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Baker Area Lava Tube

By Jake Brouwer

The Worlds Largest Themometer at Baker, California. This day it reached 101 by 10:00 AM. Photo by Charlotte Brouwer.


If you are looking for an interesting day outing and live reasonably close to the Baker, California area, or you are passing through the area with little or nothing else to do but explore, allow me to suggest a great little day trip that will require not much more then a high clearance two wheel drive vehicle, flash light and a sense of adventure.

Now I'll admit that this is an easy spot to miss and if you do, please chalk it up to one of life's misfortunes and don't send me any hate mail. Sometimes roaming around the desert in search of something produces better results then the thing you were looking for in the first place. I have been there now 6 or seven times, and never can tell anyone exactly how to find it, for I just know to turn left at this bush, or that stake, and them I am there. I will include some directions that come from the book by Bill Mann, Guide to 50 Interesting and Mysterious Sites in the Mojave but must add that I near threw the book away after not coming close with the mileage indicators that are given. Heck finding it is half the fun. Seriously don't throw the book away though, because there are 49 more trips to figure out.

OThe old corral,
sometimes complete with steers

From the Los Angeles area take Interstate route 15 towards Las Vegas. When you get to Baker, California, I usually stop for any last minute needs before heading out into the wilds. That can include gas, food, restroom,map etc. There is an information center there where the Worlds Largest Thermometer stands that has lots of informative books and displays. The thermometer is interesting in itself, and do remember to take note of the temperature as you pass by. I usually hit Baker by 9 or 10 AM and the temps are not too bad but sometimes coming back by 2 or 3 PM they can be over 110 degrees in the summer time.

At Baker you will find Kelbaker Road, it runs perpendicular to the freeway and you will be going south. If you follow Bill Mann's directions, set your odometer at the freeway exit. At about 16 miles you will be in a cinder cone area, lots of interesting black rock strewn about. Turn at the 19.4-mile mark where you will find Aiken Mine Road. It only goes to your left and guess what? There is no sign or if there is, it is shot so full of holes you will never decipher it. I will say it is one of the wider roads leading off Kelbaker Road. Bill says that at 20.9 miles the Old Mojave Road crosses at an angle and at 21 miles you'll pass an old corral on your left.

A worn desert trail
leads to the lava tube

An old desert artifact has its own unusual beauty

Now travelers, if you have to go just a bit more or less and do find the corral, you're doing a fine job. You will no doubt want to hop out and explore a bit here after that ride on the bumpy dirt road through the desert. There's a neat old truck cab and other bits of iron lying about and on occasion you will find a few longhorn steers just hanging out. If you have a red pickup truck like I do, let me recommend that you keep moving, as they found me quite interesting on more than one occasion.

At 23.8 you come to a fork in the road and you will bear left and at 24 miles you will come to another corral and fork. Bear left around the corral. Now as memory serves, the road from the start at the freeway just keeps getting smaller and smaller and rougher and rougher. As you pass this last corral you start up a little rise. It is a bit rockier here, lots of lava rock. At 24.3 miles there is what you may construe as a turn out on the right where most people park if and when they find the spot.

Now the fun begins. Grab some water, flashlight and camera and get ready for a Mojave adventure. (Note that this is how I visit the site, others might recommend hard hat, cleat shoes, ropes, snake bite kit, dust masks and on and on. Please assess the situation for your self as you get closer and take the precautions you feel necessary). Going off and up to your right is a worn trail that winds through the lava rock, creosote and cacti. In the spring you can find some great flowers trekking here along with lizards and other crawlers.

The rickety steel mining ladder that leads down into the lava tube

On the way to the lave tube cavern there are a few holes in the surface of the earth, most small but one larger one. If you stay on the trail you will still see them, but if you bring children, I recommend you keep them on a short rope. Finally you arrive at the gaping hole in the ground and just stare in amazement that something this neat is out here in the middle of nowhere and there is no one out there asking for a $10.00 admission.

There is a rickety metal mining ladder that is really quite safe if you take it slow and cautious. Once down in the pit, I usually take to the right and look at the various places rock has fallen, rodent scat, and the unusual formation of rocks. The area to the right has another escape route, but the rock is quite loose and with the movement you will create crossing it, it is better to stay away.

Going back to the left you will start down into the tube, crossing large boulders that might once have been above your very head at one time. Always makes you wonder about that when you see boulders on the floor. When you reach the bottom, the roof of the tube is lower and you may have to duck to avoid bumping your head. Note the fine dust that has settled on the floor. As you move about the cavern this dust will be stirred and get into everything including your lungs, so move slowly. Keep moving through the tube, the ceiling gets very low to where you may have to get on your hands and knees. Continue on and then the tube opens up into a very large room. You will enjoy the fact that you can see without your light on at this point. Why? Well, one of those holes in the ceiling you may have seen from the outside sends a beam of light straight down to the floor creating a spectacular effect. It's sort of like "beam me up Scotty." The room is a fun place to explore and it keeps going for a bit further. At the very end is a man made tunnel that goes in maybe 20 feet and Bill Mann says that it was made by someone was looking for a "River of Gold."

Pete Garbarini an explorer from New York peers down into the gaping hole of the entrance to the lava tube.

As you come out of the cavern look out towards the opening and you can get a neat shot of the open hole above you. Back in the 1910's and 20's this was the type of view that made it on many cavern postcards. I took a shot similar to the one shown to the right that made the cover of THE EXPLORER, which is the publication of the Southern California Grotto of the NSS.

On your way out be sure to take everything with you that you came with and take a last long look at the beauty of the Mojave before you hit the road.

A shorter version of this article was printed in the Daily Press on October 20, 2002






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