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Everyone should be blessed with great friends such as the Barking Spiders. At the big xmas dinner feed at our home, the Spiders confirmed they would join us on this trip but would leave home later and take a couple days before they joined us. We kept them posted on our camping locations with our InReach SE satellite communicator. The evening before I had sent this message, "Big view camp is 1 hr 40 mins from Badwater Road. We are alone up here. Arrived at 3:40 pm. Incredible views."
Hearing the clatter of their new diesel beast, confirmed it was the Spiders arriving a day early. I stood beside the road as they pulled to a stop. Mom Spider lowered her window. Barking smiled from the driver's seat and said, "Mom, show him the time. Show him the time!" Mom Spider looked up from her knitting and produced her watch. It read, "3:39."
"We beat you by a minute!" Barking Spider beamed. "By a minute!"
We helped our friends settle in and we all enjoyed a quiet evening under the bright desert stars. Morning was, again, just right.
Mom Spider has become quite interested in Death Valley history and wanted to hike up and visit Hungry Bill's Ranch 6.5 miles up canyon above our camp. Winter days are short and with an elevation gain of 3000 feet, we did not make Hungry Bill's a hard goal.
The canyon was initially shrouded in shadow. The women folk posed with the well know 1934 Chrysler Airflow automobile landmark.
We took good advantage of the sunny portions of the canyon.
When we made quick time up to Wilson Spring, we knew Mom Spider would get her wish of visiting Hungry Bill's Ranch.
Hungry Bill was a Panamint Indian and Tom Wilson was married to Hungry Bill's daughter, all part of the Shoshone/Panamint Indian group well know in the early Death Valley Days.
Johnson Canyon narrows into a spectacular gorge above Wilson Spring.
The canyon is named for a man, Johnson, who grew fruit and vegetables for the mining boom town of Panamint City on the opposite side of the Panamint Mountains. The area was known as the Swiss Ranch but on the map drawn by the Wheeler Expedition in1876 it is labeled Johnson's Ranch. The trail over Panamint Pass to Panamint City from the ranch was called the Vegetable Trail. It all probability, the "Swiss" or Johnson took over an area used extensively by the Indians. Johnson's presence faded along with the quick demise of the Panamint boom town and the Hungry Bill Indian group reclaimed the area, even filing a homestead claim on the land to stop further white encroachment.
Primitive mining also took place in Johnson Canyon and three arrastras can be found.
The gorge was an exciting area to travel through..................
..................with its flowing creek and abundant wildlife. A pair of Golden Eagles soared past us on their way east.
The massive and extensive stone walls are the hallmark of Hungry Bill's Ranch.
This wall probably kept grazing livestock in the canyon bottom. And, with grazing, the tangle of willows and riparian vegetation was devoured to the extent that the route to Hungry Bill's was likely in the canyon bottom and not the current high bypass.
Snow covered the trail in the cold shaded areas and the high snow covered crest of the Panamints was in stark contrast to the commonly held view of Death Valley National Park as a barren desert.
Hungry Bill's Ranch is a large pastoral setting.
Many of the ruins are overgrown. The gate remains.
The stone walls and stone wind breaks are incredible.
We were so glad to return to Hungry Bill's because we discovered many additional items not seen during our first visit in 2010.
Included in these were the remains of a wickiup. Michel Digonnet includes a 1930's photo of a wickiup here in his guide book, Hiking Death Valley.
The large gray trees in the previous photos are fig trees. Many apple trees are also found here.
More ancient sites are also present.
The best information about Johnson Canyon, Hungry Bill, and the Ranch can be found on the National Park's website here - Hungry Bill's Ranch.
Our visit to Hungry Bill's was very enjoyable.
A fellow in a pickup camped above us the previous night and Jon followed us up canyon to Hungry Bill's. He joined us for the walk back down to camp. And, in the tradition of meeting colorful characters in Death Valley, Jon is the author of the up and coming Helicopter Harry children's books.
On our walk down canyon we discovered one simple walled shelter against a large boulder.
After a great day of discovery in Johnson Canyon, watching the quiet shadows of the evening move across Death Valley was the finest reward.
The next day proved to be one of the most magical we have experienced in Death Valley.
Our adventure continues in the Part Three. Please Click Here