AREA DESCRIPTION: The sound of a steam rippling over rocks beneath the rustling leaves of a tall cottonwood tree is hardly an image most people would associate with the Mojave Desert. However, the perennial stream that flows through Sand Canyon creates a sanctuary from the searing heat of the desert in one of the longest stretches of riparian woodland in the Eastern Sierra. This surprisingly lush canyon provides a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities for you to explore.
WHAT TO DO: In the lower canyon are a number of secluded sites beneath cottonwood trees that are perfect for a family picnic. Sand Canyon is an excellent site for birding. Over 100 species of resident, wintering, breeding and migratory birds have been observed here throughout the year. The riparian habitat serves as a magnet for songbirds moving along the north-south flanks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains during the spring and from higher elevations to lower elevations during the winter.
The western end of the canyon is within the 74,640 acre Owens Peak Wilderness. Within the canyon are over 10 miles of trail leading up the north and south forks of Sand Canyon. These provide excellent hiking and equestrian opportunities for a day trip or a longer visit in the backcountry. Elevations range from 3,200 feet at the trailhead parking area to around 5,000 feet at the west end of the canyon.
GETTING THERE: To find Sand Canyon travel north on US 395 to the Brown Road exit, approximately 5 miles north of the US 395 and SR 14 intersection. On the west side of the highway, cross the US 395 frontage road, and take the graded dirt road west toward the entrance to a large sand and gravel quarry. Just before the entrance to the quarry, take a left turn to the south on BLM Route SE117 and follow this route into Sand Canyon. The trailhead is at the far west end of the canyon approximately 3.5 miles beyond the aqueduct.
A SPECIAL PLACE: Because of Sand Canyon's extensive riparian habitat and diverse bird populations, the BLM manages 2,300 acres of the canyon as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern. The canyon has been designated as a Partners In Flight site to aid in the monitoring of the neotropical migrant songbirds who spend a portion of their year in Sand Canyon as well as in Central and South America. To monitor how these species are doing on the northern end of their migration circuit, the Kerncrest Chapter of the National Audubon Society regularly performs surveys throughout the canyon to document breeding birds and migrants.
The canyon also supports nine distinct plant communities representative of the Mojave Desert, Great Basin and Sierra Nevada Mountains. This broad variation in habitat type supports a staggering diversity of plant species, over 300 have been described throughout the canyon and on the surrounding craggy ridges.
If you visit the lower canyon during the spring you may find yourself sharing the area with fifth grade students involved in the Sand Canyon Environmental Education Project. This joint effort between the BLM, Eastern Kern County Conservation District, the Sierra Sands Unified School District, Maturango Museum, the Indian Wells Valley Water Board, as well as a host of volunteers from throughout the valley teaches 900 students a year about desert ecology, regional history and water conservation.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Dispersed primitive camping is also permitted in Sand Canyon for periods of up to 14 days. Please park or set up camp in previously disturbed sites.
There are a number of private inholdings within Sand Canyon. Be sure to respect the rights of these private land owners by obeying all posted restrictions.
The BLM encourages all desert recreationists and travelers exploring public lands, not only within southern California but throughout the west, to use a propylene glycol based antifreeze/coolant in their touring and recreation vehicles. Proven safer, it will have minimal impacts on both the wildlife and the environment should a leak occur.
The BLM permits hunting during established hunting seasons, and encourages all hunters and recreational shooters to use lead free non toxic shot and bullets. Proven safer, non toxic shot significantly reduces the risks of accidental lead poisoning of wildlife and will have minimal impacts on the environment.