Dear Death Valley Hiker,
Our fall backpack was another wonderful outing seeing remote beautiful country in the company of dear friends. For some of us our weekend began late friday afternoon when we got together for a delicious spaghetti dinner complete with all the amenities one would expect at a restaurant. Our dinner and camp spot on Friday was at a great place about four miles southwest of Salsberry Pass. There were good sandy places to put up tents, which we were all grateful for when it started raining in the middle of the night.
The 12 hikers in our group met at the junction of Hwy. 178 and Greenwater Valley Road early Saturday morning after leaving a couple of shuttle vehicles at the mouth of Sheep Canyon. The route for this weekend was to traverse the southernmost portion of the Desert Trail that's entirely within Death Valley. To reach our starting point we stayed on the Greenwater Valley Road for seven miles, leaving the remainder of the vehicles there at a pull out spot west of Miller Spring.
The weather was perfect as we set out crossing the gentle terrain of Greenwater Valley. Looking acoss the vast valley all around us, we could see a beautiful green landscape of healthy creosote bushes not doubt helped by the rain of the night before. We came across quite a few tarantulas in the first few miles, but all other critters avoided us.
After going up a low saddle, we soon came across an old road which we followed. Traveling was easy, allowing us to take in the beauty of Gold Valley, which we were now entering. It was June 1907 when gold was discovered at the southeast end of the valley. The ore assayed at $200.00 per ton and drew quite a bit of excitement. Dozens of gold and silver strikes had been made by the end of the year. With the collapse of Greenwater in February 1908, a new wave of miners and merchants (some bringing their building with them) came to Gold Valley bringing the population to 70. In May the first ore shipment was made, about 250 tons estimated at $75,000. But there was not enough ore to justify mining in remote Gold Valley and one by one the companies folded. By early 1909 most miners had left, and the silence of the desert once again reigned over Gold Valley.
After retrieving the water Don had cached at the pass, we made camp at a great site giving us shelter from the wind and a smooth surface on which to get a good night's sleep.
Sunday morning's route took us in a westerly direction, staying on the dirt road, leisurely walking while taking in the beautiful views all around us. Ahead we could see the head of the canyon and beyond that, in the far distance, was the Panamint Range with its snow capped peaks.
At the end of the road we came to a beautiful oasis filled with willows, can and arrowweed--indeed a rare sight in this arid land. We skirted along the edge of this grove and then the canyon became dry and open, more like what we're use to. We soon came across other springs with running water, and we bypassed them by following a trail on the hillside made most likely by bighorn sheep. Signs of bighorn were everywhere!
The canyon continued to stay wet with a heavy cover of brush, willows and mesquite over polished bedrock. There are several falls in this area with good footing, allowing us to negotiate them safely. The trickest one we came across is a triple waterfall, which we all helped each other down safely. The creek then vanished underground and the canyon opened up, leaving the worst behind us, so we thought. When Don spotted the next drop off, he climbed up the side of the canyon to investigate and discovered straight ahead of us was an impassable gorge plunging straight down.
As a group we came to the conclusion that we were not in Sheep Canyon, we had unknowingly entered Willow Creek Canyon and immediately decided to turn back. We made camp that night at the top of the triple waterfall. We all agreed it was a splendid camp, we had water, it was relatively flat and the skies above were clear. Best of all, we were together and no one was hurt.
The next morning Don, Dave, and Ernie left very early and hiked back to where we had started the outing. The remainder of the group took our time walking out of Willow Creek canyon--far from civilization, this seldom visited oasis is a hidden treasure. By late afternoon we were on our way home and the adventurous weekend we spent together was just a memory, but not one to be soon forgotten.
I would like to close by saying that two things are for sure; 1) we all learned a lot on this trip about what to do to avoid anything like this from happening again; and 2) I for one am already looking forward to going with Don next fall to see the other canyon-- Sheep Canyon.
"Claim Jumper" Silvia