Ecology: Desert Wildlife
Watchable Wildlife Areas
Afton Canyon Wildlife
Afton Canyon's surface water makes it unique in the southern California desert. Known locally as "The Grand Canyon of the Mojave" for its
dramatic geological formations, this is one of the only places where the
flows above ground year-round - providing significant
amid the desert. Since prehistoric times, the natural bounty created by this water source has made
Afton Canyon a focus for living things. Dense willows and cottonwoods shaded the river, and thickets of
produced bean pods for
food. The ponds, marshes and streams provided habitat for a wide variety of
An invasion of saltcedar reduced wildlife populations to a fraction of what they once were. But animals not seen in the area for
more than a decade are now returning, due to efforts by the Bureau of Land Management, in cooperation with the California Department
of Fish and Game. This program, one of the largest riparian restoration projects in the state, is attracting
many of the birds
and other animals that once lived here.
Animals you may see here
Birds: More than 180
species of birds
have been spotted in Afton Canyon. These include rare species such
vermillion flycatcher and
summer tanager. The
canyon's river and marshes draw winter waterfowl, shorebirds
and songbirds. Great blue herons, snowy egrets, white-faced ibises and other birds live in the shallows. Common flickers
are once again utilizing snags that have been made accessible through saltcedar removal. More
than 85 species of migrating birds have made stopovers, including merlin, osprey, and Swainson's hawk. The steep,
inaccessible cliffs of the nearby Cady Mountains provide excellent feeding and nesting areas for a variety of
birds of prey,
prairie falcon, and their activity in the canyon is increasing.
Desert bighorn sheep
can now reach the waters of the Mojave River that were once blocked by
salt cedar, and a herd from the nearby Cady Mountains comes to the riverbanks during the evening or early morning. Western
pond turtles, frogs and fish live in the waters. Other animals that frequent the area include
bobcat. The endangered
Mojave tui chub, the only fish native to the
Mojave River, may be re-introduced to specific sites in the canyon in the
near future. The surrounding desert is home to
lizards, such as
Mojave fringe-toed lizards,
side-blotched lizards, and
Viewing tips for this area
- Fall and spring are the best times to view area wildlife, including birds.
- Summer is very hot. Limited water is available at the Afton Canyon campground.
- Keep your distance from the water, so animals can drink.
- Be careful with children and pets - trains still use the railroad.
- Be aware that
can be present during spring, summer, and fall months.
- To protect sensitive resources, vehicle use in Afton Canyon is restricted to routes which are
designated open. Routes approved for use include the
that goes the entire length of the canyon.
- Other restrictions are posted at all entrances and at the Afton Canyon Campground.
- The canyon is within a cattle grazing area, but an exclosure fence has been built to keep grazing cattle out of all but a few areas, and to keep out vehicles.
- Be sure to see tips for "Ultimate Wildlife Watching."
How to get here
east for 35 miles. Take the Afton exit south. Drive south three miles on graded dirt road to parking area for the fully-developed
Afton Campground. Visitor
information is available at the campground and at all entrances into the area.
Size: about 4,000 acres in the canyon are included in the 42,000-acre
Afton Canyon Natural Area.
Afton Canyon is designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern to protect plant and wildlife habitat, and to ...