Remember trying to build the tallest sandcastle of them all? Now you can up the ante by hiking to the summit of one of California’s tallest dune fields. The Kelso Dunes comprise 45 square miles of natural sandcastles, featuring a pyramid-shaped high point that offers span-tastic views of these wind-sculpted wonders and the dramatic peaks enshrining them. There are several routes to the top, but the easiest is a 3-mile (round-trip) hike that ascends a lower dune east of the summit, letting you hike up the ridge where the ground is most stable. En route you’ll be serenaded by "singing sand" (more like sudden booms!), a phenomenon created by vibrations in the slippery grains beneath your feet. The apex offers a superb perspective of the pale rippling dunes unfurling below, bordered by the rocky terrain of the Granite and Providence mountains. Enterprising kids—or just kids at heart—can slide down the steep banks but it’s also fun to run down the singing sand, which goes much faster than the hike up!WHERE TO STAY: Hotel Nipton
(107355 Nipton Road, in Nipton, a tiny town on the northeast side of Mojave National Preserve) is a recently refurbished, century-old adobe with five rooms. Nipton also has a general store and café. There are two developed campgrounds
in Mojave National Preserve including Hole-in-the-Wall Campground, with 35 first-come, first-served sites for $12/night. Amenity-free roadside vehicle camping
is also permitted at no charge throughout the park, and there are several good places for vehicle camping 0.75 miles past the Kelso Dunes Trailhead at the end of Kelso Dunes Road. These low-elevation sites offer some of the park’s warmest winter camping as well as beautiful sunrise and sunset views over the dunes.From I-40 east of Barstow, take exit 78 onto Kelbaker Rd. and drive 14.5 miles north to Kelso Dunes Rd. (8 miles before the Kelso Depot Visitor Center). Turn left and drive 3 miles to the trailhead for the Kelso Dunes (map). A Kelso Dunes Ranger Walk & Talk departs from the trailhead every Saturday at 11:00 a.m. from November through May.