce along as they are lifted into the air, fall back to the ground, then bounce back up again. Once sand begins to pile up, ripples and dunes can form. Wind continues to move sand up to the top of the pile until the pile is so steep that it collapses under its own weight. The collapsing sand comes to rest when it reaches just the right steepness to keep the dune stable. This angle, usually about 30-34 °, is called the angle of repose.
We didn’t walk out into them but simply enjoyed watching the change in shadows as the sun sank lower towards the horizon. Of course that means we didn’t hear them sing. When quantities of the sands move, they sometimes produce a “booming” or “singing” sound when sand with the right moisture content slides down the steep slopes.
Plus the color of the sand changed as the sun set. Unfortunately my camera wasn’t auto focusing and my manual focus skills are lacking so many shots are very fuzzy.
There are several camping options in Mojave including the dunes, roadside boondocking and two developed campgrounds. We decided to check out one of the later at Hole-in-the-Wall for our next night in the preserve.
Note: March 28 – April 28, 2016 Kelbaker Road closure from Baker to Kelso for planned road work. Can enter 39 miles east on I 15 on the Cima Road instead. 2/22/16 – 3/3/16 the water system at Kelso will be shut down to replace waste system infrastructure. Portable toilets are available; bottled water is available for purchase when the visitor center is open. Check Mojave National Preserve website for current information.
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