Trona Pinnacles

Everything has its time.-Dr. Who. Think about that for a second – everything has its time. It’s simple, elegant, and true. Everything – no matter what it is, has its time. There are songs that had meanings in life that you forgot but instantly remember when you hear them again; there’s foods that comfort you when you need them; and there’s smells that have the power to drag you to ancient epochs past. This is to say nothing of people, things, places, and pretty much every tangible and intangible thing in life. Everything has its time. The practical application of this phrase, however, is present in Trona, California, where the Trona Pinnacles currently stand.

Trona is an interesting place. It’s a place that I’ve spoken about before (here), as it’s one of those spots in the world where time has moved on, and it’s a spot where there’s nothing but silence. But it wasn’t always this way. Over ten thousand years ago, an ancient lake filled what is now the Searles Valley and was one of many glacial lakes that covered the region. Underneath the surface of this lake, lake water and spring water mixed, causing a chemical reaction that formed the tufas over an extended period of time. If you think this is something that only happened in the ancient past, think again! This type of rock forming activity is going on today at Mono Lake (Read more about it here). However, like the dinosaurs the water from Searles Lake is long gone – again, everything has its time. But to this day, the former underwater formations exist – an echo of a time long past.

The formations, in my opinion, are truly otherworldly. When I was there, I felt like I was on another planet, as there are few spots on Earth that have the type of terrain you encounter in the Searles Valley – a flat, hot expanse, where the sun falls on you directly like a hammer and the shade of the surrounding mountains is far, far away. The day I was there, there were no other people, and while I will chalk that up partially to it being a hot day in September, the fact remains that this is a remote location in the world – it is a place that is in the middle of a desert, and one that is six miles off a dirt road. In this respect, the solitude of the location lends to its otherworldly feel. While I was there, I heard nothing – no birds, no insects, no voices, no wind – nothing. The sound of nothing is not something that usually has its time in the modern world, in my experience, so that alone should make Trona a spot you might want to visit. The silence, in certain respects, also makes the place feel sacred – the spires of the pinnacles could be a natural Stonehenge; or, if you like the phantasmagorical, a latter day set of rocks like Ackerman’s Field in Steven King’s “N”. In any case, the pinnacles stand for everything having its time and are a modern day time machine – one that lets you see that the world wasn’t always as it is; and that things always could be different, and that is reason enough to go visit them.

Directions: The Pinnacles are located on BLM land directly outside of the town of Trona, California, which is off of Highway 178. The best directions I found were that the turnoff for the Pinnacles was 8 miles East/Southeast of the Trona-Red Mountain Road intersection on Highway 178, meaning that if you are on Highway 178, heading East from Ridgecrest, you will pass the Trona-Red Mountain road; and then at that point, you will drive eight (8) more miles before seeing the turnoff on the right (South). From the turnoff, which is well signed, it is a six (6) mile drive on a semi-graded dirt road.

Tips: The BLM will caution you about driving on the semi-graded dirt road as it is not paved. I took my car, which I call the Grey Avenger out there, and I had no problems; and it does not have 4WD or AWD. However…due to my off-roading experiences, I learned long ago that it’s not what you’re driving, but how you drive it, and how you react to road conditions or lack thereof. I will note that the road out to the Pinnacles did have a few sandy spots, and that if there was water or had been water in the region, the road would likely be impassable for non-4WD vehicles, unless you like to get stuck. And, speaking of getting stuck: it should be obvious from the photos/descriptions above, but, in case it is not, this is a remote area with no people, so bring plenty of water in case disaster strikes whether you are hiking or just driving. While it is only a six mile walk to the road, Trona is another couple miles away, and it is not a bustling metropolis, so you should plan on having at least a gallon of water with you should you visit the area.