The Trona Pinnacles is one of the most unusual geological features in the California Desert Conservation Area. The unusual landscape consists of more than 500 tufa spires, some as high as 140 feet, rising from the bed of the Searles Lake. The pinnacles vary in size and shape from short and squat to tall and thin, and are composed primarily of calcium carbonate (tufa) that formed underwater. They now sit isolated and slowly crumbling away near the south end of the valley, surrounded by many square miles of flat, dried mud and with stark mountain ranges at either side.
Wild Burros ridgecrest 85 A field of California Poppies and other widflowers Desert Tortoise Wild Horses
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Fossil Falls

AREA DESCRIPTION: Fed by the rains and snows of the last Ice Age, the Owens River once flowed from Owens lake down through this narrow valley between the Coso and Sierra Nevada Mountain ranges. Several times during the last 100,000 years, the discharge from the Owens river has been great enough to form a vast interconnected system of lakes in what are now the arid basins of the Mojave Desert. The rugged and primitive features of Fossil Falls are the produce of volcanic activity. As recent as 20,000 years ago, lava from the local volcanic eruptions poured into the Owens River channel. The erosional forces of the Owens River acted upon this volcanic rock, forming the polished and sculptured features that now can be seen at Fossil Falls.

The red cinder cone visible to the north is the result of the violent ejection of trapped gases and molten material into the air from vent in the earth's crust. Cooling quickly when exposed to the air, the molten material formed a porous rock known as scoria, which built up around the original vent forming a cone-shaped hill.

EARLY CULTURE: Some 10,000 to 20,000 years ago, the first human beings camped along the ancient rivers and lakes of the Mojave Desert. These prehistoric people harvested lakeshore resources and hunted large animals. By 6000 B.C., extreme aridity caused the last of these ancient rivers and lakes (including the Owens River) to disappear. The grasslands, marshes, and large mammals that had once flanked these lakes vanished. Prehistoric human populations may have partially abandoned low-lying desert areas in search of food and water in upland mountains areas.

WAY OF LIFE: Around 4000 BC, climatic conditions again shifted from the extreme aridity of the preceding period to the relatively moderate conditions that exist today. A cultural pattern was established that emphasized the use of a wide variety of desert plant foods that included both small and large mammals, reptiles, insects and waterfowl as well.

With only slight adjustments such as the additions of pottery and the bow and arrow, this way of life was still being practiced by the Little Lake Shoshone Indians at the time of the first European explorations of the Mojave Desert. Many of the archaeological sites at Fossil Falls are dated between 4000 BC and European contact in the 19th century.

ADAPTING: Most of the archaeological materials found in the Fossil Falls vicinity, which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, reflect this unique cultural adaptation to the desert environment.

The rock-ring features directly adjacent to Fossil Falls supported conical brush or tule structure that served as shelter for only few weeks or month of the year. As mentioned previously, the need for mobility as various plant foods ripened at different localities made permanent structures unnecessary.

A number of rocks and boulders possess smooth basins on their upper surface. These rocks are called metates and were used for plant processing: hard desert seeds were placed on the metate surface and ground with a handheld cobble called a miano. Over time, this grinding motion produced the characteristic smooth concave surface of the metate.

The surrounding desert also contained the raw materials for a simple hunter-gatherer technology. The black scar seen on the dome-shaped hill to the east is a mile-long seam of volcanic glass, obsidian. Obsidian was used almost exclusively in the manufacture of stone tools such as projectile points, knives, and scrapers. The large scatters of obsidian waste flakes seen in the Fossil Falls vicinity are the byproducts of stone tool manufacture.

GETTING THERE: Fossil Falls is located 45 minutes north of the city of Ridgecrest on the east side of US 395. Take the Cinder Road exit. Once you reach the parking area, there is a trail for you to follow, though not difficult, sturdy shoes are recommended due to its uneven surface. NOTE: PLEASE SUPERVISE YOUNG CHILDREN IN THIS AREA AS THE TRAIL LEADS TO THE TOP OF A SHEER CLIFF.

CAMPING: The Fossil Falls are includes the Fossil Falls Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) and the Fossil Falls Campground. The Fossil Falls Campground has 11 sites that are located within the ACEC. The campground fee is $6.00 per night. The camping area has a restroom, a hand pump for potable water, fire rings and picnic tables.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: The late fall, winter and early spring are the best times to visit Fossil Falls.

The BLM encourages all recreationists and travelers exploring public land, not only within southern California but throughout the west, to use a propylene glycol based antifreeze/coolant in their touring and recreation vehicles. Proven safer, it will have minimal impacts on both the wildlife and the environment should a leak occur.

Archaeological sites are protected by the Antiquities Protection Act of 1906 and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979. The 1979 Act provides stiff penalties, plus a reward for information that leads to a conviction. Please notify rangers or other federal land management authorities if you discover illegal activity.

Remember to practice Leave No Trace principles:

Plan Ahead and Prepare; Camp and Travel on Durable Surfaces; Pack It In Pack It Out; Properly Dispose of What You Can't Pack Out; Leave What You Find; Minimize Use and Impact of Fires