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“There it is.” I leaned forward over the steering wheel to get a better view through the top of the windshield. We were slowly moving up the road in the canyon’s wash.
“I don’t see it.” The Lady said as her eyes scoured the canyon walls.
“It is hard to pick out. You can see the mountainside beyond through the eye. It moves as we are driving. It’s eerie. The rock and the background are all the same color. It’s hard to pick out.” I rambled as we drew closer and I could see the Lady still straining to find it. Suddenly the bright afternoon sky filled the void. The lady jumped. “There!” she yelled, “the Eye of the Needle.”
We continued our Saturday afternoon drive up Echo Canyon in Death Valley National Park. We were looking for a spot to quietly spend the night. We found a place near the trail into the old town site of Schwab. Evening chores done, it was time for our night walk. We headed up the road. We both noticed the wood smoke drifting down the canyon about the same time. We hadn’t seen another vehicle in the canyon, but someone else must be up here. We found the first camp set up at the junction of the road that continues up Echo Canyon. There was no sign of a fire here. We continued on toward the Inyo Mine and a glow ahead grew as we approached. One person with a headlamp was moving around a campfire right in the parking area. We decided not to startle this person by quietly walking out of the night so we turned and ambled back to our camper.
We greeted the morning early, maybe a bit before the morning even showed up.
We broke camp and retraced the 1.7 miles up to the Inyo Mine, this time in the early daylight and in the truck.
Information on the prohibition of back country campfires can be found here – campfires – and info on camping in Echo Canyon can be found here – backcountry roads.
The Eye of the Needle is an eroded opening on a fin of rock that the wash loops around. The approach from the up canyon side is just as dramatic. I stopped to take a photo.
The Lady popped out of the truck and was on her way.
Our main objective for this trip was to visit Butte Valley. My favorite source for history is Richard Lingenfelter's “Death Valley and the Amargosa: A Land of Illusion". For a fun collection of more recent stories, I have enjoyed “These Canyons Are Full of Ghosts.” As a kid in the late sixties and early seventies, buddies and I had ventured up the canyons on the west side of the Panamint Range but had never crossed over into Butte Valley. It was time.
After getting our camp set up at an out of the way spot, our first stop was the Stone Cabin at Anvil Spring.
We then headed over to Greater View Spring and Carl Mengel’s old place.
The afternoon sun was dropping fast but gave us wonderful light.
Last stop on the tour of the settlements was Russell’s Camp. Here the flag was up, showing it was occupied but we were pleasantly greeted by Bill, one of the two “Riverside Boys.” Bill invited us to check the place out; telling us his buddy was asleep in their truck in the garage.
Bill told us of his past trips into the valley – he says he comes all the time - and how road conditions, after the late summer thunderstorms this year, were the worst he had ever seen. We found the most enjoyable part of the accommodations was the variety of artwork.
We walked back to our camp with the vast valley spread out to the north as the sun dropped below the Panamints. Roger Mitchell in his book, “Death Valley SUV Trails”, says that in the 1860’s a prospector, Hugh McCormack, called it Curious Butte. “It” is that little mountain sticking out of the valley below us. That’s a better name than the one that stuck, Striped Butte. Striped Butte is just an ordinary name. It just says it’s got stripes. It’s got that right, it does have stripes but it does not touch on the why. Why does it have stripes? Why are the stripes pretty close to being vertical? Why doesn’t it match the other mountains? Why is it popping up in the middle of the valley? The whole thing is just curious. Hugh had it right.
The evening sky took on its fleeting pink colors. We sat in our chairs and quietly watched.
It was just as good the next morning.
The Lady was bundled up as she came out of the camper with our coffee. The coyotes had sang during the night. This was a good trip.
We explored on a good walk before breakfast. Tucked away was an old foundation, a large mill, a reservoir. The area had been worked and plundered. “Why do people not clean up after themselves? A lot of this stuff is just junk.” The Lady had a point.
Without saying much after breakfast, both of us knew what the next objective was - to the top. We did a curving route to the north and near the pass into Redlands Canyon, the probable escape route for the Death Valley 49ers, Manly & Rogers and the Bennett & Arcan families. This is outlined in the Johnson’s book “Escape from Death Valley”.
Along the way was evidence of a burrowing owl successful at nailing dinner.
We reached the west ridge of Curious Butte and started up.
The Lady found a summit register.
The view back to the south and including Mengel Pass, our next objective.
One thing most evident on our walks across and around Butte Valley was the presence of feral burros. There are few places where you do not see droppings. The place is overrun. The burro apple crop on the ground is amazing. We soon tired of their braying. Burro trails crisscross the land. The springs are hammered by their presence. If you want to feel like you are living in a corral, come to Butte Valley.
Another Zebra Mussel with hooves.
We paid our respects to Carl at the pass. It is said that his ashes and wooden leg are under this cairn.
We climbed higher and looked down Goler Canyon and to the land haunted by its role in the Charlie Manson Family story.
It was time to head back to camp.
Back at “Butte View” camp we watched the evening’s show.
And, we watched night come, complete with the light pollution glow from Las Vegas.
Both nights in Butte Valley we saw two UFO’s low in the eastern sky. Complete with interesting flight patterns and lights on then off, one straight above the other and then switching places, both nights in the same place. This became our nightly question when one of us returned to bed, “Are the UFO’s out?”
Our last morning in Curious Butte Valley.
It was time to start toward home. We enjoyed our slow drive out and back down into Death Valley proper. We did not meet another vehicle. We explored another canyon on our way out of the park and then headed out highway 190. We found a lonely spot, our kind of place, on the high Joshua treed bench near Talc City. The wind gently rocked us to sleep, this last night of our adventure.