Summer Road Trips: The Lava Tube at Mojave National Preserve & Kelso Dunes

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It’s summer and that means many of you probably want to get out and do a little exploring. I’m talking filling up the tank, grabbing the map out of the glove box (or turning on your mobile GPS navigation system) and taking a classic road trip to a place you’ve never visited. But of all the roads and destinations to take, which ones should you choose?

To help you answer the question, KCRW has assembled an eclectic group of people who shared their favorite Southern California road trips with us. Each person will give us directions, tell us what we’ll find along the route, and, most importantly, share what makes them love it so.

We start with Doug Ellison’s route to the Lava Tube at Mojave National Preserve & Kelso Dunes. Let’s meet our travelers and take a look at what’s ahead for this day trip.

During the week, Doug Ellison works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory where he produces images of spacecraft and the far-flung places in the solar system they explore. But on the weekends, he loves to hit the road and explore unusual corners of California; the more strange and alien, the better.

Listen to his road-trip suggestion and check out the extraordinary images he’s provided. To follow his route, we’ve provided directions below.

To get there from Interstate 15: Exit at Kelbaker Road in Baker, CA; head south for 34 miles to Kelso Depot – this is the main visitors’ center for the preserve and an essential stop for the first-time visitor.

To get there from Interstate 40: Exit at Kelbaker Road (28 miles east of Ludlow, CA) and drive north for 22 miles to Kelso Depot.

Ellison recommends visiting the lava tube in the preserve. Travelers should drive south for 21 miles on Kelbaker Rd. from Baker, then northeast for about 4.5 miles on the unmarked Aiken Mtn. Road. Bear left at the fork, pass a corral on the left, and then park in the loop at the bottom of a volcanic cinder cone. A ladder takes people down into the lava tube. Keep in mind road conditions before attempting this trip!

Ellison also recommends visiting Kelso Dunes. To get to the dunes, drive southeast from Baker for 42 miles on Kelbaker Road, then west for 3 miles on a graded dirt road. The dunes are 7 miles south of the main visitors center at Kelso Depot.

Plenty of maps and info on National Parks Mojave site here: