April 2002 Hike
Dear Death Valley Hiker,
    Our spring hike this year, led by Don Emrick and Don Brown, explored Surprise Canyon and the ghost town of Panamint City.  Karen James wrote up an interesting narrative of the trip, which is enclosed.  Our thanks again to both Don E and Don B for their efforts in leading the group and organizing the outing.
     Our next DVHA hike will be this fall on November 2 and 3.  Hope to see you then.  Details to follow.    Have a great summer!    "Grubstake"  George
Dear Death Valley Hiker,

    Due to the unexpected hot temperatures on the Valley floor forecast for April 6 and 7, the small group of eight hiker opted to switch from the planned valley hike to a hike with higher elevation and water.  Several participants suggested we see Panamint City, up Surprise Canyon outside Ballarat.
     There were two new hikers along for the weekend, Kevin Moore of Apple Valley, horticulturist, who brought a several pound desert plant book in his pack, and Bryan Roche, a psychology professor from Ireland.  Both are keen, enthusiastic, and interesting additions to the Death Valley Hikers.
     After a late start Saturday, we headed up the canyon after visiting with Rocky, who took "donations" to watch our cars at the end of the road.  We immediately were walking in water up the wash.  Less than a mile upstream we came upon the Narrows and the first of the two falls.  For a dry winter there was quite a bit of water; more and it may have been difficult to hike up through some spots of the creek bed without getting really wet.
     Soon after, Don Brown spotted a baby copper rattlesnake on a ledge we all might have used as a handhold.  Later, individual wild donkeys brayed their disdain at our presence.  The 3,800 ft elevation gain was a challenge for all but the first group of five made it at dusk with Ernie Franco arriving less than an hour later.  Don Emrick and Chuck Knight made it to the top at 9:00 a.m. Sunday morning.  They had camped in the trees along the trail.
     Panamint City consists of a few cabins from the 20's and 30's, and the remnants of a silver mining operation and outbuildings, and the stone foundations from the old city of the 1870's.  There is a well-outfitted cabin from the 70's that must have been the most recent mine bosses' home with all the amenities and room to sleep five or six comfortably.  Lots of vehicles, even a relatively modern RV, are strewn about the area.
     Sunday morning we all hiked over to Sourdough Canyon to explore the homestead and mining operation.  The cabin has running water and a wonderful bathtub sitting out in the sun with a stove to heat water.  The front door was impressive with wrought iron decoration and a porch to rock on.  There is much to investigate including two custom built wood stoves, old coolers, a garden, and corral.  There were conveyor belts, a backhoe, old trucks and machinery scattered down the hillside.  Unfortunately, there was no sign of the famous cemetery.  The story goes that to avoid vandalism, someone hid all the grave markers.  Silvia searched and may have found the graveyard but there were no define graves in all the rocks that we could find.  From there, Don Brown, Bryan, and Ernie said goodbye and went on down the mountain about noontime.
     The remaining five hikers had planned to stay an extra night, so Sunday afternoon we were free to explore further.  Above town the road winds up the mountain along the stream to more cabins and "Shotgun Mary" Thompson's place.  Not far past a modern weather station the road over Johnson Pass began to disappear and we soon lost the trail.  Later Silvia climbed up to the Tramway and Wyoming Mine, which she says is awesome.  After dinner we had a nice fire outside and enjoyed mor of Chuck's stories about Death Valley until bedtime.
     Monday, we were up early and Chuck cooked for everyone, a tasty breakfast of Mexican omelet, hash browns and pancakes.  On our way down the steep canyon, we saw a male donkey with his family {three females with their yearlings, though one young buck appeared pretty frisky testing dad} and later Silvia almost stepped on a rattlesnake past the "Tunnel of Love", the results of Brewery Springs.  Chuck also pointed out Limekiln Spring, a gorgeous wall of water, ferns and mosses that is truly amazing.  Its hard to imagine that this oasis could be Death Valley.
     The weekend was a success and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.  This was definitely a most memorable hike.  Although Grubstake and the other 'regulars' were missed, the "two Don's" did a great job filling in.  Thanks guys!

Hope to see everyone again in November.   Karen "Red" James                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
Saturday afternoon group shot before heading up Surprise Canyon
Numerous flash floods have reclaimed this narrow canyon
Navigating the narrows.  The canyon is in the boundaries of Surprise Canyon Wilderness Area.  Panamint City is located inside Death Valley National Park
A singing stream with a generous flow
Karen leading the group up the old road bed
If you listen you can hear the roar of the mining past that is Panamint City.
Even though it was a dry winter, in the wet areas you could spot desert sunflowers, globemallow, Panamint lupine, and a lonely cactus patiently flowering.  Thanks go to Doug Smith at CactusByMail.Com for identifying it as a Mojave Mound Cactus
All that remains of the twenty stamp mill, which had four Hendy concentrators and a Stetefeldt furnace.  The structure was built with a half million bricks at a cost of $210,000.  Some say that it was the closest thing to a church in Panamint City.  
Ingenuity, was the name of the game.  The metal resources from the mining past lay everywhere.  If a stove was needed you located the material and made one.  If you needed bracing for the front door you found it in the old remains and fashioned it into what you needed.  The examples abound in the last attempt to make it in Panamint City. 
Bryan and Ernie sunday morning leaving the Panamint City Sheraton behind.  Bryan's saying goodbye for this spring and driving to Phoenix for his flight back to Ireland.  All I can say is that it was a treat and hope to see you next April for part two of your backcountry adventures in Death Valley National Park.  From one snake spotter to another Happy Trails.  Bryan those guys in the pub will never understand..........