A Unique Stream in the Mojave Desert
The Amargosa River originates in Nevada, flowing south and west into California's Mojave Desert, and then forming a giant "u" as it heads north into Death Valley National Park. Interestingly, the Nevada origin of this 200 mile-long desert river is only about 50 miles away from its eventual endpoint near Badwater in Death Valley, California.
Like most desert rivers, much of the Amargosa flows only when rare rains flood the desert washes. But more than a 20 mile segment of the river beginning near the town of Shoshone, flows perennially through public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In this region of California, the river sustains biologically rich wetlands and riparian forests, and flows through a rugged canyon defined by precipitously eroded cliffs. The Amargosa even creates an unusual but scenic desert waterfall, accessible to adventurous hikers via an abandoned railroad route which has been transformed into a foot trail.
"Amargosa" is Spanish for bitter. Although humans should avoid drinking from the river, countless species of wildlife and plants depend on the river for sustenance. The wetlands, springs, and riparian habitat along the river supports more than 260 bird species, including several that are considered sensitive, threatened, or endangered, including the willow fly catcher, yellow-billed cuckoo, and least Bell=s vireo. Its waters also harbor two sensitive fish species, including the desert pupfish and speckled dace. The rare Amargosa vole is found in wetlands adjacent to the river and nowhere else in the world. Golden eagles cruise the canyon sky, surveying a landscape that has changed little in thousands of years.
The industrial age crept into the Amargosa Canyon on the steel rails of the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad, which began service in 1907. For 34 years, the T&TR was the lifeline for the remote Death Valley communities. Today, the rails are gone, but the rail bed provides an excellent route for a foot trail under construction by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Eventually, the trail will connect the town of Shoshone with the old railroad townsite of Sperry, just north of the Dumont Dunes. It will offer a 17 mile journey along one of the most unique and magnificently scenic desert rivers in the nation. Currently, an eight mile segment of the trail between Tecopa and China Ranch offers the opportunity to visit this canyon and experience its wonders.
This article was published in the 2009 Spring edition of Headwaters. To read more featured articles, click here.
How To Get There
This is true desert country. Visitors should always check road conditions, carry plenty of water, and be prepared for a wide variety of inclement weather.
Recreation And Visitor Information
For up to the minute access and general recreation information, contact:
Bureau of Land Management
Barstow Field Office
2601 Barstow Road
Barstow, CA 92311
Phone: (760) 252-6000
Fax: (760) 252-6098