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Death Valley in the spring

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Death Valley in the spring
March 08, 2016 06:05PM
OK--so it's close to the Sierra---

What a wonderful time of the year to hike Death Valley!

The first week of March brought us perfect wildflowers, great weather, and a whole series of new trails and adventures. We drove down through Tehachapi, and the flowers there were our first clue that this was going to be amazing. We found a campsite at Furnace Creek, but it was at the oddly named Sunset Campground. This is a huge gravel parking lot with spaces marked off in chalk--not great if you're using a tent. We found a little tent ghetto on one row, and set up shop there, but it wasn't pretty. But we did hear coyotes saluting us in our tents the first night...

We had better luck with campsites later on the trip. Our first day was a hike out to Sidewinder Canyon--this one is a lovely hike, starting south of Badwater at Mormon Point and heading up into the mountains to the east.

A wilderness ranger had suggested this one to us, and provided us with a nice hand-out that explained to route. That was a good thing, because most of the people we saw there headed off in the wrong direction, and never saw the slot canyons that Sidewinder has in spades. There are six slot canyons and adventures in every nook and cranny on this hike. We loved this hike. And we loved exploring each of the side canyons--including those that were not marked on the handout.

One them, the first slot on the left, led up through a maze of twisted narrows to a more open canyon that gave us views over the whole area. And other slots were amazing sculptures of rock and sun. That's one of them at left, with M posing in the archway. What fun!

Indian Pass Canyon--The next day, we were after more of an adventure. One of the hikes sometimes recommended as a backpacking destination, the hardest part of Indian Canyon is knowing where to start:

about 6.5 miles north of Furnace Creek...park there, and you just head up across the miles and miles (four, actually) of gravel wash before you enter the canyon. From there you can hike for more miles up past a dry waterfall, narrows, springs, and all sorts of nice places to see. We didn't see anyone for two days. The first waterfall has an easy by-pass on the north side, and from there the canyon just gets better. The canyon has at least two tight narrows, but the walls are lower here, so they weren't so much slots as simply constrictions of the canyon. We were not impressed with the springs (wet sand at the bottom of a depression) but we loved the solitude, the wildness, and the rock of Indian Pass.

My boots after a day on the trail...covered with pollen

Take along lots of water...and remember that while it may seem flat, the hike in is certainly uphill, and we were sweating in the mid-80 degree heat in spring. In the summer, this would be an oven.

The third day, on our way out, we found the going much easier (it was, after all downhill at this point) and we even found the gravel more interesting---with some wild Blister Beetle mating parties going on, and so many different kinds of flowers. This trip logged in at about seventeen miles round trip from the highway to Poison Springs and back. And it was worth it. Check out P's feet at the end of the hike---covered with pollen from three days in Death Valley. Happily, at the end of this hike, we were able to find a campsite at Texas Springs, where life is slightly less austere... and for an extra two dollars a day, the campsites include a picnic table and fire ring.

Fall Canyon--On Day Four, we were looking for something a little less energetic, but still wanted some views.

This one was a recommendation from one of the wilderness rangers. It leaves from a clear and easy trailhead at the mouth of Titus Canyon, and works its way up for a few miles of really lovely narrows. Hiking is easy, and the total is only about six miles if you stop at the first waterfall. There's a tricky way around that fall, but we didn't feel up to it when we were there. Beautiful scenery here, and we only saw about ten people on the whole hike. We liked the high cliffs of the canyon, although the narrows couldn't really compete with Sidewinder for impact. On the other hand, we explored a little side canyon on the way out, and find this lovely grotto for a lunch spot.

Jayhawker Canyon--On Day Five, on our way out of the park, we decided to take a hike up Jayhawker Canyon. You won't find this one listed among the more popular hikes, but we would do this one again sometime. It starts right at the 3,000 elevation sign on the highway out of the park, above Wildrose Canyon. And while there is not supposed to be a trail, there is a clear trail here--marked with cairns, rows of rocks, and well-travelled paths. We couldn't help but think that maybe the Timbisha Shoshone had done this---it was a lot of work, and it's hard to imagine anyone else being motivated to do it.

And what it leads to is a wonderful set of petroglyphs: bighorn sheep, deer, all sorts of shapes and figures. And quite a few relics from the early miners in this same area. Don't try this one in the summertime, as the hike across the desert would be pretty darned intolerable. But it isn't difficult hiking, and the rewards a quite wonderful. We really felt that this was something special. Obviously, treat these rare relics with great care and respect. They've been here for somewhere between 500 and 5,000 years, and they deserve to be protected at all costs.

After a quick stop to see the charcoal kilns at the top of Wildrose Canyon we drove out of the park just as a blustery storm blew it...and left the heat, sun and warmth of Death Valley to find snow at our cabin in the Sierra that night.

The rest of the photos are here; https://picasaweb.google.com/balzaccom/BackpackingInTheSierraDeathValley2016#

Check our our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/
Or just read a good mystery novel set in the Sierra; https://www.amazon.com/Danger-Falling-Rocks-Paul-Wagner/dp/0984884963
avatar Re: Death Valley in the spring
March 08, 2016 07:47PM
Thanks for posting. Death Valley is so nice this time of year.
It would be cool to check out Star Wars locations sometime:
Re: Death Valley in the spring
March 09, 2016 08:43AM
Nice job on your trip, balzaccom. You put together an excellent Death Valley trip. Not sure if you noticed, but there are three major natural bridges in Sidewinder Canyon (one each in the three "official" slots). That's also a good canyon to see Desert Five-Spots in the upper main canyon. Here is a special database page that I created showing Death Valley's major natural bridges:


Indian Pass Canyon is a good hike as well. Nothing extremely exciting in there but I like the trenches of breccia rock. Also the plunge pool near the end (past Poison Spring) is quite impressive.

Fall Canyon is one of the best established hiking canyons in DV but you must get past that first major dry fall in order to see the beautiful slot narrows.

Jayhawker Canyon is one of my least favorite canyons in the park, but I'm glad you enjoyed it.
Re: Death Valley in the spring
March 09, 2016 10:02AM
Thanks Steve. We've now done three different hiking trips in Death Valley. Agree about Jayhawker Canyon, except that the petroglyphs completely exceeded our expectations. They were wonderful.

Yep--saw the bridges in Sidewinder---and even a few tiny ones in Indian Pass. We've also done Mosaic, Grotto, Slit, Echo, Cottonwood, Gower and Golden...I'm sure I'm forgetting a few.

What we DIDN'T hike was your slot canyon right next to Texas Springs. We were gently dissuaded from that one by the rangers, who said it was hard to find...although I thought you did a pretty good job of explaining where it is.

Check our our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/
Or just read a good mystery novel set in the Sierra; https://www.amazon.com/Danger-Falling-Rocks-Paul-Wagner/dp/0984884963
Re: Death Valley in the spring
March 09, 2016 06:22PM
Hey balzaccom,

I just looked through your full set of pictures and noticed you did indeed see some Desert Five-Spots and quite a variety of other wildflowers. I see you've done quite a few of the better known canyons in the park with good narrows and scenery. I would definitely suggest going into Funeral Slot Canyon next time. The ranger was right that it can be a bit tricky to find, but if you follow my map and instructions and check out my panoramic photo at the early wash junction, you should be able to get there. I would suggest doing Room Cyn and Kaleidoscope Cyn next time out as well.
Re: Death Valley in the spring
March 09, 2016 09:08PM
Thanks for the tip Steve, We will check those out next year!

And any suggestions for a backpacking destination? We were thinking about Owlshead Mountains (Through and Granite Canyons) but are open to all sorts of idea...

And by the way, for anyone reading this---Steve's site has tons of great information about hiking Death Valley !

Check our our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/
Or just read a good mystery novel set in the Sierra; https://www.amazon.com/Danger-Falling-Rocks-Paul-Wagner/dp/0984884963

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/09/2016 09:08PM by balzaccom.
Re: Death Valley in the spring
March 11, 2016 08:36PM
Balzaccom, I'm not too keen on the Through-Granite Canyons loop, otherwise I'd recommend it under my backpacking destinations on my Recommended DV Hikes page. I suppose it's a good extremely easy loop hike for those who have never hiked in the Owlsheads. It's just that the scenery is so much better in the surrounding canyons. I think my backpacking suggestion to do Sand Canyon to Owl Lake (camping overnight on or near Owl Lake) and then hiking back out the next day is a good one. Other than that, an overnight up in Contact Canyon would be great, a hike that combines the Smoke Tree Slots and Great Dry Fall Canyon, or a hike up Wingate Wash which includes Wingate Slot Canyon and perhaps Wingate Dry Lake. (Note: you'll probably need a GPS for a lot of this stuff.) The Through-Granite Loop is recommended in a couple of guidebooks and on the park's web site, but most of those people have probably never done another hike in the Owlsheads in their life. I've spent 18 days in total hiking there.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/11/2016 08:36PM by SteveHall.
Re: Death Valley in the spring
March 15, 2016 09:38PM
I really enjoyed reading this trip report. I have never hiked in Death Valley but have some interest in the past and reading this made me want to move it up on my list!

Re: Death Valley in the spring
March 19, 2016 09:21AM

phone photo of Fall Canyon 17 March 2016 smiling smiley
Re: Death Valley in the spring
March 20, 2016 03:04PM
Great trip report and pictures. Thank you for posting.
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