So again, on Sunday, I drove out to explore Amboy Crater (also see wikipedia’s article). It is a fairly recent cinder cone caused by volcanic activity out in the desert between 6000 and 500 (yes, only 500!) years ago. Once you get to the parking lot (about a 3-hour drive from here, not exactly my backyard), it’s a 2-hour round-trip hike to the crater, up to the rim (250 feet high), and back down and out. You get some spectacular views from the top of the desert and the huge lava field created by the cinder cone. I’d show you some views captured by me, except that I somehow left my camera at home (with my whole daypack, including lunch, extra water, batteries, etc.). I realized this just past Barstow (halfway to Amboy) and it wasn’t worth going back. Instead, I’ll just link to other people’s photos! (Photo at right is from Golden Gate Photo.)
Between Barstow and Amboy, I couldn’t help stopping to check out a few geocaches. One was inside Siberia Crater, an even smaller cinder cone (sadly, I didn’t actually find that one!). Another one was on a Route 66 loop off of I-40 (nice detour!) and another was at Amboy Crater itself. Boy, it was fun to sit on the rim and dig through an old ammo box full of plastic toys! There’s also a totally awesome cache just east of Amboy (the town), marked by a shoe tree. No, really: an old tree is hung about with hundreds of shoes.
The path out to Amboy Crater is marked with occasional educational plaques containing little facts about the desert. Two that stood out to me:
- Desert lizards do “push-ups” to get warm (because they cannot regulate their own body temperature). But based on my previous knowledge (and some quick googling), this is totally wrong. Push-ups are a form of display, aggression, or communication, used in competition and in mating. If you’ve ever been the target of a push-up display, you’ll have noticed that the lizard points itself at you while doing it — it’s not a mindless set of calisthenics. Maybe the BLM needs to work with factcheck.org.
- The tarantula bite is not deadly, but in self-defense it may flick hairs off its back, to which most animals (including humans) are allergic. This seems to actually be true! There’s even a word to describe these stinging hairs: urticating (check out some awesome photos of these hairs). They can cause anything from mild rashes up to anaphylactic shock.
But about the crater itself: there are lots of interesting volcanic features, including a lava field 24 square miles in extent; pressure ridges, where the lava has buckled upward; and stretches of pahoehoe (smoother) lava (although what I saw wasn’t as smooth or distinctive as that in Hawaii). There are also reputedly “squeeze-ups” of bulbous lava and “bowl-shaped depressions” where lava surfaces sank, but I didn’t see these. The view from the crater rim was excellent, with long shadows from the winter sun even at 3 p.m., gusty wind, and waving grass and brush colonizing the lumpy black lava field. (Photo by h.seng.)