trona pinnacles california

Trona Pinnacles: A Science Fiction Landscape in the California Desert

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Trona Pinnacles are an authentic hidden natural wonder of the Mojave Desert, in California. This place is often overlooked by most classic West Coast itineraries, but in my opinion, they’re one of those places that are really worth seeing. It’s really hard to describe the feeling you get when you stand before such a surreal landscape.

But let’s find out where Trona Pinnacles are located, how to reach them and what to expect from visiting this hidden gem of California.

Where Are the Trona Pinnacles?

how to get to trona pinnacles

As previously mentioned, Trona Pinnacles, or rather, Trona Pinnacles National Natural Landmark, is located about 25 minutes east of Ridgecrest.

As we wrote in our article Where to Stay in Death Valley, this small town is a strategic point for those traveling to Death Valley coming from Los Angeles or San Diego or – more frequently – for those going from Sequoia to Death Valley/Las Vegas when Tioga Road is closed and there is no faster and more direct road to go from east to west or vice versa.

The truth is that the latter route is very long and it’s a bit frustrating to have to go all this way to cross the Sierra National Forest and the Sequoia National Forest. All the more reason for those who find themselves on a slightly flat and boring route like this to take a detour to Trona Pinnacles to raise their spirits.

How to Get There

From Ridgecrest, continue for about 17 miles on CA-178 E towards Death Valley. After you pass a brown sign (we’re in the desert!) you’ll find on your right the dirt road that leads to the remote area where Trona Pinnacles are located. Unless you have a car that is too low, you can drive about 5 miles on this bumpy road without risking ruining your vehicle. If you go very slowly (I recommend it…), it takes about 20 minutes from the junction on CA-178 E. You will know that you have arrived when you see the Trona Pinnacles appear on the side of the road.

How Were They Formed? A Brief Geology Lesson

how were the trona pinnacles formed

Trona Pinnacles are impressive rock towers formed mainly of calcium carbonates that were underwater thousands of years ago. If you want to get a better idea of what kind of geological phenomenon we are talking about, read our article about a similar landscape named Mono Lake.

There are over 500 white tufa towers that emerge from the dried-up bed of the nearby Searles Lake and they come in various forms. You can see round domes, low and cracked cones, soaring pinnacles, stocky and deep cavities (tombstones), dangerous arches, massive reliefs, hoodoos, mushrooms, and anything else you can imagine. The tallest towers reach nearly 140 ft!

What do you need to know?

trona pinnacles information

Trona Pinnacles are overlooked by those who pass through this area, so you may be the only ones around when you visit them. You can take the opportunity to park your car on the road and explore the area on foot.

I want to stress that you shouldn’t stray too far from your vehicle, because not all the trails are clearly marked and above all… it’s very hot! You will find yourself in an arid and depressed desert area. Make sure to bring plenty of water if you are going to spend some time in this area.

If you’re concerned about the heat, you can simply drive on this impressive and mystical loop to see these white rock giants. You can drive around the unique solitary formations, so that you can enjoy the details from every possible point of view.

Admission to Trona Pinnacles is free, but you won’t find a visitor center here.

Trona Pinnacles Movies

trona pinnacles movies

As you can tell from the pictures of Trona Pinnacles (which I hope you will see with your own eyes one day), the surreal scenery is really extraterrestrial. You will feel like you are on another planet. This is not just a figure of speech. Due to the peculiar geological formations of this desert, this has been the setting of many science fiction movies, TV series, and commercials. The most famous movies are Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek V, Disney’s Dinosaur, Lost in Space, and Planet of the Apes.

If you like visiting landscapes used to film sci-fi movies and other kinds of movies, you must go to Vasquez Rocks, located near Los Angeles, the aforementioned Mono Lake, Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, the Alabama Hills in Lone Pine (California) and who knows how many other places that I have forgotten to mention.

Trona Pinnacles: Camping and Lodging Information

If you like camping, you can pitch your tent in one of the campgrounds and enjoy the view of the incredible night sky among the pinnacles, but perhaps the best solution is to find accommodations in Ridgecrest.

Accommodations in Ridgecrest

Our Tip:
Looking for accommodations for your trip from California to other parts of the Southwest? Read our guide that contains reviews of hotels and strategic tips for finding accommodations near major attractions: Where to Stay: Our Tips for the SouthWest Area

Warning: Operating hours can change and closures for extraordinary events can occur, so we strongly suggest to check the venues official websites.

bernardo pacini
Bernardo Pacini

I am an enthusiastic traveler. I have also published some poetry. Besides traveling, my interests include literature, prog music and good food,.

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