Surprise Tank Petroglyphs

We first visited the Surprise Tank Petroglyphs 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.


Road Directions
mile(km)Road Directions
0(0 km)From Barstow, head east 8 miles on I-40 to the Daggett (A St) off ramp. Turn right and then left on to the frontage road. Our route starts here.
1(1.6 km)The frontage road ends and the graded dirt Camp Rock Road begins. Follow the road southeast towards the hills.
2(3.2 km)Pass under powerlines. Stay on main road, ignore side roads. Main road is marked BLM OM7225SLO.
3.5(5.6 km)Road turns south and passes some hills.
3.9(6.3 km)Keep left at junction. Stay on main road.
6.3(10.1 km)Stay on main road.
8.2(13.2 km)Climb up a slope and cross through a few low hills. The road will soon enter a broad valley.
10.1(16.3 km)Keep left at the junction with Ord Mountain Road.
13(20.9 km)Continue straight across the valley. There are a few isolated homesteads out here.
18.2(29.3 km)Continue straight at junction with Troy Road and Camp Rock Road. Now on Troy Road. Marked BLM NR8420.
19.3(31.1 km)Merge onto unmarked Pipkin Cindercone Road. This road is partially paved in places and will climb up into the hills.
21.3(34.3 km)Pass the Rodman Mountains Wilderness sign.
22.5(36.2 km)Road winds its way into the hills. A cinder mine will soon come into view as you drop into a little valley.
24.4(39.3 km)Turn right (east) onto a dirt road and cross the flat. If you miss this turn, you will run into the gate at the cinder mine.
25.1(40.4 km)The road drops around the edge of a lava flow. The road is rougher from here on out. 4WD High Clearance is recommended. Cable fence starts on the left hand side.
25.4(40.9 km)Rodman Mountain Wilderness Information Kiosk.
26(41.8 km)Road drops again. Lava flow on left.
26.2(42.2 km)Park near sign posts.
Hike Description
Hike Distance0.9 miles (1.4km) Out & Back
Trail TypeUse
Hike DifficultyEasy
Elevation Gain, Loss130 ft (40m) gain round trip.
Hike Time30 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 Petroglyphs.gpx

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Surprise Tank Petroglyphs
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Last Updated on February 4, 2021 by Guy Starbuck