Black Canyon & Inscription Canyon are located in the Black Mountains near Barstow, CA. There are a few different ways to reach the area, if you are 4×4 enabled I recommend the route from Hinkley, CA. Below you can view a map courtesy of Google of this particular route, as well as step by step directions.
This area of the Black Mountains has a lot of history in it. From the ancient petroglyphs that line the canyon walls in the thousands, to the Panamint City stage stop, Native American ruins, and much more. We will get more into each of these as I take you down the route piece by piece.
The adventure begins in Hinkley, CA. Hinkley was made famous world-wide from the movie Erin Brockovich, which featured Julia Roberts as an attorney assistant fighting PG&E over the ground water contamination in Hinkley. The town of 1915 has had 196 cases of cancer found in their residents over the last 12 years as a direct result of PG&E’s contamination. Now as you drive through Hinkley, don’t blink, or you might miss it. This small town doesn’t have much to it, however it does have a small gas station and market, which gives you the perfect opportunity to stop and fill up before heading into the wilderness.
Next stop is Harper Dry Lake, which is one of the largest dry lakes in the Mojave Desert. In the 1940′s and 50′s the dry lake was used by aerospace companies as a landing strip. Today it is a popular site for parasailing, camping, and off-roading. There have even been talks of a power plant or even a commercial space port being constructed here.
Once you reach the dry lake, I highly recommend a side trip to the marsh. There is a road baring to the left right before the dry lake, take that and follow it for a short distance to the marsh. Here you will find a sanctuary for many birds including but not limited to White-faced Ibises, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, White Pelicans, Tricolored Blackbirds, Black-crowned Night Herons, warblers, sparrows, blue birds, Northern Harriers, Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Prairie Falcons, and Ferruginous Hawks.
Besides birds, you will also find other wild life at the marsh including multiple lizard species, coyotes, jack rabbits, bobcats, desert tortoise, and the Mojave Ground Squirrel.
Once you have crossed Harper Dry Lake you will descend into Black Canyon. From this point you will want to pay particular attention to the rock walls around you. You will immediately start coming across many petroglyphs. Archaeological evidence reveals that this region had humans living here for over 8000 years. Many of the geometric petroglyphs in this canyon are carved in the Great Basin curvilinear and Great Basin rectilinear styles and are traced to the Shoshonean Period of the Western Great Basin, AD 1000 to Historic times. Some of the other petroglyphs have a higher amount of re-varnishing and are traced to earlier hunter/ gatherer times. This area was utilized by the Shoshone, Southern Paiute and the Kawaiisu.
Continue the drive through Black Canyon. A few miles in (sorry, I’m not sure of the exact mileage) on the right hand side of the road you will come across the ruins of the Black Canyon Stage Stop. The stage stop was used in the mid-late 1870′s during the mining boom at Panamint City. Because of the violence, and chance of stage-coach hold ups in the area Wells Fargo refused to service Panamint City. This caused the mine owners to create their own stage service to deliver their ore to the train to Los Angeles. The route used led their drivers directly through Black Canyon where this stage stop was created. It is said that once the stage stopped running through the area the building was likely used as a home for miners. All that remains of the stop today is the lower portion of the walls.
Roughly 1 mile from the Stage Stop ruins you come upon Black Canyon Well. It’s unknown when the well was dug, or by whom. It first appeared on a map in 1915, but it’s likely to have been dug in the 1870′s when the stage-coach came through. Water is still in the well to this day, but I highly doubt that it’s consumable based on its appearance.
From the well you still have several miles before reaching Inscription Canyon. As I stated earlier watch the walls around the canyon, as you will continue to find various petroglyphs along the way.
Once once you reach Inscription Canyon there is a parking area. The road leading through Inscription Canyon is blocked off from vehicles, but you are free to walk through the area. Inscription Canyon is a relatively small canyon, however close to every square inch of it is covered in petroglyphs. There has been some vandalism to the site, but minimal compared to the petroglyphs site in Titus Canyon (Death Valley area).
From Inscription Canyon you can continue and explore much more of the Barstow wilderness area.