Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Mojave Lava Tubes

 Every road trip has it's boring stretches. Some places are flat with no sign of life or scenery and other places are hot, dry and covered in sage brush. These areas tend to be the longest and hardest sections to get through on a road trip and we are always excited to be past them. One of the areas that I struggle with happens to be a stretch of I-15 in California. It's 119 miles from the Nevada/California border to Barstow when heading to SoCal and I can't stand it. By the time I'm entering California, coming from Salt Lake, I'm ready to be out of the car and yet, I still have nearly 4 hours to get to Santa Clarita. But I never stopped to wonder what may be out beyond that sage brush? Well, a week ago I stumbled upon he Mojave National Preserve and I was surprised at what was hidden in that endless desert.
 This 1.6 million acre chunk of America is the third largest area controlled by the National Park Service. It's home to Desert Tortoise, Bighorn Sheep, and the largest concentration of Joshua Trees in the world. Take that Joshua Tree N.P. But the one thing I knew that I wanted to see was the lava tube.
 The lava tube in Mojave National Preserve is roughly 500 feet long, ten feet wide at the narrowest access and opens up to an area that is about twenty feet tall. It's accessible by a ladder that feels a lot firmer than it appears at first glance.
 The opening to get in is a little tight. For me, at 6' 3" tall, had to really crouch down to skinny under the short opening. The rest of the group didn't have as much trouble to get in as I did but, them's the breaks.
  If you're here at the right time of year and at just the right time of day, the sun will create beautiful, narrow beams of light that cut through the darkness of the tube. Unfortunately for us, it's winter time and it was an overcast day. However, that doesn't matter. It's way cool to be in at any time of year as far as I can tell. I mean, what little kid (and over sized kids (adults)) doesn't want to crawl into the center of the Earth? It's just too much fun.
 If you look closely at different parts of the rock you can see a clear picture of what took place here over 10,000 years ago. Some of the rock shows evidence of what it looked like as the molten rock flowed. Other areas are full of pin holes where air bubbles popped before the rock cooled and on the ceiling you can see how the rock hardened as it was dripping from the top of the tube. It's a way cool place for rock nerds, which, as I've discovered, must be me.
 The lava tube is easy to get to from the town of Baker and if you can squeeze a little extra time during your road trip I would highly recommend swinging in to check it out. From Baker take Kelbaker Road east for 19 miles where a white rock marks an obvious dirt road to the north. This road is not a smooth one. It's full of wash boards and some small rocks but it is passable for a passenger car. Take the dirt road for about 5 miles until you see a small road fork to the left and is marked with a small sign that says LAVA TUBE. You'll find a small parking lot where you'll want to park your passenger car and hike up the road to the lava tube. If you have a high clearance four wheel drive you can even drive up the road to shorten the hike.
 The lava tube is just one of the many cool things to find in the Mojave National Preserve and you can learn more about it here. Also pay close attention to the mounds you pass while getting to the lava tube. Those are little volcanoes. The geological wonders are everywhere.


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