“…the first impression remains a just one. Despite variety, most of the surface of Death Valley is dead … a land of jagged salt pillars, crackling and tortured crusts of mud, sunburnt gravel bars the color of rust, rocks and boulders of metallic blue naked even of lichen.” ~ Edward Abbey
“No place is ever as bad as they tell you it’s going to be.” ~ Chuck Thompson
I spent a lot of time hiking and climbing in Death Valley National Park back when I lived in California and today’s Park was then just a Monument. Then we moved to northern Oregon and talk of a “winter get-away” suddenly gained a lot of traction. Despite time-off from work being at a premium, we finally managed to spend a few days sightseeing and hiking in Death Valley – where there was a great deal of sunshine and only a tiny bit of rain (despite it’s being a wet year in California).
We spent one day just warming up (literally and figuratively) by doing some classic tourist stuff: Scotty’s Castle, the Goldwell Open Air Museum in Rhyolite, Rhyolite itself, the bar at the Furnace Creek Inn, etc.
Then we overcame inertia for a hike at Darwin Falls, which is west of Death Valley near Panamint Springs (and one of my favorite hikes in this area). The hike starts on an old road in a dry wash which looks as though it hasn’t seen water in ages. The old road is actually an old toll road to the mines at Darwin, California.
However, after less than a mile, the old road goes uphill to the left while a use trail continues on up the now narrowing sandy wash. Soon we came to open water,
and then the first waterfall, which is about 30 feet high.
A lot of people stop here because the canyon has narrowed and there’s no obvious trail on which to continue. But there is a moderate (a few 3rd class moves) scrambling route on the left wall (facing up canyon) that got us up to the level use trail to the upper falls.
After a short walk, we reached the base of the upper falls, which is actually a series of pools and drops totaling at least 100 feet. These are the lowest falls and pool in the upper fall complex,
and this is looking down from the top of the falls. We reached this point by hiking up a scree chute on the right canyon wall – no climbing, just loose rock.
The water runs here year-round but the intensity of the falls (and they can be spectacularly intense) varies considerably in response to rain events upstream.
This is a readily accessible canyon near Stovepipe Wells, which includes both ridge walks and slots.
This is another very accessible narrow canyon in the Grapevine Mountains north of Furnace Creek.
The water (when there is any) polishes the rock on the canyon walls into an amazing array of abstract images.
Here the “falls” are typically dry and only about 20 feet high, but are steep and slick. There’s a use trail around them if you want to go further up-canyon, but we didn’t.
Badwater & Dante’s View
I convinced The LovedOne to get up real early so I could attempt to photograph the reflection of Telescope Peak (11,050 feet) in the waters at Badwater (-282 feet) – one of the iconic photographs in Death Valley. However, just as the sun started rising, a photography tour group parked on the road, marched out to the edge of the water, and set up their tripods and themselves in a line across the view. After a Zen moment searching for inner peace, I restored my karma by taking a picture of the photographers taking the iconic shot.
Later we drove up to Dante’s View for a more unobstructed view of Telescope Peak.
The body of water here is ephemeral “Lake Manly” – a water feature that exists only in those years when there is unusually high rainfall in the Valley – they’ve had several inches so far this year. These wet years are also when you can expect a “super bloom” of wildflowers in and around the Valley.
The rest of the time we just spent wallowing in the huge expanses of sky and land that constitute Death Valley and the Mojave Desert.
This was also a trip in celebration of our 20th wedding anniversary (hence the Furnace Creek Inn), which Nature decided to help us celebrate in a unique way.