West Mojave Desert
Rainbow Basin is an area of Critical Environmental Concern due to the
landscape features and paleontogical resources in the area. Many visitors
come to the area to see exciting multi-colored rock formations and walk
the scenic canyons.
FOSSIL CANYON LOOP ROAD IS NOT RECOMMENDED FOR PASSENGER VEHICLES AND SHOULD NEVER BE ATTEMPTED BY MOTORHOMES OR VEHICLES TOWING TRAILERS.
A sinking batholith, fallen volcanic tuff, sediments collected in and layered by lakes over millions of years,
conglomerates and fanglomerates, the geology and natural history of this system of canyons is complex and
revealing. Providing a look into how geomorphic processes effect the desert region. An unconformity is to say the least,
the area seems to be a model of the basin and range system surrounding it. The small faults running through the
basin mimmick the big bend of the San Andreas fault found near Palm Springs.
There is sparse plant life here in the ancient soils. The land has been dropped and twisted and
filled with sediments layered by lakes long ago. Several small faults run through the area yanking
and grinding the basin into its current mismanaged buttonhole configuration.
Rainbow Basin has outstanding views with geological and paleontological features. Keep in mind that permits are needed to remove any fossils. Activities include hiking, camping, photography, sightseeing, and horseback riding.
There are many places where you can get stranded or lost in this area. Be sure to tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. Bring sufficient water, food, clothing, equipment, and first aid supplies for your activity.
Rainbow Basin is a mix of public and private lands, including those held by the Southern Pacific Railroad. Respect private landowners´ rights. Land ownership status can be found on the "Cuddeback Lake" Desert Access Guide. These BLM maps can be purchased from any of the California Desert District BLM offices.
Hiking and Sightseeing
Rainbow Basin has a diverse landscape of hills, canyons and washes. Multicolored rock walls and mesas are accented by changing light conditions, making for many photographic opportunities. The washes are good hiking trails for experiencing the area's natural beauty.
Wildlife viewing is best during early morning and evening hours. In Fossil, Coon, and Owl Canyons, birds tend to gather in thick vegetation. Vegetation is critical for wildlife water, food, and shelter. Washs in Rainbow Basin have been closed to vehicle travel to protect these areas.
Within this Area of Critical Environmental Concern, routes are posted with "open" route markers. Use of passenger vehicles and four-wheel drive vehicles is permitted only on designated and signed open routes. Staging of off-highway vehicles (e.g. ATVs) is not allowed in the Rainbow Basin area or at Owl Canyon Campground.
The Fossil Canyon Loop Road is an interesting route for vehicle touring. Keep in mind that this one-way narrow dirt road is best driven with a high clearance or four-wheel drive vehicles.
BROWN markers with route numbers or road names indicate an OPEN ROUTE for use by motorized vehicles.
RED markers indicate routes that have been CLOSED to all vehicle travel.
No marker indicates a CLOSED route. Within the Rainbow Basin area, travel is permitted only on designated OPEN routes.
Camping is permitted only in Owl Canyon Campground. This campground is first-come first-served and requires a $6.00 fee per site. Each site has a table, shelter and campfire grates in place. A water tank and pit toilets are located in the campground.
PLEASE BRING WATER WITH YOU, as the water tank can run dry as it is used. There are also designated group campsites and an equestrian camp available by permit only.
Backpacking is welcome in the area. Fires are not permitted outside designated campgrounds.
Weather extremes and poisonous snakes are desert hazards common to this area. Rainbow Basin has a flash flood risk as well. Avoid low-lying areas during storms. Remember that rain upstream can cause flooding even though it is not raining in the immediate area.
Rainbow Basin Natural Area is located 8 miles north of Barstow, California, off Irwin Road (not Fort Irwin Road). The
main access route is Fossil Bed Road.
Rainbow Basin Satellite Image