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Needles Field Office

Horse Thief Camp

Horse Thief Camp as well as the spring were named by surveyors for the legendary Chief  Walkara (a.k.a. Wakara or Walker) of a band of Ute.  Walkara was a skilled hunter and horseman from an early age.  Able to speak numerous languages, he proved to be a very skilled negotiator.

In the 1820s, Walkara began accumulating wealth from trading horses and other commodities.  He gathered a band of warriors from the Great Basin tribes to raid ranches and stop travelers along the Old Spanish Trail.  He became a legendary horse thief, known to many by his yellow face paint.

In the 1840s, he and his band captured hundreds of horses and mules in the Cajon Pass area of southern California.  He is said to have traded horses to mountain men such as James Beckwourth and Thomas “Pegleg” Smith for whisky and other goods.  Walkara also developed a prosperous trading relationship with Brigham Young in Utah and negotiated peace between settlers and the Native Americans after tensions erupted in 1853.

The View of the Kingston Mountains and a Mojave Yucca from Horse Theif Camp.  BLM Photo

Horse Thief Camp is located 23 miles north of I-15 on Excelsior Mine Road (use the Cima Road Exit), is nestled between the Kingston Range, North Mesquite Mountain and Pahrump Valley Wilderness Areas.  This secluded primitive camp offers dramatic view of the surrounding landscape and is an ideal base camp for exploring the local area.  

Familiarize yourself with rules that apply to the specific wilderness area that you intend to visit.  Motorized equipment and mechanical transport, such as chainsaws, motor vehicles, and bicycles, are prohibited in all wilderness areas. 

Motorized Vehicle Use:
Many miles of backcountry touring opportunities exist adjacent to these unique wilderness areas.  Visit the Kingston Wash segment of the East Mojave Heritage Trail.  Wind your way past the Kingston Range Wilderness, Coyote Holes, and Kingston Spring.   Off-Highway Vehicle travel is limited to designated trail systems.  Law enforcement officers will strictly enforce the regulation pertaining to illegal cross-country travel. 

Horse Thief is an ideal location for wilderness hiking, hunting, camping, nature study, rock hounding, horseback riding, and vehicle touring.  Test your skills at the horse-shoe pit,  Shoes not provided. Tell a friend or neighbor where you are going and when to expect your return.  Bring sufficient water, food, clothing, tools, and first aid supplies for your activity. 

This campground is a first-come first-served area, with three single and one double campsite.  Tables and fire grates are provided at each campsite.  A vault toilet is located in the center of the campground.   There is no fire wood or potable water.   Bring a sufficient supply of each for your use.

Hiking and Sightseeing:
Bring your camera and binoculars!  The Area has a diverse landscape of hills, canyons and washes.  Multicolored rock walls and changing light conditions make for many photographic opportunities.  Washes and stream channels are good hiking trails and excellent for experiencing natural conditions.

Bird/Wildlife Watching:
Located just 4 miles north of the camp, Horse Thief Spring offers excellent bird and wildlife viewing.  This perennial spring provides life giving water for resident wildlife and migrating birds alike.  Wildlife viewing is best during early morning and evening hours.  Birds tend to gather in thick vegetation, along washes and springs, where vegetation provides critical food and shelter.  CFR 43 8365.6 states “No camping or occupying for more than 30 minutes within 200 yards of any waterholes springs, seeps or manmade watering devices”

You can hunt dove, quail, chucker and and mule deer in the area, but season and bag limits vary.  Contact the California Department of Fish and game at (909) 484-0167 for current hunting information.  Hunting within 200 yards of wildlife waters, guzzlers included, is limited to 30 minutes.  Recreational shooting is not permitted within the boundaries of Horse Thief Camp or within 1/4 a mile of the campground.

Written permission is required before using firearms on private land.  On public lands, all county, state and federal regulations are in effect.  Please note that firearms use within 150 yards of livestock or buildings is not allowed (San Bernardino County Ordinance 22.011).
Weather extremes and poisonous snakes are desert hazards common to this area.  Canyons and washes in the area pose a flash flood risk as well.  Avoid low-lying areas during storms and remember that storms upstream can result in flooding, even though it is not raining in your immediate area. 

Abandoned Mine Lands
For your safety, DO NOT enter mine shafts or tunnels.  They are extremely dangerous due to odorless toxic fumes and unstable walls.  Entering mines can also disturb wildlife living in them.  “Stay Out, Stay Alive.”

Many people think the relatively sparse plant cover means the desert does not burn.  But a desert fire, if conditions are right, can be just as dangerous and destructive as wildfire in brush lands and forests.  Never leave a fire unattended and extinguish all fires before sleeping.  Always check with the agency’s local office before building a campfire. 

Rules and Regulations:
Private land, legal grazing allotments, and mining operations exist in the area.  Respect private property!
  • Campfires may not permitted or require permits during high risk seasons.  Contact the Needles Field Office at 760-326-7000 for currant fire restrictions.
  • Vehicles are restricted to open routes of travel.
  • State and federal hunting regulations are in effect on public lands.
  • Recreational Shooting is not permitted in or within ½ mile of the camp ground  
  • All applicable county, state and federal laws and regulations apply.

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Follow “Leave No Trace” guidelines when visiting the outdoors to minimize the impacts of traveling and camping:
• Plan ahead and prepare
• Travel and camp on durable surfaces
• Dispose of waste properly
• Leave what you find
• Minimize campfire impacts
• Respect wildlife

Bureau of Land Management
Needles Field Office
1303 S Highway 95
Needles, CA 92363
Phone: (760) 326-7000
Fax: (760) 326-7099
Office Hours: 7:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., M-F
Contact us by Email

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