CA, Mojave Desert, GPS

Surprise Tank Petroglyphs

We first visited the Surprise Tank Petroglyphs out in the Mojave Desert in 1998. We’ve stopped by a few times since then but didn’t really photograph the site again until 2009. We re-visited the site in 2013, 2018, and 2020. I wanted to get a few more photos than in my earlier visits. This is a fascinating (and large) petroglyph site and well worth the visit.

Most of the petroglyphs on the dark basalt rocks are of abstract design although there are a few bighorn sheep and a couple of anthropomorphs. They are likely to have been made by the Desert Serrano and Desert Archaic cultures. Some of the petroglyphs could be 10,000 years old.

The lava flows make a natural tank here that would have held rainwater for an extended period of time. A few mesquites grow here as well. Both are vital resources in this arid land.

Surprise Tank Petroglyphs

Getting There

From Barstow, head east eight miles on I-40 to the Daggett (A St.) off ramp. Turn right and then left on to the frontage road and then into the hills on the graded dirt Camp Rock Road. After 18.25 miles you will pass Troy Road. Continue straight and it will become the Cinder Cone Road as it climbs into the hills. At 24.4 miles, and as you are approaching the cinder mine, turn right onto the NR8460 Canyon dirt road. It is about two miles to the trailhead from here. 4WD High Clearance is recommended for the last mile to the trailhead. Use the GPS waypoints for intersections.

From the trailhead, hike along the old road on the right-hand side of the canyon to the old parking area. Drop down into the wash and follow it to the petroglyphs. They start just after the old parking area and are on both sides of the canyon. The petroglyphs end at the dry fall where the canyon pinches out.

Look for another set of petroglyphs on the cliffs above the parking area. Be careful hiking on the steep hillsides.

Take only pictures, leave only footprints, and please respect these sites.


  • Start at Camp Rock Road OM7225SLO: 34.8526, -116.8909
  • Camp Rock Road OM7225SLO and Cinder Cone Road NR8420 junction: 34.667, -116.6902
  • Cinder Cone Road NR8420 and Canyon NR8460 road junction: 34.6773, -116.6218
  • Surprise Tank Trailhead: 34.6709, -116.5932
  • Surprise Tank Petroglyphs: 34.6746, -116.5948
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About Guy Starbuck

I've been exploring the American West since 1984 with a focus on the Mojave and Great Basin Deserts.
  • Nevada
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