Sunday, April 4, 2010

Death Valley - Spring Break 2010

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We watched the weather and slipped out of here ahead of a predicted winter storm. Surprised to find Monitor Pass open, we timed being at the top for sunrise.

Our first spot for exploration was the Hidden Dunes in Eureka Valley. We arrived at the Dry Well early afternoon on Sunday, March 28th. Hidden Dunes is seldom visited and is a 3.5 mile cross country hike just to reach the dunes. We set up camp - had the spot to ourselves - and headed out at 2:30 with our packs. Solitude and stark beauty are the rewards if you choose to visit here.

We returned to camp at that magic time of sunset. Here are a couple shots including a telephoto of the Eureka Dunes.

Monday morning we headed for Death Valley proper. After finding the South Eureka Valley Road freshly graded and a pleasant surprise to drive, we were somewhat surprised to find Death Valley Road down into the valley in its usual teeth rattling condition. Our goal for the afternoon was a nice spot to camp in Johnson Canyon off the West Side Road. Wildflower report - they are incredible and at their peak on the alluvial fans on the west side.

We headed up Johnson Canyon Road and climbed the steep alluvial fan. We had heard the road worsened after it entered the canyon proper about 6.5 miles in. We drove in to the old car and wanting to give our butts a break, decided to walk up the canyon to see conditions for ourselves. We encountered a buzz worm, a rosy boa, and spoke with a nice couple coming down canyon in their Tacoma. Soon we found ourselves at Wilson Spring and roads end, satisfied ourselves that the road is about the same all the way in and we would move up canyon. Enjoying the walk and the shadows lengthening with the afternoon we decided the spot behind the old car was more secluded and flat. So, we moved in to a quiet night with no one else coming by. Up before dawn on Tuesday, the sunrise and morning light was glorious.

I have heard that this is a 1934 Chrysler Airflow

One of the interesting things we found up Johnson Canyon  was an abundance of western tent caterpillars, also known as webworms. It looks like the mesquite is going to get chewed on this spring and hopefully the birds will get a feast also.

Tuesday morning we donned the packs and headed up canyon for a visit to Hungry Bill's. At the roads end is a couple of spots big enough for camping………………..

 ………………and Wilson Spring with cottonwoods and willows.

The hike up Johnson Canyon above Wilson Spring was one of the major goals of our trip and it did not disappoint. The sky was perfect, water in the stream, Canyon Wrens calling, rocky cliffs, and the snow capped ridge of the Panamints above.

The canyon is named for William Johnson who developed a fruit and vegetable ranch up canyon to sell produce at the booming Panamint City across high Panamint Pass. He developed irrigation canals and the place was an oasis sitting at about 5000 feet. After Panamint busted in 1876, Johnson moved on and a huge Shoshone Indian known as Hungry Bill moved in - or some believe, reclaimed the property. Having visited and studied the history of Panamint City, I've always wanted to visit Hungry Bill's Ranch. I'll post only a few photos as this is a special place to experience for yourself, especially on a beautiful spring day.

Our plan for Wednesday was Titus Canyon. We wanted an early start for the morning light so after coming down from Hungry Bills we moved over to see if a camp at the upper end of Monarch Canyon would work. We made the drive up toward Daylight Pass and turned off on the Monarch Canyon Road. It ends in Monarch Canyon at the top of a 110 foot dry fall. It turned out to be a great choice for a camp. Down canyon about a mile walk is the Indian Mine and past that is Monarch Spring, all worthy destinations for exploration.

One of the joys of traveling is encounters with fellow travelers. There was a minivan just up the road from where we stopped in Monarch Canyon. A young father with two children, really good looking kids, a boy around 8 and a girl around 4, followed us down the trail (really the old road to the mine - it is a wonder how this was constructed) to the wash and back up to the base of the 110 foot falls. The man had a wonderful accent that the Lady asked about - Dutch. At the bottom of the falls we found the partial skeleton of a very young sheep. The natural curiosity of young children is so wonderful and we were soon looking over the bones and pointing out and explaining where similar bones in our bodies are; pelvis, spine, top of the skull. They wanted to know where the rest of the body and bones were. We talked about predators and scavengers and how connected the natural world is.

This chance encounter was one of the high points of our trip.

Early Wednesday morning we headed over Daylight Pass to Titus Canyon Road. The morning light and sky were wonderful. The most enjoyable and memorable part of the Titus Canyon Road journey was going up and over Red Pass. On the east side the glimpses down the side canyons into Death Valley are pleasant surprises. The colors of Red Pass are delightful. We highly recommend an early start.

From above Red Pass.

Our next stop was Leadfield. This is an enjoyable stop with an opportunity to just wander and look around.

Past Leadfield we spent some time hiking up Upper Titus Canyon. At Klare Springs we stopped to look at the petroglyphs. We were not surprised to see another depiction of space aliens by ancient people.

Wednesday afternoon we headed out of Titus Canyon and down to the south end of Death Valley. We turned onto the West Side Road and then onto Warm Springs Canyon Road. Again, the Desert Gold and Five Spots are incredible on the west side alluvial fans. We arrived at Warm Springs Camp around 4:30 and found a NPS crew putting new metal roofing on all the buildings. These are more modern buildings associated with the large talc mines.

We wandered, investigated the buildings and swimming pool, explored up the steep gully behind the buildings for the source of Warm Springs, and looked at the mines and various equipment perched in interesting locations.

We soon found it evening with sunset coming on so we just popped the top, parked down from the buildings at the mine entrance, set up camp, and enjoyed a few rain drops and a spectacular sunset as we had supper. An end to another great day!

Thursday morning the warm morning light was incredible. This was only our third trip with the pop up camper and the first one where it was warm enough to sit outside on our camp chairs. We were well dressed (chilly nights & mornings) but what a treat - a great cup of morning coffee, the world quiet with us watching  the rising sun. Damn, this is why we wanted a camper and we are loving it.

After breakfast Thursday morning the Lady announced, "We were on our butts in the truck yesterday, let's go for a walk this morning!"

There went six quick miles.

On the hike with her cute little smile and a sparkle in her eye she said, "I was thinking............."

This is where things got interesting.

Prior to the trip, we were contemplating continuing up Warm Springs Canyon Road up to Butte valley. The Lady's idea changed this. She said she enjoyed staying in upper Panamint Valley at the end of our last trip and wanted to return.
"How 'bout camping up there again but this time hiking over to the dunes?"
She continued, “Let’s come back up to Butte Valley another trip and spend the whole trip exploring up there."

Panamint Dunes are accessed by Lake Hill Road north off of 190 on the east side of Panamint Valley. We arrived in the afternoon and set up camp about 5-6 miles in at a place it appeared all good things in the world were aligned.

We had the packs ready and headed out at 4:00. It is a four mile cross country hike to reach the dunes. It would put us on the dunes for late afternoon light. The striking thing about visiting these dunes is they sit high in the northern end of Panamint Valley. There is an incredible sense of vastness and open space. It was pretty special.

We arrived back at camp at sunset. This was the night for stargazing. After dinner in our warm clothes we sat outside. The air was refreshing and clear. Coyotes sang in the far distance, we watched the lights of vehicles as they traveled up and down the grade on 190 above Panamint Springs across the valley. An occasional vehicle would slowly travel up Lake Hill Road and stop before reaching us. Tents would be set up and distant voices, busy with their chores would be carried on the breeze. This was the most popular area we had stayed at.

Sunrises in Panamint Valley with that great morning cup of coffee. Life is, indeed, good!

Where to next? Well it turned out the Lady had plans for that too.........

Friday morning turned out to be the nicest surprise of the trip. After breakfast the Lady said, "Let's go up there!" and pointed up the road to the Big Four Mile. It turns into a very steep rough road up high and drops and climbs steeply out of the rough wash in a couple places. After reaching the last of the mines we continued hiking up the wash.

We continued up the canyon. "It's sucking us up farther you know". The Lady said. "We're just going to keep going. We have to see what's around the next corner!" Around the final corner was spectacular. This part of the canyon ended with three branches coming in from above. The surprise? Two of them were beautiful narrows. We explored the one straight ahead, climbed around the first dry fall and continued a short distance to the second fall. We will need another trip to explore further up both canyons. A great morning.

We had packed up the camper before hiking up the Big Four Mine Road. We returned to find the parking area a pretty busy place; a lot of hikers were heading out to the dunes. I needed to put this into perspective, four other vehicles in the parking area, after the trip thus far this seemed like a lot to us. It also looked like most of the vehicles that came in the night before had driven in only to find an out of the way spot to camp for the night. As we're heading west on 190, the Lady looked up from the guidebook in her lap and asks, "We've never been to Darwin Falls have we?"

Friday afternoon we were headed north on 395 and got to Bishop around four. We had no destination in mind for the night, there was a stiff wind blowing, and we needed to check on weather and road conditions further north to see about getting home. After five great nights in our camper we looked at each other and said, "Motel!"

We like older, well kept and clean, small, single story motels. Kind of old fashion places. The Trees Motel on West Line fits that bill nicely. "The rate is $50 dollars and that includes the tax." The woman told us. That sounded good to us.

After a long hot shower we walked down to our favorite Mexican food place, Las Palmas. It has a full bar for those of you who are so inclined and good food.

On Saturday we headed north after breakfast, pulled in around 9:00 at one of our favorite hot springs near Bridgeport, and found we had it all to ourselves. Forty five minutes of utter relaxation. Sorry, you don't get photos. We then sneaked across the Sierra between storms.

It had been another great trip.

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