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Closed Sand Dune Areas

Kelso Dunes

Kelso Dunes Aerial Photo
Kelso Dunes are closed to vehicles

Location: Southeastern California in San Bernardino County; Lies within Mojave National Preserve. 50 miles south of Baker, California. 

Directions: 

Take the Kelbaker Rd. Exit on Interstate 40 and travel north 14.7 miles to Kelso Dunes Rd. (dirt) leading three miles west up to Kelso Sand Dunes. Or take Kelbaker Rd. south from Baker on Interstate 15.

Managed By: National Park Service - Mojave National Preserve

Size: 129,580 acres

Date of Closure: 1973

Type of Closure: Permanent

Reason for Closure

The California Desert Protection Act created the 1.4 million acre Mojave National Preserve in the heart of the Mojave Desert. This act transferred the lands known as the East Mojave National Scenic Area from the Bureau of Land Management to the National Park Service.

Description:

Second tallest of all of California's desert dunes (aced out only by the Eureka Dunes), the Kelso Dunes rise 600 feet above the desert floor.  Kelso is the third largest dune complex in the United States. The dunes are created by southeast winds blowing finely grained residual sand from the Mojave River Sink, which lies to the northeast.  The dunes section of the Wilderness lies within Mojave National Preserve (smallest of the four American deserts) and is administered by the National Park Service. To the west, the stark and rolling Bristol Mountains perch on the BLM section of this relatively vast Wilderness.

These magnificent dunes form only a small part of a much larger sand transport system that includes the Devil’s Playground. The 45-square-mile formation of magnificently sculpted sand dunes is the most extensive dune field in the West.  The dunes are actually built up from the particulate remains of mountains worn away long ago. Prevailing winds create the dunes as they blow sand particles from the Mojave River Sink, across the Devil's Playground. Blocked from further movement by the Providence Mountains to the east, the individual grains are then deposited at the dune site. Geologists studying the Preserve discovered that new sand is not presently replenishing the dunes.

One of the few Booming Dunes in the United States.

Kelso Dunes are referred to as "booming dunes" for the low vibrational sounds that are created when the sand made of polished grains of rose quartz slides over the underlying surface.

Motorized or mechanized use is no longer allowed.

GPS Coordinates:

Kelbaker & I-40
N 34 43.195
W 115 40.735
2945 ft.

Main Parking Area
N 34 53.535
W 115 41.959
2635 ft.

Kelso Dunes Top (highest point) - 1.3 miles from parking area to top of Kelso Dunes (as the crow flies).
N 34 54.202
W 115 43.099
3086 ft.

“Camping Area”
N 34 53.284
W 115 43.009

End of Kelso Dunes Rd.
N 34 53.159
W 115 43.022

Links:

Other Photos:

Wilderness?

KelsoDunes-2-1964.jpg (77334 bytes)
OHVs and Camping at Kelso Dunes in 1964 before the dunes were closed.

Kelso Dunes - Restoration Area - aka Road Closure
Restoration Area within the Wilderness Area. 
A road used to exist here. Park Service is 
systematically erasing all traces.

Kelso Dunes Buildings near dunes
Buildings and power lines near the dunes.

Kelso Dunes - Access to dunes is now closed
Historic motorized dune access from the camping area is now closed.

Kelso Dunes Rd. blocked off long ago
Kelso Dunes Road ends here.  
You can still drive to the west, but the road now
jogs to the left around the Wilderness boundary.

The ghost town of Kelso (founded in 1906) lies just to the northeast of the dune field (and just outside the Wilderness boundary). Union Pacific Railroad runs across the Mojave Desert through Kelso. The Kaiser Steel Mill opened the Vulcan Mine in 1942 to provide iron needed for World War II. The mine was located nine miles south of Kelso. In 1992 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) purchased the Kelso Depot and an adjacent lot.  With the 1994 passage of the California Desert Protection Act, the responsibility of continuing to save this structure was passed to the National Park Service. In early 1998 the owner of the Vulcan Mine and surrounding patented land, donated the former iron mine to the park.

Aerial Photos

Kelso Dunes Aerial Photo   Kelso Dunes Aerial Photo   Kelso-Aerial-4.jpg (32427 bytes)  Kelso Dunes from 35,000 feet

Kelso Dunes Aerial Photo

Views of the Dunes

Kelso Dunes from Kelbaker Road.   Kelso Dunes - Highest Point   Kelso Dunes   Kelso Dunes

Views from the Top

Kelso View From Top - Towards Devil's Playground   Kelso View From Top - Looking West   Kelso View From Top - To The North   Kelso View From Top - Town of Kelso   Kelso View From Top - Access Road and Main Parking Area

Main Parking Area

Kelso-Parking-2.jpg (35099 bytes)   Kelso-Parking-1.jpg (40662 bytes)   Kelso-Parking-3.jpg (44273 bytes)   

Camping Area

Kelso Dunes Camping Area   Kelso Dunes Camping Area   Kelso Dunes - Creek flowing across road in March 2005   Kelso Dunes - Creek flowing across road in March 2005

Wildlife & Plants

Kelso Dunes - Mojave Fringed Toed Lizard   Kelso-Parking-4.jpg (44931 bytes)
Mojave fringed toed lizard (Uma scoparia) - often described
as "sand swimmers" because of their ability to disappear under
the shifting sand. Specialized "fringes" on their toes act as
snowshoes, allowing them to run across the sand at great speed.

Kelso Dunes - Wildflower   Kelso Dunes - Wildflower   Kelso Dunes - Wildflower   Kelso Dunes - Evening Primrose

Kelso Dunes - Milkvetch   Kelso Dunes - Milkvetch   Kelso Dunes - Milkvetch   Kelso Dunes - Milkvetch   Kelso Dunes - Milkvetch
Wildfllowers - March 2005

Kelso Dunes - Cheat Grass   Kelso Dunes - Cheat Grass   Kelso Dunes - Cheat Grass
Dunes are now covered in Cheat Grass, an invasive species

Black Sand

Kelso-BlackSand-1.jpg (46909 bytes)   Kelso-BlackSand-2.jpg (34787 bytes)   Kelso-BlackSand-3.jpg (31414 bytes)

Snow Day at the Kelso Dunes

Snow Day on the Kelso Dunes - December 2008  Snow Day on the Kelso Dunes - December 2008  Snow Day on the Kelso Dunes - December 2008

Snow Day on the Kelso Dunes - December 2008  Snow Day on the Kelso Dunes - December 2008  Snow Day on the Kelso Dunes - December 2008

Snow Day on the Kelso Dunes - December 2008  Snow Day on the Kelso Dunes - December 2008  Snow Day on the Kelso Dunes - December 2008

Old Photos

KelsoDunes-3.jpg (157097 bytes)
The "pipeline trail" going from 
Mitchell Caverns to the Kelso dunes, 1966.

If you have any old photos of OHVs and/or camping at Kelso, please contact us.

Endangered or Threatened Species:

No Threatened or Endangered Species.

  • Kelso Dune glaresis scarab beetle (Glaresis arenata); Federal Status: Species of Concern

  • Kelso Dunes shieldback katydid (Eremopedes kelsoensis); Federal Status: Species of Concern

  • Kelso giant sand treader cricket (Macrobaenetes kelsoensis); Federal Status: Species of Concern

  • Kelso Dunes Jerusalem cricket (Ammopelmatus kelsoensis); Federal Status: Species of Concern


Other Nearby Dunes:
Cadiz - South
Ibex - North

Back to Closed Dunes

Back to Sand Dune Guide


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