Later on Sunday morning, after our Minietta Mine exploration, we headed out of Panamint Valley and into Death Valley. Our goal was to visit some of the lesser known canyons in the park, and we focused on two of them in the Amargosa range accessed via different points along the Badwater Road.
We spent the first couple days of our trip exploring the southernmost side of Anza Borrego (along S2), basecamped at Agua Caliente Hot Spring. It was nice to camp there since we had the nice hot pools to come back to at the end of the day!
On Monday we checked out two areas I had found along S2 near the town of Ocotillo. The primary attractions were fossils and wind caves. This area, though now the middle of the desert near the Mexican border, used to be an ocean floor. There are many signs of this, especially in an area called Fossil Canyon. The rocks in this canyon are made up of fossilized sea creatures. It’s easy to find clam shells, corals, oyster shells, and more.
During the second half of the day we hiked into the Domelands to find the lesser-known wind caves. If you search for wind caves in Anza Borrego you’ll learn about the other ones – these aren’t in many books but I was determined to find them. It’s good that I had pretty detailed waypoints since the route goes through some of the badlands-style canyons, and those are a maze!
One of the coolest things we saw on this day was on the way to the windcaves at a place we called Sand Dollar Hill. Again, a sign of what this area once was, there were millions of sand dollar pieces scattered all over the desert floor.
Once at the wind caves the weather picked up, getting super windy, rainy, and dark. I would have loved to explore the area a bit more, but it just wasn’t practical given the conditions. I would definitely like to come back to this area someday and really explore. We also cancelled plans to drive the Canyon sin Nombre 4×4 road in to some mud caves since it was starting to rain. Guess we’ll just have to come back!
- Pictures from this day: Fossil Canyon and Domelands
One of the most popular hikes in Anza Borrego is Borrego Palm Canyon. But just a short drive south of this canyon is Hellhole Canyon. Hellhole has a similar set of Palm Oasis, a seasonal waterfall with ferns, and a lot of fun rock scrambling.
This was our second visit to Anza Borrego and although our original visit is a distant memory, we wanted to do something different. On our first visit we checked out Borrego Palm Canyon, so this time it was Hellhole. Actually, our original goal for the day was Indianhead Peak, but time and weather (wind) kept us from the summit.
I ended up keeping my camera put away for the exciting stuff since it was a full-on scramble, both hands needed. But I still managed to get a few shots along the way!
On the northern side of Anza Borrego there are the remains of an old calcite mine. In operation around WWII, they mined optical calcite for use in gunsights. It didn’t last long, since around the same time a synthetic alternate was discovered, making the mining of calcite financially no longer feasible. What is left are a series of trenches and pits that follow calcite veins through the hills.
The Calcite mine isn’t the only thing of interest along the old mining road that we hiked (the road is drivable, but you better have a well-equipped 4×4 and plenty of experience). On the return hike we explored a side slot canyon, one that some hiking books call the best slot canyon in Anza Borrego. It was a nice little diversion.
Our last full day of the annual Thanksgiving Trip to the desert was an adventure! We decided to do the run up Warm Springs canyon into Butte Valley, but instead of continuing through the valley and up towards Mengel Pass, we turned off towards Arrastre Springs to explore that area. The day was primarily spent on 4×4 road with regular stops to run around and explore interesting places. Two of the vehicles were 4×4 with good clearance. Our 4×4 was a bit lower and the road was pushing our clearance limits at times, and the fourth vehicle had lots of clearance but not 4×4. Everyone made it on the route just fine, with minimal white-knuckling.
The road from West Side road into Warm Springs canyon is washboarded but quite passable in any car. In fact, as you continue through the canyon the road is quite good for a while. We stopped at the first place of interest, the old Grantham talc mining area, and spent a long time exploring all the ruins in the area. We continued up the canyon and saw several people at Warm Springs so decided to leave it for our return down the canyon later in the day.
Our fourth day in the desert was a half day since we had to get to Vegas. We headed out of the park to the east, towards Searchlight, and took a quick detour to the Hart Townsite just outside of the park boundary. Hart was a small town of about 400 gold miners, and there is very little left. From a monument at the townsite:
“Gold was discovered in the nearby Castle Mountains in December 1907 by Jim Hart and the Hitt Brothers, Bert and Clark. The town of Hart quickly sprang up. Its five hotels and eight saloons served a population of about 400. The relatively quiet town had neither a church or a school. Hart had its own newspaper during 1908-1909. The nearest rail connection was 3 1/2 miles northwest at the siding of Hitt. The mines played out after ten years and the town was deserted.”
After exploring the ruins we headed towards Vegas, with one more detour. This next stop was off of 95 at a small BLM site called Keyhole Canyon. It’s a nice collection of petroglyphs and a few pictographs. Its accessibility means there is a bit more vandalism than some of the other remote sites I’ve visited, but it was still a nice collection.
Pictures are here: Hart and Keyhole
After a couple days of fun in Las Vegas we hit the road to join a group of friends in Death Valley for Thanksgiving. Our meeting place was the old trailer park on BLM land just outside of the park. This is an interesting place – once a trailer park for local miners, it is now a makeshift overflow campground for visitors to Death Valley. Old trailer slabs are now convenient flat spaces to set up camp, the old paved road makes it accessible to all vehicles, and firepits have been built around the old slabs. It’s a minimal facility campground though – no running water or rest rooms to make things nice.
We met Sooz, Robin, and Joe at the trailer park late in the afternoon on Thanksgiving. Gary showed up shortly after. Everyone had planned ahead to bring pieces of the Thanksgiving meal, and it was an incredible feast. Turkey, rolls, stuffing, potatoes, green bean casserole, wine, and pumpkin pie. It was incredible, considering the conditions we were working in to get the meal ready.