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.

Getting There

From Barstow, head east 8 miles (12.9 km) 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. Follow the track in the GPS file. 4WD High Clearance is recommended for the last mile to the trailhead.

Hike Directions

Easy, 0.9 miles (1.4km), 130 ft (40m) gain round trip. 30 minutes.

From the parking area, 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.

Surprise Tank Petroglyph Map courtesy of Caltopo


Surprise Tank Petroglyphs.gpx

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About Guy Starbuck

Exploring the American West.
  • Nevada
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