During a recent vacation, we took the same approach to Amboy Crater, an extinct volcano about two miles west of the tiny Route 66 burg of Amboy, Calif.
It was our second time we’d hiked to the cinder cone, which was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1973. We wanted to share our experiences with Route 66ers unable to do this themselves.
Besides, how often can you say that you’ve walked into a volcano?
According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, Amboy Crater is about 10,000 years old. The volcano rises about 250 feet from the Mojave Desert floor and measures about 1,500 feet in diameter. It spewed lava over 24 square miles during four eruptions — the last as recently as 500 years ago.
The Bureau of Land Management maintains a parking lot near Amboy Crater with an informative kiosk, rest rooms, a few picnic tables and a shaded overlook. The actual hike into the crater requires a round trip of about three miles.
Here’s where you get a lecture courtesy the BLM about the ample hazards of the Mojave Desert, if you ever consider doing this hike yourself:
- Always tell someone your plans, or leave a visible note on the dash of your vehicle with your expected route, destination, and time of return. Stick to your itinerary.
- Carry plenty of water. Drink at least a gallon per day.
- Take food or snacks. In the heat, you may not feel hungry, but your body needs nourishment.
- Never go alone.
- Take a CB radio or cellular phone.
- Wear sunscreen and sunglasses.
- Dress in light colored, loose fitting clothes. Long-sleeves, long pants, a hat, and sturdy shoes will help protect you from the sun, coarse volcanic material, and sharp, spiny vegetation.
- Watch for snakes, spiders and scorpions among the rocks.
That’s not the entire list, but you get the picture.
The warnings may seem like overkill. However, one overexerted hiker died at Amboy Crater about 10 years ago. Fortunately, Roy’s at Amboy is now open seven days a week, and has become an ideal place to stock up on water, snacks, gasoline, and other necessities before beginning the hike. That’s yet another reason to thank Albert Okura for buying the town and trying to revive it.
The weird part in the BLM’s brochure on Amboy Crater is its warning about undetonated military explosives. That’s right; you might actually encounter a live bomb.
Amboy lies on the edge of a bombing range used by the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps. That’s all the more reason to stay on the hiking path to Amboy Crater.
The path is marked by a series of tall metal sticks placed every 300 feet or so. You often can see the well-worn trail, and other hikers have helpfully arranged rocks to outline its edge where it becomes a little vague.
The trail also is periodically marked with small kiosks, telling about the wildlife that thrives in this hostile environment:
We haven’t seen desert tortoises, snakes, or tarantulas during our trips to Amboy Crater. However, we have seen several types of lizards and, in one instance, a horned toad.
The actual hike to the Crater is over mostly flat terrain:
To climb into Amboy Crater, you have to climb over the lip at its lowest point — the west side. This is easily the most strenuous part of the hike, as you have to deal with iffy footing and steep terrain.
Suddenly, the rise flattens, and you’re inside Amboy Crater.
The center is covered mostly with a light gray soil. It feels like you’re on the moon. Here’s a panoramic view:
Emily braved gusty winds and climbed to the higher parts of Amboy Crater’s outer cone. She shot several photos from there, including this view looking down inside:
If you want to take a half-day or so exploring Amboy Crater and the surrounding area, the Route 66 town of Ludlow 30 miles to the west is an ideal spot to retire for the night or, in our case, start the day early before the desert heat becomes dangerous.