Revisiting Amboy Crater

Hiking Into a Volcano…

Jeff and I first visited Amboy Crater, located on public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, in July during the triple digit heat of summer. Today we return for a proper hike into the cone itself to explore the caldera and hike to the rim.

Courtesy of desertusa.com

This National Natural Landmark, an anomaly of black rock rising in the earth-toned desert, is formed of ash and cinders. It is 250 feet high and 1,500 feet in diameter. The crater is situated in one of the youngest volcanic fields in the United States. It is located in the Barstow-Bristol trough, an elongated tectonic depression running west-northwest, which approximately straddles the boundary between the Mojave Desert and Sonoran Desert tectonic blocks.

To get there from where we live in the Coachella Valley, we take Thousand Palms Canyon Road north to Dillon Road and head east on Highway 62 toward Twenty Nine Palms past Joshua Tree. We turn north (left) on Godwin Road and east (right) on Amboy Road. Amboy Crater is about 45 miles from Twenty Nine Palms. We cross Bristol Lake, once a prehistoric sea, now a dry lake mined for the calcium chloride used to de-ice roadways in colder climates. (desertusa.com)

The volcanic field was created by at least 4 distinct periods of eruptions, resulting in a coaxial nested group of cinder cones. (I understand this to mean that the group of nested cinder cones share the same center or axis.) The most recent eruption of Amboy Crater was about 10,000 years ago. The lava flows consist of basalt rich in minerals of magnesium, iron, and calcium. If you look closer, you might observe minute green-colored olivine crystals. The red color indicates the presence of ferric iron, the result of steam on heated rock. (from kiosk in parking area)


The trail to the crater is only 1.1 miles from the parking lot/day use area. This well-marked trail leads to the west of the cinder cone, taking you to a wide opening where an explosive eruption breached the crater wall. From here you can descend into the caldera and/or climb to the top. Round trip, the trail is about 3+ miles, depending upon how many trails you descend and ascend within the cone before returning to your car.

The trail leads you through sand and lava fields:

Up close and personal, the crater is less intimidating. (I know it looks like there is a trail here leading to the rim. Trust me, this is not the way up…)

The trail wraps around the back to the right and then starts to head up. Here the uphill is steep and uneven but fortunately this part is a rather short climb.

Once you climb up, you are inside the crater.

Four trails lead up to the ridge.

Naturally, Jeff and I choose an “iffy” and steep trail to the top. These pictures are deceiving in that the trail looks well-established and an easy climb… NOT in my humble opinion. I am scared to look down. I am scared to lose my footing. I am just plain scared. I end up crawling my way to the top, latching on to any secure rock I can find.

Whew! I hug the ground when I safely make it to the rim! Then I stand up. And look back down.

More views from the ridge…

Here we descend into the caldera again on the most friendly trail.

I pause and look back up to the top…

And down again…

Almost there!

One last curve…

And we are in the caldera. I look back one last time…

And we descend onto the trail leading back to the parking area.

We walk back toward our car and turn around for a last close-up and personal look at Amboy Crater.

Looking ahead again, a train runs parallel to Route 66.


Amboy Crater is so worth the “off the beaten path” drive! There is no shade or civilization at all as you travel through the desert. The feeling of solitude is intense, but welcoming, if you know what I mean. But if you need to feel connected again, head to the town of Amboy before returning back to Twenty Nine Palms. Look for the giant neon sign on Route 66 that advertises Roy’s Motel and Cafe.

roadtrippers.com, courtesy of Sanna Boman Coates

The exact population of Amboy, originally founded in the 1850s by salt miners, is less than 10. It was the first stop in a series of railroad stations constructed across the Mojave Desert in the late 1800s. In 1938 Roy’s Motel, named after Roy Crowl, opened as a rest stop for travelers, the only respite from the desert heat for miles and miles around. With the rise of automobiles, Roy’s Motel included a gas and service station. At it’s heyday, the town of Amboy, owned by Herman “Buster” Burris, had a population of 700. Buster eventually sold the town and moved away. Albert Okura, a businessman, Historic Route 66 activist, and philanthropist purchased the town of Amboy in 2005. (roadtrippers.com)

According to desertusa.com, Amboy is a time capsule of 1950s Americana. After Albert Okura purchased the town for $425,000, he has slowly been restoring it. Roy’s is open for gas and there’s a little store where you can buy water and a postcard and use the restroom. On November 16, 2019 the iconic neon lights of the Roy’s Cafe & Motel sign were lit after 20 years of darkness, lighting up the roadway again for travelers on Route 66. In the future there are plans to restore the 20-room hotel and 6 bungalows.

“There is an old cemetery, a church and a post office nearby — all closed now — but the grave markers remind us of the history and the residents who used to live there.” (desertusa.com)

Amboy Crater

Ash and Cinders…

This 6,000-year-old volcanic remnant is an almost perfectly symmetrical cinder cone, an example of geology creating geometry. Amboy Crater is situated in one of the youngest volcanic fields in the United States, halfway between Barstow and Needles, CA off Historic Route 66 National Trails Highway. (visitcalifornia.com and blm.gov)

It is about 2 hours away from Thousand Palms Oasis in the Coachella Valley. We take Dillon Road to Desert Hot Springs to connect with State Route 62, traveling through the Morengo and Yucca Valleys past Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms… 

From SR 62 we turn north on Godwin Road and then head northeast on Amboy Road…


Amboy Crater was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1973 for its visual and geological significance.

The site offers picnic tables, restrooms, a hiking trail to the rim, and an ADA shaded overlook.

Amboy Crater is 250 feet high with a diameter of 1,500 feet. It’s most recent eruption was about 10,000 years ago.


You can hike to the rim of the crater and descend into the center. Unfortunately for us it is way too hot to even think about this 2-3 hour hike! It’s 117 degrees in the shade out here! Best to come back in the winter…

We did manage to sample the trail before heading back to an air-conditioned car…


The inside of the crater contains 2 lava dams behind which have formed small lava lakes that are now flat in appearance, covered with light colored clay, creating the impression of miniature “dry lakes.” (desertusa.com)

desertusa.com

There is a breach on the west side of the crater where lava poured out over 24 square miles, which contains lava lakes, collapsed lava tubes and sinks, spatter cones, and massive flows of basalt. (blm.gov)

According to the kiosk information, in addition to basalt, the lava flows were also rich in magnesium, iron, and calcium. Red colors from the rocks are the result of ferric iron created by steam on heated rocks. Tiny specks of green are olivine crystals.


Four years ago? Marco Paganini shared this photo on Google Maps

“The crater as seen from the rim. On the bottom left, the trail I used to hike up here. Ahead on the right, the rough trail I’ll use to get back down (but I don’t know it yet.)”

You bet we’ll be back this winter to hike to and down into Amboy Crater!