After six weeks on the road, we visit Rainbow Basin’s Owl Canyon. Once again, our trip moved into a more enjoyable and relaxed schedule. A pretty easy transition. After rushing a bit to visit certain areas of the desert before they get too hot, we’re now at slightly higher elevations.
Rainbow Basin and Owl Canyon
Oops! I wrote a hike up totally wrong!
When we review information from my guides, we always come across a few surprises – things that have changed since I wrote them up. In this case, I just got it completely wrong.
My description of the Owl Canyon trail at Rainbow Basin (just north of Barstow, California) was totally inaccurate.
Here’s what I had written in my guide: “A trail head at the far end of the camping area leads into the colorful mud-stone formations of Rainbow Basin. The trail isn’t well defined but you can choose to hike the wash or watch for spur routes to the left of right. Both routes climb above the hills to give a different perspective. The formations here are colorful but not as spectacular as those along the scenic loop drive.”
Had we stuck to the actual trail on that initial trip (as we did this week), we would have realized this is one of the most amazing hikes we’ve ever done. And you know that’s saying a lot!
Six years ago (when I wrote that) we made a choice NOT to hike the wash because it seemed pretty boring; Seeing those less-defined spur trails, we hiked up to get the over-view of the formations.
This time around, we actually did the hike the way it was intended; we followed the wash! After the first half-mile, we found ourselves in a most amazing canyon.
Some or the rocks were porous, some had large holes. These were mixed with sections of granite and sandstone.
We found an amazing cave that was quite deep and, we thought, too dark to enter without flashlights. But I stepped a few extra steps into the abyss and saw another light source – a second entrance. We walked right through the 50-foot cave and exited into a higher side canyon.
After 2 miles, the canyon walls opened up to a basin. We hiked up to this view back into the canyon before returning the way we came.
A total of 4 miles (2 there and back), we consider this to be among the best bangs-for-the-buck hikes that we’ve ever done in the southwest! Of course, if I had done a bit of research before our last trip, I would have known that.
The trail starts from Owl Canyon Campground in Rainbow Basin Natural Area. At a mere $6 per night, we splurged and stayed two nights here! While there, we couldn’t resist walking over to meet our camp neighbors, Ben and Aubrey. We were very intrigued by their set up.
Ben designed and built this cool roof-top tent. Every detail was very nicely done. The next phase is a “kitchen unit” to fit into the back of the hatchback. He was here testing it out and hoping to patent the concept. Hopefully, he can successfully get it to market.
We also drove the scenic loop through Rainbow Basin (as we had also done 6 years ago). But this time, we realized some of the best stuff was probably found in those seemingly, at first, boring washes. We hiked 4 miles this day as well – into two canyons that branch out from a parking area along the driving loop!
Red Rock Canyon State Park
The next day, it was time to move on a few miles north where we’ll soon pick up our Hwy 395 route. On the way, we stopped to hike in Hagen Canyon at Red Rock Canyon State Park.
If you’re think that, surely by now, we had seen enough rocks, you don’t really know us very well.
Trona Pinnacles National Natural Landmark
We spent the remainder of the week boondocking at Trona Pinnacles, east of Ridgecrest – always one of Randy’s favorite stops. We had expected hot temperatures but we were pleasantly surprised.
The strange formations of the Pinnacles are actually very large (some 100 feet tall). They’re not rocks at all but tufas. They formed underwater when this area was a big lake and hot springs bubbled up to deposit calcium-rich minerals.
There were many more people in the area than we’d encountered on previous visits. The Pinnacles are now more popular than ever with photographers and drone enthusiasts, not to mention other boondockers like ourselves.
More than 30 movies and commercials are filmed here annually. Among them – Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, Lost in Space. Can you see why?
Although it’s our third time here, we still found a few surprises.
Like this small cave carved into one of the tufas. It’s not very deep, obviously man-made, and it seems that it used to have a door on it. We’re not sure who built it or why. Any guesses?
The biggest lizard we’ve ever encountered. Maybe 12 to 18 inches long and quite fat with a very round tail.
Oh my, look! There are actually two of them! We think these may be desert iguanas. Does anyone know for sure? If so, Wikipedia lists them as the most common lizard in the Mojave and Sonora deserts. It just seems strange that we’ve spent a lot of time in these deserts and see hundreds of smaller lizards, but never one of these – until now. We moved over a bit, so as not to spook them (as they had us). In the end, we made friends. They let us photograph them and didn’t seem to mind sharing the shade of “their” tufa with us.
Another surprise and another question
Many of the Joshua Trees we saw on our drive are bearing fruit. We only know it’s fruit (and not flower buds) because we googled it. We don’t recall seeing any on other trips.
Apparently the fruit is edible. Has anyone every tried it? How did you prepare them and what do they taste like? They’re described as ‘herb-like” but does that mean the medicinal kind or the sort of herb you’d cook with?
I seem to have more questions than answers in this post, don’t I? Do you suppose it might be connected to realizing how wrong I was about that hike? That I need to ask more questions and make less assumptions? Or perhaps it’s because we’re just hanging out more and I have more time on my hands to be curious and contemplate these things.
Days on the road at time of posting: 51
Total camping costs to date: $57