Springtime in Death Valley -- Part one

Mountain Secrets

Tony KrizanApril 18, 2012 

This year a fellow hiker and I took another spring trip into Death Valley. Something about this National Park keeps beckoning me to return. I personally prefer the spring season for three reasons; milder temperatures, the seasonal streams are still flowing and the wild flowers are in bloom.

The first four days our base camp was set up at Texas Spring Campground outside of Furnace Creek. Being centrally located within the valley, now we could visit multiple points of interest.

Badwater (Road K10) which is the lowest point in the United States at 282 feet below sea level is only 17 miles south from base camp. At the Badwater parking area are steps to a wooden platform offering access down to the lowest point. We continued beyond the platform and walked on the pure white salt flat as it stretches across the valley floor. Interesting how the salt crystals formed into irregular shapes like bumps or small mounds. By arriving before sunrise one can experience the shadows dancing across the salt flats as the sun peaks from behind the eastern mountains. Located almost 280 feet above us on the mountain behind the parking area is a white marker establishing sea-level.

Eagle Borax Works (Road K9) is located 20 miles south of Furnace Creek on a graded dirt road. All that remains today of this 1881 establishment are mounds of earth and overgrown with desert vegetation. Just before arriving at the Borax location, a lonely sign read; Shorty's grave. I almost didn't stop but after driving the distance on this dirt road, maybe a gravesite will be worth a photo.

I'm impressed! A monument dedicated to two prospectors who spent their lives searching for that elusive yellow metal. The huge bronze plaque read; Frank (Shorty) Harris 1850-1934 and Jim Dayton 1898. Shorty and Jim must have many dedicated followers. Surrounding the monument are personal artifacts such as coins, buttons, decorative rocks and the most interesting items are two cans of beer; unopened. Maybe I'll stick around for the party?

The Natural Bridge (Road K10) located 15 miles south of Furnace Creek, just two miles off the highway. Only a quarter mile from the parking area, this huge arch extends over the canyon. But we hiked beyond this point then skirted under a huge boulder that was parochially blocking the canyon. Just beyond this point the steep canyon walls displayed the polished grooves created by centuries of water cascading down over its surface. Only ten minutes had passed until I was stopped by the steep walls of a box canyon. This is the end of my adventure today; the canyon walls are just too steep for climbing. This would be a spectacular sight after a storm with water cascading down this steep rock face before disappearing into the gravel surface of the canyon floor.

The ghost town of Rhyolite is located 37 miles NE of Furnace Creek on Highway 190, just nine miles outside the park in Nevada. When gold was discovered in 1904 the town grew to over 6,000 people. Rhyolite boosted a Stock Exchange, hotels, opera house, school, churches and many housing structures. Today all that remains are a few surviving stone and concrete dwellings. The mountains that surround Rhyolite are dotted with mines that have been closed for decades.

Now to drive back toward the park two miles and attempt the 27 mile graded dirt and rock Titus Canyon Road. This one way road starts in Nevada and follows across desert terrain before entering California and Death Valley National Park. Next it climbs steep grades and switchbacks to a crest that offers views of the canyons and desert below. As it descends through the mountains, this winding road passes the ghost town of Leadfield. During the 1920's its mining operation only lasted one year before investors realized they were duped or swindled in believing the tons of lead ore contained within these mountains. This area also has the remains of open mines, wood structures and tailings from early Twentieth Century Mining.

In my next article I'll complete my six day adventure within Death Valley National Park.

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