Cheryl Soshnik unofficially opened up her annual Bob Wright Memorial Death Valley Winter Escape cycling trip (2/8 - 2/12) this year. If you could get a camp site, you were welcome to attend, even if you were not a bicyclist. She said that she got 70-odd sign-ups (!).
I no longer have a bike, but I hadn't been to Death Valley in over 20 years, and the opportunity to get away from shoveling snow was impossible to resist. I volunteered to organize some hikes for non-bicyclists and for bicyclists who wanted a break. My friend Jerry and I arrived on Saturday 2/6 and didn't leave until Presidents Day, Monday 2/15. We only had reservations at Furnace Creek through Friday 2/12, but fortunately Rob Jones was also staying late and let us stay at his site after others had left. That meant that we had 8 days for hikes — we managed to hike on 7 of those days!
We had a great time. We never managed to get organized before about 9 AM, but we still had good groups and we went to pretty places. Group sizes ranged from 3 to 13, and we managed to set up carpools without too much trouble. Everyone was impressed at the massive flower season in Death Valley this year; rivers of yellow ran down the alluvial fans. The weather was dry and warm, with high temperatures ranging from mid-70s to mid-80s. Bob G brought along his 8-inch telescope, and after dinner we spotted stars, planets and various Messier objects (but we didn't find planet 9).
Here are the photo highlights. I shot more than 50 photos for some of these hikes — I would have shot more, but my spare camera battery died and my remaining battery gave out on the last day!
Sunday 2/7: Our first hike was very close to the campground, an area called Funeral Slots. The trailhead is at Texas Springs campground, just before the road bends eastward away from the big wash to the north. From there, it's an hour and a quarter slog up the alluvial fan to the start of the narrows. The canyon with the slots empties out at the highest point of the fan; it's a bit hard to pick out. We found neat side slots in both upper forks of the canyon. Watch carefully — some of the entrances are hard to spot. The rock is a lumpy, cemented fanglomerate that's typical in many Death Valley washes.
Monday 2/8: We had a much bigger group the next day, when we visited the Sidewinder Slots near Mormon Point, south of Badwater. Some of the group had never done slot canyon hikes before, so it was entertaining for us to introduce them. There are several entertaining side slots on both sides of the canyon, but the highlights for me were the two 'official' slots. Steve Hall's web page had warned us to take headlamps for Slot 1, and it turned out to be a very good idea (!). The rock in the Sidewinder Slots is fanglomerate, very similar to the Funeral Slots.
Tuesday 2/9: Marble Canyon is a hard rock narrows, unlike the slots we had done previously. It's also a somewhat challenging drive if you don't have a high clearance vehicle, and we only had one such vehicle (my 4Runner) for 10 people. Phyllis was a good sport and drove half of the group in her RAV4 up the bumpy Cottonwood and Marble Canyon tracks to the trailhead, just inside the lowest narrows. We were very impressed with the lower two sets of narrows. The third narrows has the gorgeous striped marble, however, so we slogged on for an hour in the hot sun to check it out. The marble turned out to be lovely, but it was somewhat obscured by mud splatters from a huge mudflow that had come down the canyon recently. The mud splashed some 30 feet above the channel in places. The afternoon light was spectacular on the hike back, and I shot (far too) many photos.
Wednesday 2/10: It was a much easier drive to reach Fall Canyon, fortunately — once off of the pavement, there are just a couple of miles on a well-graded gravel road. After a short walk along the mountain front on alluvial gravel, the trail heads east into a monumental gorge. The walls are so tall and (in many places) so vertical that it made me think I was walking down Madison Avenue; I kept expecting to see windows open in the buildings. We had a large group that broke into smaller pieces as we strolled up the channel to the pour-off that gives the canyon its name. We had lunch, and then 6 of us scrambled up a short 4th-class crack to check out the upper narrows. I'm glad that we did it — it was amazing, both for the narrowness and depth of the gorge, and for the shapes and colors.
Thursday 2/11: Debbie and Debbie were stranded on the last day's bike ride because the derailleur had broken on one of their bikes. Neither of them had ever hiked in Mosaic Canyon, one of Death Valley's most popular hikes, so we went there in spite of the crowds. It turned out to be a great idea — the easy scrambling and the great scenery were a hit. Some of us (led by Phyllis!) decided to try the steep side trail that led up to the Mosaic Rim Trail, where I had never been before. This trail runs from a wide area in the lower canyon along a bench on the north of the canyon, dropping back into the canyon just above the pour-off at the top of the third narrows. I was determined to get into the spectacular-looking third narrows, but I was deterred by the scary scramble at the bottom of the only plausible route. We later spotted another use trail that runs along ledges much lower than than the Rim Trail; that might have been a better bet. For once, I think I should have shot more pictures on a hike...
Friday 2/12: We killed the morning trying to find a place for Bob G to stay the night, and waiting for the extra space to open up at Rob Jones' campsite. In the end, we didn't hike — instead, we took the (fascinating) Furnace Creek Inn tour, drove the Artists Loop and checked out Dante's View.
Saturday 2/13: We did a big driving loop with a hike in the middle. First, we drove out the Daylight Pass Road and visited the ghost town of Rhyolite, which has some photogenic ruins. We then turned back to the west and got on the (one-way) Titus Canyon Road. The road is actually in very good condition, especially given the storms last year that washed out the paved roads at the north and south entraces to the park. We parked at Red Pass and hiked to Thimble Peak. It was very windy, and the view of the cliffs on the peak was moderately intimidating. I knew from seeing photos of the route that it was no worse than easy class 3, but every time the trail got close to the cliff edge, I had to wonder. The view on top was amazing — we could see snow in the Sierra, on the White Mountains, on the Spring Mountains and on Telescope Peak. We then drove down Titus Canyon. I had walked up the bottom of Titus Canyon once long ago, but it was still impressive to drive the one-lane track through the narrows.
Sunday 2/14: I discovered that my camera battery was exhausted when I tried to take photos of the flowers along the Badwater Road, and when I swapped in the spare battery, I found that the battery was dead. Ouch. So no photos from the last day. We hiked to the Room and to Mormon Point Canyon, both fanglomerate narrows near Mormon Point. Rob Jones spotted some nice malachite in the wash in Mormon Point Canyon, and after that, I was staring at the rocks in the wash for more minerals. As a nice side-effect, I stopped tripping over rocks — something I was prone to do earlier because the scenery was too distracting!