Early western explorers passed through the area, including Jedidiah Smith, Kit Carson and John Charles Fremont. A 4-wheel drive route along this trail, known as the Mojave Road, is a rugged, scenic tour running from Fort Mojave on the Colorado River (near Needles) to Camp Cady (near Harvard Road) just east of Barstow.
I went to Afton Canyon recently to shoot the Cliffside Mine and other parts of the canyon for the main part of this story.
My friend and I had made the initial Mojave River crossing dozens of times. This time the water looked deeper than usual and I wanted to get out and check it more thoroughly — I dunno, throw a rock or wade out with a stick or something.
She said, “Nah, we can make it through no problem.” Read more…
Fording the river at the crossings can be treacherous for any vehicles without a LOT of clearance. (See sidebar)
Soft sand and sizable rocks make four-wheel drive almost mandatory on the east end of the canyon. It is hard to see where the road is, as it meanders across the dry river bed, and it is easy to become stuck without sufficient clearance and four-wheel drive.
Fall, winter and spring are the best times of the year to visit Afton Canyon and as usual, take the proper precautions when visiting out-of-the-way areas in the desert. It is not advisable to visit Afton in the summer.
Motorized Vehicle Use:
Within this Area of Critical Environmental Concern, routes are posted with “OPEN ROUTE” markers. Routes have been selected to allow access to the area and to the Mojave Road while preserving riparian (stream-side) environments. Use of all vehicles is permitted only on designated open routes.
• BROWN markers with route numbers indicate an OPEN ROUTE for use by motorized vehicles.
• RED markers indicate routes that have been CLOSED to all vehicle travel.
• No marker indicates a CLOSED route.
• Within the Afton Canyon area, travel is restricted to designated OPEN ROUTES.
Camping is permitted only in the Afton Canyon Campground. This campground is a first-come first-served fee area. There are tables and fire grates at each campsite. Pit toilets are located in the center of the campground. Group campsites and an equestrian (horse) camp are available by permit only. Backpacking is welcome, however campfires are not permitted outside the designated campground.
On this map, it is 3.5 miles from the Afton Rd. Exit to the campground.
Weather extremes and poisonous snakes are desert hazards common to this area. Afton Canyon has a flash flood risk as well. Avoid low-lying areas during storms and remember that storms upstream can result in flooding, even though it is not raining in your immediate area.
Rules and Regulations:
• Camping and campfires are not permitted outside the designated campground.
• Vehicles are restricted to posted open routes.
• State and federal hunting regulations are in effect during small game bird hunting seasons.
• Recreational Shooting is not permitted in the Afton Natural Area.
• All applicable county, state and federal laws and regulations apply.
Was Afton Canyon formed by a quick incision that emptied ancient Lake Manix or did the emptying of the lake happen over a long period of time, as a weak, low point in the basin divide was eroded over thousands of years, allowing Manix to flow east into the Pleistocene Lake Mojave basin?
According to Yehouda Enzel, Stephen G. Wells, and Nicholas Lancaster, “during a period of high lake level [about 19,000 years ago], Lake Manix breached its sill at the east end of Afton basin … forming Afton Canyon, presently a >150-meter-deep gorge.
“N. Meek (2000) has argued this overflow resulted in catastrophic erosion of the upper part of Afton Canyon to the depth of the lake floor in Afton basin. … Further incision of Afton Canyon apparently occurred much more slowly over the past <18,000 years.”
With other scientists pointing out an initial rapid sill collapse is unlikely … the erosion of Afton Canyon and incision of the Mojave River through Manix basin has not been a simple process to define.
“Although the arguments of [various scientists] appear well founded … resolution to this issue must await further field investigations,” stated Enzel, Wells and Lancaster.
In Marith C. Reheis’ and Joanna L. Redwine’s 2007 paper “Lake Manix shorelines and Afton Canyon terraces: Implications for incision of Afton Canyon,” they state, “We suggest that the higher straths above the rim formed no earlier than ca. 25 cal ka [25,000 years ago.] We interpret the soils, stratigraphy, and fluvial landforms in the canyon to indicate relatively rapid incision of Afton Canyon to the depth of the bedrock floor of Lake Manix, followed by intermittent, gradual bedrock incision … ”
In other words, it was pretty darn quick in geologic times.
Paleoenvironments and paleohydrology of the Mojave and southern Great Basin ...
By Yehouda Enzel, Stephen G. Wells, Nicholas Lancaster
Lake Manix shorelines and Afton Canyon terraces: Implications for incision of Afton Canyon, Marith C. Reheis and Joanna L. Redwine
For more information:
Bureau of Land Management
Barstow Field Office
2601 Barstow Road
Barstow, CA 92311
Phone: (760) 252-6000
Fax: (760) 252-6098
Office Hours: 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., M-F