For those that have never visited a desert, there is a popular perception that such areas only have miles and miles of flat, featureless terrain. In reality, however, deserts have a huge variety of terrain, ranging from mountains, sand dunes, slot canyons, sunken basins, and a variety of things in between. One of the most interesting things about deserts is that many of them provide evidence of dormant volcanism (such as the Ubehebe Crater), and active volcanism (such as the Mud Pots in the Salton Sea). In the Mojave Desert, there are a number of locations that one can see evidence of dormant volcanism, from the Cinder Cone area within Mojave National Preserve, and the Amboy Crater National Natural Landmark.
Like the Cinder Cone area within the Mojave National National Preserve, the Amboy Crater is a cinder cone volcano that formed during the Pleistocene era, some 80,000 years ago. The volcano is now long dormant, with the last lava flow emerging some 10,000 years ago. At 944 feet in height, and with a seventy square kilometer lava field surrounding it, the Amboy Crater is - and was a distinctive geological formation in the area. As of 1973, the entire area is a protected public land that is regulated by the Bureau of Land Management.
Directions: The crater is located is a remote part of the Mojave Desert; and as such, visitors should exercise caution when visiting the area, as there are very few facilities, and cellular coverage is spotty. Moreover, as the crater is in the middle of the Mojave Desert, for over nine months of the year, temperatures regularly exceed 90 degrees with little to no shade. Correspondingly, visitors to the area should have plenty of gasoline; and plenty of water. From Barstow, California, travelers will want to head east on Interstate 40 for fifty miles to the town of Ludlow, which is one of the few areas with a gas station in this area of the Mojave. From Ludlow, travelers will want to follow the National Trails Highway (Route 66) for another twenty seven miles (27) to the east, whereupon the entrance to the crater is well signed on the right (south) side of the road. From Needles, California, travelers will want to follow the Interstate 40 west for sixty three miles, before exiting at Kelbaker Road, which one will follow west to the National Trails Highway, and Crater road on the left (south) side. From the entrance, the road leads to a parking area, picnic area, and the trailhead to the crater.
The trail to the crater is a well-marked out-and-back trail that traverses a good portion of the lava field, before ascending up to the crater rim. Although the Crater is 944 feet high, there is only two hundred and fifty feet of elevation gain over the course of 1.5 miles hiking to the crater rim, but most of this elevation gain occurs during the last half mile. All of the hike is exposed, with no shade. Overall, the hike is suitable for all parties and is at most, a moderate hike; but for those who do not feel comfortable heading up to the crater rim, the BLM has placed benches and shelters near the volcano where people can rest and observe other hikers. The difficulty that exists in this 1.5 mile hike to the crater rim, and three mile roundtrip hike is based on the conditions that exist in the Mojave; namely, the direct sun exposure, and the temperatures. Hikers that are considering this hike should judge the conditions accordingly, and not start the hike in the middle of the day in summer, when temperatures can exceed 110 degrees. For those hikers that traverse the entire trail, there are a number of great views, of first, the volcano from a distance, the crater from a small saddle, and ultimately, the surrounding area, and the volcano and crater as a whole from the rim. Once one is done exploring the crater, and the crater rim, which can be traversed from side to side, the return route is back via the same trail.
Tips/Other Items: As noted above, for those attempting this hike, proper preparation regarding time of day and supplies is essential. As a fun fact, this spot was also used as a location for the 1959 film, Journey to the Center of the Earth. For those willing to travel a bit further, the nearby town of Amboy, while mostly abandoned, has some interesting Route 66 history with the remains of Roy’s Motel. While the motel is no longer operational, it is preserved in a Fallout-like state for those that would like to stop, walk around, and take photos. For those travelers wanting to stay in an authentic Route 66 motel that remains operational in San Bernardino county, the Wigwam Motel is a short drive to the west.