A Sand Castle for Giants: Shredding the Kelso Dunes

Dune Sledding

Over winter vacation, I found myself wanting to feel like a kid again.  I had two weeks off of “school”, and I was going to make the most of it.  Sledding is an activity that has the power to make the most serious grown-up feel like an eight-year-old.  You can do it in snow or on sand, and you don’t have to drive more than a few hours from Los Angeles to do both.  With that in mind, my sister sidekick and I set out on a two-part sledding adventure.

First, we headed to the mountains to go snow tubing on the top of Mt. Baldy.  To our disappointment, the “tubing park” was a small slope divided into bowling lanes.  I sat in an inter-tube, and teenage boy asked me if I wanted a “push” or a “spin”.  I highly recommend the spin.  At least you’ll feel disoriented enough to pretend you are eight-years-old again.  Adventure fail.

This way to the beach.

Before heading to the desert, I purchased a 2-person sled with a deep lip, so the edges wouldn’t dig into the sand as we made our descent.  We began our 3.5 hour journey to Kelso Dunes at 5am the following day.  The Kelso Dunes are among the tallest in the United States and are located 1.5 hours closer to Los Angeles than the dunes of Death Valley.  I must thank my fellow adventure blogger Snook (One Cool Thing Every Weekend) for the tip. Thanks Snook!

When we exited the highway, we passed a sign that alerted us to “Watch for Tortoise”.  I reduced my speed to a steady 15 mph just in case of a tortoise sighting.  While writing this post, I learned that tortoises actually do perilously cross the road, so I will spare you the jokes.  Apparently, this is a sensitive subject.

Warning signs

When we turned onto Kelso Dunes Road, three miles of graded, dirt road, I held my breath and said a prayer to the dune gods, promising I’d never drive to the middle of nowhere again without knowing how to fix a flat.  My prayers were answered, and we made it the dunes fully inflated.

Partners In Crime

From the trail-head, we began the 1.5 mile hike to the summit.  We walked along the backbone from the right side of the tallest dune, since climbing up the face would be nearly impossible.  In late-December, we layered on jackets, hats and gloves to stay warm.  We admired the breathtaking view of the Mojave desert from our sand castle for giants.

A sand castle for giants
Sister enjoying the view from the top of the Kelso Dunes
Wind-combed sand

Before our initial descent, we christened our sandy sleigh, Shelby the Rocket.  As we slid gracefully down the steepest face, we heard the sound of Shelby’s engines roaring beneath us.  The Kelso Dunes are known as “booming” or “singing” dunes.  The “boom” happens when the sand slides down the steep slopes.  The sound is a little alarming at first, as you may scan the horizon for other signs of a volcanic eruption, but don’t panic.  The end of the world is not here yet.

When we reached the end of our rocket flight, we came to the same realization.  We had to do that again.  But this time, we tried to climb up the face of the dune against all reason.  Eventually, we made it back to the summit, feeling very winded but mostly victorious.  Our second descent was equally as satisfying.  Any kid would agree.

Happy kid

On our hike back to the trail-head, we brainstormed ideas for better, faster dune sledding on the next trip.  We encountered quite a few hikers on the way back.  It was definitely worth getting up at 4AM to have the dunes to ourselves.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Overall, adventure success.

Kelso Dunes Trail

  • Road Trip: 3-4 hours from Los Angeles
  • Trail Length: 3 miles round-trip

Get Directions

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4 Comments

  • Hi there! Thank you for writing this review….I’m going to go the sand dunes this weekend and I just had a quick question: Was sledding down it fun? Did you get some good speed? Was there a particular part of the dunes where this works best? And does the park allow you to slide down it? It’s okay with the park rangers?

    • Hi Reannon, Sledding down the dunes is great fun! You have to hike all the way to the top of the highest dune to get the most speed. I have not seen any signs yet prohibiting sledding. Just be mindful of the natural habitat, avoid stepping on plants as you climb the dunes, leave no trace and enjoy at your own risk… all that good stuff. Happy adventuring!

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