Posted by: Barbara Evanhoe | November 8, 2011

Ashes to Ashes ~ Dust to Dunes

It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since Gary Kroeker, “GK”, my husband and partner of 18 years was killed in a motorcycle accident.

He always told me that he wanted to “go out” while riding his bike, and that he never wanted a traditional burial.

With that in mind, I decided to scatter his ashes at Kelso Dunes, in the Mojave desert ~ a place we had visited ~ a place that he loved ~ but left with a wish to climb to the top, unfulfilled.

I decided that I would make that journey for him, as my final tribute to a loving and creative man.

It took me five years to make that journey, but yesterday I made good on my promise…

Last Sunday, Keith and I took off from our winter home in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, and headed for the Mojave Desert in southern California, to deliver GK to his final resting place.

We drove 11 hours to Twentynine Palms, CA, to stay overnight at the quaint and lovely 29 Palms Inn. (more about our travels and the Inn, in a future post).

Monday morning, after breakfast, we picked up a picnic lunch we’d ordered the night before at the Inn, and drove north out of town toward the Mojave National Preserve.

We passed through Wonder Valley, over Sheep Hole Pass, into Bristol Dry Lake, and past Amboy Crater, to pick up Kelbaker Road and trek north toward Kelso Dunes.

The scenery was breathtaking, and neither photos nor description does justice to the majesty and variety of the views we experienced along the way.

We made a quick stop at the Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Station, part of the University of California’s natural reserve system, to pick up some equipment for one of my daughters.

She had spent many spring and summer months at the station, on doctoral research in this enchanted place of desert and mountains, and incredible weathered rock formations that appear to be ancient faces staring out at you as you pass by.

Our final destination was just a few miles north of the station, and we drove in silence… just looking.

As we came up and over a small hill in the road, the dunes lay before us…45 square miles of immense mountains of sand rising 650 ft. up from the desert floor…stark tan against the clear blue sky.

We had arrived. We knew what we had to do. So, I placed GK’s ashes into a backpack and hoisted him up.

Then, we started to walk.

The trail from the parking area to the base of the dunes is at least a good mile of hiking in loose sand. First, over small little dune hills, and then progressing to higher dunes ~ some with angled faces and others that make you climb straight up in the deep, shifting sand.

We climbed for hours. Or so it seemed.

When we’d made it halfway up, we took a short break to assess our progress and select an appropriate resting place.

We decided on a rounded mound to the right of the tallest dune. Near enough to the top for an eternally breathtaking view, but not so near the top that he would be blown away in the chill wind that accompanied us on our journey.

After trudging to the selected site, we opened the backpack and released GK’s ashes to the dunes…his journey had ended.

After some time spent in quiet contemplation, Keith and I decided to brave the wind and go to the top, walking slowly and cautiously along the pointed ridge of the tallest dune.

We were exhausted, but we forged ahead, and were completely humbled as a young twenty-something couple merely walked up the face of the dune as if they were strolling along a city street.

If they could make it, so could we, and we pushed on to the top of the ridge, and sat, transfixed at the beauty of this place, and wondering how we would make the trip back down.

View from the top looking down

Now, Kelso Dunes is famous for being a “singing dune”. If you climb to the top and slide down slowly, it is possible to generate a low-frequency, booming sound from within the dunes.

Attempting to generate the sound would be a huge plus for us…a fun experience, and the chance to slide ~ rather than walk ~ down the face of the dunes.

So, we sat, and started to slide down the hill like children. It was a blast, but we didn’t produce a sound. It had rained a bit the day before, and we decided the sand was a bit too wet.

The tracks from our slide down

As we couldn’t slide all the way back down, we trekked back to the truck…grateful to have made the trip, and happy to have made good on my promise after all these years.



  1. Gary is finally at peace. We loved that guy!

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