On Monday morning we awoke to fresh snow covering the peaks that surround Eureka Valley. Clouds still hung around the ridges but they were slowly clearing out. While the guys picked up camp I took the opportunity to climb around the Eureka Dunes a bit. The overnight precip made the surface the perfect resistance for climbing up sand – instead of sinking I walked on the damp crust along the ridges until I crested a high point and found an amazing view stretching out in front of me.
After our lovely morning in camp we decided to visit the ruins of Crater and Last Chance Mines.
After wandering the ruins we followed a 4WD track up the ridge to the south. Parking just below the summit, we scrambled up the rocky ridge to the high point, Lead Peak. From the top we watched fighter jets from the nearby military facilities run laps through Eureka and Saline Valleys.
We ended our day east of the park outside of Goldfield, NV where we explored more ruins and set up camp at an old cabin with a view of the Sierra.
The next day was a resupply day in Beatty and Pahrump, but I still managed to squeeze in a short sunset hike up Rhodes Hill in southern Death Valley.
I’ve only recently finished posting my photos from our annual Thanksgiving trip to Death Valley. It’s kind of fun going all the way back to November to relive this trip, always my favorite of the year!
Part 1: Alabama Hills, Andrews Peak, Papoose Flat, Hidden Dunes and Eureka Valley
We hit the road on Friday night after work and drove to our typical late night camp just north of Ridgecrest where we met up with Antony. On Saturday morning we took our time on the Eastern Sierra 395 corridor, visiting some of our typical and favorite places like the Alabama Hills Cafe and Wilson’s Sports in Bishop. In the early afternoon we headed east out of Big Pine towards Death Valley, turning off on a side dirt road into the Inyos where we got to engage 4WD and start exploring some new terrain.
A few miles in we turned off on an overgrown faded track and followed it partially up the side of Andrews Peak until a downed tree blocked our way. We left the cars and kept hiking up the road. I glanced at the map and misread the topo, so what I thought was a ~600 ft climb was really 1000. Sorry guys.
After the short hike up Andrews Peak to catch the view towards Waucoba and Squaw we continued back on the main dirt track through a rocky canyon and up some steep switchbacks over a ridge. It was a beautiful drive that never really challenged the truck but was still a lot of fun.
From the top of the ridge we followed the winding track along the crest of the Inyos until we started to drop into a Valley. At this point I knew why friends had recommended this spot to me. As you descend into Papoose Flat a beautiful rocky landscape appears. Piles of rocks similar to those in Joshua Tree combined with the high (very high) desert scrub brush made for some amazing scenery. We drove around and found a stunning campsite behind a pile of rocks with a view of the Sierra. The only negative part: it was so, so cold. Overnight it got into the single digits. That’s what happens at 8800 ft in late November, even in the desert.
Due to the view of the east Sierra I was looking forward to photographing sunrise the next morning, but I awoke to some clouds rolling in over the high peaks. As they got closer small flakes of snow started to fly. We quickly packed up and after a brief tour of the Flat headed back down to the main road into Eureka Valley.
Our destination for the next night was Eurkea Dunes, but not before being diverted to Hidden Dunes for the day. The Hidden Dunes are a remarkable long set of sand dunes that are tucked behind a mountain range, just out of the line of sight from the roads and approaches into the area. A very faint side road leads across the flat Eureka Valley to a dead end where you can park and start the three mile trek to the dunes. You approach them via a notch in the mountain range, and the flat hike across the desert is easy and has a lot of interesting rocks and tracks underfoot.
The storms that had been coming in over the Sierra that morning caught up with us and we finished the hike under low clouds, dark skies, and a light drizzle. Still, it didn’t prevent us from having a fun night camped near Eureka Dunes where we grilled steaks and drank good beer around the campfire pit until many hours after dark.
Death Valley has several sets of dunes. The most accessible (and therefore crowded) are the ones a few miles east of Stovepipe Wells. A bit less accessible but still regularly visited are the Eureka Dunes in the northern part of the park. There are more dunes located throughout the park in even less accessible locations. It was one of these locations, the Panamint Dunes, that we visited on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
These dunes aren’t particularly difficult to get to, but the minimum six mile round-trip hike to their edge deters many casual visitors. The road to the parking area isn’t great either – while it’s passable in passenger car I definitely would not feel comfortable taking one on it! 2WD is okay but the blowing sand and washboarding make having a hearty vehicle a must.
From the parking spot the dunes are plainly visible across the desert. They don’t look too far away but the scale of Panamint Valley really messes with distance perception. It is a three mile walk across the desert to reach these dunes. It is dry and sandy and they never seem to be getting any closer. Additionally, the barely detectable uphill slope (1000 feet of gain) wears you down. But eventually you’ll get there.
And when you do – hopefully you’re the only one to have made the entire trek with energy to spare in recent times. If so, you’ll have unbroken, footstep free dunes to play on and photograph. Good luck getting that by Stovepipe Wells! There were two major dune crests that we climbed and played on. We got to experience some fun dune phenomena like singing sand – sounding much like the drone of an airplane in the distance. And the best part of all – we had the dunes to ourselves.
On our last full day in the Mojave we visited the Cow Cove petroglyphs in the northern end of the park. This is an amazing collection of petroglyphs and this was our second visit to them (last year’s visit). You can wander the rock piles for hours and hours, discovering all kinds of abstract images with meanings we can only hope to understand.
Cow Cove is approachable via vehicle but only ones with clearance and preferably 4WD (it’s sandy). If you know where to leave the vehicles, it’s a short and flat 1.5 mile hike down an old access road until you are at the glyphs. It’s just remote enough that they have remained relatively unscathed, although you can find some ‘modern’ rock art as well. I’d love to know the original meanings of the art we discovered – we just found what we would call strawberries, cell phones, decorated easter eggs, bananas, fish, dancing hot dogs, bowling balls, and armadillos. According to one rock art book we own, the bowling ball was really the God of Death. I have yet to identify the others.
Sooz and Robin and I spent quite a lot of time wandering the glyphs and finally the rest of the group dragged us away. We drove south and stopped for a late lunch at Kelso Depot, then headed down to the Kelso Dunes for sunset.
What an amazing hike! During the day storms had moved in over the Mojave and we drove though some of the rain on our way south. At the dunes, the sun was brightly shining on the ground, but the surrounding ranges were covered in dark storm clouds. I could smell rain in the air while enjoying the amazing colors and a breathtaking sunset.
After dark we returned to camp where we found the incoming system had dropped the temperatures quite a bit. The campfire was a welcome sight (thanks to the Navis who had returned early and started it for us), and after bed the rain started again. I dozed on and off to the sound of the desert rain, and in the morning we drove out across a snow-dusted Cima Dome.
Another successful and fun Thanksgiving Road Trip on the books. And already looking forward to next year!
If You Go
I’m not going to be super specific about the location of the glyphs, but you’ll be able to find the location with a small amount of effort. The roads to access cow cove are mostly fine but they do get sandy and the ruts are deep – high clearance is definitely needed, and 4WD may be required if you get stuck in the sand. We went with a group, some of whom had high clearance vehicles but not 4WD. But we had 4WD vehicles that would have been able to help anyone get unstuck. Judge for yourself based on your equipment, experience, and group.
Easy access, southern end of Park. Park at the trailhead and walk to the dunes. Look for animal tracks, and listen for the special noise of the dunes. Even in a light wind it may be difficult to reach the summit of the dunes – blowing sand stings!
So, here’s the thing. I forgot all about the photos on my computer from our Annual Thanksgiving Roadtrip Hiking Snowshoeing Skiing Climbing Camping Extravaganza. I’ve finally got around to uploading them to the photo album, and only a month late!