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Visited: January 17, 2016
Description: Rising 650 feet and expanding 45 miles, Kelso Dunes is the third tallest sand dunes in North America.
Length: 3+ miles
Elevation: 650 feet
Duration: 1+ hours, depends on how high and far you want to go
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Terrain: Sand… sand… and more sand…
Did I mention sand?
Wildlife: Lizards, snakes, kangaroo rats, sand monsters
Pets: Dog on-leash
Parking: Multiple lots (34.888350, -115.716873)
Best time to go: During cooler temperatures
Bring: Camera, water, sunscreen, flashlight (if you’re there til night), sled
We arrived at Kelso Dunes in the late afternoon. The weather was a cool 60°F with no wind, perfect for a climb. Unlike the easily accessible sand dunes we’ve experienced in Death Valley, Kelso Dunes were much taller and spanned for miles. This time we came with sleds hoping to have some extra fun in the desert.
As we made our way towards the base of the highest dune, the intimation began to set in. We had a looong way to go. What were we getting ourselves into once again?! From a distance we could make out a few ant-shaped figures at the top. We weren’t the only ones who were crazy enough to hike up these massive dunes.
Climbing up the dunes was no joke. Not only is walking on soft sand difficult, but climbing at a vertical angle was even worse. Every step we took, our feet would slide through the sand, leaving us in the exact position we started in. It was a great workout but we needed to get to the top of the dunes!
The trick is to climb duck footed with your feet angled outwards. We thought we made great progress but the sand dunes seemed to never end. Once we finished climbing one dune, there was always another higher and steeper dune waiting for us.
After climbing a particularly steep dune, we decided to take a quick break. Alice reached for her phone and ohhh crap… it was nowhere to be found. With no reception and 45 miles of sand, panic began to set in. We knew it couldn’t be far because Alice had just used it. We began to retrace our steps. We slowly crawled along the sand, digging our hands through, praying it didn’t get buried too deep.
After 10 minutes of searching, we felt defeated and ready to give up. It was a proverbial needle in the haystack. Our friend, Angela, began to dig from the top as Alice searched from the bottom. Suddenly, Angela shouted that she may have felt something but it slipped away from her. Alice was searching straight down from Angela. In a few seconds, something slides right into Alice’s hands. As the hiking Gods would have it, Alice lifts her hands up revealing the lost phone and screams. Halle-freaking-lujah!!! We couldn’t believe it!
Overjoyed and excited, we felt that extra boost of energy and continued our struggle to climb towards the top. It was getting darker and the sun was already setting. We were going to lose light soon, so we decided to just have fun and start sledding.
FOUR PHASES OF DUNE SLEDDING:
- PHASE 1: Overwhelming exhaustion from climbing
- PHASE 2: Failure to sled correctly
- PHASE 3: Almost eating shit constantly
- PHASE 4: Perfect execution
We had an amazing time climbing and sledding down the dunes. Just follow the four phases and live in the moment! Life is too short to be serious all the time. We will definitely come back one day and make sure we have an extra hour or two to sled some more. Hopefully we won’t lose anything… the hiking Gods may not be so fair next time. Hasta la vista, Kelso Dunes!
- Warning: The dunes look closer than they appear. If the temperature is hot, make sure you are keeping track of how far you are going.
- Before you head out, make sure you set an imaginary marker in the mountain above the parking lot so you know which way to head back toward.
- Keep an eye out for your cellphones and other valuables. PHONECHECK!!!
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