Marble Canyon (Death Valley National Park) 08-Nov-2021

This last week, we went with our long-time friends, Wayne and Diane, on what might best be described as several “multi-modal” adventures in Death Valley National Park. We combined stand-alone hikes with those facilitated by a 4×4 vehicle and threw in some touristy stuff too. This was our first chance to spend time with them since our San Juan raft trip last June (a planned mule-packing trip in September succumbed to a critical medical issue and way too much wildfire smoke 😥). In all, we did six different adventures over six sun-drenched 😎 days, then drove home just in time to meet the next batch of rain and snow aimed at Southern Oregon. 🥶

Adventure #1 was a walk up Marble Canyon in the Cottonwood Mountains, about 10 miles (16 km) due west of Stovepipe Wells. Along with Cottonwood Canyon (and a little cross-country), it’s part of a 26 mile (42 km) loop that is a popular winter backpacking route. Our objective for today was much more modest. We 4×4’d to the mouth of Marble Canyon and then hiked up it for several miles to experience its colorful layered strata, sensuously sinuous narrows, and obscure petroglyphs. The scale and color of the canyon and its narrows are spectacular, as are some of the smaller features it holds. We were also fortunate to find an original petroglyph on one of the polished walls (along with a lot of vandalism 👿 from recent graffiti).

The established 4×4 road ends at a wilderness restoration boundary and we entered the 1st Narrows soon after we crossed that boundary.

The LovedOne, Diane, and Wayne leave the trailhead
Entering the 1st Narrows
In the 1st Narrows
In the 1st Narrows
In the 1st Narrows
Deep in the 1st Narrows
Leaving the 1st Narrows
Looking back at the 1st Narrows
On to open ground
Toward the chockstone

Between the 1st and 2nd Narrows sits a huge chockstone – one that looks insurmountable at first. But this is a backpacking route, so a handy use trail was readily available to carry us up and around this piece of rocky constipation. The 2nd Narrows started almost immediately after we passed the stone (so to speak).

We climb around the stone
Entering the 2nd Narrows
Historic graffiti on the canyon wall [C D Ruiz, Rhyolite (a nearby mining town), Oct 13, 1906]
In the 2nd Narrows
In the 2nd Narrows
The LovedOne in the 2nd Narrows
Quartz lightning
In the 2nd Narrows
In the 2nd Narrows
In the 2nd Narrows

We came out of the 2nd Narrows into a wide part of the canyon defined by walls of colorful strata. After wandering around here a bit – and having a snack (and finding one of the “real” petroglyphs) – we decided to head back.

Colorful strata past the 2nd Narrows
Starting back
Back into the 2nd narrows
Leaving the 2nd Narrows
Past the chockstone
And through the 1st Narrows
To the trailhead

We didn’t do a lot of hiking on this one – just 5.5 miles (8.8 km) with about 1,000 feet (305 m) of gain – but it was still a totally wonderful adventure. The colors, the sinuous narrows, the towering walls, the petroglyphs, the strata, the tiny details all made for a fulfilling sensory experience. This canyon is a little harder to reach than some other canyons and narrows in the park (e.g., Titus Canyon) but it was exceedingly well worth the effort. 😁 We did our post-adventure debriefing at the Last Kind Words Saloon at Furnace Creek. 🙄


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