Once again I’m taking the time to challenge that mystical place called Death Valley. This year I decided to delay my vacation two weeks hoping to avoid those high winds that accompany the spring season. I almost succeeded, only the first two days Nancy and I were confined to the comforts of the tent cabin we rented at Panamint Springs. The reason for staying at Panamint Springs was to be close to Darwin Falls.
After the first night of high winds we decided to take a chance and drive to the trailhead leading toward Darwin Falls. Early the following morning, with the wind blowing at 35 plus MPH we departed for Darwin Falls. The 2.5 miles on a dirt and rock road was much gentler than expected. A passenger car with average ground clearance could maneuver over this road. At the trailhead, we started our hike into this narrow but colorful canyon. Native plants growing along this narrow wash are rabbit brush and indigo bush; they lead the way to thickets of willows, tamarisk, cattail, and rushes. We’re in luck; this canyon is blocking that annoying wind we were experiencing earlier this morning.
The deep narrows of Darwin Canyon are among the most lush and beautiful in the park. The short walk to the lower water fall is a wonderful illustration of the miracle of water in the desert. Today we hiked only 15 minutes into the canyon before reaching the area where this stream disappears into the canyon floor. Another 20 minutes and we were standing at the base of Darwin Falls. Its 18 feet of height is surrounded by trees and lush vegetation. (Photo opportunity).
History states that this old dirt road was part of the original Toll Road built by Bob Eichbaum which led to Stovepipe Wells. Also this area was first visited by Dr. Darwin French, who established a base camp when he led his first prospecting expedition into Death Valley in the 1850’s.
Just before entering the lower parking area, there is a directional fork in the road. Continuing to the left of the parking area a 4-wheel drive vehicle is recommended. This road follows for 3.9 winding miles up past the Zinc Hill Mines. Once passing those mines the road drops down another 1.1miles to another fork in the road. Follow this dirt road to the right another 3.5 miles which will lead to China Garden Spring. This was the processing location for the Zink Ore from the mines. All that remains today is rock walls, a metal and wood structure which was their processing building and the natural spring surrounded by trees and vegetation. Today it looks like an oasis hidden in a canyon in the middle of the desert.
I doubled back to the fork and continued driving on the opposite dirt road to Miller Springs. These springs were abandoned when the Zink Mining was closed in the early part of the 20th century. Only three structures remain, with one containing the ancient pumping machinery. Now we’ll continue following this same road to the small town of Darwin. At Darwin we found the only stop sign on a paved road and that road will lead us to Highway 190 and back to Panamint Springs Resort.
When we arrived the wind was still blowing around our tent cabin. Once again we’ll have to cook inside again tonight; otherwise the wind will blow our stove and dishes off the picnic table. Hopefully the wind will die-down by morning and we’ll start our second adventure hiking across the desert to the Panamint Dunes. This story will continue in the next edition of the Sierra Star newspaper.