The Trona Pinnacles are a very otherworldly place; so much so that movies including Star Trek and Planet of the Apes were filmed here to represent alien planets. It’s hard to believe this stark area was covered by a large lake during the much wetter Pleistocene period more than 10,000 years ago. The pinnacles are located about 20 miles from Ridgecrest with the last 5 miles along a bumpy unpaved road. PHOTO BY JESSE PLUIM, BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
A short drive to the east of Ridgecrest will transport you to what appears to be a different world when you visit the Trona Pinnacles.
The pinnacles are a unique geological feature in the California Desert Conservation Area, about 20 miles east of Ridgecrest. The unusual landscape consists of more than 500 tufa spires, some as high as 140 feet, rising from the bed of the Searles Dry Lake basin. The pinnacles vary in size and shape from short and squat to tall and thin, and are composed primarily of calcium carbonate (tufa). The Trona Pinnacles have been featured in many commercials, films, and still-photo shoots.
The Trona Pinnacles were designated a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1968 to preserve one of North America’s most outstanding examples of tufa tower formation.
The tufa (or calcium carbonate spires) are spread out over a 14 square mile area across the Searles Lake basin. These features range in size from small-coral-like boulders to several that top out at over 140 feet tall.
The pinnacles were formed between 10,000 and 100,000 years ago when Searles Lake formed a link in a chain of interconnected lakes flowing from the Owens Valley to Death Valley. At one point during the Pleistocene, the area was under 640 feet of water.
Camping is allowed at the Trona Pinnacles, but the Bureau of Land Management has issued these reminders:
• Dispersed camping is allowed for a period not to exceed 14 days within a 28 consecutive day period. The 28 day period begins when a camper initially occupies a specific location on public lands. The 14-day limit may be reached either through a number of separate visits or through 14 days of continuous overnight occupation during the 28 day period. After the 14th day of occupation, the camper must move outside of a 25-mile radius of the previous location until the 29th day since the initial occupation.
• There is no potable water or developed facilities other than a single vault toilet on site.
• Pack out all trash. There are no trash services. In the desert environment, even natural items like orange peels take years to decompose.
• Travel on existing roads and trails. Vegetation in this climate can take decades to recover when crushed by off-road driving or parking.
• Camp in campgrounds if available. Using campgrounds reduces the number of vehicles so that the great views are not blocked.
• Have a great time. The Trona Pinnacles are a great place to explore natural wonders and experience your public lands.