If you have ever watched much sci-fi like Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, Lost In Space, or Planet of the Apes or have seen the latest Toyota RAV4 commercial with James Marsden finding the astronaut wannabes in the desert, you’ve seen the Trona Pinnacles. This other-worldly land formation in the western Mojave Desert in California provides the backdrop for over 30 film projects a year. After visiting there in early November, we could understand why it is featured so much in science fiction movies. But we probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought had it not been for Nina’s review on her site WheelingIt. After reading about her experiences there, we had to drive out for a day trip to see it.
The Trona Pinnacles is a remarkable collection of over 500 tufa spires rising up from the bed of the Searles Dry Lake basin. These pinnacles are thought to have been formed when this entire area, from Mono Lake up north to Death Valley in the south, was underwater. Hmmm, sounds like perhaps a Great Flood covered the region?? Recognizing the importance of preserving this interesting land formation for future generations, the Department of the Interior designated this as a National Natural Landmark in 1968.
The Trona Pinnacles is located about 20 miles east of Ridgeway off of SR 178. After exiting SR 178, we drove on a 5-mile long dirt road to get back to the actual site. In early November, we had no issues with the road, but during the winter months, it is best to call the Ridgecrest BLM office to check on road conditions in case of heavy rains. It was a long, bumpy, dusty drive, but when we crested that final hill and saw the pinnacles spread out before us, we both said the drive was worth it. We’ve spent a lot of time in the desert, but this was like nothing we had ever seen before. We truly felt like we were viewing the surface of another planet and expected at any moment to see some alien life form ambling down one of the paths.
We drove the truck down the hill into the very large parking area so we could easily access the hiking trails through the tufa spires. There are interpretive signs scattered throughout informing us of the geological classifications of tufa spires: towers, tombstones, ridges, and cones. Of course, the longer we looked at some of the spires, we could begin to see shapes and features of animals and humans. There is a network of trails around, over, and through the pinnacles which we traversed, stopping often to snap photos and re-enact scenes from movies. (Well, I may have been the only one re-enacting). At any rate, we spent an enjoyable couple of hours amazed by God’s underwater handiwork, now visible to all.
We noticed several folks that were set up for a day of 4-wheeling in the surrounding desert with their trailers and OHV’s. FREE dispersed camping is permitted at the Pinnacles and it would have been fun to overnight there to see the sunset and sunrise. The only amenity at the site is a vault toilet, no water, no electric, and no trash cans, so pack it in, pack it out.
Though the Pinnacles is a bit off the beaten path, if you are anywhere close to the area, I would highly recommend taking some time to drive back and see this incredible site. After spending some time wandering around you may find yourself saying, “Live long and prosper.”