Afton Canyon, Calif., between Baker and Barstow, is known as "the Grand Canyon of the Mojave." (MIKE MILLER/SPECIAL TO THE LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL)
By Margo Bartlett Pesek Las Vegas Review-Journal
One of those hidden beauty spots that delight desert lovers, scenic Afton Canyon lies off Interstate 15 between Baker and Barstow in Southern California.
Also known as “the Grand Canyon of the Mojave,” the rugged gorge carved by the intermittently flowing Mojave River is best suited to cool-season visitation. It appeals to off-highway explorers, campers, horsemen, rock hounds, photographers and wildlife watchers.
Follow I-15 south from Las Vegas toward Barstow. About 20 miles south of Baker, watch for a series of turnoffs, starting with Rasor Road, which accesses a nearby off-highway vehicle area. Keep driving on I-15, next passing Basin Road. Watch for the turnoff to Afton Canyon onto a graded road.
From the freeway, the road runs about 3½ miles to a small campground established near the Mojave River and the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks, which follow the water through the canyon. A sturdy railroad bridge spans the river near the campground, carrying trains that rumble across the desert several times a day — and night. The road may be used by all but the lowest-slung vehicles as far as the campground. Beyond the campground, explore marked routes using high-clearance vehicles, preferably with four-wheel drive.
The region is a complex of public and private lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management as Afton Canyon Natural Area. Because of its oasislike setting, running water, thick vegetation and wide variety of birds and animals, it has been designated an area of critical environmental concern. Efforts are ongoing to enhance the natural vegetation by eradicating exotic plant species and to control damage done by indiscriminate vehicle use.
Vehicle access is restricted to a few routes, including historic Mojave Road, a rough, four-wheel-drive trail beloved by off-roaders. Mojave Road follows in the footsteps of prehistoric native nomads, mountain men, early explorers and military expeditions. Other old trails into nearby side canyons may now be traveled only on foot or horseback. Although hiking, backpacking and primitive camping are encouraged, campfires outside of the campground area are restricted.
The modest campground provides several sites, available on a first-come basis for a fee of $6 per night. There is a 14-day limit. Each site is equipped with a parking pad, table and grill. Pit toilets are centrally located. Drinking water must be trucked to the site, so many campers bring their own, at least a gallon per person per day. Use a self-contained camp stove or bring firewood. You’ll need bags for disposing of camp refuse at home.
Because the campground lies well within the canyon, the night sky is very dark, except during bright moonlight. The site is popular for stargazing and watching celestial events such as meteor showers.
The Mojave River is one of those elusive desert streams that course underground most of their length. Along this part of the watercourse, however, the river and flooded streams have scoured the landscape down to bedrock and the water runs over the rocky surface.
Scenery in Afton Canyon is quite colorful and dramatic. The birds and desert wildlife drawn to the water and vegetation delight observers and photographers. Observation is most rewarding early or late in the day, also the best times for photography. You’ll want to bring your camera, spotting scope, binoculars and field identification guides.
The surrounding area is open to seasonal hunting under state regulations, but only with limited types of firearms and ammunition. Certain county and federal regulations apply. Hunters must be very careful about shooting on private land, which requires permission. No firearms may be discharged near the campground. Recreational shooting is not allowed within Afton Canyon Natural Area.
Just noted this on the Mojave National Preserve Web site:
Campground closures scheduled for the week of October 20
Roads in campgrounds will be graveled this week. Mid Hills will be closed on Tuesday and Wedensday, October 22-23. Hole-in-the-Wall Campground may be closed on Thursday and Friday, October 24-25.
Severe weather has hit the East Mojave over the past couple days, so before you travel out there, you might want to confirm with Caltrans that roads are open. Currently, Highway 95 is closed from the junction of the I-40 to the Nevada state line.
Some of the roads in the Mojave National Preserve are damaged. Here's the information provided on the MNP Current Conditions page right now:
Updated: August 26, 2013
Call for updates: 760 252-6108 (every day) or 760 252-6100 (Monday through Friday)
A severe thunderstorm yesterday evening washed debris onto paved roadways and damaged dirt roads. Rangers are assessing roads this morning. Travel on dirt roads within Mojave National Preserve is not advised at this time.
Black Canyon Road - Closed. Pavement is washed out in many places.
Essex Road - Closed. Road is heavily impacted with mud and debris.
Ivanpah Road - Travel is not recommended.
Kelbaker Road - Open. San Bernardino County is performing emergency storm repairs through Friday, August 30.
Kelso-Cima Road - Open. San Bernardino County is performing emergency storm repairs through Friday, August 30.
Lanfair Road - Travel is not recommended.
Morning Star Mine Road - Open
Zzyzx Road - Open to all vehicles.
Kelso Dunes Road - Open to all vehicles.
Black Canyon Road - Travel not recommended.
Cedar Canyon Road - Travel not recommended.
Lanfair Road - Travel not recommended.
Ivanpah Road - Travel not recommended.
Mojave Road - Travel not recommended.
Aiken Mine Road - Open. High clearance vehicle recommended.
Wildhorse Canyon Road - Travel not recommended.
When traveling to the preserve via I-15 or I-40 check Caltrans' Highway Information Service for up-to-the-minute road conditions 1-800-427-7623.
Campgrounds and Visitor Services
Essex and Black Canyon Roads leading to the Hole-in-the-Wall Information Center and both campgrounds are severely damaged. Travel is not recommended.
Mid Hills Campground is open. Please conserve water.
Hole-in-the-Wall Campground is open.
Information centers: Kelso Depot Visitor Center open Friday through Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Wedensday and Thursday.
Hole-in-the-Wall Information Center is open Saturdays, 9 am to 4 pm.
BARSTOW, CALIF. – Effective May 8, 2013, Kelso Depot Visitor Center in Mojave National Preserve will be closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays.The Visitor Center will remain open Fridays through Tuesdays from 9 am to 5 pm. Mojave National Preserve's Headquarters Information Center at 2701 Barstow Road, Barstow, California, is open Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 4:30 pm. to provide information and assist with trip planning.
Kelso Depot Visitor Center will be closing two days per week due to the impacts of "sequestration" (a series of automatic, across-the-board permanent spending cuts). The park must absorb this funding cut between now and September 30, the end of the federal budget cycle. To reach the new FY13 budget target, the park will be hiring fewer seasonal staff and consequently, will have fewer staff to support visitor services.
Although the Visitor Center will be closed, Mojave National Preserve remains open every day and has no entrance fee. Campgrounds, trails, and other facilities remain open. Hole-in-the-Wall Information Center will be open on weekends when staff or volunteers are available. For more information call 760 252-6100.