Take a Road Trip…to Amboy Crater
By Wendy VanHatten
Amboy Crater is an extinct North American cinder cone type of volcano that rises above a 27 square mile lava field in southern California. This 250-foot-high crater is 1,500 feet in diameter. Located in the Barstow-Bristol trough, a conspicuous west-northwest trending physiographic feature, this field was created by at least four distinct periods of eruptions, resulting in a group of volcanic cinder cones. The most recent eruption of Amboy crate was about 10,000 years ago.
One of the best examples in the Mojave Desert of a volcanic cinder cone, it is situated in one of the youngest volcanic fields in the United States.
A footpath leads to the top of the cone where you can get a good view of the surrounding area. The hike to the Crater and back can take 2-3 hours. Late January through March are good times to see the wildflowers.
Designated a National Natural Landmark in 1973, Amboy Crater was recognized for its visual and geological significance. Although Amboy Crater is not unique, it is an excellent example of a very symmetrical volcanic cinder cone.
The inside of the 250′ high crater contains two lava dams behind which has formed small lava lakes. These are now flat in general appearance, covered with light colored clay, creating the impression of miniature “dry lakes.” There is a breach on the west side of the crater where basaltic lava poured out over a vast area. Beyond the crater lies 24 square miles of lava flow containing such features as lava lakes, collapsed lava tubes and sinks, spatter cones and massive flows of basalt.
The scenic and solitary Amboy Crater was a popular sight and stop for travelers on U.S. Route 66 in California before the opening of Interstate 40 in 1973. Other than a stretch of U.S. Route 66 in New Mexico, Amboy Crater was one of few extinct volcanoes along the entire route, so generations of U.S. Route 66 travelers from the 1920s through the 1960s could boast that they had climbed a real volcano. Visits decreased after Interstate 40 opened, but have increased in recent years with the nearby Mitchell Caverns, Mojave National Preserve, and renewed historical tourism interest in “old Route 66.”
The Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recommends using the Western Cone Trail to reach the volcano peak’s rim, a steep and rocky hiking trail. The trailhead is at the Amboy Crater day use parking area, which provides shaded and open picnic tables and public restrooms. Regular desert precautions apply here: being alert for rattlesnakes and old military explosives, and having a hat, sunscreen, sturdy shoes, and abundant drinking water. Educational and organized groups are advised to contact the BLM before heading out to Amboy Crater.
To get to the trailhead: From Barstow, take Interstate 40 west to exit 50. Turn right on Crucero Road and make an immediate left onto Route 66. Take route 66 for 26 miles to the crater.