The 2007 Fall hike began with festivities the night before at Stovepipe Wells. This years potluck theme was Greek food... a feast had by all. Plans were discussed for the next day... half the group were dayhiking/exploring while 8 of us ( Don, Ernie, Eugene, Kevin, Lois (my wife), Skip, Stan and myself-Spencer) would backpack down Marble Canyon and across the alluvial fan back to Stovepipe Wells. The backpack followed a section of The Desert Trail, a cross-country route from Mexico to Canada through desert regions. The guide book; Hiking the Desert Trail; A Guided Route Covering the Length of Death Valley was written by DVHA's George Huxtable.
All rose early Saturday, as the backpackers were shuttled to the trailhead at Goldbelt Spring, 2+ hours away. At this elevation of 5000 ft - a coolness was in the air. Fall color surrounded us with the yellow of Rabbitbrush covering the hills and gullies. The Spring was engulfed in an impeneratable wall of Wild Rose - a burnt red. Collapsed shacks, an old dump truck and associated mining equipment are all that remains of this now abandoned mining camp.
Our hike began here, Don leading the way down Marble Canyon. Though brushy in places, whenever the brush became too thick, a trail was found around the obstacle. The going was pleasant and hiking easy - all downhill. As we descended the air warmed. Several miles down the canyon a Tarantula Hawk suddenly appeared dragging a Tarantula into the brush. An amazing sight to see.... A female wasp finds a Tarantula by smell, enter the spiders burrow, expels him, then attacks him. Once the Tarantula is stung he is paralyzed within seconds.. a condition lasting the remainer of his life. The wasp then drags the Trarantula back to its own burrow and lays a single egg on the spider's abdomen. Once the egg hatches, it rip open the spider and feeds ravenously on the spider. Only one other insect has a more painful sting than the Tarantula Hawk according to the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. On a scale of 0 to 4, it rates a 4... the pian is described as "immediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down one's ability to do anything, except scream." Luckily no one was bit.
A little further down canyon - Cottonwoods, interwined with Grapevine, top leavs turning yellow. Their appearance, along with Willow, indicate water is not very far below the surface. Soon we found ourselves entering the first of the narrows - its white marbled walls rising 100 ft, dundulating and twisting snakelike, polished smooth by centuries of flash floods raging downstream. Further on at the junction of Dead Horse Canyon - a sign peched into a boulder indicates we had traveled 4 miles from Goldbelt Spring.
The winding canyon narrows again, the marble alternating from mostly gray with thin white stripes, to white with thick gray stripes. Near 2500 ft. el., at a narrowing of the canyon, the gray marble walls on both sides are covered in petroglyphs. Their appearance - a few newer, some older - had survived flash floods. Some symbols seemed to indicate water and Big Horn Sheep.... while others, were geometric patterns whose meaning was perhaps know only by its artist. Walking through this narrow opening seems like a "passageway" on the canyon floor, with cooler air on the west side and warmer air to the east.
A mile below here the canyon once again narrow dramatically. The dark gray walls rise hundreds of feet - no direct sunlight reaching the floor. The polished slot, perhaps 10 ft. across, curves horizontally and vertically. Once more, we are spit out of the narrows and eventually make camp just beyond the closed boundary on a low sandy bench above the wash. Here, Don spots a Big Horn Sheep scampering up a side canyon to the North. We had hiked about 11 miles down the canyon. It had been a long day and all were tired... dinner and libations helped soothe the aches. All slept out under the stars - some shooting across the darkness - entertainment for late night.
Dawn arrived with the pleasant surprise of much welcomed cloud cover, as todays journed would take us across open desert to Stovepipe Wells. We were on the trail early after breakfast, soon entering the bottom of Cottonwood Canyon. After replenishing our water supply with water Dan had cached a couple days earlier we were off again, traversing open desert. Any extra water was given to a group of women camped near the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon. We must have appeared strange to them as its not every day you see backpackers in the desert, not to mention those who offer you water.
From here it's east to the sand dunes. The cloud patterns and lighting provided photogenic opportunities of open space with mountains in the distance and vegetation of Cresote and Desert Holly up close. Our blessing of clouds soon evaporated as the sun now radiated upon us. Slowly we hiked on toward the dunes. Ah, in the dunes and the shade of Mesquite... a welcomed break.
Stovepipe Wells was now only a couple of miles distant. The thought of a cold beer back at this desert oasis provided comfort of the mind and distraction from hot, tired feet. Stovepipe Wells lived up to the anticipation as all 8 of us regrouped for a well earned cold one. Many thanks to Don and the DVHA for organizing this seasons journey across Death Valley.