March 25th – Backbone Trail Part 6: Malibu Canyon Road Trailhead to the Stunt Road Trailhead
>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.
March 18th – Backbone Trail Part 5: Latigo Canyon Trailhead to Malibu Canyon Trailhead
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.
March 1st – 5th: Death Valley National Park (Furnace Creek Campground)
March 1, 2017 – Arrival 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’)
Golden Canyon to Red Cathedral
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).
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
Rhyolite (ghost town) and the Goldwell Open Air Museum
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.
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).
Randsburg (living ghost town)