During a mid-February field trip to the Mojave Desert with a convoy organized by California’s Bureau of Land Management, we were taken to one of the less popular camp sites in all the state’s millions of acres of managed land. But with expert guides along for the ride, some of the many wonders of this canyon were revealed to us less suspecting trip goers.
Afton Canyon is located just south of Interstate 15, 40 miles east of Bartow on the popular highway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Similar to other “under-discovered” places that are located off heavily traveled Interstates, this recreation area is known by some for its scenic off-roading trails, treasure hunting potential for rock hounds, and hydrological-significant occurrences.
When we first arrived to the campground, I was impressed with the cleanliness of the facilities, including the covered tables that protect families of picnickers from the scorching desert sun. One superstar of our field trip convoy was quite a knowledgeable rock hound. She noted that even the campfire rings were made up of some pretty cool pieces of granite that were gathered from nearby geological hot spots. She was eager to take some of her recent finds home for some polishing to reveal their potential.
A few families motored passed our group on dirt bikes and four-wheelers, as one of off-road aficionados explained how the trail system in this area of the Mojave Desert was a part of a larger network of trails that these modern-day explorers used to access some of the region’s historical and geological significant areas. How I wished I had a ticket on a dune buggy that day.
Our group scattered out from the base camp, and each of us soon discovered the Mojave River – a mostly underground river – that bubbles up here under the railroad bridge. Since it was winter, there wasn’t as much to see as there is during the spring when the runoff reveals more of the desert river. But we still enjoyed exploring the sandy, cattail-lined riverbank.
Unfortunately the weather was a little too breezy, otherwise our hiking adventure would have been more extended. I suppose that means we’ll just have to return for another exploration of Afton Canyon, if mostly because I need to add to my growing rock collection.