Death Valley 2010
I venture toward the mother of all North American deserts after a mother of a storm. Roads closed, mountains draped in snow, more clouds than sun and rumors of more rain.
But I had faith and I was not disappointed.
Death Valley is huge and I was spread out all over in what I wanted to do; I had three main goals---- to backpack into and photograph some sand dunes not overun with people, revisit wonderful Saline Valley, and do an overnighter from Jail Canyon in the Panamints over to Hall Canyon, thus visiting both of these canyon unknown to me in the also wonderful Panamint mountains.
The north and south passes were snowed in and supposedly impassable to make access to Saline Valley the 4wd routes of Steel Pass and or Lippincott, the latter accessed from the Racetrack road which was closed at this time. The NPS discouraged me from the Eureka Sand dune area saying the pass near Crankshaft junction reported with lots of snow and ice. I thought "BS" and paid my blood money entrance fee and drove on. The area had maybe an inch of snow off the road and about 10 feet of muddy slush if that.
Smooth sailing down into Eureka Valley, I drove toward the dunes then hung a right and parked at an old well area. In the folds of the Saline mountains I glimpsed the sand of the Hidden Dunes, my backpack destination. A short trailess open 3.5 miles, and I was among the sand dunes, swelling golden white in the late afternoon light. I pitched my tent on the end of a sandy ridge, and just me and my camera wandered along the pristine rises, me feeling bad about leaving tracks in this untouched place.
Animals love it here, many coyote, small cat, perhaps bobcat, and lizards, birds etc. left their traces along with mine.
Sun lowered and the moon soon boldy rose with incredible light on the sand. After dinner I wandered sans camera and without a headlamp, enjoying the somnalent shadows and shades of gray in the pale dunes.
Morning--cold and clear, I leave my camp to walk, and keep my camera tucked inside my coat to keep it warm. These dunes are tucked in a narrow valley, a graben, and morning light was long coming, shooting interestingly thru the gap, highlighting certain dunes while others awaited the touch of daylight. Not tall and towering like the Eureka dunes but solitary and surprisingly steep slopes, and lots of the black sand I love intermingled with the gold and white.
I love sand dunes. Don't know what it is but the starkness, simplicity, the clean slice against a blue sky.
Too soon I pack up and hike back in full sun. I drive by the Eureka dunes on my way to the entrance to Dedeckra Canyon. No one is there. I have Eureka Valley to myself.
I stuff the Toyota through the narrow ledge area in the canyon entrance then enjoy the rough ride through the Steel Pass area, really very mellow, a section of some rock dodging and snow on hillsides. The view I have longed for greets me, hazy and gorgeous snowy Inyo mountains jumping out of the Salt Pan of Saline valley.
I meet two vehicles and some dirt bikers on the way down to the Springs. Positively busy for this area. With the passes snowed in this is the main way if you have a HC 4wd vehicle. I got intel that Lippincott was doable and the Racetrack road open. I stopped in at all the springs, amazingly only one other person was there besides the caretaker. Able to soak at Palm Spring and enjoy total solitude.
I journeyed on and hiked a little at the Keynot mine area then camped near the Artesian Well, the same place Brian and I had camped in the mesquite grove a couple of years ago.
Next morning I decided to hike McElvoy Canyon, a short enjoyable hike in a canyon of the Inyos with running water, little waterfalls, greenery, and a pretty nice trail through the brush.
I drove on and stopped at the Big Silver Mine area. Here I hiked the old miner/burro trails up to the Morning Sun prospects, checked out some tunnels, looked at the tramways and the spectacular views of the Salt lake and valley. Wow. And that is all I have to say about that.
I did a short loop around the springs in Little Hunter Canyon, then moseyed along the Shoreline trail mostly using a burro trail along the north side of the Salt Lake, the light was sullen but it was beautiful and quiet, only broken by sounds of birdcalls.
Morning I was lucky enough to get some sun for the reflections on the Lake. The Salt Lake is strangely fascinating to me, beautiful and ugly all at the same time.
Possible rainy weather coming. I reluctantly decide to leave Saline Valley. More to do and see here for sure.
The South Pass looks very snowy from below. I head up Lippincott, I had driven down it before and found it to be pretty mild. Climbing up was uneventful but I needed low range 4wd for a rough short steep area and kinda held my breath at a narrow spot putting the Toyota right next to a wall ( pull in the mirror) where the road had washed out long ago.
Stunning views along this route but I was concentrating more on the driving.
The Racetrack Playa had small lakes on it. I walked toward one, on the edge of the Playa, disappointed I wouldn't see moving rocks. Low and behold the southern end of the playa was drying out rapidly. I was able to walk out and take some pictures, making sure I was leaving no tracks on the playa. It seemed the rocks were moving in a different direction than I remembered. So strange here.
I drive out, toward refueling at Stovepipe Wells, and out to the Panamints. Dropping down the Hwy from the pass toward Panamint Springs the playas gleamed with water. I stopped for some pics reveling in stormy skies with blue peaking out and entertained by some of the Top Gun guys and or gals gunning their jets up and down the valley.
I car camped off Indian Ranch road hoping for a good sunset but it was non spectacular photo wise.
Up early to drive to Jail Canyon. I enjoyed the old mine camp, the trailer had burned down but the cabin was in such excellent shape and so neat. Thank you to those who care for it. The old gold mill up canyon was interesting to see and the other mining debris. The canyon itself was prettier than I expected.
I saddled up, locating the old mine road to take me over to Hall Canyon. I planned this as an overnighter to give me plenty of time to explore. The old road is washed out at the start but look for the road cut up on the hill side. Once on that it is wide, easy and steep hiking. The one thing this trip gives you is tremendous non stop views, whether of the Panamint valley, a panorama of the Argus range, looking into upper Hall with snow covered peaks all around or vertiginous views down into the granite walls as Hall narrows, and birds eye views of the homesteaded area at the start of the spring. Some snow on the road as it gained altitude but no problems. At times I took some burros shortcuts, they know to traverse more than the cat driver cutting this road.
The Rowland cabin is in very sad shape, and the camping in the cottonwoods takes some campsite preparation as it is very overgrown and rocky. Wild burro presence everywhere. I cleared off a spot for my tent still under the trees and protected but able to get the last light of the canyon setting sun. I roamed around the area before nightfall, lots of interesting rock wall work, remants of old roads and trails. Able to get out to some rocky points looking down into where Hall narrows and drops, severely overgrown in the canyon bottom and crossing from one side to the other nigh impossible unless an opening in the brush pioneered by burros.
Overnight wind up and down but I was well situated and it did not get as cold as I expected. The next morning very overcast. I hiked the old trail on the north side that takes you down toward Indian Ranch. Somewhat easily followed but the multiple burro trails can make it challenging to decide where to go. Just think if you were laying out a trail how would you do it. I did not go all the way to the bottom, because I had read about the private land issue, and my left knee was swollen and irritated as it does sometimes on steep terrain. However I found the views also incredible on this trail. I was interested in seeing waterfalls in Hall, but the canyon is so overgrown they are difficult to see from any distance.
The weather was looking iffy so I returned to camp, packed up and hiked out. The sun and clouds started playing tag and it was better light than when I hiked in. I was back to the toyota in no time and started out toward Las Vegas. I noted the Trona Wildrose road which had been signed closed was now open and took that, enjoying views of the Panamints in thick snow. The road crew was started to see me and had to open a locked gate on the other end as they weren't expecting anyone yet from the Panamint side and were finishing up.
I was sad to leave as usual; I had a great trip fulfilling some goals but as usual now others to be done on other trips. I can't wait. Have a gazillion photos to go thru so will get them up in time.