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What a wonderful time of the year to hike Death Valley!

The first week of March brought us perfect wildflowers, great weather, and a whole series of new trails and adventures.  We drove down through Tehachapi, and the flowers there were our first clue that this was going to be amazing.  We found a campsite at Furnace Creek, but it was at the oddly named Sunset Campground. This is a huge gravel parking lot with spaces marked off in chalk--not great if you're using a tent.  We found a little tent ghetto on one row, and set up shop there, but it wasn't pretty.  But we did hear coyotes saluting us in our tents the first night... 

We had better luck with campsites later on the trip.  Our first day was a hike out to Sidewinder Canyon--this one is a lovely hike, starting south of Badwater at Mormon Point and heading up into the mountains to the east.

A wilderness ranger had suggested this one to us, and provided us with a nice hand-out that explained to route.  That was a good thing, because most of the people we saw there headed off in the wrong direction, and never saw the slot canyons that Sidewinder has in spades.  There are six slot canyons and adventures in every nook and cranny on this hike.   We loved this hike.  And we loved exploring each of the side canyons--including those that were not marked on the handout. 

One them, the first slot on the left, led up through a maze of twisted narrows to a more open canyon that gave us views over the whole area.  And other slots were amazing sculptures of rock and sun.  That's one of them at left, with M  posing in the archway.  What fun!

Indian Pass Canyon--The next day, we were after more of an adventure.  One of the hikes sometimes recommended as a backpacking destination, the hardest part of Indian Canyon is knowing where to start: about 6.5 miles north of Furnace Creek...park there, and you just head up across the miles and miles (four, actually) of gravel wash before you enter the canyon.  From there you can hike for more miles up past a dry waterfall, narrows, springs, and all sorts of nice places to see.  We didn't see anyone for two days.  The first waterfall has an easy by-pass on the north side, and from there the canyon just gets better.  The canyon has at least two tight narrows, but the walls are lower here, so they weren't so much slots as simply constrictions of the canyon.  We were not impressed with the springs (wet sand at the bottom of a depression) but we loved the solitude, the wildness, and the rock of Indian Pass.

 Take along lots of water...and remember that while it may seem flat, the hike in is certainly uphill, and we were sweating in the mid-80 degree heat in spring.  In the summer, this would be an oven.  

The third day, on our way out, we found the going much easier (it was, after all downhill at this point) and we even found the gravel more interesting---with some wild Blister Beetle mating parties going on, and so many different kinds of flowers.  This trip logged in at about seventeen miles round trip from the highway to Poison Springs and back.  And it was worth it.  Check out P's feet at the end of the hike---covered with pollen from three days in Death Valley. Happily, at the end of this hike, we were able to find a campsite at Texas Springs, where life is slightly less austere... and for an extra two dollars a day, the campsites include a picnic table and fire ring. 

Fall Canyon--On Day Four, we were looking for something a little less energetic, but still wanted some views.

This one was a recommendation from one of the wilderness rangers.  It leaves from a clear and easy trailhead at the mouth of Titus Canyon, and works its way up for a few miles of really lovely narrows.  Hiking is easy, and the total is only about six miles if you stop at the first waterfall.  There's a tricky way around that fall, but we didn't feel up to it when we were there.  Beautiful scenery here, and we only saw about ten people on the whole hike.   We liked the high cliffs of the canyon, although the narrows couldn't really compete with Sidewinder for impact.  On the other hand, we explored a little side canyon on the way out, and find this lovely grotto for a lunch spot. 

Jayhawker Canyon--On Day Five, on our way out of the park, we decided to take a hike up Jayhawker Canyon.  You won't find this one listed among the more popular hikes, but we would do this one again sometime.  It starts right at the 3,000 elevation sign on the highway out of the park, above Wildrose Canyon.  And while there is not supposed to be a trail, there is a clear trail here--marked with cairns, rows of rocks, and well-travelled paths.  We couldn't help but think that maybe the Timbisha Shoshone had done this---it was a lot of work, and it's hard to imagine anyone else being motivated to do it. 

And what it leads to is a wonderful set of petroglyphs:  bighorn sheep, deer, all sorts of shapes and figures.  And quite a few relics from the early miners in this same area.  Don't try this one in the summertime, as the hike across the desert would be pretty darned intolerable.  But it isn't difficult hiking, and the rewards a quite wonderful.  We really felt that this was something special.  Obviously, treat these rare relics with great care and respect.  They've been here for somewhere between 500 and 5,000 years, and they deserve to be protected at all costs. 

After a quick stop to see the charcoal kilns at the top of Wildrose Canyon we drove out of the park just as a blustery storm blew it...and left the heat, sun and warmth of Death Valley to find snow at our cabin in the Sierra that night. 

Photos are here: picasaweb.google.com/balzaccom/BackpackingInTheSierraDeathValley2016 

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Aaron Zagrodnick

Thanks for the read - sounds like a nice trip.

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