Harper Dry Lake: A Marsh Most Mellow

Update: Since we wrote about this lovely place, the Bureau of Land Management purchased photos from us of Harper Dry Lake Marsh. You will find them on interpretive panels on trails around the pond. Enjoy!

A trip along Highway 58 is always made better with a stop at Harper Dry Lake Marsh to cleanse the mind and strengthen the soul, if you don’t mind the low hum of the nearby solar farm and the occasional distant booms of artillery from Fort Irwin.

Harper Lake contained water and a natural marsh into the early 20th century when agricultural development began to deplete the groundwater that sustained its level. The lake became dry and the marsh died in the late 1990s after the alfalfa farm next to the lake ceased operations.

Harper Dry Lake is the Mojave Desert’s largest dry lake and contains 28 miles of shoreline. Harper Dry Lake Marsh lies at its edge.  It is accessible from Harper Lake Road, which runs north off of State Route 58 midway between Kramer Junction and Barstow, and is Northeast of Edwards AFB. 

By the way, for us, the sound of far-off artillery from Fort Irwin doesn’t detract, it’s the sound of freedom.

The sweet sounds of nature waft on the marsh’s gentle breezes.

How amazing is it that peaceful Harper Dry Lake north of Highway 58 near the small community of Lockhart is practically a stone’s throw away from the world’s second largest solar farm facilities. Inscription Canyon in the Black Mountains can be seen across from the dry lake and adjacent marsh.

There’s a nice flat walking path which circles the pond. Two boardwalks extend about a hundred feet out over the wetlands. The ponds and most of the site can be seen from the road or parking areas. The end of the road is less than 50′ from the east pond.

This is the BLM wildlife marsh about 20 miles North-northwest of Barstow, California, and the temporary fly by for migratory waterfowl who don’t get zapped by the nearby solar farm. It has been a BLM Area of Critical Environmental Concern since 2001. In the distance is Black Mountain, the site of our recent adventures discovering petroglyphs in Inscription Canyon.

Harper Dry Lake Marsh is located at the edge of one of the largest dry lake beds in the Mojave Desert.
Harper Dry Lake Marsh is an oasis for birds, particularly of the waterfowl and wetland variety. Look out for American Avocets, Marsh Wrens and White-faced Ibises among many others.
Bird watching at Harper Dry Lake Marsh can sometimes be pretty slim, however I did manage to spot some wildlife in the area. From his bright plumage and insistent mating call, I deduced it was a male of the species.
There are two primary ponds connected by a series of paths and boardwalks. The main pond is at the east end of the site and includes a couple of small islands. A pathway loops around the pond and connects to the west pond.

In the latter part of the 19th century, settlement in Harper Valley began in earnest. In 1869, J.W. Robinson and his partner made a temporary camp in an area of green pastures and mesquite located on the eastern shoreline of Harper Dry Lake.

American Avocet.

Three years later, C.S. Black built an adobe cabin near here, established a cattle ranch, and began operating a stagecoach stop. Black’s Ranch, also called Grant’s Station, became a prominent landmark.

American white pelicans, northern pintails, mallards, and several species of teal seek this secluded site.

Harper Lake has its own fault zone, with estimates for seismic rupture once every 3,500 years. The last earthquake occurred sometime during the Holocene geologic era, which covers the last 10,000 years to present.

Jewel-colored dragonflies lend themselves to their magical environment.

Harper Dry Lake bed in the Mojave Desert was the site of secret flight test programs conducted by the Hughes & Northrop aircraft companies during the 1940s, including the first flight by an American rocket-propelled aircraft.

You will enjoy watching migratory waterfowl during certain seasons.

Ron Most recalled, “I grew up in the Harper Dry Lake area on a alfalfa ranch & the runways are our dirt strips we used for our airplanes.

The Howard Hughes Hangar was on the lake bed.” 

Harper Dry Lake Marsh, diminished by years of agricultural diversion continues to survive.
The migratory and local birds lucky enough not to be incinerated in midair by the enormous solar plant next door, enjoy replenishing themselves before resuming their long flight paths.

SEGS VIII–IX (160 MW) is located at Harper Lake. You will see this ginormous facility on your way to the marsh. You can’t miss it.


You may see Snowy plovers, American Avocets, Least Sandpipers, and Killdeer join northern and Wilson’s Phalaropes on or close to the muddy shores. Virginia rails have been known to breed among wetland vegetation that hides marsh wrens and yellow-headed blackbirds.

Solar Energy Generating Systems (SEGS) in California, with the combined capacity from three separate locations at 354 megawatts (MW, 474,700 hp), is now the world’s second largest solar thermal generating facility, after the commissioning of the even larger Ivanpah facility in 2014. 

Construction of the tenth plant in the same locality was halted because of the bankruptcy of Luz Industries. Construction of the approved eleventh and twelfth plants never started.

Sunset at Harper Dry Lake Marsh is magical.
More than 16 species of birds of prey have been counted here in a single day, including Long-eared Owls, Burrowing Owls, Northern Harriers, Prairie Falcons, and Golden Eagles.

Harper Dry Lake was also popular with land speed racers in the 1940s. Many hot rod car clubs were involved, one being the Rumblers in Southern California.

American Avocets enjoy the tranquility of the Harper Dry Lake Marsh.
Los Angeles Times April 22, 2000:

“A dry lake bed in San Bernardino County has been chosen over a Lancaster site as the best place to launch the space shuttle’s heir apparent, the Lockheed Martin Venture Star, state commerce officials said Friday. The State Trade and Commerce Agency considered three other sites–in Lancaster, Merced and Vandenberg Air Force Base–but chose Harper Dry Lake bed, six miles north of Barstow, as ideal because of its remote location and proximity to Palmdale.”

Evening on Harper Dry Lake near Lockhart, California. All that white stuff? It’s minerals, not ice.
How to Get There:  From Highway 58 approximately 18 miles west of Barstow, turn north on Harper Road.

Travel 6 miles north, then turn right (east) on Lockhart Road.

Drive 2.2 miles to the southern edge of Harper Dry Lake.

Last 0.2 miles is an unmaintained dirt road. Accessible by 2-wheel drive vehicles.







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