Monarch Canyon (Death Valley NP) 15-Feb-2017

Death Valley National Park California

Unlike our first three hikes, all of which are located in the Black Mountains south of Furnace Creek, Monarch Canyon is in the Funeral Mountains to the north.  The principal attractions of a hike into its lower canyon is its relative remoteness and the journey it offers through tortured metasedimentary rocks and polished mosasics, capped off by small pools at the base of a 110-foot perennial waterfall. These features drew us to lower Monarch as our fourth (and last) hike during our 2017 visit to Death Valley National Park.


There’s no trailhead or trail for this hike; parking for it is simply on the side of the Daylight Pass Road about 0.7 miles south of Hell’s Gate at the 2,000 foot contour. This spot gave us a great view of Corkscrew Peak (trip report) to the north.

Death Valley National Park California

Looking north toward Corkscrew Peak for where we parked

There is supposed to be a faint old mining road going from around here toward the canyon but we never found that road (we did find a line of cairns seemingly going nowhere in particular). So we just headed off cross-country east toward the notch in the Funeral Range that marks Monarch Canyon.

Death Valley National Park California

Going east cross-country toward the canyon

Except for some minor ups and downs, traveling across this landscape was easy and the views on this full bluebird day were expansive.

Death Valley National Park California

Continuing east cross-country

Death Valley National Park California

Climbing slightly, with the twin Death Valley Buttes in the background

This is another hike where you have to cross some open ground, here about 1.5 miles, before you reach the mouth of the canyon.

Death Valley National Park California

Entering the mouth of the canyon

We crossed the open ground, then dropped into the outwash plain of the canyon, and followed along the side of that as the canyon began to narrow.

Death Valley National Park California

The canyon begins to narrow

We were walking on mostly level, not-too-rocky ground for three miles before the canyon really started to close-in and get more scrambly.

Death Valley National Park California

The canyon narrows further

At three miles, we reached the 16-foot waterfall (now dry),

Death Valley National Park California

The 16-foot waterfall

which we passed via ledges on its left side.

Death Valley National Park California

Climbing around the 16-foot waterfall

It was in this area that we got our first close-up look at the insanely twisted and folded rocks that are one of the highlights of this hike.

Death Valley National Park California

Tormented rocks

Death Valley National Park California

A lightning bolt in rock

Death Valley National Park California

Further torment

About 0.15 miles past this point, after scrambling up some minor ledges and through some boulders, we turned a corner,

Death Valley National Park California

Just before reaching the waterfall

and came face-to-face with the lower 110 feet of this waterfall. There are apparently a further series of cascades out of sight above, which is why this is likely the highest perennial waterfall in the Park.

Death Valley National Park California

The 110-foot waterfall in Monarch Canyon

Monarch Spring, in the canyon just above the drop-off that signals the start of this waterfall, is apparently the source of its flow.

Death Valley National Park California

Close-up of the lowest cascade

Death Valley National Park California

Pool at the base of the falls

On the canyon wall across from the waterfall, we could see a massive layer of rocks folded back on themselves and shot through with a giant quartz dike. This echoed the rock torment we saw just above the 16-foot waterfall, but on a much grander scale.

Death Valley National Park California

Folded strata across from the waterfall in Monarch Canyon

Death Valley National Park California

Close-up of the folded strata

After that, it was an easy walk back down the canyon,

Death Valley National Park California

Close-up of the folded strata

with some early wildflowers to further brighten our day,

Death Valley National Park California

Wildflower in lower Monarch Canyon

Death Valley National Park California

Wildflower (with bugs) in lower Monarch Canyon

as we made the easy stroll across the desert back to where we parked.

Death Valley National Park California

On our way back to the car

This was an easy (6.6 miles round-trip; 600 feet of elevation gain) cross-country hike to an excellent water feature, with some tortured rocks added-in for extra fun.  You can also drive around to access upper Monarch Canyon, along with Monarch Spring and the old Indian Mine, or hike in here to visit the south branch of the lower canyon with its narrows and falls.  So many hikes, so little time…

Death Valley National Park California

Our out-and-back track to lower Monarch Canyon

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