By Bob Difley

If I never have to take another freeway it will be fine with me. Freeways are an invention of those that are in a hurry, which I try to avoid. But sometimes when you want to get from point A to point B–and if time is a factor–there may be no other way to get there than by freeway.

Interstate 15 through the vast creosote and burrobush flatlands of California’s lower Mojave Desert between Barstow and Baker or Las Vegas  is hard to avoid if that is where you want to go. As I drove along I noticed an exit marked Afton which, after driving 33 miles from Barstow seemed to be the right time for a stop and area reconnaissance. Though I didn’t expect much, it was a good enough excuse to stop and stretch my legs.

A sign tempted me down the dirt road to Afton Canyon, and after three miles of thumping down the hard-packed dirt road  (much more fun than a freeway), Afton Canyon Natural Area and campground was an oasis to my peace-and-quiet loving soul.

I discovered that this was quite a busy place when man traveled by foot, horseback and wagon. The ephemeral Mojave River (admit it, did you even know there was a Mojave River–with actual water in it?) flows here above ground for most of the year and was a popular watering hole for mountain men, Spanish missionaries, Native Americans, and various other adventurers who thought nothing of walking across the Mojave Desert.

Over the eons of Mother Nature’s fiddling with the landscape, the flash floods, river flow, wind and sand scouring, have all contributed to a microcosmic Grand Canyon, consisting of dozens of steep-walled multi-colored canyons, narrow crevices, hidden nooks and crannies that beckoned for exploration.

Because of the abundant water and riparian growth, it turned out to be a surprisingly good bird-watching spot, with the appearance of many migratory birds on my walks and in my nesty campsite.

I discovered that my original destination plans were just as ephemeral as the Mojave river, so I chucked them aside and spent the next three days among the acacias, willows, and tamarisks.  This welcome silence, a respite from the roaring freeway, was broken only by the occasional train whose tracks followed the Mojave River valley, the singing of cactus wrens, and by the evening serenade of the ubiquitous coyotes.

Learn more about boondocking with my new eBook, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands.

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  2. Gmas, with an attitude like that, Lewis and Clark would have given up at St Louis! “A ship is safe in the harbor, but ships weren’t meant to be in the harbor”. And Charles Kuralt said it best: “Thanks to the Interstate Highway System I can now travel one end of the country to the other, without seeing anything.” Yes, there may be a time when you get in over your head, but those are the trips you will remember. I’m just saying…..

  3. gene

    What? No picture of the river?

  4. Pat

    Hey gmas: I’m still laughing at your “bad JuJu” comment. Thanks I needed that!

  5. Jeff

    This area has an amazing history, and I suggest you read Dennis Casebier’s “Mojave Road Guide” to learn about it. Makes you appreciate it that much more!

  6. Bob Difley

    Regarding the road to Afton Campground, it is adirt/gravel road and subject to rainfall, erosion, and wear and as such can change over the course of a single season or several seasons. As with any road of this type on public lands and in this economic climate, the funds and man-hours to grade, repair, or fill the road as damage happens may take a long time to happen. Therefore, always approach these type roads with caution. Sometimes they may be great and at others pockmarked with bumps and holes. Drive slowly so you can easily stop or veer around hazards. And if it is too rough, try it the next time through. Your rewards will be worth your caution.

  7. While gmas comments may seem a bit harsh, & I agree as to boon-docking (I vastly prefer dry camping in a remote location and this is a very beautiful area I might add.
    However I took my class C motor home down this road about 10 years ago (my old truck camper was better qualified) and on one deep dip in the road I took out the muffler on my Onan generator and damaged the exhaust manifold as well.

    So as beautiful as this area is (the camping next to the river is really neat), just consider gmas’ warning or use a truck camper or maybe just tent camp.

    Just my humble opinion based on an expensive experience on this very road

  8. Orv Hazelton

    I’ve traveled this road back and forth for over forty years and wondered exactly what was at the Afton exit. . . I can hardly wait to boondock there soon. Can anybody tell me anything abut the ZZYZX exit. Maybe Bob can tell us the way to travel this road. oRV

  9. Glen

    That road doesn’t look that bad to me!

  10. Bob and Julie

    We travel with our “Spot-Tracker” ( As it says, it works when all other communications fail. For us, changing an inside flat is physically impossible. We are happy with the knowledge that we can summon help at anytime and from anywhere with this gadget.
    Bob and Julie

  11. Brad Sears

    Gmas, lighten up a little. The sky is not falling. Driving in to some of these remote areas is not as tricky as you make it out to be as long as the driver can see and uses common sense. We have put our 38 foot DP towing a car trailer in these situations and have had some great experiences. But the key is the common sense of the driver. There is one basic rule, if the road looks questionable, stop and get out and walk the road, or take the Subaru Outback, all wheel drive, off the trailer and do a little recon. At this point you could play Indian Scout and read the ground if are vehicle tracks on the road that means that others have traveled that way. Ya you need to be careful and as I said use common sense. We also leave a trail via our GPS for a route to follow out of the Boonies.

  12. Life is like a journey that full of adventures.

  13. gmas

    Oh ya… thats a off road vehicle… pictured above… why would anyone want to take a 80K rig off roading… when they were not made for it. … tisk tisk bob you shouldn’t be suggesting that others take the MH or trailer and venture off into the boonies unless they have been set up for it…

    The best way I know how to get on the 10 pm news is to go cowboying off into areas your not supposed to. Getting stuck with a MH or non equip’d vehicle is bad Ju Ju… your going to need some expensive help… to get back out ….

    Now while bob is experianced at repairs on MH most of the others may not be. Thus breaking a spring or putting a rock thru the tread and having to change the tire out in the boonies gets to be a all day afair… if at all…

    May we suggest that bob put on a seminar to show others how to determine, drive and travel down such roads… and at what speed one should do it at… what equip one should have.. etc… Remember… some cell phones don’t work out their… and its a long walk home…kinda thing… most of the time neither will the CB… leaving just the ham radio to make commucations.

    Rule No. 2… never go it alone… safety in numbers kinda thing… for the first few times till you get to be a old pro like Bob… 😀

    As to adventures and trails to travel… the best way to see whats out their is to go get in the plane and do a little recon… as we say… taking the USGS quad maps and you can draw where the road is.. ISN’T… and see the area your going into before you get their by wheel.

    Old boyscout motto… be prepaired… having a whale, MH, stuck in the middle of the road is not going to make the others happy…if they have to go around you… and today… there is no friendship… if you become a problem… most won’t give you the time of day because they are doing their own thing… (most will have ideas that your a idiot for getting stuck in the first place and its your problem to get unstuck … if you block ’em … and no they won’t tow you anymore due to libility and damage you might incure… after all its your fault for getting stuck in the first place… and yes their are good people out their…who will help.. but only to a limit as to what is on hand… other wise… commercial tow truck baby…so be ware its going to be expensive (($1 a mile to the tow’er … and that is their and back on top of his hourly rate.)

  14. shorty

    On your trip to Alaska be sure to stop at Hyder, Alaska either on the way up or on the way back. The State has built a very safe wood walkway along a stream where you can view both grizzly and black bears as they come down to the stream to eat the salmon. Probably fall (late August or September) is best because that is when the salmon are most plentyfull. Great video ops. We have been there twice and have a hard time pulling ouselves away. The first time we were there there was no walkway, just a dirt path alongside the stream. When the bears were on your side of the stream they were literally 8 feet away. Now you are safely on the walkway. The best time to view the bears is 6 to 9 both AM and PM. During the day you can drive further North, with pickup only, to get great views of Salmon Glacier. We stayed at Run-A-Muk campground on the West side of town and the bear viewing area is only 3 miles up the road from there. If you have any questions feel free to send email.