Onto the Trona Pinnacles

(In the last episode, we left Ken at the intersection of the 14 and the road to Randsburg, which I now take to get to Trona.)

I crossed 100 miles of unpopulated California high desert, interrupted only by large gatherings of RVs and pickup trucks carrying ATVs and dirt bikes, each group sporting its own flags. They were clearly distinct groups, yet all within a quarter-mile of each other. I wondered why they didn’t all just get together in one place and forget the flags. Probably some old tribal instinct surfacing in this manner.

I had been warned about the road to Trona Pinnacles, and while it was nowhere near as awful as some had predicted, it was an exercise in patience. It took a long while, 45 minutes perhaps, to drive 5 miles on this washboard dirt road with occasional giant ruts and generally bad conditions. The worst part, near the end, had been coated with newly broken rocks, some of which were so sharp I loudly prayed for my Prius’ tires to be spared.

You could see the Pinnacles from the beginning of the road, and from there they looked like nothing much, odd growths from the earth, large erupting zits. Once you were up against them though, they had a compelling and powerful presence. I’d read the place was creepy at night and now I could see why. It was the closest thing I’d ever felt to being in another world, a sere, austere, hostile, forbidding, desolate, harsh world where nothing but tumbleweeds grow. It felt like the final ruins of a vanished world, and in fact that is exactly what it is: these tufa towers, now standing like sentinels guarding an indecipherable secret, once grew in a lake with over 600 feet of water above them.

The place did not invite, so I decided against setting up my tent and waiting for sunset. The temperature was a pleasant 76° and the wind nothing more than a light breeze, so I drove around the dirt roads surrounding the towers and shot what I could. The high-noon light was stark, perhaps appropriately so, but at least these photos were in focus, as I used a different lens:-)

The towers are spread out over a 14 square mile area, and the dirt road meandered around them with many branches, some of which I backtracked and took. From every angle, they looked like guards at the entrance of Hades, warning you against passing the threshold, and I now understand why this has been the backdrop for so many sci-fi movies: it’s a better set than most people could conceive, although I cannot not imagine the travails of driving a honeywagon to that location.

Photos will come later, as it always takes me an eternity to process what I shot. Meanwhile I’m already planning my next adventure. Ibex dunes may have to wait for fall due to the high temperatures, but I have a Memorial Day weekend trip to Sequoia, which I have not explored in earnest in the past, so I’m excited about that. To be continued 

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