9 Best Sights in Barstow, The Mojave Desert

Calico Ghost Town

Fodor's choice

This former silver-mining boomtown was founded in 1881, and, within a few years, it had 500 mines and 22 saloons. Its reconstruction in 1951 by Walter Knott of Knott’s Berry Farm makes it more about G-rated family entertainment than the town’s gritty past, but that doesn’t detract from the fun of panning for (fool’s) gold, touring the original tunnels of Maggie Mine, or taking a leisurely ride on the Calico Odessa Railroad. Of the 33 structures, five are original buildings, such as the impressive Lane’s General Store. The town's setting among the stark beauty of the Calico Hills can make a stroll along its once-bustling Main Street downright peaceful. Camping, cabins, and a bunkhouse are all available for overnight stays. 

Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex

Fodor's choice

Friendly and enthusiastic staffers conduct guided tours of this 53-square-mile complex at Fort Irwin Military Base, 35 miles north of Barstow. Tours start at the Goldstone Museum, where exhibits detail past and present space missions and Deep Space Network history. From there, you'll drive out to see the massive concave antennas, starting with those used for early manned space flights and culminating with the 24-story-tall "listening" device. This is one of only three complexes in the world that make up the Deep Space Network, tracking and communicating with spacecraft throughout our solar system. One-month advanced reservations are required for this 2½-hour driving tour (in your own vehicle); contact the complex to reserve a slot. The NASA Goldstone Deep Space Visitor Center at the Harvey House in Barstow offers a glimpse of what's in store.

Afton Canyon

Because of its colorful, steep walls, Afton Canyon is often called the Grand Canyon of the Mojave. It was carved over thousands of years by the rushing waters of the Mojave River, which makes one of its few aboveground appearances here. The dirt road that leads to the canyon is ungraded in spots, so it is best to explore it in an all-terrain vehicle. There are 22 primitive campsites available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Recommended Fodor's Video

Casa Del Desierto Harvey House

This historic train depot was built around 1911 (the first 1885 structure was destroyed by fire) and was one of the original Harvey Houses, providing dining and lodging for rail passengers. Waitresses at the depots were popularized in movies such as The Harvey Girls with Judy Garland. It now houses offices and three museums: the Western American Railroad, Route 66 Mother Road, and the NASA Goldstone Deep Space Visitor Center, but you can still walk along the porticos of the impressive Spanish Renaissance Classical building, or stroll into the restored lobby to see the original staircase, terrazzo floor, and copper chandeliers.

Main Street Murals

More than two dozen hand-painted murals in downtown Barstow depict the town's history, from prehistoric times and early explorers to pioneer caravans, mining eras, and Route 66. Self-guided walking tour maps are available at the Barstow Chamber of Commerce or on the Main Street Mural website. 

Mojave River Valley Museum

Considered "Barstow's attic," this museum has a floor-to-ceiling collection that highlights local history, both quirky and conventional. Items on display include Ice Age fossils such as a giant mammoth tusk dug up in 2006, Native American artifacts, 19th-century handmade quilts, and exhibits on early settlers. Entrance is free, and there’s a little gift shop with a nice collection of more than 500 books about the area.  The story about Possum Trot and its population of folk-art dolls is not to be missed.

Rainbow Basin Natural Area

Many science-fiction movies set on Mars have been filmed in this area 8 miles north of Barstow. Huge slabs of red, orange, white, and green stone tilt at crazy angles like ships about to capsize, and traces of ancient beasts such as mastodons and bear-dogs, which roamed the basin up to 16 million years ago, have been discovered in its fossil beds. The dirt road around the basin is narrow and bumpy so vehicles with higher clearance are recommended. Rain can quickly turn the road to mud so, at times, only four-wheel-drive vehicles are permitted. Owl Canyon has 22 primitive campsites.

Skyline Drive-In Theatre

Check out a bit of surviving Americana at this dusty drive-in, where you can watch the latest Hollywood flicks among the Joshua trees and starry night sky. Keep in mind the old-time speakers are no more; sound is tuned in via car radio.

Western America Railroad Museum

You can almost hear the murmur of passengers and rhythmic, metal-on-metal clatter as you stroll past the old cabooses, railcars, and engines, such as Sante Fe Number 95, that are on display outside the historic Barstow station housing this museum. Inside, the memorabilia includes a train simulator, rail equipment, a model railroad, items from the depot’s Harvey House days, and period dining-car china from railways around the country.