In the heart of the Mojave Desert, you’ll find a far-out desert scene where strangely formed rocks, a military base and ancient rock art collide.
Arguably the largest concentration of Paleo-Indian and Native American petroglyphs can be found covering the rocks of the Coso Rock Art National Historic Landmark. But access is really limited to this fascinating site since it is located within the active Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. Attend the Ridgecrest Petroglyph Festival in the fall to get on a tour.
Otherwise, guided tours are offered in fall and spring only. Apply for a spot by contacting the Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest. Only American citizens can visit this active military base, and you’ll need to fill out paperwork a minimum of 25 days in advance as well as pay a fee to obtain clearance. In Ridgecrest on a whim? Head to Petroglyph Park in town that features replicas of the ancient art.
About 30-40 minutes from Ridgecrest is a geologic wonder called Fossil Falls. If you’re expecting a dramatic cascading waterfall or ancient fossils, you won’t find either. Fossil Falls was created after area volcanoes erupted between 400,000 and 10,000 years ago, spilling lava across the landscape. As glaciers melted, the water filled the Owens River, which cut through volcanic rock, polishing and sculpting it. Turn off Hwy. 395 and drive over a mile to reach the trailhead. A short trail leads you to this wonder.
Stroll this bizarre landscape where dozens of TV commercials and Hollywood movies have been filmed. Scenes from Star Trek and the remake of Planet of the Apes were shot here. As you walk around, you might find yourself looking to see Spock strolling under one of the 500 tufa formations rising out of the dry Searles Lake. Tufas are pinnacles made of calcium carbonate. During the Pleistocene era, they formed underwater when inland seas covered the area.
A Living Ghost Town
There are quite a few ghost towns that dot this stretch of desert, a reminder of the Gold Rush boom and following bust. If you drive 20 minutes from Ridgecrest, you’ll discover a ghost town named Randsburg that comes alive Thursdays through Sundays. A former mining town, Randsburg formed after gold was discovered at the nearby Rand Mine in 1895. Stroll the dusty streets and order something to eat at the White House Saloon and in the General Store.
For more information:
Ridgecrest Area Convention & Visitors Bureau