The Trona Pinnacles are the very definition of “weird landscape,” with their outer space like appearance.
Located in Searles Valley – on the Searles Dry Lake, the Pinnacles are located roughly twenty-three miles east of the community of Ridgecrest, CA – and thirteen miles south of Trona. For those visiting Death Valley National Park, the Pinnacles are south of Stovepipe Wells; roughly 82 miles. Access is very simple, with the main entrance being well-marked, off of Route 178. Once off of the pavement, there is a seven mile stretch of dirt road – this can be a little slow going depending on the type of vehicle that you have. High clearance can come in handy, but it is not mandatory – a typical street car should manage to make it out and back with a careful driver.
If you are traveling in a low clearance vehicle, I do not recommend driving past the pit toilet. The road becomes far worse, very quickly. To give a quick example, several years ago in my old Jeep, I was out with family visiting from Pennsylvania. Driving around the roads at the Pinnacles, I lost my drive-shaft…it was laying in the dirt, and the vehicle wouldn’t budge. I don’t remember exactly how we rigged it back up, but we managed – that Jeep was never the same after that.
The Pinnacles are formed of tufa or meteogene travertine, which is a type of limestone. They formed during the Pleistocene era, when a series of lakes stretched from Lake Mono to (ancient) Manly Lake in Death Valley from 10,000 to 100,000 years ago – Searles Lake was one of these lakes. Calcium-rich groundwater and alkaline lake water combined to grow the formations.
Not all of the Pinnacles formed during the same time period, there are three groups of pinnacles – the northern, middle, and southern groups – each of which was formed during a different ice age. The northern pinnacles are youngest – and southern being the oldest.
For those of you that are movie buffs, the Trona Pinnacles have been featured in a number of films, including: Planet of the Apes (2001), Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Disney’s Dinosaur, and Lost in Space. For a full list check out the IMDB listing.
The Trona Pinnacles were designated a National Natural Landmark in 1968, the Pinnacles are located within 3,800 acres of Federal property managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
Primitive camping is permitted, please be sure to use established fire rings – and clean up after yourself!