Steve Smith - Local historian

Steve Smith - Local historian

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    Weekend Trip: Exploring the lava tubes at Pisgah crater.

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    Exploring the lava tubes

    One of the most unique landscapes to explore in the Mojave Desert is the Pisgah Crater area and surrounding lava caves just east of Barstow.

    The 320-foot tall Pisgah Crater, an inactive volcano, towers above an expansive field of black lava left over from volcanic activity thousands of years ago. The black earth is dotted with green plants and colorful flowers.

    The area attracts quite a few spelunkers (the word for people who explore caves) who come to visit the numerous lava tubes that were formed from the lava flowing there thousands of years ago.

    You can plan a fun and interesting day trip of hiking and spelunking near Pisgah Crater. I will warn you that spelunking is not for the timid. It involves crawling on your belly in some spots, and the caves are very dark. However, it is a one-of-a-kind experience if you’re up for an adventure.

    The caves are not marked, and there is no signage showing you where to go, but with some determination (or a GPS and coordinates), you can find the best lava tubes to explore.

    I was awed by one cave known in the spelunking community as Glove Cave. Looking at the opening of the cave, it doesn’t look like much. The opening is only a few feet tall, making it necessary to crawl. Once you’re almost inside, it’s a bit of a drop down to the floor of the cave.

    The cave is quite long, and traversing it is quite interesting because getting from one room to another can involve some tricky maneuvering through tight spots. As you get farther into the cave, you will be in complete darkness if you turn off your flashlights. This is a weird feeling; it’s rare to be in total darkness.

    If you make it all the way to the end, you can sign the guestbook that has been left there. It’s amazing to see all the people from throughout Southern California who have visited!

    In addition to Glove Cave, there are many other lava tubes in this area, large and small, that you can explore. As you walk around, you will notice openings in the lava rocks that you can go inside.

    Gear you’ll need

    You will want to wear protective clothing to prevent your skin from getting scraped by the rough rocks as you crawl through the caves. I recommend jeans, a T-shirt, and a long-sleeved shirt; you can wear the long-sleeved shirt while spelunking and take it off so you don’t overheat while walking outside.

    Head protection and a flashlight are essential. You will have to crawl and walk through tight spots in dark caves where you could easily hit your head on the rock. This is extraordinarily painful (trust me!), so you don’t want to go without head protection.

    An ideal accessory is a helmet with a flashlight built in, like the ones miners wear. The next-best thing would be a good flashlight you can hold (for each person in your group) and a bicycle helmet. Additionally, you will want to wear gloves to protect your hands and wear a good pair of sneakers.

    Trip planning

    I suggest allotting four to five hours for your trip to the lava caves. As with any desert outing, starting in the early morning when it’s cool is your best bet. If you start at 7 a.m., you can be done in time for lunch without having to endure too much heat.


    From Barstow, drive East on I-40 and take the National Trails Highway exit, then head east until you see the Pisgah Crater on your right. Turn onto the road leading to the crater, and follow the road all the way around the crater until you come to a little parking lot. Then walk down the path that goes out to the lava fields. Glove Cave’s approximate coordinates are: N 34 44.831, W 116 22.220. You might have to look around a little bit to find the opening.

    Map of Pisgah Crater

    View Pisgah Crater in a larger map

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