After Saturday’s visit to Fossil Falls, Cerro Gordo, and the U2 tree we didn’t have a lot of light to find our campsite outside of Death Valley. We like to primitive backcountry car camp in the BLM lands outside the park since there are fewer restrictions (i.e. we can cook over a campfire with the wood we bring along), so we headed south out of Panamint Springs and found a nice spot along Nadeau Road. There is a lot of space to camp out there and we found many spots, some of which were occupied. The roads are rough so if you’re heading this way make sure you’re in a 4×4 with adequate clearance.
We camped near Minietta Mine and Lookout City amid the ruins of the old silver mining operations. We would have liked to have camped up by the Minietta Cabin, but didn’t want to take our Trailblazer (which has been acting up) up the rough road. Instead, we took a short morning hike up the road to the old cabin and mining operations. The cabin has been renovated and well cared for by a group of committed individuals and we were happy to see it in pretty good condition. Far too often these historic locations have been vandalized and looted.
After exploring the cabin and the ruins of the old mining operations (including an old tramway), we headed out to Death Valley to explore some canyons. Report and pictures of the canyons in the next post.
- Photos: Minietta Mine
Every year we take off the week of Thanksgiving to explore the deserts of Southern California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. This year, our trip took us through Death Valley, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, and Mojave National Preserve. Over the next week or so, I’ll be posting trip reports on specific parts of this trip since many of the things we did deserve their own entries.
The trip started relatively low-key, with an uneventful evening drive from the SF Bay Area to Fossil Falls, just north of Inyokern, CA and off of 395. Arriving a little before 10 pm, we were slightly concerned about finding an available campsite at the 11 site BLM campground, but our worries were unfounded – we were the only campers in the park. I am not as familiar with this southern end of 395 and wasn’t comfortable trying to find a campsite in the dark, so I was glad it all worked out.
I’m going to let you in on a secret. It comes in two parts. The first is this: Lava Beds National Monument. The second part is this: Easter Weekend.
Lava Beds sits just south of the California/Oregon border. The nearest town big enough for a Walmart is Klamath Falls, Oregon, about 40 miles to the north. Getting to the park from the major population centers of California involves a long, long drive, made even longer in winter by closure of the southern route due to snow. It is surrounded by horseradish farms, the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and the flanks of the enormous Medicine Lake Shield Volcano and related lava flows.
Lava Beds offers a unique experience. The main attractions are the hundreds of lava tube caves formed by the different flows off of the Medicine Lake Volcano. The labelled caves on the Lava Beds park map are generally developed. This means that they have ladders, cleared sections through the jumbles of rock, or walkways. They do not have lights – bring your own! The backcountry caves, however, are not developed and usually require a bit more scrambling or technical skills. Lava tubes in general are fairly easy to navigate, so advanced caving skills are not usually needed. Good lighting, head protection, and a lack of fear of the dark and tight spaces are the most important things to have in a lava tube.
Mother Nature has had some kind of grudge against me lately. It seems that every time I plan on getting out to the snow or backpacking conditions are anything but favorable. The trend continued last weekend, with a massive storm pounding the Sierra on yet another weekend I had planned on going out on a snow camping overnighter. But no worries – Mother Nature had other plans for me. We decided to head to Carrizo Plain National Monument, a seemingly boring open plain situated in the open undeveloped land between San Luis Obispo and Highway 5.
Carrizo’s shining glory is its massive spring wildflower display. Back in January, this year was shaping up to be a dud in terms of wildflowers, but the February rains have led to ideal conditions. The wildflowers of Carrizo are just starting to peak and we were treated to a long list of them.
Wildflowers sighted include:
Cat’s Ear, False Dandelion
Baby Blue Eyes
Farewell to Spring
Purple Owl’s Clover
White Fiesta Flower
Silver Bush Lupine
The photos here are a sample of what we saw. For the entire album of nearly 100 photos, check out my Carrizo Plain Wildflowers Photo album.
Even though I’ve gotten out on some good dayhikes, I’ve spent the past few weekends stuck in the Bay Area and the cabin fever has really set in. I was determined to head to the mountains this weekend, and the siren call of the Yosemite Horsetail Firefall window called my name. Many who are familiar with Yosemite know the history of the real firefalls, where a bonfire would be pushed over the Valley rim, but the environmentally correct, 21st century version is created by Mother Nature. In late winter, the angles of the setting sun, when combined with the snowmelt runoff, can create a natural firefall, with the falling water illuminated with a bright orange glow.
Several variables need to come together to make the firefalls happen, and I knew that my only chance of making the window would be this weekend, so weather forecast be damned, I was going to head to the Valley no matter what the forecast had in store for us. We headed out Saturday morning and did some snowshoeing around Crane Flat (I would have preferred my cross country skis, but didn’t get around to waxing them in time). We then headed to the Valley and set up camp at Upper Pines and headed over to the Ansel Adams museum. After a reality check, we accepted the fact that the thick overhead clouds were going to restrict any possible appearance of the firefalls and headed over to Curry Village for dinner. A nice campfire sent us to bed and then the rains kicked in overnight. The constant drizzle this morning kept us from any more snowshoe adventures, but it was still great to get out to the mountains and play in the snow a bit. Can’t wait to spend some more time up there this winter!
It’s that time of year again, time for me to play desert rat for a week. Thanksgiving is a great time to head to the desert. Temperatures are mild to cold and crowds are generally light (except on the freeways). As usual, we hopped into the car on the Friday before Thanksgiving and headed south, starting off in Rainbow Basin, a swatch of BLM land outside of Barstow.
Late on Friday night we pulled into Owl Canyon Campground and picked one of the several empty sites. Sometime since last year this campground has been renovated with new equipment -nice! On Saturday morning we headed down Fossil Bed road towards Black Canyon. Note: Fossil Bed road is a wide, graded, sedan-passable dirt road from Irwin Road to Rainbow Basin. Beyond that it is 4×4/high clearance due to unmaintained washouts, at least when we passed through.
Black Canyon and Inscription Canyon is an area of petroglyphs and rock hounding a bit northwest of Barstow. We spent the morning exploring some incredible petroglyphs and finding some fire opal on the sides of Opal Mountain.
We swang through Barstow for gas and lunch, then headed east along I-15 towards Afton Canyon. There are several interesting things that happen in the short, 6-mile-long Afton Canyon: the Mojave River emerges from beneath the surface and flows through the desert, the railroad shipping lines run between the canyon walls, the historic Mojave Road passes through, and several interesting historical sites are scattered around.
Our plan was to set up camp in the campground at the east end of the Canyon, then drive in along the Mojave Road and check out the many sites I had queued up in my GPS. Unfortunately, the river was high enough to prevent us from crossing in our truck. It was certainly possible we could have made it across in our stock Trailblazer, but being solo we didn’t want to risk it – we probably could have been talked into it by someone with a winch! Instead, we did what we should have done at the beginning – strapped on our daypacks and started off on foot down Afton towards Spooky Canyon. It was 3 pm and seven miles round trip on flat, easy navigable terrain – piece of cake!
Hiking the canyon was fun – we chatted with drivers on the Mojave Road, waved to the train engineers as they passed through, and caught a really colorful sunset. Having run out of daylight, we saved the other canyon sites until the next morning. To be continued in the next entry…
The full photo album for the day with trip report details is here: Afton Canyon and Inscription Canyon
A GPX file of the drive through Inscription Canyon is here: Inscription Canyon GPX
And a KML: Inscription Canyon KML file