Death Valley National Park is actually home to four separate valleys which collectively make it the largest park in the contiguous United States. More than 90% of the area of the park is designated wilderness which means it is an ideal hiking destination for us. Although it will certainly be busy in late March, it is the high season there, I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to quickly lose the crowds by venturing into the backcountry. Like Joshua Tree, Death Valley is located at a boundary between climatic zones. The Great Basin lies to the North and East The Mojave Desert to the South and the Sierras to the West. One of the most interesting things I learned in my planning is that the General Sherman Tree of the lush Sequoia NP forest is only about 100 miles from the desolate Badwater Basin of Death Valley. The geologic and climatic variation in this part of the world is almost unbelievable.
We’ll be spending three nights in the park, and I’m sure we’ll just barely scratch the surface of things to do and see. One of the goals we set for the trip was to spend as much time backpacking as possible. It seemed that if we were going to go to the effort of transporting four packs across the country we better make good use of them! We’ll be hiking and camping the first night in Marble Canyon, then spending a recovery night at the Inn at Death Canyon, and finally heading out for another overnight trek to Indian Pass Canyon. Each of the hikes presents its own opportunities and challenges, and I think we’re up to them. Hopefully we’ll also have the time to visit some of the more popular and touristy parts of the park.
The morning we arrive at Death Valley our first destination will be the Marble Canyon trailhead. This hike is generally done as part of a loop with Cottonwood Canyon, but doing the full loop is a two night journey, and we’ve got to get in a good meal and hot shower. This is spring break after all. We’re going to bypass the Cottonwood portion of the loop and turn Marble Canyon into a two day, one night, out-and-back. We’ve spent some time in the slot canyons of southern Utah, so I feel like we sort of know what to expect. It’ll be an interesting experience camping in (?) one though. The threat of flash flooding must be beyond low since the park service has suggested several good sites for camping including one I’ve got my eye on near a natural spring. I’m hopeful that it’s also raised a bit from the canyon floor.
After spending a night under the stars, our second day in Death Valley will begin with a hike back out the canyon the same way we entered. As I mentioned this park is huge, so there will be plenty of other things for us to see that day. The park service has conveniently provided a list of the “Must See” spots. I think we’ll have to play this by ear as we judge everyone’s tolerance for more trail. We’ll top the day off with a stay at the Inn at Death Valley, but I’m going to save that for the last post in this series.
Our second backpacking trip at Death Valley will be Indian Pass Canyon. I’ve tried to do as much research as possible on this hike and the one consistent thing I’ve read in every source is that the hardest part of it is just figuring out where it is. Accessing the canyon involves hiking 4 miles cross country through a series of arroyos that lead from the mouth to the road. Several sources mentioned that about half of the people who begin this hike never actually enter the canyon. I’ll be studying maps and Google Earth before we go and we’ll be equipped with paper maps and GPS on the ground to help get us there. We’ll also have our PLB along just in case.
With three days to explore I hope we’ll be able to get a good feel of what the park has to offer. The vast emptiness of the park seems hints at the potential it holds to become a repeat destination for us for years to come. If you have ever visited Death Valley NP and know of a spot we shouldn’t miss please share in the comments!