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Exploring The East Mojave: The Afton Canyon Area   -   2009/11/13Viewed 195 times this month, last update: 2014/06/16

The University of Riverside offers several extension courses. One of which is "Exploring The East Mojave: The Afton Canyon Area", which I took on the November 6th, 2009 weekend. The class is held at the Zzyzx Desert Studies Center on the shore of the Soda Lake, about 60 miles east of Barstow.

The class was expertly taught by Dr. Norman Meek, a geographer, and Dr. Joan Schneider, an archaeologist. The first night and day included Norm's talk and slide show on the historic geography of Afton Canyon and the Mojave River. The second night and day included Joan's talk on the Native American historical population of the area, and specifically of Afton Canyon.

Site 1 : Lake Manix Beach Ridge
This site was a beach ridge of Lake Manix, as evidenced by the ridge, and the small (2-4 inch) stones, worn flat by the wave action. Shells can be found below the ridge peak. A lagoon formed behind this ridge, as is typical for such beach ridges.

Site 2 : Lake Manix Beach Ridge
This site was another beach ridge of Lake Manix. Since then, a form of desert pavement has built up. The small stones on the surface of the land lock together in a flat, pavement-like layer. The action of wind and water causes blown in sand and silt to settle under the stones. The stones float on top, and over time, form the pavement.

Site 3 : Lake Manix, lake bottom clay

This site is near a north shore of Manix Lake. The green-tinted lake bottom can be uncovered in nearby soil. Across the valley (in picture above), the carbonate cemented alluvial material from Cave mountain, underneath the volcanic basalt from the Cady Mountains can be seen where the old lake bottom has eroded away. On top of the Cady volcanic material, the same green lake-bottom layer can be seen. The green tint is caused by iron within the sediment oxidizing underwater, forming iron (II,III) oxide, which has a blue tint underwater, and turns green when dried and exposed to air.

Site 4 : Pyramid Canyon

Pyramid Canyon is a canyon in the foothills of Cady Mountain. Where the canyon intersects the Mojave River in Afton Canyon, evidence of a Native American archaeological site has been found. At this site, stone tool flakes, arrowheads, hammer stones and other evidence of Native American activity can be found. The site has California archaeological identification number CA-SBR-85. Above, several jasper stone flakes, and one raw jasper stone can be seen.
Excavation of this site has revealed it likely to be an encampment of Indian hunters due to the evidence of stone tool making, and lack of pottery, grinding stones and housing.
Fauna remains of Big Horn Sheep, reptiles such as tortoises, iguana and chuckwalla and rodents including bunnies to be the primary diet of the hunters. Lack of some Big Horn Sheep bones, such as vertebrae, cranial pieces and teeth indicate that the animals were butchered at the kill site, and transported in smaller pieces to the camp site.
Flora remains indicate that Mesquite and Tule were the main plant matter consumed.
Shell artifacts including Abalone from the Gulf of California and Pacific Ocean, as well as Beads, and Obsidian stone recovered from the site show trading activity.
The people were most likely part of the Serrano tribes, and less closely related to the Paiute or Colorado River people.

Site 5 : Afton Station

Afton Station was the train station on the East end of Afton Canyon, coordinating traffic along the single-track in the canyon until the town was unnecessary and demolished to prevent vandalism.

Site 6 : Afton Cemetery

Afton Cemetery, just to the South of Afton Station is the final resting places of some of the inhabitants and workers of Afton Station.

Site 7 : The Caves

The "Caves" have been used by many, travelers through Afton Canyon, for shelter and a cool place to rest.

Site 8 : Arbuckle Mine

Arbuckle Mine was a Magnesite mine from 1917 to 1918. Magnesium is an important light-weight building material and incendiary chemical.

Site 9 : Spooky Canyon

Spooky Canyon (a name coined by Bill Mann) is a beautiful example of a Slot Canyon. Rainwater erodes the loose material of the canyon walls into a twisting, softly-lit crack, fun to explore, and comfortable to rest within.

Site 10 : Buried Boxcar

The Buried Boxcar, now known to be at least two boxcars, is a railroad car that seems to have been intentionally buried by the Union Pacific Railroad Company sometime prior to 1984. This could have been done to dispose of damaged equipment, or to protect the railway from erosion.

Site 11 : Afton Canyon Exit

Out of the Eastern end of Afton Canyon the Mojave River continues to flow toward Cronese Lake, Zzyzx, and Death Valley. It is the site of the old town of Basin, a railroad worker town. At this point the Mojave River wash sediment is 230 feet deep, allowing the Mojave River flow to continue sub-surface.

Site 12 : Indian Petroglyphs at Zzyzx

The Zzyxz point has a year-round water seep, making it a natural site for local fauna, and Native Americans. Petroglyphs can be seen on the stones in the area. Site 13: Afton Canyon Overlook

From this site above and to the South of Afton Canyon, the expanse of the canyon, as well as the local geology, including the lake-bottom green clay can be seen.
Site 14: Afton Canyon Overlook

Near the above overloook, still more Native American stone flakes and hammer stones can be found.

Site 15: Cronese Lake

Cronese Lake is one of the lakes fed by the Mojave River. In the recent (geologically speaking) past, Cronese lake was filled with fresh water. Anodonta mussels grew, and were eaten by local Native American people. Along the ancient shore line of the lake, shells, shell cooking pits, and Native American pottery fragments can be found.

Richard (2010-03-27): Very interesting. I'll be out there next weekend and will look for this stuff. Thanks for sharing.

DocR (2010-10-08): An attempted murderer is buried in the cemetery--see Afton: a desert station along the Mojave River on the Salt Lake Route, or, Who is buried in the cemetery? San Bernardino County Museum Association Quarterly 55 (Number 4, 2010).


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