Kelso Dunes: Please Enjoy My Terror

desert scrubland at kelso dunes in california

Here’s the thing: I’m a good hiker. I like to hike! But I do not like danger. I do not like danger at all. I do not even like the slightest perception of danger. Maybe this is because I often hike alone? Maybe this is also because I am a scaredy cat. This is not an insult. You say “Scaredy cat,” I hear “Prudent evaluator of perilous situations.”

The summit of the Kelso Dunes, in the Mojave National Preserve, is the second peak I have ever turned back from. The first was the highest point in Pennsylvania, which involved a maybe 200 yard walk from the parking lot to  an observation tower. I could have made it (obviously) and would have, except for the arrival of three men in a pick-up truck. I’m not saying they were rapists, but I’m definitely not saying they weren’t rapists.

The problem on Kelso Dunes had less to do with rapists, and more to do with winds. The hike to the summit is short distance-wise but annoying, since you’re pawing through sand with every step — basically it’s like a vertical(ish) beach walk. At the top, it got very, very windy, and I got very, very scared — so I got high enough to see over the ridge line, on my hands and knees, because I am a scaredy cat and don’t like heights. The view wasn’t so great. And then I literally scooted down until there was no more scooting to do.

I’d still recommend this trip because my minds forces me to go to every National Park unit I can get to, and it looks like the coolest thing to do in the Mojave preserve. And it was quite cool, to see the dunes just sitting there in the middle of the desert. I will say, though, that I went back to the highest point in Pennsylvania and conquered that particular summit — but while I will go back to Joshua Tree, I don’t need a second chance to conquer this particular hill.

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Hi, I'm Diana. I've written about travel for The Wall Street Journal, Buzzfeed, The Cut, Travel + Leisure, Outside, and lots of other places. This is my blog.