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Hiking on Route 66: Amboy Crater

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Have you had a chance to drive part of Route 66?

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One of the interesting places to stop along the way is Amboy Crater -- a volcano that last erupted about 10,000 years ago. Amboy Crater is a National Natural Landmark. The trail is just off Route 66, two miles from Amboy, 30 miles from Ludlow and 42 miles from Fenner.

Visitors can hike 250 feet from the parking lot to a shaded platform with a view of the crater, hike 2.2 miles RT to the bottom of the crater or hike up into the crater. We choose to hike into the crater.

The trailhead has that shaded platform, several picnic tables, signs that explain the history of the crater and bathrooms. There's a box with brochures near the bathrooms. When you're ready to hit the trail, follow the signs that point hikers on a trail through the picnic tables and the nearby dunes made of sand and lava rock.

Just around one of the first bends is a sign that tells visitors there are many archaeological sites in the area including Amboy, Saltus and some of General Patton's desert training camps. It also asks if you have enough water for this hike because there is no shade along the path.

When you're ready, continue on the sandy path as it winds toward the crater. The trail is not straight, it winds over and around those sand and lava rock dunes.

About a half mile from the trailhead, you'll suddenly see a bench in a partial, wood shelter. The roof isn't solid, but it does provide a little bit of shade and a place to rest, if you'd like to take a break. Since I was hiking with an octogenarian, we decided to sit, take in the views and read our brochure. Then it was time to continue on.

The lava piles you're hiking through were created by at least four distinct periods of eruptions, the brochure says. The lava flows were rich in magnesium, iron and calcium. Looking at Amboy Crater in the distance, it looks like you'd expect a volcano cone to look like. However, what you can't see is the west side where a blast breached the side of the cone and sent lava flowing out for 24 miles.

About one mile from the trailhead, the south-heading trail turns west to go around the base of the crater. About 1.1 miles from the trailhead is another bench and enclosure, if you'd like to take a break before heading into the crater. From this side, you may spot a social trail going up the very steep side of the crater.

However, it's best to stay on the main trail as it wraps around to the west side and begins climbing through the breach area. It's about an 80-foot climb on a steep and very rocky path into the center of the crater. As you climb, make sure you look at the rocks here. Some rocks have been worn smooth over time, but most still have their very holey, rough exterior.

Inside the crater, you'll find two areas that look like dry lakes -- the BLM website said these are the old lava domes in the crater. If you feel ambitious, you can climb one of the social trails to the top of the crater. We found the best trail was at the entrance to the inner crater, to the left. It was the least-steep and least-rocky of the trails.

At the top, sit on a rock and enjoy the view. Take a few minutes to look around at the crater, the west side breach, the north side trail you hiked in and maybe even spot a train in the distance. When you're done, watch your footing coming down and return the way you came.

Learn more on the BLM's website: http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/needles/amboy.html

Details: The hike to the crater and back is about 2 miles roundtrip. The hike to the crater, inside the crater, to the top of the crater and back is about 3.3 miles with about 300 feet of elevation gain.

Directions: I recommend googling Amboy Crater for directions from your starting location.

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