Grubstake, Pete, and Don arrived friday evening at Emigrant Campground A wonderful pot luck dinner was grubbed down in no time. Thanks Pete for the Cincinnati Chili. We car shuttled early Saturday morning heading west on route 190 until we reached the Saline Valley turnoff. This road wanders across the colorful rolling terrain of the Santa Rosa Flats, then crosses the low Santa Rosa Hills. To the north of these hills is Lee Flats. A narrow high desert valley that has one of the most impressive Joshua Tree forests in the northern Mojave Desert. Just before the Saline Valley road drops into the Grapevine Canyon we turned east on the Hunter Mtn road. Our shuttle vehicle was a two wheel drive Ford van with high clearance. This type of vehicle would not be recommended in the spring. As the road around Jack Ass Spring was damp and very rutted. We parked the van a few miles past the springs with Hunter Mtn in sight.
Navigation is a little tricky due the undulating nature of the terrain for the first 3 miles or so. Once you get to 460880 x 4046260, the route becomes easier to follow from the map contours. One tip, once you start to lose elevation (a bit over a mile from the starting point) be careful not to let the contours pull you too far to the north. Be sure to pull adequately to the east and stay on the higher contours and ridges prior to the UTM location just referenced. Also, don't drop into the drainage running southeast (although this would be an interesting canyon to explore).
Plants include sage, mormon tea, stansbury cliffrose, blackbrush, rubber rabbitbrush (in bloom). Coming into the main Cottonwood drainage a couple miles above Cottonwood spring, start to see creosote, desert rabbitbrush. Nice Joshua trees on the Panamint Plateau.
One of the nice aspects of this route is the periodic springs, seeps, and resulting vegetation that is seen. There are a series of willows in the canyon about .75 miles after the UTM number last shown above. Location 461580 x 4046840 had standing surface water about 10' in diameter surrounded by willows. Easy access to water. Didn't see a flow of water, but it looked clear. I would not hesitate to filter and drink it. (This and Cottonwood Spring itself, were the only watr sources we found).
A serene resting spot where we had lunch under towering Cottonwood tress and wild grapevines is 462600 x 404700. From here, a faint use trail leads up a heading of 144 degrees. We also saw some faint trails earlier, but nothing distinct and continous was found. After following this trail for less than .5 miles, you come to a minor high point which is the top end of the Cottonwood Canyon drainage. Another set of willows is seen below and route now starts to widen out with wide views to the SSE. (I noted on the map the location of the "cutover" to Marble Canyon via Dead Horse Canyon). We saw two wild horses near a seep and vegetated area at 46400x4043220. They let us get to about 200 yards, then they would move back and not allow us to get and closer. Continuing on, Cottonwood Spring proper 466180x4040700 is clearly visiable as the drainage pulls south and more easterly. Cottonwood Spring is extremely beautiful with cottonwood trees, grapevines, lush broadleaf type tropical plants and little watercress-like plants at the edge of the stream. The stream is about 3 feet wide and 3 to 4 inches deep, slowly flowing and crystal clear. The cottonwood trees are guarded by huge waist-high rabbitbrush in beautiful bloom. The vegetation is choking at the first part of this oasis, so, to get to the water. follow the use trail down canyon of the south side. In less than .25 miles you will see a very easy access point down to the water and shaded in trees. We found a nice camping area, large and fairly level, further along the route just south from the spring, in a soft, broad, sandy wash.
Next day we continued up the wash toward the plateau. A GPS helps, but map and compass will work with care to find the correct canyon up to the plateau. The two side canyons to the left give reference to the final jog left and up the canyon. For reference, the correct canyon will have another more minor wash to its right (more southerly) visible as you enter the correct canyon. The correct canyon is bouldered with refrigerator and larger sized granite boulders which are easily negotiated around every several yards. The terrain will broaden a bit as it turns east. You'll see a more minor drainage continuing east, at this point proceed south up the broader more major wash. You'll see a distinct and continuous use trail on the left side of this wash which makes walking easier. The heading is now to the south. After about a mile, wrap around to the left (easy to follow on the map) to the last minor wash leading up to the plateau. The Joshua laden plateau is fairly flat and remote. Panaming Butte is clearly visible, and a good hike, due south of the middle of the plateau. The area here is now mostly volcanic, not granitic. Dark, heavily varnished volcanic rock is dominant. The top of Lemoinge Canyon picks up at a heading of 65 degrees across the plateau. As you gently enter the upper canyon it's actually heading north and will eventually begin a series of intermittent minor narrows. Winding down through the Bonanza King formation of banded limeston and dolomite of varying colors. Later, the canyon cuts through Hunter Mountain quartz monzonite (granite). In places, the canyon walls are beautifully polished in colors of grey, buff, and rose. Toward the lower end of the canyon, you will pass the south fork of Lemoigne Canyon on your right encased in a Hidden Valley formation of dolomite. The main canyon will soon open up with wide views of Stovepipe Wells,the dunes. Death Valley Buttes, Hells Gates, and the broad alluvial fan of Titanothere Canyon. At about this point, start to bend your route to the south, pulling up and out of the broad wash of the canyon. The slightly higher elevation will allow a sighting out to the Emigrant Campground and Cottonwood trees at the roadside rest area. Once sighted, head directly (more or less) toward the campground) and your waiting vehicle. A word of warning, it will look tantilizing close, but is a rugged few miles away due to the large boulder and up-and-down gullies strewn along the entire way. The views more than make up for it however, and having the end in sight will keep you going.