Sand Dunes of the Southwest

Virtual Field Trip: Kelso Dunes

Kelso Dunes

National Park Service Map

The Kelso Dunes are located in the Mojave National Preserve, which is bordered by Interstate 15 on the north and Interstate 40 on the south. The best time to visit this area is in the early spring, late fall, and winter when daytime temperatures are in the fairly mild range, ranging from 40-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Summer temperatures in the Mojave Desert are extremely hot, commonly over 100 degrees F and can get well over 115 degrees F. Surface temperatures on the dunes can reach 140 degrees F. Summer arrives early, too, as we’ve experienced 100-degree temperatures there at 10:00 am in mid-May.

At the junction of I-15 and State Route 127, the roadside community of Baker makes a great staging area for trips into the Mojave National Preserve, as well as the Dumont Dunes and Death Valley National Park. Baker has a Bob’s Big Boy, IHOP, Mad Greek diner, Alien Fresh Jerky, several gas stations and fast food restaurants, plus a couple of small general stores. There are no services on the I-40 side, but about 18 miles south of I-40 is the historic town of Amboy on National Old Trails Highway, aka Route 66. Roy’s gas station, Amboy Crater, and Bristol salt lake are all worth a visit.

4WD Side Trip: Starting southeast of Bristol Lake, a massive sand sheet extends from Cadiz Valley through Ward Valley, past Danby Lake and south across Highway 62 into Rice Valley. According to the BLM (, it represents a part of one of the largest dune systems in the California Desert. However, this area only contains small dunes rising 30 to 40 feet at the highest in Rice Valley and Cadiz Valley. We drove through here on what was labeled "Cadiz Road" on our map. It ran alongside a railroad track from Chambless (just east of Amboy), in a southeasterly direction toward Highway 62. The word "road" is used loosely in this case. It starts out as a nice wide gravel road, but the section near Danby dry lake is so covered with sand that it's hard to tell if you're driving on a road or in a wash. This "shortcut" took over two hours to navigate, and we never saw another person or vehicle along the entire way. Recommended for only the most experienced off-road explorers carrying ample supplies of water, etc. and willing to travel at your own risk. We made it through there in a Ford Expedition 4x4 although the attendant at Roy's Gas Station had cautioned us not to attempt it. But don't worry, the Kelso Dunes are easily accessible by any passenger car.

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Website design and content (c)2010 by Peter Olsen. This educational unit study was my PVCC honors project for GPH 211 Landform Processes.