If you’re starting to feel like you need a vacation not just from normal life, but from this planet entirely, you’re not alone. Sadly, commercial spaceflight is still a ways off, but for something that at least feels otherworldly, you have some nice options in California. One of the eeriest and most remote? The Trona Pinnacles. The collection of massive stone spires in the middle of the flat, dusty, brutally hot desert is something to behold.
The reason the pinnacles look so strange might lie in how they were formed. 10,000 to 100,000 years ago inland seas, including Searles Lake, covered a huge stretch of California. Below the lake’s surface, calcium in the ground water mixed with the alkaline lake water formed tufa pillars… the pinnacles we see today. Of course, they’re not underwater anymore; they’re in a desert. The water eventually dried up, revealing the formations.
Many called the collection of hundreds of spires “Cathedral City” for years. The various types of pinnacles seen here have been grouped into 4 categories: taller “towers”, stubbier “tombstones”, long “ridges”, and stumpy “cones”. Within the Trona Pinnacles, there are three distinct sets of formations. Each was formed at a different time. That is why they all appear slightly different. The northernmost group is the “youngest”, and has a variety of formations. While the middle group only has 100 towers, it contains the tallest spire. Finally, the southernmost group is the oldest. Overall, there are about 500 spires.
Lights, Camera, Action
The Pinnacles are a super distinctive and close to LA, but are not terribly well-known. Therefore, they’re a perfect filming location. They have served as a desolate, far-off planet like in Star Trek V: Final Frontier and they’re the bombed-out ruins of a post-apocalyptic Earth in Planet of the Apes. They’re a perfect backdrop for tons of settings. About 30 projects, from car commercials to blockbuster movies film here every year.
Visiting the Trona Pinnacles
The Pinnacles are in between LA and Death Valley in the Upper Mojave Desert. You’ll find hiking trails, but not much else here. You can get close to the pillars and explore around and among them. The best times of year to visit are between the late fall and early spring, as brutal summer heat can make a trip here dangerous. Furthermore, the location is remote, so bring extra water. And, fill up on gas whenever you can.
Header image via Wikipedia Commons
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