Rainbow Basin Natural Area
Barstow sits near the southwestern edge of the Mojave Desert, close to where the dry desert basin rises sharply into the nearly 12,000-foot peaks of the San Bernadino Mountains. The city itself owes much of its historical prosperity to the wealth of mineral resources that have been extracted from the Mojave. Gold, silver, and later borax were found in large quantities in the region. Today, the federal government owns much of the land under the care of either the National Parks Service or the Bureau of Land Management. While the desert can seem like a harsh landscape, bereft of life, it abounds with things to do. The Rainbow Basin area offers splendid opportunities for scenic hikes and off-roading. The name derives from the stratified rock layers in multicolored bands stretched across the Calico Range of mountains.
Western America Railroad Museum
The other economic driver that put Barstow on the map was its location as a nexus of transportation in the American West. First as a transit point for herds en route to Los Angeles from Utah (via the Salt Lake Road) and from New Mexico (via the Old Spanish Trail from Santa Fe). Later, owing partially to the mineral extraction and partly to the geographic location, the town became a major depot for the Southern Pacific, and later the Santa Fe Railroad. In fact, the city is named after William Barstow Strong, former president of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway. Fans of the golden era of rail will delight at the wonderfully preserved locomotives and other relics of the bygone Wild West.
If you’re looking for things to do and feeling a little nostalgic, look no further than the Skyline Drive-In movie theater. The Skyline is one of a bare handful left in Southern California, and well worth a visit. The two screens alternate showings of the latest feature films with an occasional throwback film thrown in. Visit the concession stands for a tub of buttery popcorn, then drop your seat back and enjoy the audio piped in over an FM frequency on your car stereo.