Tony Krizan

Death Valley’s polished canyon walls

After completing the hike to the Panamint Dunes this morning, we drove past Stovepipe Wells and continued to the Mesquite Campground. This will be our camping area for the next two days, because Scotty’s Castle and Fall Canyon are located close by. Those terrible winds we experienced the last two days are now just a gentle desert breeze.

How can one visit Death Valley without spending time viewing the craftsmanship and history associated with Scotty’s Castle? Its location is only 5.6 miles from Mesquite Campground. Today will be my third visit and maybe I’ll discover something new to photograph. Albert Johnson; the original owner and builder of the castle completed his dream with the friendship and help of Walter Scott (Death Valley Scotty).

This year I finally saw Albert Johnson’s main mode of transportation as he traveled those early desert roads. It is a 1914 Packard seven passenger open touring automobile. This 5,000 pound aluminum bodied, 12 cylinder engine vehicle is now on display in the main visitor’s center building.

The following morning of April 10, we decided to complete the hike into Fall Canyon. Two years ago the extreme heat forced us to turn back, with only a half mile to our destination; called the 18 foot Fall Canyon Dry Falls.

This trailhead is located on the left at the mouth of the Titus Canyon road. Follow the trail for about half a mile before it drops into the wide wash of Fall Canyon.

Several places this wash will squeeze through narrow passageways. The polished canyon walls soar vertically and can reach up hundreds of feet and are topped by distant walls of the same. Also these sheer bare rocks have multiple colors of yellow, tan, dark brown and red. As the day progresses the reflected light from the sun accents this rock display. In the evening the slanted rays of the sun picks up deeper shades of red as they reflect back and forth between the walls.

The first obvious landmark is the confluence within the first side canyon. This deep amphitheater is dominated by a tower and large boulders which has the grandeur of a cathedral. This side canyon has a 13 foot dry fall with a shaded grotto just above it. Viewing this upper attraction is almost impossible because of its height and the slick rock surfaces. Even the back side has no physical entrance, with its impassible 20 foot fall.

About 3.4 miles into the canyon we finally arrived at the 18 foot dry fall which presumably gave this canyon its name. From the top of this polished rock fall someone left a rope to assist anyone who is brave enough to attempt the climb.

My rock climbing skills cannot handle this maneuver, so this may be our turn-around point.

From checking the Death Valley book, there is a bypass (class 4) to the upper fall on the south canyon wall around 300 feet before reaching the fall. After checking out this route; first I would have to scale a short chimney and at the top there is a narrow trail that will lead above the fall. This bypass is the crux of this hike and is well worth the effort. Physically; today I will not see the high point of this hike. I was not comfortable with this secondary route.

Sometimes one has to evaluate their skills. This particular maneuver was risky and above my training level for safety. Even though the 18-foot fall was my turn-around point, just the polished colorful walls and the marble layers imbedded into those steep vertical walls were my personal rewards. Our return was much easier descending the 1,330 feet to the trailhead.

In part four of this Death Valley series, will be our finial adventure into Marble Canyon to look for petroglyphs and fossils to photograph.