Camping · Hiking · Trip Report

Trip Report: Death Valley 2016, Part 2

At the beginning of 2016 we took a week-long trip to Death Valley National Park. Follow this link to Part One.

Day 3- Echo Canyon, Inyo Mine, Lees Camp

On day three we drove the 4×4 trail through Echo Canyon to the Inyo Mine. To get to Inyo Mine, we followed Echo Canyon Road about 10 miles from Highway 190 to the spur that goes to Inyo Mine. Echo Canyon is one of my favorite areas we visited in DV, with amazing rocky cliffs and a view of the “Needle’s Eye” keyhole in the rocks above.

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The beginning of the Echo Canyon narrows.
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The “Needle’s Eye”
The Inyo Mine ruins were spectacular. We found the kitchen, bunkhouse, a small dugout cabin, and another larger cabin as well as a winch and collecting bin for the ore. The mine had three levels of shafts which were cool (and a bit scary) to peek inside. The whole area was surrounded by lovely snow-tipped mountains, which made it feel like we were somewhere in the mining districts of Colorado, rather than the California desert!

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We had fun imagining what life was like for the miners. Their ingenuity was evident in the remnants of a stove made out of an old barrel, and a cabin roof patched with extra sheets of sheet metal and even tin cans. J called the cabins her “houses” and told us each where our beds would be.

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A woodstove made out of a barrel.
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A dugout cabin.
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We returned to the main Echo Canyon Road and took the turn off that we passed on the way in (Lees Camp Road), following it through the mountains and over a high saddle, all the way to the Amargosa Valley and into Nevada. As the road rose up high into the mountains there were many offshoots to other mines that we didn’t have time to look at. We thought it would be easy to spend days up there exploring all the old sites.

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So many other mines to explore!
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We found Lees camp on the Nevada side of the saddle and had fun poking around the big can and glass dumps there, as well as looking for the rock outlines of tent sites.

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The glass dump at Lees’ Camp.
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A tent site in Lees’ camp.
We returned to Texas Springs via a long drive north on Highway 95 to Beatty. From Beatty, we picked up Highway 374 west to Highway 190 south, which finally brought us back to our camp.

Day 4- Ubehebe Crater, The Racetrack, Lippencot Pass to Saline Valley

On day four we drove up Highway 190 north to Ubehebe Crater. I love weird geological formations and was really excited to see this unique crater. The main crater is over 600 feet deep and the side of the main crater contains a complex of several smaller craters (called Little Hebe). Z wasn’t interested in hiking 600 feet down into the crater with J on his back, so instead we hiked up the short path to Little Hebe. I thought I found some horse hoof prints up there but otherwise it was very desolate, with few plants and lots of black volcanic rock.

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The huge Ubehebe Crater
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We then drove the horrible 25 miles of washboard road to the Racetrack. This part of the DV lies at an elevation of 4000-5000 ft so we saw lots of lovely Joshua Trees. At one section near Teakettle Junction there was a whole forest of Joshua Trees on the eastern side of the road, and none on the western side.

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The majority of this road was really bumpy. It wasn’t a technical road by any means, but was quite worn down by the heavy traffic it gets from visitors. I felt really shaken up by the time we got to the Racetrack, and for better or worse the jarring lulled the babies to sleep.

The first prominent feature of the Racetrack is a big rock outcropping (or upcropping?) called the Grandstand. It is peculiar to see a rocky cliff rising right out of the very smooth surface of the playa lakebed. We drove to the far end of the plateau about 10 miles more down the road to where the best rock trails are supposed to be.

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The rock trails were truly comical. Some rock tails went only a few feet, and other trails seemed to stretch all the way from one edge of the playa to the other. A few rocks followed each other in the same groove, and some traveled parallel to each other. J and M enjoyed crawling all over the playa. The surface was soft enough that it didn’t hurt their hands or knees, and hard enough to provide a good surface for quick travel. I think M was just happy to be crawling free for the first time this trip- for the most part I had been holding him around camp or carrying him on my back on the trail.

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When we got back to the car, we were surprised to see some of our old friends pulling up in their truck. We first met them years ago when Z and I were still highschoolers and they were newlyweds, and ever since our paths have crossed from time to time in the most random, desolate places. We finally got to meet their three sweet kids and introduce them to ours. It was fun to compare kid camping notes with a family who likes adventures in the same style we enjoy. Their kids all got a kick out of feeding M rocks.

Homestake Dry Camp was just a mile or so further north of the playa and it seemed like a cool place to camp, with mines all around to explore. We took Lippencot Road down to Saline Valley Road, and over South Pass back to the highway by Panamint Springs resort.

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South Pass was about 6000 ft elevation at its highest point and we were treated to views of more Joshua trees, junipers, and free range cows! It made for a long day but I was happy that we got to see Saline Valley- it is certainly on our list for a return visit.
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Day 5- Marble Canyon

On day five we went for a hike up Marble Canyon. To get there, we took the Cottonwood Canyon Road out of Stovepipe Wells. Marble Canyon was wonderful- the narrowest part of the canyon had amazingly dark, smooth walls and some surprise petroglyphs. I loved the shadiness of the canyon and the variety of sheer, polished rock walls that lined the way. We hiked about 2.5 miles up the canyon, and then returned the way we came.

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Possible notations left by early Death Valley pioneers.
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The beginning of the Marble Canyon narrows.
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Awesome pictographs!
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