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Hiking Death Valley Part 2 - Room Canyon and...Water Crossings?

February 15, 2019.

The night passed much more peacefully than the one before and we slept extremely well on our new Exped Megamat Duo 10 - a great fit in the @cascadia tents Mt. Shasta, and significantly more comfortable than the foam mattress. Hoping for a dramatic sunrise, I was up early to explore camp.

In the end, given our location in the pass - there wasn't much color in the sky, the weather seemed to be holding and the temps were warmer than the day before, and I was happy to explore the hilly area around camp to see what secrets it held.

Rhodes Spring was founded in spring 1886 by A.G. Rhodes and his partner where they mined and 1200lbs of silver ore - netting them $800. On their return trip in the fall, they apparently perished somewhere in the desert and the claim was abandoned for the next 20 years. In 1905, prospectors in the area discovered Rhodes' location markers as well as two additional tons of silver ore awaiting shipment. Silver continued to be mined in the area for a couple more years before shutting down once again in 1907, just before three prospectors discovered a gold deposit worth $25,000 per ton in 1908. Unfortunately, this turned out to be an isolated pocket and no further gold was found despite extensive tunneling. It wasn't until 1935 that Lou McGirk filed a location notice and developed a small cone-crusher mill mining operation a quarter mile up the canyon, continuing operations on a small scale until the mid 1950's. The cabin, as it exists today, remains from this era of the mine's history.short history we found in the cabin

The area itself had a few different structures on it - the cabin of course, which we'd explored the evening before - but also a secondary building a little further up a wash, and a large concrete water storage tank on a hill to the north. Each offered splendid views back towards camp and down into the valley to the west.

As I explored some more, I was excited to come across the conical mill that had been mentioned in the cabin's history, and I enjoyed the few wildflowers also blooming in the same wash.

As I headed back towards camp, the sun was trying it's hardest to break through the clouds - unsuccessfully at our location, but with great zeal a little further west. What a morning!

And then, as I walked down a wash adjascent to the conical mill, I discovered a cave. Could this have been the location of the gold deposit that was found in the early 1900's? I'll perhaps never know, but I was still elated to be able to explore this cool little relic before heading back to camp past a rusted-out old car that had clearly seen better days!

Back in camp, everyone else was starting to stir and it was time to make breakfast and get our tents put away. Of course, I couldn't resist a few photos of the truck - especially given the relatively small amount of driving we'd be doing this trip, and the peeking out of the new ADS suspension that I'd recently installed.

As @mrs.turbodb made breakfast - cereal with fresh strawberries and dark chocolate granola bars, I looked around the cabin a bit more. The evening before we'd wondered over the "garden" out front, and as I once again tried to figure it out, it finally dawned on me what this was - it was a miniature golf course! Each can was a hole, some a bit more interesting to putt into than others.

With breakfast wrapped up and our equipment stowed, there was just one thing left to do before pulling out - sign the guest book. It was only after returning from the trip that I realized I should have checked the book for an entry or two from previous visits by my dad and uncle, since I knew that this southern end of Death Valley was one of their favorites!

We had only a couple miles of dirt to get back to Highway 178, but I took full advantage to stretch out the legs of the new suspension - this my first opportunity to do so since I'd completely the installation a few weeks earlier. Needless to say, I was impressed - it was significantly better (especially in the rear) than what I'd had installed previously, and of course it was nice to not have to worry about bottoming out the rear as we'd done so many times on the Mojave Road in December.

As we headed west, we reveled in the morning sun - we'd gotten a peak of it the evening before, but seeing Death Valley bathed in light, and snow on the top of Telescope Peak was more than we could resist. Even with a full day of hiking and exploration in front of us, we took the time to enjoy the moment.

Before long, we reached our first trailhead - like the previous day, a single unmarked waypoint designating a spot we were to pull over on the side of the road.

And, like the day before, we set out once again up a long alluvial fan towards our destination - Room Canyon - this time under sunny blue skies. Excited to see what this trail had in store, we were soon at the mouth of the canyon, it's walls rising up and beckoning us inside.

In preparation for all of our hikes, I'd mapped coordinates on Google Earth, and I had them downloaded onto my phone so I could be sure that we were headed the right direction - trail markers and footprints non-existent on these over-desert adventures. Unfortunately, on our Room Canyon hike, I completely forgot to take out my phone, and that meant that we entirely missed the pinnacles (some of the tallest in Death Valley) and side narrows loop portion of the hike - a bummer, but also a great reason to return!

Instead, we carried on towards the room, making our way through up the main narrows - over, under, and around large boulders that have fallen from the walls over the years.

Eventually I came to what I thought was the room - though at this point we'd been separated from each other - I'd slowed down to take photos - and I was exploring on my own for the time being. A grand opening in the canyon, the glow of the walls from the morning sun was gorgeous and as I made my way through, I came to a dry fall that would clearly need scaling. Aw shucks, right?

Quick work made of the falls, I finally took out my phone to find that it was only here that I was actually entering the official room of the canyon, another sight to behold - though, in my humble opinion, not as nice as the previous grand opening...

At the end, I made quick work of another (taller) dry fall and explored a bit further up the canyon before turning back - convinced that the rest of the group wouldn't have made it this far so quickly and so that I must have unknowingly passed them at some point.

So I made my way back to the room, whistled to let the group know where I was, and then waited for them to make their way up canyon. Turns out they weren't far behind at this point, and my whistle alerted @mrs.turbodb that they were on the right track, and within a few minutes they joined me in the room.

It was time for some goofy photos.

We hung out for a while - enjoying the quiet solitude and good company in Room Canyon - before finally deciding that we should make our way back to the trucks. This was only our first - of at least three - hikes for the day! So it was that we tore ourselves away, first down the smaller of the two dry washes (which was still pretty big), and then out through the towering walls of the canyon. As often the case, I found myself rephotographing many of the same places, not wanting to miss anything!

Before long, the long alluvial fan was all that stood between us and the trucks, Telescope Peak and the Panamint Range towering above the valley floor in their snow-covered glory.

Room Canyon hadn't disappointed - it wasn't perhaps as spectacular as Kaleidoscope the day before, but it was pleasant and frankly a jewel to find so centrally within the valley and so close to the road. Back at the trucks, we decided to head to our next trailhead - one for Sidewinder Canyon - and then eat lunch before setting out. It was still quite early - well before noon - so everyone was totally fine with that plan.

To a person, I think we all had sandwiches and chips for lunch - though our sandwich and chip selections were varied in both preparation (Ben @m3bassman and Mikey @pizzaviolence had pre-assembled at home) and content (@mrs.turbodb and I had PB&J this day) and then we set off on what was the only "mainstream" canyon hike of the trip.

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In fact, we hadn't planned to hike Sidewinder Canyon at all, but earlier in the day I had realized that I'd forgotten to download the coordinates for Room Canyon and so it was suggested that Sidewinder might be a good substitute - Diggonet's Hiking Death Valley suggesting that it was an experience like no other - six side slot canyons to explore along the length of the main wash.

Eager for such an experience, we headed up.

It wasn't long before we came to several of the slot canyons and ventured in, the walls tight around us - rocks balanced precariously above. Several sections even seemed to get folks jogging through - human nature edging out the logic that these rocks had been in place for hundreds or thousands of years!

We explored what we thought were three of the six side slot canyons, each one not quite as impressive as we'd expected, until we came to a side slot that seemed blocked by an enormous rock fall. Some poking around suggested that we might be able to make our way though the rocks, but we weren't sure and didn't have our guidebook handy at the time, so decided that we'd call it a hike and head back to the truck - perhaps the experience like no other that we'd read about was "like no other main attraction" in Death Valley, as opposed to the Canyons we'd found ourselves in earlier!

We'd later find out that only one of the side canyons we'd explored was one of the six major slots, and that we were in fact meant to climb through the rock fall that had turned us around in order to see the second (and most spectacular) slot.

That's just fine of course - yet another reason to go back - and as we headed back to the trucks, we spent some time chasing a few of these little guys - something I've loved to do as long as I can remember, and a skill I've honed over the years for no particular reason.

Now mid-afternoon, our next destination was in the far-southern reaches of the park - a good 90 minute drive from our current location. That was fine with us, and we ticked off the paved miles quickly, eventually reaching Harry Wade road - a first for all of us, I believe - where we aired down the tires for comfort, another 60 minutes or so to go before we reached Saratoga Springs.

Though a bit washboarded, Harry Wade road was in reasonably good condition, especially given the recent precipitation, and we made good time - as I recall, stopping only twice along the way.

The first stop was along the side of the road where we planned to return the next day in order to attempt our longest hike of the trip - the Smoke Tree Slots - but we're clearly getting a bit ahead of ourselves. Today, as we paused to look around, Ben couldn't resist his usual #instafabulousness and took full advantage of the empty road.

Zane @Speedytech7 and I of course gave him all kinds of flack for that move, not the least of which was doing our best to make him feel as un-special as possible by maneuvering our trucks into a similar position.

And so it was that as we were taking photos of the truck, Ben just happened to stumble upon a rubber dildo in the middle of the desert. Of course, thinking back on it now, perhaps we should have expected that he'd have been drawn to such a discovery. Just saying.

As we wondered among ourselves what would cause someone to leave such a possession in this place, Ben captured a most unfortunate photo of me attempting to stand it up so we could capture the moment for posterity - my attempt ultimately futile, the sand offering no support to balance the "erected" find.

We were soon on our way again, several suggestions now flying over the CB radio for possible trip names - "Dicking Around in Death Valley," "Trailhead to Trailhead," etc. - none of them appropriate for my clearly-better-than-that audiences.

It wasn't long until we made our second stop along Harry Wade road. This one wasn't so much a stop as it was a pause and momentary astonishment at the fact that there was running water in the Amargosa River as the road turned west. My understanding is that the riverbed is generally dry here, but clearly the rains from the week before had swelled it and its tributaries into a real, live creek. What a cool event to witness!

Leading the way, I eased through, unsure of what lay beneath the muddy surface, only to find that the deepest part of the crossing was less than 18" deep. In a similarly civilized fashion, Zane followed.

As we waited for Ben on the far side, we heard over the CB radio, "You guys are going to need to pull your trucks further forward." A clear sign that some skinny pedal was about to be unleashed. So, we pulled forward and waited. Engine rev-ing and some minor tire spin and Ben was off. The river here had split into two forks and he hit the first with gusto, water jettisoning from his wheel wells  - and he was through!

Then, he hit the second, deeper crossing.

It was clearly the most fun Ben had had in his truck in quite some time. No doubt the result of some egging-on or ego to show off to his passenger. But it was fun, and we all got a good laugh before continuing south.

As we approached Saratoga Springs, we decided that we'd take a short detour from that destination (and what we thought would be a nearby camp site) and explore a bit just south of the the Owlshead Mountains (in the ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮ ). These mountains are primarily known for the scenic canyons found within the range, made primarily of decomposed granite, and due to their remote location are one of the least-traveled locations within the entire park.

Little did we know how lucky we'd be to have taken this detour. Sort of. I mean, except for the unlucky part where we had a truck malfunction. But again, I'm getting ahead of myself.

As we made our way into the hills, we eventually turned into a wash and behind down into a hidden valley, simply following tracks from visitors that were few and far between. And before us, the colors were suddenly amazing. I let out an audible "wow," over the CB - Ben and Zane still a ways back - and stopped to capture the situation.

We continued down into this valley and parked just as Ben finished his final approach - he and Mikey equally excited by what we'd discovered.

As we looked around, we all quickly - and simultaneously - realized that this was where we wanted to camp for the night. And that meant that we'd need to book it a bit to explore Saratoga Springs and still make it back here before dark. So we loaded up and headed back the way we'd come for about 30 seconds, until Ben came over the CB to say, "Uhh guys, we need to stop. I've got a brake problem - the pedal is going to the floor!"

A quick inspection showed that - somehow - the banjo bolt on the passenger front caliper was spewing brake fluid every time he pressed the pedal. Luckily, it was a simple matter of tightening the bolt a quarter turn to compress the crush washer just a little bit in order to re-seal the bolt and continue on.

Shortly, we found ourselves headed back toward Harry Wade Road and Saratoga Springs. It was getting to be early evening at this point, and I knew that we wouldn't get to explore the springs in quite the way I'd hoped when I was planning the trip. Still, I was excited to see what we could see, and even more excited for our camp site that evening.

As we neared the spring, we came upon a 2nd gen Tacoma stopped on the side of the road, it's reverse lights on. Turns out, it was a PreRunner, sporting some P-rated tires, whose driver had decided that the muddy road leading to the spring from the recent rain was not something he wanted to attempt in traction-less 2WD. We made sure he was alright and pulled around, the mud and water on the road no big deal for our trucks, and another reminder that we were here under special circumstances.

Exiting the trucks as the sun was getting low on the horizon, we set out for the springs and - hopefully - at least one of the nearby talc mines. First up were the springs. Home to a species of pupfish found nowhere else in the world, a sign at the end of the road warns visitors to stay out of the springs and on the trail. We were happy to oblige, the views from the trail breathtaking in their own right.

Walking along the east side of the springs, we eventually crested a small hill as the sun was only a few minutes from the horizon. Ben, Mikey and Zane elected to stay there to enjoy the sunset over the springs, while @mrs.turbodb and I decided to push on the mile or so to the nearest talc mine in the Ibex Hills - hoping to make it before the sun set completely.

Picking up the pace, we made good time and arrived at the mine about 15 minutes later, just as the sun was starting it's descent below the horizon. I snapped a few photos from a distance, the warm orange glow lighting up the derelict remains of mine equipment and tailings splendidly on the mountain side before it dropped out of sight.

I was jogging up the hillside now, not wanting to waste a moment of light - enough of it still around for some nice photos. The mine was in surprisingly good condition, the ore shoot standing tall, and what looked to be the main mine shaft still open, though I'm not sure I'd want to climb down the ladder into it's depths!

A short distance away - some 150 yards or so - an explosives shack was built into the side of the mountain - it's door propped open, contents long gone. But behind it, the beginnings of a beautiful display of color in the sky over the valley.

With the mine explored and our light limited, we headed back toward the springs and our fellow adventurers as the sunset continued to play across the sky. The wind was picking up at this point as well - a harbinger for the night to come, but a quick pace was enough to keep us relatively warm as we made our way back, capturing the color over the Ibex range and Saratoga Springs as we went.

Back at the trucks, we were all excited for what we knew lay ahead - our camping location south of the Owlshead Mountains a lucky find that we hoped would not only be beautiful, but also keep us sheltered from some of the wind that we'd experienced throughout the entire trip.

We made our way back - a simple endeavor now that we knew exactly where we were headed - and within 30 minutes or so we found ourselves setting up camp and getting ready to prep dinner. Unfortunately however, it seemed that while our spot may have sheltered us slightly from the wind, there was still plenty of it - so we positioned ourselves to block as much as possible while cooking hamburgers on the grill and got dinner made as quickly as possible.

Then, just as we were sitting down to eat - mysterious rain! I say mysterious because - as we looked up into the sky - there weren't any significant clouds, and above us was the moon and several constellations. As we moved our chairs to a more sheltered area, we discussed the situation, determining that it must have been the strong wind blowing the rain quite some distance into our little valley.

Crazy!

We chatted into the evening as the wind continued to increase in strength around us. I fired up the ham radio and listened to the weather report - a strong wind warning was in affect until midnight, with 35- to 40-mph winds and 55- to 60-mph gusts! Campfire-less again, this made for a chilly situation - one that we remedied with many layers of clothing to keep ourselves toasty warm. Toasty enough that apparently I may haveallegedly, fallen asleep in the middle of the conversation, awaking to laughter when I failed to answer some question thrown my way. 

Eventually, we called it a night and headed to our respective tents. As @mrs.turbodb and I climbed into ours, it was immediately clear that it was going to be a noisy night - the fabric of the tent straining as the wind continued to pick up. Luckily, we'd positioned the truck so that there was no risk of the tent folding up on us - but even with earplugs, the buffeting of the tent was enough to keep us wondering if we'd made a terrible mistake.

Eventually though, we fell asleep. That is, for a few short hours, when we were awoken by ... (and now we're getting ahead of ourselves again )

 

 

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