March 25th – Backbone Trail Part 6:  Malibu Canyon Road Trailhead to the Stunt Road Trailhead

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>Eighteen hikers met on another pleasant spring morning to tackle the sixth section of the Santa Monica Mountains Backbone Trail.  After dropping off several shuttle vehicles along Saddle Peak Road (at the Stunt Road intersection) we carpooled to Malibu Canyon in search of parking near the Piuma Road trailhead. 

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After a couple of futile attempts, we finally parked in Tapia Park and hiked 0.5 mile to the signed trailhead along Piuma Road.  As we began our hike, we crossed a creek where the destructive effects of the winter’s rain was quite evident.  However, we immediately entered a dense oak woodland (ferns were abundant and a variety of wildflowers were blooming) as the trail rose steadily upward for about 2.5 miles to a road crossing.  After crossing Piuma Road the trail climbed noticeably more steeply through continuing shade (mostly provided by ceanothus) until we crossed a flowing stream and soon emerged into an open section of trail bordered with thousands of blue dick wildflowers as well as smatterings of other wildflowers; also we had excellent views of the surrounding area.  Eventually we stopped for lunch at a point where there was shade but also a great distant view to the northwest.  We continued our hike up the mountain to Saddle Peak where the view toward the ocean was blocked by the incoming fog.  We climbed up on some beautiful rock formations near the peak and enjoyed spectacular inland views.  We then descended past a large water tank to Stunt Road and our shuttle vehicles, thus completing an 8.0-mile one-way hike with about 2,700’ of elevation gain and 900’ of elevation loss.

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March 18th – Backbone Trail Part 5: Latigo Canyon Trailhead to Malibu Canyon Trailhead

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Twenty-two hikers tackled the fifth section of the Santa Monica Mountains Backbone Trail on a pleasant cool, spring-like winter morning (perfect for hiking).  After dropping off several shuttle vehicles along Malibu Canyon Road (at the Piuma Road intersection) we carpooled to the Latigo Canyon trailhead.

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We began our hike along the trail as it headed northwest down into a heavily shaded canyon adorned by a variety of blooming wildflowers.  We then headed northeast through a riparian woodland along a seasonal creek with running water (which we crossed at least ten times), passing  several meadows filled with bright green grass.  The trail then rose and fell as it wound along chaparral-covered slopes on its way to Corral Canyon Road.  After crossing the road, we soon found ourselves walking among (and on) a variety of stunning sandstone rock formations.  We decided to take our lunch break atop the highest such formation where we examined the ruins of an old dwelling and enjoyed the views afforded by our high perch.  (unfortunately an offshore marine layer hid the ocean from view).  After lunch, we headed east along the Mesa Peak Fire Road toward (but not to) Mesa Peak.  This section of the hike provided excellent views of the mountains and valleys to the north.  About seven miles into the hike we turned north and began a three-mile descent through an oak woodland into Malibu Canyon where we had left our shuttle vehicles, thus completing a 10.3-mile one-way hike with about 1,500’ of elevation gain and a little over 3,000’ of elevation loss.  We retrieved the vehicles we had left along Malibu Canyon Road as well as the shuttle vehicles at the Latigo Canyon trailhead and headed home, looking forward to hiking the remaining three sections of the Backbone Trail.

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March 1st – 5th:  Death Valley National Park (Furnace Creek Campground)

March 1, 2017Arrival and Golden Canyon to Red Cathedral

10 Rancho Simi Trailblazers gathered at the Furnace Creek Campground (200’) along CA Hwy 190 adjacent to the Death Valley National Park (DVNP) Visitor Center for several days of camping, hiking, and sightseeing in a starkly scenic desert setting consisting of salt flats and sand dunes in the valley itself flanked on the east and west by towering mountain ranges capped by Telescope Peak (11,049’)

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in the Panamint Mountains to the west.  Many interesting canyons penetrate the surrounding foothills/mountains and provide a myriad of hiking opportunities with stunning geologic sights.  After setting up camp, we drove a few miles south on Hwy 190 and then Badwater Road to the entrance of Golden Canyon, a popular hiking destination.  This canyon has been described as “The finest badlands scenery in the park: bright red rocks quickly give way to dark brown conglomerate and layers of green mudstone.”  The relatively narrow canyon quickly proved to be every bit as scenic as its description indicated.  Given our late start we decided to take the left fork at the first trail junction we reached; it was a “use trail” which led us upward to the Red Cathedral where we took some photos.  NOTE: An earlier start and proper route finding would lead hikers several miles further up to Zabriskie Point, a noted scenic lookout (but not to worry, we drove up there the following day).  We returned the way we came and returned to the campground having hiked 2.8 miles with 560’ of elevation gain/loss.  That evening after dinner we enjoyed a campfire and an accomplished neighbor’s singing.

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Golden Canyon to Red Cathedral

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March 2, 2017 – Desolation Canyon, Badwater Basin, Natural Bridge, Zabriskie Point, and Dantes View

After breakfast we carpooled south past the Golden Canyon parking lot to the parking area at the Desolation Canyon trailhead.  NOTE: The unpaved road leading to the parking area is poorly marked (a “no camping” sign is set back some distance from Badwater Road so it’s easily missed). 

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A description of this hike states that “This lightly used route follows a narrow serpentine canyon through a landscape of colorful badlands.”  We found this to be true as we hiked through the scenic canyon and climbed (and later descended) several dry waterfalls, helping each other up/down as needed.  Eventually we emerged atop a promontory that provided views of the surrounding area.  We returned the way we came, completing a 4.4-mile hike with 823’ of elevation gain/loss.

Next we drove to Badwater Basin “Noted as the lowest point in North America (282’ below sea level)” and followed a wide footpath out into the salt flats.  We returned to our vehicles having walked 1.4 miles with 15’ of elevation/gain loss.  It was unusual (to say the least) to see a sign on the nearby mountain’s wall showing the sea level nearly 300’ overhead.

We then drove a short distance back toward Golden Canyon and hiked to Natural Bridge, “a rare rock span that arcs across the narrow shady defile of lower Natural Bridge Canyon.”  We followed the canyon a short distance past the bridge, stopping for a lunch break along the way.  We returned to our vehicles the way we came, completing a 1.4-mile hike with 324’ of elevation gain/loss.

Next we undertook the long drive to Dante’s View (5,476’) via Hwy 190.  Along the way we stopped at Zabriskie Point (705’) to enjoy the spectacular views available there.  Dante’s View from the parking lot at the end of the access road is near the edge of the Black Mountains on the east side of Death Valley; “it gives the best overall views of the southern half of the park” looking down on the Badwater salt flats (-282’) and westward to the Panamint Mountains and snow-capped Telescope Peak (11,049’).  We hiked a short distance down to another observation point, enjoyed the views, and returned to our vehicles having completed a 0.6-mile hike with 129’ of elevation gain/loss.  We then returned to the Furnace Creek Campground.

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Desolation Canyon

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Badwater Basin

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Natural Bridge

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Zabriskie Point

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Dantes View

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March 3, 2017 – Mosaic Canyon, Ubehebe Crater, and the Salt Creek Trail

After breakfast we carpooled north and then west on Hwy 190 to the Mosaic Canyon trailhead near Stovepipe Wells Village.  Shortly after entering the canyon “hikers [enter] a narrow chasm where beautiful stream-polished marble and mosaic breccia are well-exposed.” The hike then continues up-canyon requiring climbing (and later descending)

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dry waterfalls until it reaches a high impassible dry waterfall where we turned around.  We returned the way we came, completing a 5.1-mile hike with 1,040’ of elevation gain/loss.

Next we headed east on Hwy 190 and then north on Scotty’s Castle Road until we eventually reached a fork in the road where we turned left and followed the access road to the Ubehebe Crater (the right fork to Scotty’s Castle was closed due to flooding in Grapevine Canyon caused by a severe thunderstorm on 10/18/2015).  The Ubehebe Crater is a large volcanic crater 600’ deep and half a mile across; it was “created by steam and gas explosions when hot magma rising up from the depths reached ground water.”  Three hikers descended to the bottom of the crater (thus subjecting themselves to the steep climb back up to the rim); the remaining hikers followed the trail around the rim of the crater enjoying views into the crater as well as panoramic views of the surrounding landscape including snow-capped mountains in nearly every direction (they were subjected to strong winds for a portion of their hike).  The rim hikers completed a 2.2-mile hike with 750’ of elevation gain/loss.

Next we headed back toward the campground, stopping along the way for a pleasant walkabout on the Salt Creek Trail, a boardwalk “trail” along the creek that allowed us to view the rare Salt Creek Pupfish, a very small species which is on the Endangered Species list.  Our walkabout was 1 mile with about 10’ of elevation gain/loss.  We then returned to the campground.

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Mosaic Canyon

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Ubehebe Crater

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Salt Creek

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March 4, 2017 – Fall Canyon, Rhyolite (ghost town), Goldwell Open Air Museum, and Beatty, NV

After breakfast we carpooled north on Hwy 190 and then Scotty’s Castle Road to the Titus Canyon turnoff which we followed to the parking lot at the mouth of Titus Canyon; the same parking lot serves as the trailhead for Fall Canyon.  NOTE: Titus Canyon remains closed due to the October, 2015 flooding in Death Valley. 

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We began our hike by heading north on a well-defined trail that led to the actual mouth of Fall Canyon.  The canyon “is remote and little-visited; deep and moderately narrow for many miles with occasional shaded, cave-like passageways of great beauty … smooth granitic walls [sometimes have] a bluish tint.”  We hiked through the scenic canyon mostly on soft gravel until we reached a towering impassible dry waterfall.  After taking some photos we returned the way we came, completing an 8.4-mile hike with 1,200’ of elevation gain/loss.

After some discussion we decided to visit Rhyolite (ghost town) and the Goldwell Open Air Museum (even though Titus Canyon was closed to vehicular traffic).  After a fairly long drive we roamed around the mostly vanished mining ghost town of Bullfrog and then ambled around the outdoor art museum admiring the unique sculptures on display.

Lastly we decided to drive the few miles to Beatty, NV to get gasoline, ice cream, Subway sandwiches, Denny’s, etc.  As we drove back to the campground from Beatty we were battered with high winds.  The campground experienced similar high winds most of the night, making sleeping difficult.

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Fall Canyon

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Rhyolite (ghost town) and the Goldwell Open Air Museum

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March 5, 2017 – Strike camp and drive home Darwin Falls and Randsburg

Due to the high winds the night before (and the resultant lack of sleep) everyone packed up and headed home, skipping the traditional breakfast at the Furnace Creek Inn.

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Three of the hikers stopped and hiked to Darwin Falls which is located in the mountains southwest of Panamint Springs, but still within the park.  The easy one-mile trail eventually became a streambed with flowing water as it led us to the lovely waterfall and pool in a seemingly unlikely location in an otherwise arid landscape.  Two hikers visited Randsburg, a living ghost town, on the way home.   Gold was discovered near the town in 1895 and a mining camp quickly formed, and was named Rand Camp.

As we crossed the desert between Panamint Springs and Olancha we were assaulted by gale-force winds blowing sand and dirt at our vehicle; visibility was sometimes as poor as a couple of car lengths.  We also encountered intermittent rain showers most of the way home from Olancha.

All-in-all we had a great trip to a national treasure, hiking 29.6 miles with 5,111’ of elevation gain/loss (including Darwin Falls).

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Randsburg (living ghost town)

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Darwin Falls

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