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How Rain Changes The Trona Pinnacles In The Mojave Desert

A Rainy Day At The Trona Pinnacles

In April 2020 we had the unique and slightly crazy experience of camping at the Trona Pinnacles during two days of heavy rain. We knew the rain was coming and we planned accordingly so we would have enough supplies in case we got stuck there for a while. We had parked our travel trailer on high ground and were ready to watch as the wash below us became a flowing river.

We’ve spent a lot of time camping in different deserts in the Southern United States and there’s nothing cooler than seeing the dry sandy landscape transform after rain. If you are ever camping in the desert make sure to keep an eye on the forecast. Flash floods are no joke and you could wake up the next morning surrounded by water if you aren’t careful about where you camp.

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Make sure you look at the ground before you choose your campsite. If it looks like you are in a dry river bed that means it’s a wash and you should find a camping spot on higher ground. Remember it’s always better to be safe than sorry and if you do get caught in a rainstorm don’t try and drive away until the ground has time to dry because you could end up getting stuck.

To read our full camping review and get information about the area check out this post here.

View from our trailer after a day of rain at the Trona Pinnacles.

The Trona Pinnacles Wash

The Trona Pinnacles sit in an area that used to be a sea that was at one time over 600 feet deep. They are formed from mixtures of calcium found naturally in the ground and the Alkaline that was in the seawater. Much of the area is sand and clay. When clay gets wet it takes a long time for it to dry. The top of it will dry very quickly so it looks dry even though your foot or tire will sink right into it.

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There are two main groups of pinnacles. The ones the main road leads to and another group that is on the other side of a large wash. Getting to the other group of pinnacles requires driving down some very rough road and across the wash so it’s not a great place for RVs and trailers. We had our trailer parked on the western side up on a hill that was to the south of the main pinnacle group. We had an excellent view of not only the pinnacles but also the wash. I’ll never forget stepping out of the trailer after a long night of heavy rain and hearing the roar of the water down in the wash which had filled with water and turned into a large river.

I wish I had been smart enough to take some pictures of the wash before the rain to show the before and after. The closest before picture I have is the one below.

Road leading down into the main wash before the rain.

The road in the picture above leads down into the wash. Below are pictures of that same road the morning after the rain.

Road crossing the wash at the Trona Pinnacles covered in water.

Road connecting the groups of Trona Pinnacles after a night of heavy rain.

The morning after the heavy rains it cleared up for a few hours. We put on our rubber boots and took the opportunity to explore the wash. The water was much deeper than we expected and it was impossible to cross over. The water was moving so fast it would pull the sand away beneath our feet which made us sink very quickly every time we stepped into the water.

River in wash at the Trona Pinnacles.

The Trona Pinnacles After Rain

We walked around the pinnacles after the rain as well. We weren’t able to leave the road very much because we sank right into the clay and mud every time we walked off the path. To the north of the main group of pinnacles, there was a decent sized stream of water flowing into what looked like a deep ravine. We followed it and were amazed to find this waterfall. I know it doesn’t look like much in a picture but to see things like this in an area that was bone dry just a few days before is pretty amazing.

Small waterfall at the Trona Pinnacles.

You don’t see something like that every day so close to death valley and I’m sure if we had explored for longer we would have seen even more amazing sights. Unfortunately, it started to rain again and we had to head back to the trailer parked safely on high ground.

If it's going to rain while you are camping in the desert make sure to park on high ground.

Snow

While it didn’t snow in the valley we did see some snow that had fallen on the mountains all around us. It cleared up for a minute in the evening so we could see it and the next day it was gone but it was incredible to see snowy mountains so close to the Trona Pinnacles.

Snow on the mountains to the east of the Trona Pinnacles.

The Days After Rain At The Trona Pinnacles

After the rain, we knew it was going to be impossible to leave until we had a few sunny days to dry up the desert roads. That didn’t stop people from coming to the pinnacles the next day and driving around in the wash. The water had disappeared so fast that if you weren’t there the day it rained you would never know how big of a river there had been.

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People were driving dirt bikes and OHVs all over the place and a few cars started showing up for weekend camping. That’s when people started getting stuck. The day after our magical hike through the Trona Pinnacles river there was a knock on our trailer door. A guy and his family had gotten stuck about a mile away across the wash by the eastern group of pinnacles in a 2 wheel drive Ford F-150. We were the only ones there with a 4-wheel drive truck and they needed help getting out.

Getting a Ford out of the mud after heavy rains at the Trona Pinnacles.

We hopped in the truck and headed out to try and unstick their truck. On the way to their vehicle as we crossed the wash that had been a huge river just 24 hours earlier we saw a small car in the center of the wash far away from any road. A group of people had mistaken the wash for a road and tried to take their 1-wheel drive Kia Soul through it.

After pulling out the Ford we drove back to the wash and started trying to dig out the Kia. It took hours since there was no way to get the truck near it until we pushed it out of the mud and closer to the drier side of the wash. Luckily with the help of everyone including the folks we had just pulled out of the mud we were able to get the Kia out of the wash.

Kia stuck in wash by the Trona Pinnacles.

In the end, it was a fun evening and we met some very nice people. If you ever want to go for a drive in the desert a day after a large rainstorm make sure you stick to the roads and even if the ground looks dry that doesn’t mean it is safe to drive on. And if you do get stuck I’m sure you will be able to find some friendly campers that are hopefully nearby to help you out.

Rain clouds gathering behind the Trona Pinnacles.

Getting to see the Mojave Desert change during and after a rainstorm is amazing and an experience I wouldn’t want to live without. Just make sure you stay safe and don’t camp in areas where it looks like water has been flowing. The Trona Pinnacles are already so out of this world to explore and it’s even more fun when there is rain and rivers involved. A few days after rain the entire desert blooms and transforms into a beautiful green landscape which is a must-see for any outdoor enthusiast and adventurer.

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