3 More Days in Death Valley

Darwin Falls
Saturday, March 4
Temperature in the valley is supposed to be in the mid-80’s today so we thought it prudent to head for the hills. There is a new-to-us hike, known as Darwin Falls. It’s also at around 3000’ so should be substantially cooler. Darwin Falls is actually 30 miles outside the valley itself, but still in the park technically. It is just west of the Panamint Springs Resort 2 miles off Highway 190 at the end of an unmarked dirt road that we eventually found.To start off, it is a bit of a trudge up a dry open wash, but for only about a quarter mile. The wash narrows to a canyon and it is here we began seeing water flowing. Trees and grasses shade the banks and small pools of water with reeds offer pleasant shadey stops. The waterfall is spring fed further up the canyon and the stream it creates flows year round.There really isn’t an established trail up the canyon and we had to scramble over several slippery rock obstacles.There were also 5 or 6 stream crossings over very wobbly impromptu branch bridges to negotiate. It took us a couple of hours of careful walking to get to the lower falls. Here the fall runs down a rock face and splits towards the bottom to flow into a nice little pool. Because this is the sole water source for the resort on 190, swimming is not allowed, nor are pets.From here, the trail, if you could call it that, climbs up and over the rock face off to the left of the waterfall. We actually could see no trail, but listened to some other folks describing to another hiker how to follow the zig-zag of the ledge to get over the top to get to the upper falls. The talk was that upper falls is way better. After the stumbely hike to this point, we really weren’t up to scaling the cliff, so turned back after a nice lunch next to the pool. All in all, a pleasant little hike to an unusual place. Photographically, not that interesting to me, but a nice hike.

Driving back through the Panamint Valley, I was dismayed to see a dust storm throwing grit hundreds of feet into the air. High winds were forecast for tomorrow in Death Valley, but I was very surprised to see it here now. I joked to Mary that it was just in this valley. Our valley would still be calm – which, strangely enough turned out to be the case.

Titus Canyon
Sunday, March 5
The high wind warnings predicted for the valley today are between 8 AM and 10 PM with gusts to 40 mph. There is really nothing to do in the actual valley when it is like this. The grit and unrelenting blowing really takes away doing anything much outside. We decided to find a canyon that might be somewhat protected from the blowing, so headed out to Titus Canyon.At 8:15 the wind began picking up. By the time we left the campground at 10, we could see dust being blown even higher into the sky than yesterdays blow in Panamint Valley. It looked to be blowing north, right up the valley. Our campground seemed to be protected from the worst of it, so I cracked a couple of vents and a window to keep the place cool while we were away. Yes, that was a mistake.Driving the 20 or so miles toward Titus Canyon, I could see the dust didn’t seem to be too bad on the canyon side where we wanted to hike. I was hoping the canyon itself would be protected from the worst of the blowing and we could get in a nice hike. A dirt road that runs through the canyon  can be driven on a wide loop that starts outside the park near Ryolite, but because of recent storm damage, that road is closed. We could still walk in though, and so drove up the alluvial fan created by the outflow of eons of flash floods, to the entrance of the canyon.

At the entrance to Titus looking into the valley.

The air was fairly clear here, but still very very windy. The canyon walls are very narrow and high at this point. We started walking in, and as hoped, the wind did begin to lessen somewhat. By about midway up the section we intended to walk, the wind actually started blowing the other way – and much harder. It was blowing up AND down the canyon. We kept going, photographing all the way, but the wind really commanded attention and made picture making less interesting. it didn’t seem dusty although our eyes were saying otherwise and we could see it in the sky high over the canyon walls in the distance. We stopped for lunch after a couple of hours in a little eddy of calm air. As we sat, another couple came down the canyon telling us that in another quarter mile where the canyon really opens up, the wind was blowing furiously – too much to continue. We didn’t need to hear more than that. We finished lunch and turned back. The going was a little rough as we came back down the canyon. We experienced frequent sustained gusts of what felt like 30-40 mph that went on for easily 20 seconds at a time. At times, the wind blew us to a stop and walking forward was actually difficult – and this was all down hill. Mary had to hang on to me a couple of times to stay upright. Grit got in mouth and eyes and was not fun.We finally got back to the car and really enjoyed a treat of coffee and cookies while watching the storm blow over the valley. We headed back to camp, but it was soon clear that our campground was now well involved in the dust storm. I knew what awaited us inside the rig. The only question was how bad. Bad! The wind had yanked the vents I had cracked wide open, but that part wasn’t so bad because I had reversed the airflow before leaving so the fans were blowing air out of the rig. The problem was the bathroom and kitchen window I left open a little. We now had indoor dunes in both locations and a thin layer of dust everywhere else. Even if everything was closed up as tight a possible, the fine dust would still have gotten in, but the extra sand blown in made for several hours of cleanup. Won’t do that again. The upside to all this wind is that our next dune walk tomorrow morning should be on completely smooth sand with no footprints. Looking forward to that!

Mesquite Flat Dune Walk #2
Monday, March 6We woke at 5 AM this morning to get out to the dunes a little earlier. I wanted to be further into the dunes than we got during our first visit and sunrise is a littler earlier as well. The sandstorm yesterday really erased most of the previous weeks traffic so almost everywhere we looked we saw smooth sinewy lines and clean expanses of sand. A few others had beaten us out there so we walked to an area well into the field to get some separation. We still had a little time before sunrise to photograph in low flatter light. This sometimes can make for very subtle studies. When dawn arrived, the same scene can take on a very different look.While it was calm when we started out, a breeze soon did come up. Nothing like yesterdays blowing, but getting up too high in the dune field and close to edges meant getting pelted a little with sand blowing off those edges. If one wasn’t careful, one would get a sand shower. And it’s not too great for the cameras either. From here, Mary and I went separate ways as I went looking for different angles and new dunes deeper in the field. It was so nice to be able to point anywhere to find interesting compositions, all with no footprints. We worked the dunes for a couple of hours, then met-up again and headed back to camp. Our two days on the dunes has already made the trip worthwhile.We broke camp a little later and moved down the valley to Furnace Creek where we will camp for the next 5-6 days. Sunset campground at Furnace Creek is for RV’s and is essentially just a big parking lot with amenities, but it gets the job done. The Texas Springs campground nearby is for tenters and RV’s and is much nicer, but no generators can be used there. There is a reservation only campground but it is always full. Looking forward to our days in this section. We were treated to our campground namesake that evening as we watched the clouds in the sky catch fire.

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