The Trona Pinnacles is one of the most unusual geological features in the California Desert Conservation Area. The unusual landscape consists of more than 500 tufa spires, some as high as 140 feet, rising from the bed of the Searles Lake. The pinnacles vary in size and shape from short and squat to tall and thin, and are composed primarily of calcium carbonate (tufa) that formed underwater. They now sit isolated and slowly crumbling away near the south end of the valley, surrounded by many square miles of flat, dried mud and with stark mountain ranges at either side.
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Bird Watching  

Northwest Mojave Desert and Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains

The western Mojave Desert and the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains host some great bird watching sites. The following areas, administered by the Bureau of Land Management, will provide you with the opportunity to view a wide variety of resident, neotropical migrant, and wintering bird species. To assist you in locating these sites, use the BLM Desert Access Guide series.

SAND CANYON

What To Look For: Wintering Sierra Nevada songbirds from November-February, neotropical migrant songbirds March-May, and a wide variety of resident riparian dependant and upland species.

Area Description: A spectacular east slope canyon in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with over 4.0 miles of riparian habitat, this birding location is partially within the Owens Peak Wilderness, the Sand Canyon Area of Critical Environmental Concern, and is a Partners in Flight site. A trailhead parking lot and hiking trail provide access to the area. Elevations range from 3,500 - 4000 feet above sea level in the canyon bottom.

Getting There: From the intersection of US 395 and SR 14, travel north approximately 4.5 miles to the Brown Road exit and continue west toward the large gravel pit at the mouth of the canyon. The access road will take a sharp left turn to the south, at the gate to the gravel pit, and then enter the canyon. Follow the road all the way to the parking lot at the boundary of the Owens Peak Wilderness. Site is accessible with a 2-wheel drive vehicle. Use the Ridgecrest Desert Access Guide.

NO NAME CANYON

What To Look For: Wintering Sierra Nevada songbirds November-February, neotropical migrant songbirds March-May and resident riparian dependant species.

Area Description: A narrow riparian canyon in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This birding location is within the Sacatar Trail Wilderness. A primitive foot trail provides access. Elevation 4,000 feet above sea level.

Getting There: From the intersection of US 395 and SR 14, travel north approximately 10.0 miles to the Nine Mile Canyon Road. Travel west for 1.0 mile to the powerline road, and then continue south for 1.0 mile to the main access road to No Name Canyon. Proceed west to the end of the road at the mouth of the canyon. Site is accessible with a 2-wheel drive vehicle. Use the Ridgecrest Desert Access Guide.

SURPRISE CANYON

What To Look For: Neotropical migrant songbirds from March-May and resident riparian dependant species.

Area Description: This narrow slot canyon in the Panamint Mountains has a perennial stream and over 6.0 miles of lush riparian habitat. Access is by foot from a small parking lot at Chris Wicht Camp. No trails or other facilities provided. Elevation 3,500 to 6,000 feet above sea level.

Getting There: From the old mining town of Ballarat in the Panamint Valley, travel north on the Indian Ranch Road for approximately 1.0 mile to the Surprise Canyon Road, BLM route P71. Follow this Inyo County maintained dirt road for a distance of 4.0 miles to Chris Wicht Camp. Park at the end of the road, and then hike up the wash through the riparian area. You will need a high clearance 2-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive vehicle. Use the Darwin Hills Desert Access Guide.

PLEASANT CANYON

What To Look For: Neotropical migrant songbirds from March-May and resident riparian dependant species. A recent bird survey found 49 species of neotropical migrants, and an additional 39 species of residents and/or short-distance migrants in the canyon.

Area Description: A narrow canyon in the Panamint Mountains with a perennial stream and extensive riparian habitat. Access is via the Pleasant Canyon Road which heads east out of Ballarat. This road begins at around 1,500 feet above sea level, and ends at over 6,000 feet in the pinyon juniper woodland on the crest of the Panamint Range.

Getting There: From the old mining town of Ballarat in the Panamint Valley, travel east on BLM route P81 into the mouth of the canyon. Within 2.0 miles, the road will reach the beginning of the canyon riparian habitat. Accessible with a high clearance 2-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive vehicle. Use the Darwin Hills Desert Access Guide.

KELSO VALLEY

What To Look For: Neotropical migrant songbirds from March-May. Migrating turkey vultures and raptors in September-October. Up to 30,000 turkey vultures pass through this valley each autumn on their way south into Mexico.

Area Description: The sandy south branch of the Kern River is interspersed with several large cottonwood riparian forests that support a wide variety of bird species. This area is located at the juncture of the Mojave Desert, Sierra Nevada and San Joaquin Valley ecosystems. No trails or other facilities provided. Elevation 4,000 feet above sea level.

Getting There: From SR 178 in the South Fork Valley of the Kern River, 1.0 mile west of the town of Weldon, take the Kelso Valley Road south for a distance of approximately 15.0 miles to the beginning of the cottonwood-willow riparian forest. Site is accessible with a standard 2-wheel drive vehicle. Use the Isabella Lake and Tehachapi Desert Access Guides.

WILEY'S KNOB

What To Look For: Migrating turkey vultures and other raptors from September-October. Golden eagle, prairie falcon and a variety of hawk species are commonly seen from this high rocky knob. Up to 30,000 turkey vultures pass through Bird Spring Pass, north of Wiley's Knob each September on their way south into Mexico.

Area Description: This high rocky outcrop in the Scodie Mountains, an offshoot of the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains, provides a prominent lookout for viewing migrating raptors. At 6,300 feet above sea level, this pinyon studded knob provides sweeping views of the Mojave Desert, Bird Spring Pass, and Kelso Valley. The top of the mountain is occupied by a radio tower. No trails or other facilities provided.

Getting There: From SR 14 take BLM route SC65 to the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and travel south for a distance of approximately 1.25 miles to the intersection of BLM route SC106. Follow this rough dirt road west to the top of Bird Spring Pass, and then take BLM Route SC28 to the top of Wiley's Knob. You will need a high clearance 2-wheel drive or a 4-wheel drive vehicle and the Isabella Lake and Tehachapi Desert Access Guides.

BUTTERBREDT CANYON

What To Look For: Neotropical migrant songbirds from March-May and resident riparian dependant species.

Area Description: This chain of springs and associated riparian habitat support a wide diversity of bird life. This birding site and the surrounding area are managed cooperatively between the private land owner, the Audubon Society and the BLM as a defacto preserve. The site is located within the Jawbone-Butterbredt Area of Critical Environmental Concern. No trails or other facilities are provided. Elevation 3,500 feet above sea level.

Getting There: From SR 14 at Jawbone Canyon, take the Kelso Valley Road west to the intersection of BLM Route SC123/The Butterbredt Road. Follow this rough high clearance 2-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive road for approximately 1.0 mile to Butterbredt Spring. Use the Isabella Lake and Tehachapi Desert Access Guides.

COW HEAVEN CANYON

What To Look For: Wintering Sierra Nevada songbirds November-February and neotropical migrant songbirds March-May.

Area Description: The springs at the west end of Cow Heaven Canyon support a narrow strip of riparian habitat in the transition zone between the Mojave Desert and the Sierra Nevada. The west end of the canyon is within the Kiavah Wilderness. No trails or other facilities provided. Elevation 4,000 feet above sea level.

Getting There: From SR 14 take BLM route SC51 west to the boundary of the Kiavah Wilderness, approximately 8.0 miles. Use a 4-wheel drive vehicle and the Isabella Lake and Tehachapi Desert Access Guide.

DESERT TORTOISE NATURAL AREA

What To Look For: Resident Mojave desert species such as greater roadrunner, Le Conte's thrasher, loggerhead shrike, burrowing owl and other songbirds and raptors. Best viewing in the spring and in the early morning.

Area Description: While this area was set aside to protect the desert tortoise, the over 2.0 miles of winding trail provide a great way to look for birds common to the open creosote scrub habitat of the western Mojave Desert. The site is managed cooperatively between the BLM and the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee. The natural area has a hiking trail, interpretive kiosk, restrooms and an on-site naturalist from March-May each year. Elevation 2,000 feet above sea level.

Getting There: From the east side of California City take the Mojave-Randsburg Road northeast for approximately five miles to the signed entrance to the Desert Tortoise Natural Area. The site can be reached with a standard 2- wheel drive vehicle. Use the Cuddeback Lake Desert Access Guide.

PANAMINT WARM SULPHUR SPRINGS

What To Look For: Migrant ducks, wading and shore birds from September to early December. Also marsh hawks and short-eared owls.

Area Description: At the far northeast end of the South Panamint Dry Lake is a small wetland, grassland, dune system and mesquite bosque. A small parking lot adjacent to the Indian Ranch Road provides access to the area. No trails or other facilities provided. Elevation 1,200 feet above sea level.

Getting There: From the town of Ballarat in the Panamint Valley take the Indian Ranch Road north for a distance of approximately 5.0 miles to the large mesquite grove at the northeast end of the dry lake. Park on the west side of the road. Use a 2-wheel drive vehicle and the Darwin Hills Desert Access Guide.