Rainbow Basin Natural Area
By Danny Siler
I enjoyed my day hiking and exploring Rainbow Basin in the Mojave Desert.
This fantastic area was chris.tened in 1966 as a National Nat.ural Landmark by the National Park Service. It is managed by the Bureau of Land Manage.ment (BLM) and has been designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). It is set aside for its colorful geological features and its wealth of fossil resources that do not exist anywhere else.
It is located in the Mud Hills about 8 miles north of Barstow by taking Irwin Road (not Fort Irwin Road). It should be easily found on any map. I’ve been seeing it on the AAA San Bernardino County map for most of my adult life - and finally I went out there for a play day.
It is best described as a mish/mash landscape of multi-colored hills, canyons and washes. Badlands and sculpted formations of fantastic shapes and eroded into spires and narrow ravines. Huge slabs of red, orange, white, and green stone are tilted at crazy angles like ships about to capsize.
There is a one-way narrow dirt road that loops through Rainbow Basin. To go hiking and exploring was merely to pull the car over to the side of the road at a wide spot and get out and take off on foot. Some pullouts have been carved out of the road for this.
In the midst of it is a small parking lot and viewing deck. And once again, here, I got out of the car and wandered on foot for another two hours.
All in all I spent five hours on foot at Rainbow Basin. I climbed to the top and across the formations shown in all the photos. Thankfully I never slipped or fell. My favorite areas were the syncline and the tilted uplift layers of rock formations. I enjoyed being out of the car and traveling on foot - close to nature, the dirt, the rocks, the lizards, all the sizes and shapes around me, and the sound of the crunch underfoot. I went mid-week and I saw only one other vehicle pass through.
Nearby is the newly refurbished Owl Canyon Campground which any Desert Explorer would enjoy; conveniently it has the nearest toilet.
I want to return here soon because I recently read that the nearby Owl Canyon is a great hike that narrows to a slot canyon and has cave-like side canyons. I’ve seen photos of fossil animal footprints in the county online archives. Also a place nearby I want to return to visit is the adjacent Fossil Canyon. I read you can drive your vehicle as far as possible up the wash, then get out on foot and continue up the interesting canyon. ~ Danny