Kelso Dunes
Kelly Bou and I drove south from Las Vegas, Nevada on 17 December 2011 to visit Mojave National Preserve.  My original plan was to climb Edgar Peak, but when we approached Providence Mountains State Recreation Area, we were dismayed to find the access road closed.  Although it might have been possible to walk the remaining few kilometres to the trailhead (plus extra elevation gain), I was loathe to do so given the short daylight hours, and I was also unsure if the closure of the road also meant that entry by any means was prohibited.  As it turned out, ominous clouds rolling into the area made it easy to bail on Edgar Peak.  Hoping to salvage the long drive, we decided to go around the south end of the Providence Mountains and visit the Kelso Dunes which my friends, Dinah Kruze and Bob Spirko, had climbed the year before.

The trailhead was deserted when Kelly and I arrived, but a fellow pulled in at about the same time and asked if this was the meeting place for an interpretive program.  I told him that I knew nothing about the program but assured him that he was probably in the right spot.  Appearing satisfied, the fellow waited patiently while Kelly and I set off for the highest dune.  The approach hike was generally easy, but the dunes are deceptively farther away than they look.  At the base of the highest dune, we initially hiked straight up the steep slope which was reminiscent of ascending treadmill scree--less painful but just as frustrating to climb.  I kept finding coins in the sand here (sadly, only 23 cents) and wondered if others had lost them on the way up or on the way down.  About halfway up, we veered off to climber's left and zigzagged the rest of the way to the top.  The Kelso Dunes are known to make sounds under the right conditions, but unfortunately, we only experienced a few brief vibrations when I skidded down a short slope at the top.  The unpleasant wind made it difficult to hear anything at all, and it was also blowing sand all over us.  With rain clouds approaching from the Providence Mountains, we did not hang around long on top.  The best part of the day was plunge-stepping down the steep slope we tried to hike straight up.  Krazy Karpets might have been fun to use here!  On our return plod, we passed by a ranger and numerous people milling about the low dunes not far from the trailhead.  Only one of them bothered to venture further like us and climb the highest dune--the fellow I talked to earlier.

Kelly and I subsequently stopped at the visitor centre in Kelso where I enjoyed a six-dollar strawberry-banana milk shake (I bet it would be worth every penny here in the summertime) before heading back to Las Vegas.  Though the day amounted to little more than a car tour through the heart of Mojave National Preserve, there is much worth exploring here, and I definitely plan on returning in the future for an extended visit.
The dunes are further away than they appear. Kelly walks past the interpretive displays at the trailhead.  The highest dune is on the far left.
I hope to return and climb them in the future. To the east are the Providence Mountains.
For a late morning on a Saturday, it's surprising that there aren't more people here. There is a trail of sorts to follow, but it is difficult to get lost on this trip.
It must get excruciatingly hot in the summer here. Dark clouds begin to gather to the south.
Almost at the base of the big dune! Kelly walks atop some smaller dunes.
It was marginally easier to zigzag up. Kelly shows her displeasure at climbing straight up the dune.
We heard a few brief 'booms' from the sand here. Kelly approaches the highest point (943 metres) of the Kelso Dunes.


All we need is a dune buggy to go exploring!

The dunes are more extensive than what is visible from the trailhead.


I guess I should be thankful that the road was closed! The Providence Mountains look very dark to the east.
Oh look! Another penny in the sand! Sonny bounds down the steep slope.
Time to go get a $6 milkshake! Kelly easily reaches the bottom of the slope.
A bit short for such a long drive from Vegas but an interesting outing nonetheless! Total Distance:  5.17 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  1 hour 56 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  158 metres