Geological Feature, Southern California. A volcanic cinder cone in the middle of the Mojave Desert - in other words, BFE. It's located about 40 miles to the northeast of Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms. Or you can run south off Interstate 40 along historic Route 66. Folks, this thing really is in the middle of fuck-all-nowhere, so don't screw around. Charge your cell phone, check the pressure and wear on your tires, check the fluids level in your radiator, and bring water and survival food for the car. Don't let my Boy Scout Cassandra-wailing dissuade you, however. The Crater is really amazing, and a true soul-defragmenting taste of solitude that doesn't require major foot travel.
The Crater itself is supposed to be some 6000 years old. It's about a kilometer across at the base, and about 150 ft in elevation about the surrounding ground level (AGL). Those figures aren't based off any USGS topo maps, those are my own spitball figures based on my casio altimeter and Garmin 3 GPS. That and some "hillbilly surveying," which involves me looking at the cone and saying, "Looks about a hunnertandfifty foot tall." The verbal use of the unit of linear measure in the singular is critical in the application of hillbilly surveying. Once you're up on top of the crater, you can see the various fumerols, some 6 in all. The view of the surrounding lava field is stupendous.
It's a great day trip from Joshua Tree, or even out from Los Angeles. Its also a great object lesson in the different operating philosophies and missions of the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Joshua Tree National Park is run by the park service. It has visitor centers, maps, restrooms, signs, and park rangers. Amboy Crater is run by the BLM, and out front, along a deserted stretch of highway, it has a sign that says "Amboy Crater" and a sand trail that leads to a sand parking lot. Other than the surreal sight of a completely decontextualized picnic table, deposited in the center of a lava field, that's it. The Park Service says, "Welcome to this national treasure! We're here to make sure you don't kill yourself, burn the place to the ground, or charge the buffalo". The BLM says, "This is it. See you later." Accordingly, there was nobody there when we arrived. We parked next to the picnic table, I waypointed the GPS, and off we went.
The walk is going to take you about 2-2.5 hours round trip. There is no cover, so you'll need sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. And don't go in the summer, because I don't think you'd make it, as the temps can climb to 115 degrees F. Also bring some drinking water, as the sun and superarid air will dry you out like beef jerky. There is no real trail, per se, just a number of crisscrossing jeep tracks. Don't get hung up with following these, there are plenty of semi-random footpaths that lead to the Crater. Getting back is more difficult - use the old backpackers trick: Orient to your car by triangulating off of a few the surrounding mountain peaks. You can dial in an azimuth to one of these on your way back, just a something to handrail off of. Or, if you aren't hung up on wandering around a bit, you can walk back to the hardball road, then turn east and find the parked car that way.
The view from the top is amazing. A huge, undulating lava field spills out a couple of klicks to the southeast. Beyond that, the Sheephorn Mountains and an evaporated lakebed, being mined for its salt. In the distance, the Marines are hard at work, you can hear the far-off concussion of exploding bombs, and hear the whistle of flare rockets climbing into the sky. It's like the surface of the moon - almost totally inorganic, the hairy fringe of the Green against the White.