Owl Canyon & Rainbow Basin

February 21, 2009
Myself and 21 others from the Kern River Valley Hiking Club hiked and climbed a 8-mile loop route up Owl Canyon and down through another unnamed slot canyon in the Rainbow Basin National Natural Landmark yesterday.  This area is managed by the BLM and is just a short distance north of Barstow, CA.  Most people only know Barstow as a place to stop and get gas and food on the way to or from Vegas or the Colorado River.  But you can make it a destination in and of itself for the weekend by camping and hiking at Owl Canyon.

From the Owl Canyon Campground you can hike north up through Owl Canyon. There's not really a trail but the way is pretty self-explanatory. Part of the way up on the right is a cave that you can walk through. There are some parts of the canyon that are Class 3 but most of it is walkable. Once the canyon opens up into a broad valley you can go west and climb to the top of the mesa for amazing views stretching all the way south to the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains. From the mesa there is a way to go south and steeply down another slot canyon involving more Class 3 scrambling.  Eventually you can hike up and over another mesa to get back to the campground making about an 8 mile loop.

Along the way there are other slot canyons, some with caves and fantastic rock features, that you can explore.  And as the name suggests the rocks in this area are very colorful ranging from pinks and tans and grays to greens and purples. All the different rock layers are all bent up at an angle and some are fantastically twisted and deformed. Intersecting the rock layers at right angles are slot canyons, only one of which is named, Owl Canyon. This area reminds me a bit of the San Rafael Reef in Utah but on a smaller scale. There are fossils out here as well so the amateur paleontologist would have a great time looking for evidence of plant and animal life from the Miocene Epoch more than 5 million years ago.  Camels, mastodons, and flamingos all roamed this area once upon a time. 

Current plantlife out here is sparse - creosote and yucca, a few wildflowers in the spring, and that's about it. Wildlife includes ravens, endangered California desert tortoises, jack rabbits, and coyotes.   The real attraction here are the rocks and since there are several geologists in this hiking club it was very cool to learn about them all :)

Nice spot for lunch
This rock looks out of place
Negotiating obstacles
Admiring the scenery
Taking photos of "hairy crystals" inside a cave
The first of several places where we had to climb
Natural arch in the canyon wall
Groupshots by the big green egg-shaped rock
Very curious...
One last push over a ridge to get back to the trailhead...


Map of our route
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Kern River Valley Hiking Club
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Brown lichen on green rock...
isn't it usually the other way around??
Hiking up out of Owl Canyon and west towards the mesa top
Breathtaking views stretch south to the snow-capped peaks of the
San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains
Making our way up Owl Canyon
Last minute preparations at the trailhead
I wouldn't really call it a trail myself...  more of a route
Looking back down into Owl Canyon, look at that uplift and those faults!
Some more Class 3 scrambling
Raphael in the white hat and blue shirt helped and coached a lot of folks, including myself, down these drop-offs
Raphael performing the highly technical toddler hand-off move
Being short has some advantages!
Glenn helps folks down this 7 foot drop-off
Another cool arch
Awesome scenery of Rainbow Basin
The dark things near the top of this cliff are other hikers
Reminds me of the San Rafael Reef in Utah
Caves in a dead-ended slot canyon