By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Looking for a place that’s off the beaten track, offers amazing desert wildlife views, yet still has a year-round river? Before summer (and the heat) arrives, consider a trip to California’s Afton Canyon.
East of Barstow, the Bureau of Land Management oversees an amazing chunk of public land that offers a little bit of everything: colorful, steep canyons, with tracks just perfect for four-wheel-drive fans; wildlife sneaking around in groves of cottonwoods and willows; a public campground, accessible to just about any RV – although be warned, you’ll need to guard yourself against visits of the wily roadrunner and its occasional sidekick, the kangaroo rat.
Got hiking shoes and a camera? There are slot canyons to be explored. Railroad buff? Old track lines run through the area, and if you listen closely enough, you might just hear a historic train whistle. Although, maybe you just imagined it. Well, back in 2011, the old steam engine known as the Union Pacific 844 did cross over the canyon – who knows how long the echoes of its whistle could bounce around in the rocky crags.
Afton Canyon is known by another name, more colorful: the Grand Canyon of the Mojave. A byproduct of flooding said to have occurred 18,000 years ago, water is still in abundance. For a fact, the area is one of few places along the Mojave River’s 140-mile course where you can find water flowing year-round. The combination of year-round water and year-round warmth produce marshes and other riparian habitat that are popular among wildlife. You might even spot a bighorn sheep drifting in for a bit of refreshment.
The campground provides shady spots, fire pits and potable water. You may get an occasional wake-up call, as the trains do make occasional runs within earshot of the campground. The road into the campground is graded, so watch it during the rare rain event. Don’t expect to do much exploring outside of the campground in your rig. As we said, four-wheel is the order of the day, or hoof it as far as you can. This is decidedly desert country. May through September brings unbearable heat, which may explain the relatively low, $6-a-night site fee.
From Barstow, take Interstate 15 east for 35 miles. Take the Afton exit south. Drive south three miles on graded dirt road to parking area for the fully developed Afton Campground. Visitor information is available at the campground and at all entrances into the area.