Sunday, September 12, 2010

Death Valley Trip August 2010

Green-Denner-Drake Mill
I planned a trip out to Death Valley and Mt. Whitney for my son and I but it turned out he started school a week before our permit to climb Whitney so he could not go. I debated going solo but really needed the time away so I went. I would leave on Saturday and explore Death Valley until the following Sunday when I would go to Lone Pine and get ready to climb Mt. Whitney before returning home.

You can see all of my photos from this trip here: Death Valley Trip 8-2010 Photos

Day 1:
I drove out to Mahogany Flats to camp for the night. On the way I stopped at the Trona Pinnacles and saw several large broken airplane fuselage parts. A security guard told me they were for a movie they were producing about an airplane crash. I totally blanked and forgot to ask what the movie was...duhh...and I didn't take any pictures..double duhh...

Moonrise at Mahogany Flats campground

Day 2:
Hiked to Telescope Peak, nothing terribly exciting, saw a snake, deer, lizards and other critters. I hiked up and spent a couple of hours vegging in the sun at the top. I only saw a group of 8 people from Boston who were college aged kids that said they were studying geology in Death Valley. The register had 2 brand new books starting 8/2010 and everything else was gone (the big folded sign, old books, etc). I also hiked around a bit at the top and found a number of small overnight camp spots, I need to bring my sleeping bag next time.

Telescope Peak straight ahead
Lots of flowers on the trail
Flounder on the trail
Day 3:
Packed up and headed down to Stove Pipe Wells for some ice. Stopped a few times going down thru Wildrose Canyon to check out some old mine workings up in the hills.

Old mine shaft near Emigrant Pass
I didn't have a very good plan for the day and decided I would go and hike up thru Grotto Canyon. I really didn't read much about this canyon and was in for a surprise. The first dry fall wasn't a big deal but the second one stopped me. Maybe it was because I am short, maybe because it was 120 degrees and I was sweating like crazy, maybe I just suck at climbing overhanging ledges in Death Valley. Whatever it was I decided to just go back out and hike up the right fork and see what was up that way. I hiked up about 1.5 miles and had enough. If you like boulder climbing this is a good place to go. If you like boulder climbing and insane heat this is a great place to go in the summer.

This 1st dry fall was easy...the 2nd one I could not get past
Right fork in canyon provides plenty of rock hopping
I drove back over to the *new* sand dunes parking area and ate some lunch hiding in the shade of my truck shell. I will say it is somewhat entertaining to just stay a while and watch all of the tourists drive up,  get all excited, take a couple of pictures and leave. What I don't get though is why do they think it is OK to leave all their trash and cigarette butts everywhere on the ground. Maybe it is just me but has anyone else gone up to one of the interpretive signs and looked down at the ground? It is surrounded by cigarette butts...not cool.

It was going to be a full moon that night and I wanted to hike out on the dunes with a full moon so I needed to kill some time. I drove out to Salt Creek, it was 118 degrees on my truck dash at about 5pm. There wasn't any water but it was still pretty cool to walk around out there. There were a lot of animal tracks in the sand and the lizards were everywhere.

Lizard tracks at Salt Creek
Lizard at Salt Creek
After spending some time at Salt Creek I drove over to Furnace Creek, got some gas and started back to the dunes, it was starting to get dark but still triple digit temps. The moon was starting to rise and looked pretty cool from the dunes area.

Moonrise from the SPW area
I hiked out to the top of the tallest dune when the moon was up, there were no tracks at all beyond 5 minutes of walking out. It was still 108 on my truck dash at night when I walked out. I don't have any good pictures, it turns out my camera sucks at taking pictures of dunes in Death Valley at night when there is a full moon. To be honest, it really wasn't as great as I thought it would be, It was hard to see anything as the shadows everywhere covered up most of the landscape. I want to go back during the day.

Walking along the ridge of one of the dunes, best picture I got.
A beetle out on the dunes at night
Day 4:

Camped at Emigrant again and got ready to go try and find Ice's thermometer. Google Earth back home said it would be about 4 miles in, it turned out to be more like 5 1/2. I packed up 3 gallons of water and headed out the old Indian trail from the campground.

Looking out towards the mouth of the canyon, you can see the trail
Lots of Kit Fox / Rabbit burrows
Staring up the canyon mouth
Nearing the "narrow" part of the canyon
Cairn City on the way back
I did not find Ice's thermometer but it was a good hike. It was hot, 119 at SPW around 4pm when I got back down there to buy more ice.  I ended the day by driving out to Zabriskie Point, Dantes View and then a last minute decision to turn down Greenwater Valley road and camp for the night. Zabriskie Point was another trash filled area, kinda depressing to see. I picked up (3) hats, several plastic food trays and scoops of cigarette butts around the viewing area.

Zabriskie Point
Dantes View at sunset
Greenwater Valley was the unexpected highlight of of my trip. Full moon night and total tranquility. I did not see a single sign of human life that night and all the rest of the next day.

Moonrise at Greenwater Valley
Moonset and sunrise the next morning at Greenwater Valley
Lizard at Greenwater Valley

Day 5:

I wanted to call home and since I have T-Mobile that meant I needed to drive to Baker to get service. I drove out thru Shoshone and to Baker. Once I made my calls I headed back to check out Saratoga Springs. I drove the Harry Wade Exit Route road and could see a nasty thunderstorm brewing over Mojave. By the time I got to Saratoga it was again 118 degrees and so windy and hot I could not stand outside. The wind was pushing me around so much I just gave up and got back in the truck and drove back to DV, it was actually more pleasant at Badwater than at Saratoga.

Saratoga Springs
I took a picture of my truck outside temp gauge this time
Ibex Dunes, you can see part of the thunderstorm
I drove back to DV via Jubilee Pass and then took the West Side rd as a detour. That was a nice drive and definitely a place I need to go back and explore more when the temps are cooler. I camped out at Emigrant again that night.

Day 6:

Gawd, another day of 115+ temps and 14 hour long days, it really is hard to live out of my truck in those conditions...could be worse though. I drove over to Father Crowley and tried to find a way down into Rainbow Canyon. The first one I found was a bit too sketchy for me that day, it was a steep lava scree path down from a turn out just past Father Crowley. Oh, BTW, I am not sure I really like the new stimulus funded Father Crowley parking lot, I kinda liked the old dirt one, when you could fall over the edge on a really windy day or if the Air Force planes that fly thru catch you off guard (I love it when they do a fly-by, it is awesome). The second way down I found started a bit further up at the mouth of the canyon and at first seemed like it would be a great way down....until I hit a 100' or so dry fall straight down. There was a rope ladder way down at the bottom so I know somebody has used this way before. Anyway, I decide to just go hike the ridge from the end of the Father Crowley dirt road, that was interesting..kinda.

Rainbow Canyon
1'st rock pile I saw, looked very 21'st century man made
2'nd rock pile on the ridge, looked almost indian made, carefully crafted and on a steep part of the ridge
Looking down towards Lake Hill from Rainbow Canyon
While I was hiking I saw *the storm* blowing in, I decided I need to get back to my truck quickly. This storm ultimately caused a mud slide on the 395 closing it just south of Olancha and also enough flash flood debris on Towne Pass to close it at PSR and SPW. I am glad I did not hike down into the canyon that day. By the time I got to PSR it was pelting huge drops on my truck and I really did not want to get caught in it so I drove out towards Trona to wait it out. That turned out to be good choice.

Storm blowing in over Rainbow Canyon....time to leave
Storm view from Minnietta as it passes thru PSR area
Storm view a little further up Panamint Valley road.
Toy Shrine
Com'n...who did this? I almost died laughing....
I waited until I could see the storm blow over to the Telescope Peak area and then drove back. CHP was just starting to close the 190 and said I could go thru because I had a big truck. I was planning on camping at Emigrant anyway so it was good for me. Actually way good, CHP closed the 190 at SPW and PSR, I had Towne Pass to myself all night until Caltrans cleared the road. I camped at Emigrant and only saw a few trucks go by all night, very, very nice.

"Dry" Lake bed at PSR after the storm
Debris after the storm going up Towne Pass
Day 7:

It was now Friday, 6 days of the heat and long days, I had my routine down and was in a groove but that would mostly end after today. Today was Jayhawker Canyon Day. After going to SPW for ice in the morning I drove out to the 3,000' sign on the 190 and started my hike to Jayhwaker Canyon.  The trail out was marked with numerous cairns but wasn't really needed as it was easy walking out to the canyon mouth. The spring had some water and the bee's were happily guarding all of it. I decided to spice up the hike a bit and climbed to the top of ridge above the spring. It was pretty steep and mostly scree near the top. I can't say I saw anything terribly exciting but the view was great and the temps were nice and cool, it was a 1,500' ascent from the spring.

Water at Jayhawker Spring and the bee's guarding it
Looking down into Jayhawker Canyon from the peak above the spring
I saw 4 large bird nests up the narrows walls. I am going to guess hawk but maybe eagle? I also saw one out in Wildrose Canyon. I also saw a pair of birds flying off in the distance but I was not able to see them well enough to identify them..bummer.

Large bird nest in Jayhawker Canyon
I finished hiking up to the end of the narrows and ate lunch before returning back to the truck. It was hot again today. With the side trip up the peak above the spring the total mileage for the hike was about 10 miles. It was 108 on the truck dash when I got back. There were several cars also in the turnout, tourist's taking pictures of the valley. They just kinda stared at me as I wondered in from the rocks. As I ate lunch in the back of my truck several more cars stopped and took pictures. I would wave to them and they would wave back but I know I was the one who looked out of place.

I was flipping thru Digonnet's book trying to find something close by to do for the rest of the day and decided Journigan's Mill and the Greene-Denner-Drake mill site would be doable before dark so I packed up and headed over. Journigan's Mill was a quick stop and mildly interesting. The Greene-Denner-Drake site was kinda cool. As I hiked the overgrown and closed off old jeep trail I was imagining how they drove those old cars filled with supplies up and thru these mountains, they were some tough folks. Just side tracking a bit, I was amazed at how many springs I saw driving up Emigrant Canyon, they were everywhere, you just needed to get out of the car and go hike a ways up into the hills and there were many, green and with water.

Journigan's Mill
Greene-Denner-Drake Mill Site
The cabin at GDD Mill Site

When I got to the site it was windy and really kinda eerie, all the tin on the roof was banging like an old western movie in a ghost town. The cabin door was open and I called out to see if anybody was inside..there wasn't, it was just me.  If you need some chrome parts for an old Pontiac, you might want to look here, the chrome was in really good shape. I headed back to Emigrant again for the night.

Day 8 & 9:

It was now Saturday and I wanted to call home again so I drove out to Lone Pine. I really needed some time in the truck with the A/C on anyway so I was OK driving all day. I stopped at the new ranger station, bought a book and then headed into Lone Pine for some gas and ice. I love that first Chevron station when you drive into town, they have gas, ice, tons of booze and also some old Colt pistols up in the front display cabinet. This trip I also had the pleasure of hearing the lady at the register discuss her entire medical life with a local customer in front of me...classic.

Anyway, I figured a good route back into DV at this point was to go out to Eureka Dunes via Big Pine and camp out for the night. This is where a much, much longer story of my trip could be written but I will keep it brief here. After driving thru some kind of crazy wind storm on the 395 I turned off onto the Big Pine road. That is a nice drive up thru the mountains and all of the pine and Joshua trees. I did not see a single person once I turned off the 395, or at least not until I was about 1 mile from the dunes camping area. Three college aged kids were walking up the road waving their arms at me. They had gotten their truck stuck in the deep sand at the south end of road and were unable to get it out so they decided to walk back to the junction of the road and wait for a "ranger who was driving home". I got there around 5:30pm and my truck dash said 98 degrees, not too bad but it was late in the day. These guys had been out there since the night before and said I was the only person they saw. They told me they had spent most of the day laying under the picnic tables to stay out of the sun and heat. They had 10 bottles of water between the three of them.

Anyway, 24 hour saga cut short, we drove back to SPW (and didn't see a single car until we got there) made a few calls into Nevada tow companies with no luck and I suggested they call Miller's in Lone Pine and I would drive them out in the morning. John at Miller's didn't even flinch when we called, he said "see you in the morning". So we camped out at Emigrant and I drove them over in the morning on Day 9. Keep in mind this is Sunday now and John was there ready to go. Since he only had room for one person in his tow truck, me and the other 2 people decided to hang out at the park in Lone Pine while they went to get the truck. They were gone for about 7 hours, apparently the stuck vehicle also got a shredded front tire on the way back (no LT tires). After payment for services rendered they were finally able to get back on the road again around 6pm. We said goodbye and I have not heard from them since.

That was the totally abbreviated and shortest version of the story I could write, believe me there is much more drama, saga and fun to the story than that.

Eureka Sand Dunes
Crankshaft Crossing
Day 10:

Wow, it is now Monday and I have permits to climb Whitney on Tuesday. I was pretty spent by now and really wanted nothing to do with hiking. I went and checked in at the ranger station and then visited a friend of mine who lives in Lone Pine. I walked over to the park again and vegged out the rest of the day with a few beers and my feet in the ice cold stream. It was another great opportunity to watch all the passing tourists stop at CJ's for some food and walk their dogs thru the park and letting them pee on the "No Dogs Allowed" signs everywhere.

Day 11:

Woke up at 1:30am and got ready to climb Mt. Whitney..woohoo! Started the trail up at 3:30am and got back down at 4pm. I had a 30 minute break at the top taking pictures of people for them. I liked the new Staples button in the register draw. To be honest I didn't really have much enthusiasm this time for Whitney, it was supposed to be a trip with my son and he didn't go. There wasn't much snow, it was really dry and I didn't even see a bear this time. I took a couple of pictures at the top and that was it. Maybe next time it will be more fun.

Cabin at the top of Mt Whitney
Day 12:

You still reading?? Cool, thanks for sticking in there. Today I drive home but not before stopping at Fossil Falls. If you have never been there you should try and plan 2-3 hours to hike around, it is a really cool place. There are some surprises to find if you stick it out.

Fossil Falls Interpretive Sign
There were lots of large concentrations of Mountain Lion scat at Fossil Falls
Fossil Falls from the canyon

Well that's it..if you actually stuck thru it this far thank you for reading! I stayed brief for most of the days as one can only imagine all the things that happen during 14 hour days out in the sun. Please leave any comments or questions if you have any and I will be happy to respond.


  1. I found your trip report through the DV forum. Nice trip, great write up, and thanks for saving those guys.


  2. BTW, unless there's been huge changes in cell coverage (for the worse) in the past year, you definitely shouldn't have needed to drive down to Baker for T-mobile cell coverage. My phone is T-mobile, and last year (early Sept), I got excellent coverage on the road leading to Beatty. Basically as soon as I came over the hill and could view the valley that includes Rhyolite, the coverage is great (I got 5 bars). Sorry that you didn't know this in advance, as you could have saved yourself at least an hour of unnecessary driving.

    That Eureka Dunes stuck truck story should be a boiler plate classic for anyone thinking of taking their vehicle to remote areas without a survival plan. I'd love to hear the "much more drama, saga and fun " part of the story if you'd like to share it.

  3. Amazing you could do so much hiking in that heat. I do not do as well as most people in hot weather, and you seem to be at the other end of the spectrum. It is a great way to have the place to yourself hey?

  4. netlama: My T-mobile coverage dropped once I left Pasadena, I have since switched back to Verizon. I saw people with AT&T and Verizon with service at SPW and at Crankshaft Crossing. I did not even have service in Lone Pine...lame.

    The stuck truck story could have happened to anybody, that is the scary truth, people die every year in Death Valley. These particular folks believed it was like most national parks with rangers everywhere taking care of people..DV is different.

    thanks for comment!

  5. Tom: Thanks for the comment!

    Yes, I do well in the heat but not in the cold. Once the temps hit 79 I need a sweater. I have not been to Alaska yet...8->

  6. Great Death Valley post Daren!
    Couldn't stop reading it. :)