Monday, April 25, 2011

Hike 2011.029 -- Amboy Crater

Hiked Saturday, April 23, 2011. Previously hiked on Sunday, April 11, 2010.

I was heading out for the semi-annual "star party" in Mojave National Preserve. Last year, the party was a few weeks earlier and I did this hike on my return leg. This year, I was not expecting the crazy flower bloom of last year, but I did look forward to another bit of leg-streching to break up the long drive to Black Canyon Equestrian and Group Campground, where we've had the star party regularly for the past three years.

The trailhead is just off of National Trails Highway, which is also known as "Historic Route 66." It's a few miles west of the town of Amboy. From the west, you can take I-40 and exit at Ludlow, head south, then take a quick left to go east on National Trails Highway for about 27 miles. Amboy Crater will be on your right. Turn into the recently-paved road and park in the recently paved parking lot. A vault toilet and picnic tables are here, but no running water.

Alternatively, you can exit at Kelbaker Road and head south about 11 miles, then turn right (west) on National Trails Highway. Five miles later, you'll pass through the town of Amboy. One and a half miles later, you'll see Amboy Crater, on your left.

The trail starts at the far western end of the parking lot. Walk the sidewalk to one of the shaded pavilions at this end of the lot, then walk past them, to the trail that is indicated by a symbol of a walking man. If you walk to and from the volcanic cone, then up and around the rim of the crater, it's supposed to be three miles, roundtrip.

At least, that's the distance I've seen quoted on various sources. But the only distance marker on the trail is one with arrows that claim 1/2 mile to the crater and 1/2 mile to the parking lot, which would mean 1 mile total distance between them, plus what ever distance to circumnavigate the crater's rim. The time it takes for this hike (even with the many pictures I take) seems far longer than 1 mile each way, that's for sure.

The volcanic cone rises about 150 feet above the desert floor. Dark lava flows are all around the area. On some of these lava intrusions, chuckwalla and other lizards make their homes. Rodents and birds also appear, although usually not long enough for me to photograph them.

The trail meanders across the desert, with several shaded benches along the way. On the day I hiked, in mid-afternoon, it was in the upper 80s, and I was the only one on the trail. Well, me and the lizards.

Last year, when it was showier, I had more company on the walk.

Once the trial reaches the volcanic cone, it runs to the west end of the cone, where there's a break in the rim. You first climb about 75 feet to the height of the floor of the crater, then have the choice of several alternatives to continue another 75 feet to the rim. The breeze is often flowing pretty hard from the top of the rim.

There's usually a pretty expansive view from up top, with distance mountains in all directions, and desert between you and the mountains. The town of Amboy is to the northeast. A military artillery range is to the south.

There's a little bit of muddy soil on the bottom. I'd wager it's just the sand and clay that has blown into the cone over the years. Lava rocks are scattered on top of the clay, and occasionally get rearranged into shapes or messages. Sparse vegetation is scattered within the cone.

As expected, there were fewer blooms to enjoy this year. Around one particular type of flower, nearer the cone, was a ubiquitous black-winged insect. Because I wasn't sure if it was the stinging or biting type of insect, I didn't get too close, so my photo attempts were mostly unsuccessful.

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