If you think the surreal sculptured spires of the Trona Pinnacles look like something right out of Star Trek – you’d be right because this “otherworldly” landscape is the actual site where numerous sci-fi movies were filmed. The Star Trek V Final Frontier movie used this intriguing spot as well as Planet of the Apes, Lost in Space, and Battlestar Galactica.
You can camp here in your own battle cruiser among the weirdly weathered spires called “tufas” that overlook the Searles basin. Searles Lake is mostly a dry lake bed boasting a rich treasury of over half of the natural elements known to man. Trona is one of the many minerals found here, as well as borax, Epsom salts, and potash.
Nature’s ancient recipe for tufas was formed when hot springs surged from beneath the lake, creating fractures that allowed the calcium-carbonate rich groundwater to combine with concentrated brine mixed with the snowmelt flowing down from the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Camping around the pinnacles
The Trona Pinnacles National Natural Landmark makes a good overnight stop before heading into the Death Valley National Monument via California State Route 178 through Trona.
There is a network of dirt roads in and around the tufa formations. A single vault toilet is offered in a designated camping fee area. We did not see any water or trash receptacles. This is a BLM area with many camping and hiking opportunities. These roads would be difficult to drive in wet weather.
Expect weather extremes, hot or cold depending upon the time of year. We have camped here in February with the night temperatures dipping down into the 20s. Summer temps are known to reach triple digits. The winds can get fierce making huge plumes of dust.
We could see snow on Telescope Peak in the Panamint Range, as it towers over Death Valley. Looking east and south are good views to see the night sky.
This is earthquake country. Nearby Ridgecrest experienced numerous rough temblors in July 2019 rated up to 7.1.
I love the stark beauty of this area and how the light is constantly changing the look of the landscape with its shadows and highlighted spires. The white minerals in the lakebed give a contrasting backdrop. The surrounding mountain ranges add their own majestic inspiration to the scenery.
How to get there
From Ridgecrest, California take State Route 178 towards the mining community of Trona. The pinnacles can be seen from the main road with clear signs to turn onto the washboard dirt road to take you into the Natural Landmark.
We crossed tracks for the Trona Railway, the shortest regulated train tracks in the U.S.A. The tracks are used for commercial mining operations. A high clearance vehicle is best for traveling these dirt roads. Check out this OHV map.
This fun Youtube video of the pinnacles is taken from a drone flying over the area and gives a beautiful overview of the area:
The basin has been commercially mined since Dennis and John Searles first discovered borax here in 1862. The brothers switched from mining gold to borax forming the San Bernardino Borax Mining Company. In 1873 they scraped together a million pounds of borax and sold it for $200,000 – a fortune in today’s currency.
If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” – Vincent Van Gogh
The Trona community
The unincorporated town of Trona has a nice market offering groceries, food to go and quite a selection of hardware. The market also offered diesel and gasoline fairly priced. There we stocked up on ice, firewood and bungee cords.
The community offers an interesting mineral museum, thrift store, a few markets, several churches, and an airfield. There were no restaurants at the time of our visit, but food and groceries were offered at the markets.
Annual Searles Mineral Gem Event
Rockhounds come from all over the world to attend this hands-on event.
Unfortunately, due to earthquake damage, the October 2019 event had to be canceled.
Online articles to read
Here are some good links about the Trona Pinnacles National Landmark to help you plan your visit to this awe-inspiring place: