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Kelso Dunes
Mojave Desert, California
November 9, 2010

Not only do the Kelso Dunes soar 200 m above the Mojave Desert, they sing. They are one of about thirty booming dunes in the world, dunes capable of producing sounds like long musical notes. But not everyone who visits the Kelso Dunes is lucky enough to experience the phenomena. Apparently it requires the right moisture conditions in the sand. We hoped to be counted among the fortunate.

Instead of parking at the usual trailhead for the Kelso Dunes, Shin, who joined Dinah and I, suggested we drive to the west end. From there we could ascend the ridge of the highest dune instead of tackling the steep slope facing the trailhead.

To reach the dune, we crossed the desert comprising sand, creosote and bunchgrass. As we hiked, we looked for animal life but only saw animal tracks. But I forgot about the animals as we neared the dune. I became absorbed with the pile of sand ahead. Up close it was much bigger than I expected. We reached the foot of the dune and started climbing.

As we climbed, I stopped frequently to look around and take photos. I fell behind Dinah and Shin who continued to plod up the ridge. Then curiosity got the best of me. Although it didn't seem possible, I had to see if jumping on the dune produced a musical tone. I jumped and the sand “boomed.” A strange reverberating sound, seemingly without a source, filled the air. Remarkably, Dinah and Shin heard it even though they were well ahead. Unaware that I set off a sand boom, they looked around, baffled by the odd noise. They thought the sound came from a passing truck or a plane.

We hurried to the summit. We thought, erroneously it turns out, that the best booms would emanate from the steepest slopes near the summit. On the summit, Shin and I began jumping. We delighted in the reverberations we could both feel and hear. However, not only jumping set off the sounds. Digging and running also made the sand sing. We ran much of the way back down the dune.

As we hiked back across the desert, we again looked for animals. And before we reached our car, we spotted fringed-toed lizards. When frightened, they are capable of burying themselves in sand, completely hiding themselves. But the two we saw merely stayed put, enabling me to take close-up photographs.

Our short climb up the dune packed in a lot of fun. Hiking to the top of the Kelso Dunes is a worthwhile experience in itself, but nothing can compare with hearing the amazing sand booms.

GPX and KML Tracks


Listen to the dunes "sing"


Kelso Dunes seen from a distance


Our trailhead

The highest point is left


Dinah heads to the sand dune


Kangaroo rat burrows


Granite Mountains lie south


We started up the ridge on the left


We reached the foot of the sand dune


Shin and Dinah started hiking up


Dinah works her way up the sand


Nothing but sand filled the view ahead now


Shin took a more direct route


There are dunes behind us but we were only interested in climbing the highest one


I stopped to take photos while Shin and Dinah forged ahead


Following the ridge crest


On the top


Shin hams it up


Dinah explored a ridge north of the summit


We walked a short way past the summit


To the east are more dunes and the Providence Mountains


After jumping to create sand booms, I crawled back up


On the way back I noticed these flowers


We also saw fringe-toed lizards (mouse over for another view)


Kelso Dunes 1:24,000 Topo (2.5 mi, 3124 ft, 604 ft)

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