Thursday, December 31, 2015

Death Valley National Park - December 2015 - Part Three

please remember you can click on a photo to see a larger version

The first day of the new year was another gorgeous morning in Death Valley National Park.

You can see why we like this spot so much.

After a special breakfast I cooked for the Lady - yes, I am not without skills - we headed north following the old trail.

From camp we could see where it climbed out of the opposite side of the broad LeMoigne Canyon wash. The trail bed is fainter here but still fairly easy to follow.

The trail provided a commanding view of Death Valley and the Grapevine Mountains to the east.

The trail did a wide arch around the toe of the mountain and then dropped into the wash of the next major canyon to the north.

We took a break here, consulted the topo map, and scanned the opposite side of the wash with the Lady's "see mores" for evidence of where and if the trail climbed out.

We saw no evidence of a trail, but far across we spotted a large stacked cairn on top of a boulder. We spent an hour or so searching the bajada on the other side of the wash for evidence of a trail that continued along the edge of the mountain. We found a few cairns but no evident trail bed as we had been following. In our judgment, we decided the trail does not continue along the mountain front. We turned around and entered the canyon.

The first thing we found were lovely "belly" flowers, small plants and flowers you need to get on your belly to see.

After a half mile or so, the canyon narrowed.

It continued to narrow and we were on bedrock with a beautiful, slick pour over.

The highlight of these narrows was the rock.

The canyon broadened and we were back in the sun. We took a water and snack break.

You should notice the large cairn on the rock. We wondered if this was marking the continuation of the trail. Was this the route over the top with a drop down the other side to Cottonwood Springs? The map indicated it was possible, but that slick pour over was something horses and mules wouldn't climb. We found no sign of a trail bypass.

We continued up canyon. The gradient lessened and the terrain opened up. This part of the canyon would be easy to ascend and we could see the distant pass over the top.

We saw no real evidence of a trail. We took a break here and studied the map and terrain.

This was the warmest day of our trip. I was going without long john bottoms but had them in my pack. The Lady leaned against a boulder in the sun and stretched out. I joined her. "This is the life!" the Lady said with a full measure of contentment.

We turned around and reentered the narrows. Again, the rock was the highlight. The Lady loved the blue.

I loved the swirls and folds.

We both loved the "marble slide".

I was captivated by the beautiful patterns in the rock.

This was a wonderful canyon here in the narrows.

Interesting rock continued to stop us.

The canyon started to open up into its broad wash below.

As we exited the mouth of the canyon I took a photo of the mountain side to the north.

I was far from convinced that this canyon could be the route to the Cottonwood Water indicated by that enameled sign. If the trail did continue along the mountain front all the way to the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon and then traveled all the way up to the springs, that is many many miles farther than the 12 miles indicated. That did not fit. I remembered an article written in 1949 about a pack trip in the Cottonwood Mountains I had read. I will reread the article to gather more details and possible hints.

It was early afternoon and we enjoyed our walk back to LeMoigne Canyon.  We took a detour to visit an old friend, Jean LeMoigne's wagon we had found a year ago after much research and four attempts.

We reached camp mid afternoon. Our track traps indicated four people had walked by and headed up LeMoigne Canyon. There were no tracks indicating they had returned. Two people were wearing the same brand shoe with identical sole patterns, one quite smaller than the other. Our bet was a male female couple. We just got our boots off and settled in our chairs when we heard voices up the wash. This was Tim and Tatum from San Diego. Their friends, Nate and Sarah from Salt Lake City with the matching shoes were a bit behind. These were delightful, interested, and enthusiastic young people on their first visit to Death Valley. They had camped a couple of miles below us, as far as they wanted to drive their vehicle. They were disappointed in the information offered at the visitor center so we took time to fill them in on guide books, websites, and personal suggestions on what to see on their next visit.

We were again alone as they headed down the road. It was a wonderfully lazy and relaxed afternoon and evening watching the light work across the expanse below us.

A few clouds to the west added color at sunset.

The night sky and stars were incredible. How can we not be in love with this place?

More clouds in the morning added color to first light.

It was time to pack up and head home and once again say, "Good bye Death Valley."

Addendum -

 I reread the article mentioned above and also searched Digonnet's Hiking Death Valley for bits of information concerning the route to "Cottonwood Water." Digonnet makes one mention that the route went up the North Fork of LeMoigne Canyon and then dropped over and descended a branch of Cottonwood to Cottonwood Springs. Although not explicitly stating so, this is the probable route (done in reverse direction) taken by the pack trip in 1949. I followed up on a hint I received and searched for the old 1951 USGS 15' quads for Marble Canyon and Panamint Butte. These maps have the old trails indicated, what a find! The route did go up the North Fork of LeMoigne Canyon and on to Cottonwood Springs. In addition, the route from Cottonwood Springs and over Hunter Mountain (the route to Keeler) is also shown. I was surprised though, that the old Emigrant Canyon and Stovepipe Wells 15' quads do not show the old indian trail we walked out on the bajada. My search continues for old maps as the adventure of old trails continues.

If you are interested in the 1949 article, I will provide the link as it is interesting reading. Just be aware you will download the entire magazine file (not outrageously large) but can save it as a .pdf file for future research. As a side note, this is the story of a pack trip the publisher of Desert Magazine took with the owner of Stovepipe Wells resort, George Putnam. Putnam was an author and explorer and part of the GP Putnam Sons publishing business. He was also the husband and widower of Amelia Earhart. Mr. Putnam fell ill at Stovepipe Wells in late 1949 and died in early 1950.

Here is the link - Desert Magazine Dec 1949 - go to "Panamint Pack Trip" starting on page 13.   


  1. Thanks for sharing the link. I've read the story before, but now we'll re-read it when we're in that neck of the woods. Older USGS maps are becoming more valuable as time goes by.