Generally, when I visit Death Valley, my goal is to explore the more remote regions of the park. Long lost dirt roads, canyons that entail as much climbing as hiking, and days without seeing another soul (with the exception of @mrs.turbodb) - these are the places we spend our time. As such, exploration of Death Valley proper - largely along CA-190 - has been light. Sure, most of the major tourist attractions have been seen, but surely in a place this inhospitable, even CA-190 holds special places that are only infrequently visited. Remote despite their proximity to pavement.
With a little more than 36 hours, it was time to find out. What I'd discover - three fantastic destinations with no other footprints to be found - would get me thinking: what else have I overlooked in my adventures to Death Valley?
As usual, my trip started with a long drive south. After 15 hours of monotony I was just outside of Austin, NV as the sun dropped below the horizon.
In addition to getting this nice shot of the Belt of Venus just outside Austin, I also made a wrong turn at this location, which added an extra hour of driving to my trip.
With 5 more hours of pavement to pound, I texted Mike @mk5 - who I was meeting for the first hike - to figure out what time he planned to arrive and where he wanted to camp. We'd hoped to camp somewhere up Echo Canyon - which had recently re-opened after the heavy rains and flooding of fall 2022 - but upon its reopening and given its popularity, the NPS instituted a must-apply-in-person-at-the-visitor-center permit system. Hoping to get an exception - given that we were both driving from handfuls of hours away, and so couldn't arrive prior to the visitor center closing at 5:00pm - I called and spoke with a park ranger who was completely understanding but unable to make an exception.
Ultimately though, it turned out that we'd both arrive within a few minutes of 10:30pm, at a spot that Mike scouted on a previous trip. It was perfect.
I arrived and Mike was already hard at work, enjoying the clear skies.
I'm always a little envious of Mike's night shots, since he seems to spend a bunch of time setting up lighting and whatnot. Tonight, colored LEDs ended up under my truck as well!
After chit-chatting for an hour and a half - bringing my waking day to a full 24-hours - I pulled myself away and fell asleep immediately upon assuming a horizontal position.
The Following Morning...
Hoping to get a few nice shots around camp and an early start on the day, since I had another hike planned for the afternoon, I was happy with the 7-hours of sleep that I'd gotten when my alarm finally went off. I'd missed sunrise, but it was still nice to poke around a bit until Mike climbed out of his truck and we got ourselves underway.
I have to admit feeling a bit like a stalker, since Mike was still sleeping in his truck at this point.
Out of camp, we didn't have far to go before we were ready for our first hike along CA-190!
Now, I have to admit that both of us were a little apprehensive as we began this hike. We'd both happened upon the location via our own research, but Mike - as usual, paying a bit more attention to satellite imagery than me - had noticed what could have been a gate across the access road leading to the site. We knew that depending on the signage, we might end up turning around without ever getting to the destination, but for now, we were satisfied to soak in the views and take our chances.
A view like this was like a gravitational pull toward the mountains.
So many colorful folds to explore.
After a couple ups and downs, we eventually found ourselves following the wash - and road - that would lead us into the canyon, and each of us had our heads and cameras on swivels as we made the gradual ascent, chatting about life and enjoying the chance to catch up in person.
A clue that we were headed the right direction.
It's always important to turn around every now and then, you never know when the Amargosa Range may sneaking up on you!
More than a mile - and perhaps 60% of the distance - into our hike, we the unspoken tension was building. We both knew where the gate was located, and that meant that the next bend in the wash would seal our fate. Would we have to turn around? Would we know we should turn around but actually keep going? Would we be caught on camera and whisked away in black SUVs, never to be seen again?
In an amazing stroke of luck, none of the negative things that we'd both been preparing ourselves for came to pass. There was no need for a difficult "should we pretend it wasn't there" conversation because not only was the gate unlocked, but it was also open!
Miracle of miracles.
Beyond the gate, we got our first glimpse of what was in store.
As I made a beeline for the mine - sure that the SUVs weren't far behind - Mike once again demonstrated his superior research skills and informed me that we needed to explore a short side canyon before being distracted by the "obvious" attraction. This side canyon - he informed me - has a slot canyon.
Now, anyone who has read my stories knows that ever since Monte @Blackdawg introduced me to my first slot canyon, I've been hooked. Frankly, I'm like a moth drawn to light when it comes to these things - a fact that would be evidenced by my next planned hike on this very trip.
And so, we headed up the side canyon.
Side canyon sunstar.
In the end, it would turn out that we were in the wrong side canyon, but even this one was nothing to scoff at. As the canyon narrowed to a dark tunnel, we had to decide - were we going to squeeze through?
Golden glow and mud flow.
That's going to be a tight squeeze.
Ultimately, only one of us made it through the squeeze. In a rare stroke of genious, I manged to trick Mike to heading through first. Having to wiggle through the dusty-badland-wash on his stomach - and with sand and rocks showering down on him as he rubbed along the walls and ceiling - I simply asked if it was worth it for me to come through as well.
"Nope, it ends right here," he said. Which meant the only thing left to do was to get covered in badlands again.
At this point we still thought that we'd investigated the "side slot canyon," and so we joyously turned our attention to the main canyon and mine. The ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮ Mine operated briefly in the 1950s producing colemanite, a white, crystalline borate mineral that was used as a component of airborne retardants to fight forest fires, but activity was short-lived as the material was found to cause soil to become sterile.
Colemanite, the reason nothing grows here.
I have to admit - nothing growing here wasn't a bad thing. It was, however, a badlands thing.
Soon enough we arrived at the mine site, and it was just as amazing as either of us had envisioned from the blurry satellite photos we'd poured over when planning the route. The main structure - an enormous ore bin - was surrounded by fencing and signage, and the adits were sealed, but the site was otherwise in great shape!
There was only one thing to do, and the clicking of cameras commenced.
What a monster!
A workshop was perched on the opposite side of the wash, it's old green paint fighting valiantly for a few final years.
Mostly empty now, but clearly well-built and used.
Hard to complain about the views.
As Mike continued to photograph the shop - ultimately ending up with a smattering of photos that far exceed the plain-ish ones I walked away with - I meandered around the rest of the site, peering in through the grates that covered the adits, reveling in the rail lines that snaked out over the ore bin.
Hidden from the highway, it was cool to find a site that was in such good shape overall.
Do signs like this ever actually achieve their purpose?
No way in.
Like the day they left it.
Realizing that Mike might never finish photographing the workshop and that I still had a five-plus-mile hike scheduled for the (not many hours that made up the) afternoon, I wandered back down and informed him that he was missing the best part - at the upper level.
Kid. Candy store.
The upper level of the site was a wonder to behold.
Any ore carts on this rail got a pretty good view as they proceeded to dump their loads.
In the end, we probably spent a little more than half an hour poking around the mine site before heading back down the wash towards our trucks. A little before noon, we discussed our next steps. Mike - having a previous family commitment that involved a flight early the next morning - would be heading south to check out some mines that I'd already seen, and I would be continuing along CA-190 for another hike that I'd been anticipating for the last 11 months, ever since I'd seen Ken's @DVExile truck parked along the side of the road as I'd ended a trip early; headed home with a busted transfer case.
And so, chatting away about what we'd seen and what we hoped was to come, we covered the ground to the highway quickly. Probably more quickly than either of us would have preferred.
There are those Amargosa's again. Gotta watch out, or they'll sneak through the Hole in the Wall.
The colors here - as though an artist gathered them together on a pallet. And then simply walked away.
Fantastic colors along CA-190 at Zabriskie Point.
We caravanned for a bit, ultimately parting ways near Furnace Creek. It'd been another short meeting in the desert, but - for me at least - the most enjoyable. I carried on, a little bummed that Mike wasn't able to join me on my next hike, but also looking forward for the search - and squeeze - that was to come.