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Mojave River - Mojave Road

Afton Canyon

Afton Canyon Natural Area is located 37 miles northeast of Barstow along Interstate 15 between the Afton Road and Basin Road exits. Afton Canyon is designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern to protect plant and wildlife habitat, and to preserve scenic values of the riparian area within the canyon.

Natural History

Afton Canyon was carved by water draining from ancient Lake Manix, very likely through a crack caused by a strong earthquake along the Manix Fault about 15,000 years ago. Water eroded the colorful soils and rocks eventually carving the canyon as you see it today. The process countinues slowly as the Mojave River flows gently through the canyon floor, hence the nickname 'Grand Canyon of the Mojave'.

Human History

Humans left unwritten evidence in the form of stone tools and pottery estimated to be at least 8,000 years old. Written history begins with missionaries, traders, and explorers in the late 1700's progressing with military scouts in the late 1860's and railroad building around the turn of the century.

Early western explorers passing through this area included Jedediah Smith, Kit Carson and John Charles Fremont. The route following this road, known as the Mojave Road, is a rugged 4-wheel-drive scenic tour running from Fort Mojave on the Colorado River near Needles to Camp Cady near Harvard Road east of Barstow.

Afton Canyon


Afton Canyon is one of few places where the Mojave River flows above ground making Afton an ideal location for bird and wildlife viewing. The area is ideal for hiking, hunting, camping, nature study, rock hounding, horseback riding, and vehicle touring. Check local weather forecasts before visiting the area. Thunderstorms can result in flash floods in canyons and washes. Tell a friend or neighbor where you are going and when to expect your return. Bring sufficient water, food, clothing, tools, and first aid supplies for your activity.

The Afton Canyon area is a mix of public and private lands including those held by the Southern Pacific Railroad. Please respect the rights of private land owners. Land status can be found on Desert Access Guide maps covering this area and can be purchased at California Desert BLM offices.

Hiking and Sightseeing

Bird photos in Afton Canyon
Bring your camera and binoculars! Afton Canyon has a diverse landscape of hills, canyons and washes. Multicolored rock walls and changing light conditions make for many photographic opportunities. Washes and stream channels are good hiking trails and excellent for experiencing natural conditions.

Wildlife viewing is best during early morning and evening hours. In the canyon, birds tend to gather in thick vegetation. Along washes and streams, vegetation is critical for wildlife food and shelter. Many routes in Afton Canyon have been closed to vehicle travel to protect these wildlife habitats.

Mojave River and Associated Lakes
The Mojave River is the largest drainage system in the Mojave Desert. It's modern extent and capacity is only a fraction compared to ...

Changing Climates and Ancient Lakes The impact of both long-term and short-term climatic oscillations can be seen on the landscape. Glaciation periods lasting many ...

Click on map for larger view

Photo Gallery

Regional Ecology

Mojave River

Arbuckle Mine

Mojave Road

Lake Manix

Interstate 15

Afton Canyon natural area

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These items are historical in scope and are intended for educational purposes only; they are not meant as an aid for travel planning.
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