We kicked off Thanksgiving week with a tour of an area northwest of Barstow known as the Black Mountain Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). This is a fascinating BLM wilderness area with many native rock art sites, peaks to hike, rocks to hound, historic mining sites to explore, 4×4 roads to be driven, and nice campsites to be found.

Trip Report

On the Friday night before Thanksgiving we turned off of highway 58 in a rough, mostly abandoned desert town just west of Barstow called Hinkley. Hinkley’s main claim to fame is its contaminated groundwater, made famous by the movie Erin Brokovich.

Get a map and GPS file with our route and points of interest.

'Good' road near Murphy's Well
‘Good’ road near Murphy’s Well

It wasn’t long before we found ourselves bouncing down a washboarded single track road, searching for a campsite in the dark. I had pulled several promising looking sites from Google satellite view and sure enough, we found quite a large selection of campsites to choose from out near Murphy’s Well.

The next morning we woke to find our campsite nestled among walls of volcanic rock. We weren’t far from one of the rock art sites, so we made our first stop at the Coyote Gulch petroglyphs. The glyphs here are all abstract and look like they may depict shields or rain.

Coyote Gulch Panel, Black Mountain ACEC
Coyote Gulch Panel, Black Mountain ACEC

I had planned most of this day using a book published by one of the local ‘old timers’, Bill Mann’s Guide to 50 Mysterious and Interesting Sites in the Mojave, Vol 1. Interesting history, GPS coordinates (not always very accurate) and driving directions to most of the sites we visited are included in this book.

From Coyote Gulch, we went over to a dry lake known as Lost Lake for another native historical site known as the fertility cave. We’d never driven across a dry lake like this before and it was kind of fun.

Lost Lake, Black Mountain ACEC
Lost Lake, Black Mountain ACEC

Next, we continued up and over Opal Mountain. Along the way we visited some old Indian circles near the road.

Indian Circles, Opal Mountain in the background
Indian Circles, Opal Mountain in the background

Opal Mountain is a very quick hike from the road (actually, road goes all the way to the top, but it’s very steep and better suited to walking), so I was excited to get Thor on his first summit! Way to go, puppers!

Thor bags his first summit!
Thor bags his first summit!

From the summit we spotted some promising looking veins for rock hounding. We found lots of colors of opal, from white to red.

Rock with opal elements
Rock with opal elements

Once over Opal, we continued north to the largest rock art site in the area, Inscription Canyon. The road through here was the roughest, requiring crawling over sharp volcanic rock. Inscription Canyon has a nice mix of abstract and animal (sheep) glyphs.

Inscription Canyon, petroglyphs pepper the rocks on both sides of the wash
Inscription Canyon, petroglyphs pepper the rocks on both sides of the wash

After exploring Inscription Canyon we stopped at several other individual petroglyph sites as we looped through Black Canyon. My favorite was probably this spider/bug man glyph.

Spider/Bug Man glyph in Black Canyon
Spider/Bug Man glyph in Black Canyon

As the day went on the wind had picked up, and as we exited the Black Mountain ACEC towards the dry Harper Lake, we found ourselves in the midst of a dust storm. Fortunately, we were able to mostly escape it at that night’s campsite down in the Rodman Mountains, an area that I’ll post about next!

Below is the track of our time in the Black Mountains ACEC. It includes both the driving and hiking portions, starting from when we left highway 58 on Friday evening to when we closed the loop on Saturday afternoon. Although most of the roads were in good shape, there were a few areas where 4WD was critical. There are sandy sections, and the stretch between Opal Mountain and Inscription Canyon has some very rough lava rocks to crawl over and maneuver around.

Map and GPS Track


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