Now that autumn is here and temperatures are cooling, it’s a good time of the year to start hiking and exploring interesting areas in the High Desert again. From now and through next spring is a great time to put on those hiking boots and get out to areas like Deep Creek, Round Mountain and Juniper Flats.
Another area my wife and I like to explore is Afton Canyon, which is just a little northeast of Barstow near Interstate 15. From I-15, we exit at Afton Road and travel southeastward a few miles, on a dirt road, to the campground near where a railroad trestle bridge crosses the Mojave River. This canyon’s claim to fame is being one of the few areas where the Mojave River flows above the ground most of the year due to being an area of impermeable rock.
As we hike around the canyon, we keep in mind that this is now the Afton Canyon Natural Area, within the Mojave Trails National Monument, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). It is designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) to help preserve one of the Mojave River’s significant riparian areas. The goal is to protect and preserve the plant and wildlife habitat and the scenic values of this beautiful location. To bring back the river’s proper functioning condition, restoration projects are ongoing.
My understanding is that Afton Canyon was probably carved by an ancient lake draining, with the erosion exposing colorful soils and geologic rock formations as the canyon slowly formed over thousands of years. Though there don’t seem to be formal hiking trails, we hike up and down the many washes and stream channels observing the natural glory of the area. In addition to the surrounding mountains and tributary small canyons, we encounter willow and cottonwood trees, plus thickets of mesquite. Along with the streams, ponds and marshes, we realize what a great habitat area this is for a wide variety of wildlife. Such a unique area for being in the middle of a desert.
Though my wife and I have not camped here, Afton Canyon includes a nice campground maintained by the BLM. The campground’s restroom facilities are an added feature for those of us just making a day-trip to hike and explore the area. Those of you who might be interested in camping, it is a first-come, first-served fee campground with tables and fire grates at each campsite. Be sure to check out BLM’s website for more details, or stop in at the BLM office on Barstow Road in Barstow.
Most of our exploration to-date has been in the general areas around the campground and nearby trestle bridge, but we look forward to expanding our hiking farther downstream in the future. I’ve heard there are a couple of caves near the second set of trestle bridges, another mile or so down the river, that we plan to check out. But what we’ve seen so far has been impressive. Afton Canyon is ideal for hiking, camping, horseback riding, nature study, and vehicle touring, as well as just a peaceful place to relax. If you engage in vehicle touring, please keep in mind that you can travel only on roads posted with brown “open route” markers.
Generally, we take a picnic lunch, explore around the canyon for a few hours, relax and enjoy the beauty, then head back home. A great local outing!
Dave Hansen resides in Hesperia and can be contacted at email@example.com
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