The Trona Pinnnacles
However it may appear to you, a visit to the Trona Pinnacles will be a journey into one of the most unusual geologic wonders in the California Desert. This unique landscape consists of more than 500 tufa (calcium carbonate) pinnacles rising from the bed of the Searles Dry Lake basin. These tufa spires, some as high as 140 feet, were formed underwater 10,000 to 100,000 years ago when Searles Lake formed a link in an interconnected chain of Pleistocene lakes stretching from Mono Lake to Death Valley.
The Trona Pinnacles were designated by the Department of the Interior as a National Natural Landmark in1968 to protect one of the nation's best examples of tufa formation.
What shapes will you see?
Can you spot a rabbit, a bear, or even a human face in the tufa shapes? People have always given names to these strange forms. Perhaps you will see why the ancient spires were once dubbed "Cathedral City".
Geologically the pinnacles are classified into four general shapes - towers, tombstones, ridges, and cones:
- Towers are taller than they are wide and rise 30 to 40 feet. Look for pointed, rounded, or flat summits.
- Tombstones are stubby and squat and rise 20 to 30 feet.
- Ridges are massive, toothy, and tufa runs. Trona Pinnacles has three ridges. One ridge is 800 feet long, 500 feet wide and 140 feet tall.
- Cones are less than 10 feet tall. Dumpy and mounded cone shapes lay scattered throughout the Trona Pinnacles.
Trona Pinnacles is located approximately 20 miles east of Ridgecrest. Access from a BLM dirt road (RM143) that leaves SR 178, about 7.7 miles east of the intersection of SR 178 and the Trona-Red Mountain Road. The 5-mile long dirt road from SR 178 to the Pinnacles is usually accessible to 2-wheel drive vehicles, however, the road may be closed during the winter months after a heavy rain.
Planning Your Visit
Located at around 2,000 feet above sea level in the Western Mojave Desert, the Trona Pinnacles is an ideal place to explore in the fall, winter, and spring months. Visiting the site in the early morning and evening is especially dramatic as are nights with a full moon.
Summer temperatures often exceed 115°F at the Trona Pinnacles, so if you plan on visiting in the summer try the early morning or evening hours. Bring plenty of water (at least 2 gallons of water/person), and if you do not have 4-wheel drive, stay out of the sand washes. Quite a few cars have been stranded in the wide sand wash that divides the main Pinnacles group.
A network of dirt roads wind throughout the site and provide numerous vantage points from which to view and photograph the Pinnacles. A .50-mile hiking trail leads into the heart of the Pinnacles for a close-up view of these spires and the surrounding desert environment. The hike is not difficult, but you should wear sturdy shoes.
Primitive camping is permitted at Trona Pinnacles and campers are encouraged to use existing campsites and fire rings and to pack out all trash. If you plan on having a campfire, bring your own firewood. Camping is limited to 14 days.
The only development of any facilities is a vault type toilet. There are no other services at the Pinnacles.
Operate your motor vehicle and mountain bike on existing routes to protect this fragile place. Cross country travel will destroy vegetation and create scars on the landscape that may take years to heal.
Shooting is prohibited at the Trona Pinnacles to ensure the safety of other visitors.
Trona Pinnacles Trail Information
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
The area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management Ridgecrest Field Office to protect its scenic values. The Trona Pinnacles is a popular filming location for movies and commercials.
Bureau of Land Management
Ridgecrest Field Office
300 S. Richmond Rd.
Ridgecrest, CA 93555
Phone: (760) 384-5400
Fax: (760) 384-5499
Office Hours: 7:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., M-F
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