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Lower Marble Canyon - DVNP
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mini location map2020-01-20
27 by photographer avatarkeepmoving
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Lower Marble Canyon - DVNPDeath Valley, CA
Death Valley, CA
Backpack29.97 Miles 4,571 AEG
Backpack29.97 Miles2 Days         
4,571 ft AEG11 LBS Pack
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
Did the Cottonwood-Marble Canyon Loop as an overnight trip in a clockwise direction. Spent the night before the trip dispersed camping just a little ways past the 2wd parking area where we had a great view of of the valley floor stretching out beyond us.

Started hiking the next morning just a bit after 0800. It was cool and overcast, which I actually appreciated since that meant I wasn't looking into the sun as I hiked up Cottonwood Canyon Rd. Since I started on Monday morning, all of the MLK weekend traffic had subsided- I quickly passed one group of four that was leaving the canyon and they would be the only group I would see for the rest of the trip.

Although the first part of the hike is along Cottonwood Canyon 4x4 road, it is perhaps some of the most scenic road walking I have done. Every twist and turn of the road results in new views as the canyon walls begin to narrow and tower over you, only to find you round the corner and the canyon opens up again. At the end of Cottonwood Canyon Rd I took a short break and filtered water at the first spring.

Continuing up the trail into Cottonwood Canyon I passed through several thick groves of Cottonwood Trees. The sun was finally starting to come out at this point and it was warming up into the mid 60s. When I arrived at Cottonwood Springs I filtered extra water in preparation of dry camping that night since I knew I wouldn't have enough light to make it to Deadhorse Spring.

Just beyond Cottonwood Spring the official trail ends and the route finding begins. I sat on the ridge above the spring where I consulted the map and took a quick bearing with my compass to make sure I knew what way to go to reach Deadhorse Canyon. As I was getting ready to start hiking I could hear the whinny of horses- soon followed by three horses walking over the hill towards me as they made their way down to the spring I just left.

The hike through the open valley towards Deadhorse Canyon was much easier than anticipated. The vegetation here was quite sparse and there were plenty of horse and human prints to follow for much of the way. Along the way I passed another larger herd of about 8 horses shortly before I arrived at the saddle leading into Deadhorse Canyon.

I made it to the saddle just before it got dark, so I decided to bed down for the night. I set up my bivy in a small patch of dirt and attempted to use a row of shrubs as a wind block. I had a quick dinner and then retreated to bed. I dozed off and on until midnight when it began to rain. Since I didn't want to deal with the hassle of checking bags to board my flight to Vegas and since all weather reports showed no chance of rain- I had rolled the dice by traveling without a tent and was just sleeping in my light weight bivy which was not rainproof. I quickly weighed my options and decided my best course of action was to throw my gear in my bag and start hiking again. Fortunately I had brought a rain jacket and pants, so I could at least stay dry while I hiked and hoped that the rain would subside.

I dropped down from the saddle- but in my rush to pack and get moving I had neglected to consult the map to confirm where to go. The trail here is fairly sparse and multiple game trails weave through it. All I knew was that I needed to head downhill, so I just followed the drainage straight down into what I thought was the right canyon. It wasn't until an hour later when the rain finally stopped that I checked with my map and realized that I had inadvertently dropped into the wrong drainage. I readjusted my course, climbed over the canyon wall that separated the two drainages and was able to find the correct trail without too much difficulty.

Around 2am I made it to the large Cottonwood Tree that marks the official start of Deadhorse Canyon. At this point the rain had subsided and the sky was beginning to clear, so I set up camp again and tried to get some more sleep.

I woke up just before dawn to clear skies and was quickly on trail again. The trail soon reaches a small dry fall that must be downclimbed- it's a little awkward with a pack on, but otherwise not too difficult. Heading down canyon I was excited to finally reach Marble Canyon- where there are several petroglyph panels and some narrows. This section is very scenic so I took my time admiring the canyon walls and taking plenty of pictures.

Once I made it back to Marble Canyon 4x4 Rd, I picked up my pace again and headed back down to the 2wd parking area. I had made plans to meet my ride at the parking area at 1300 and I didn't want to leave them waiting.
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