Cottonwood Canyon Road to Marble Canyon
(13 miles, +2,200/-2,200 feet).
Winter nights in the tent are long! It was windy last night but not too cold. By the time the stars began to disappear, we were both ready to get out of our tents and hit the trail.
It was great being on trail this morning away from vehicles (though I whine too much — we only saw two jeeps and two motorbikes yesterday). The terrain definitely got more interesting as we passed by seasonal springs deep inside the narrowing canyon.
Once the sun made it above the horizon, it played on distant hillsides beneath low cloud banks that grazed the summits.
We occasionally passed depressions that recently had water, and some of the rocks in them showed classic patterns of salt around their edges.
After a couple of hours we made our way to Cottonwood Springs where the water from it was flowing down canyon through a green-hearted riparian forest.
Although the water was flowing beautifully in some places, I thought it would be best to wait until we got to the source of the water to collect it. But it turns out that was a bad idea! The source was buried underneath acres of brambles. We would have been better off collecting it in the creek about a quarter mile earlier….
We took a break, treated some water, had a snack, and then headed back to the north where Cottonwood Canyon dramatically opens up into a high wide valley.
The amazing thing about this part of our hike in Death Valley was — wait for it — the snow! The Cottonwood Mountains to the west of us were absolutely covered in it and it was gorgeous.
In the middle of the valley an old signpost told us we had come 3 miles from the spring. I couldn’t quite get a picture of it, but on the post was a very old cast iron sign that read “Injury to Post Punishable by State Prison.”
At this point we were near 4200 feet above sea level, and I could see some snow just above us on a hill about a quarter mile to the west, so I walked over there while Quercus took a break.
Unfortunately, in my enthusiasm I lost track of where I came from. Good thing Quercus was resting by a tall (uninjured) pole!
On the way back I startled a jack rabbit who was nice enough to freeze so I could take its photo. Notice also that its shadow is pointing to a large used shell casing on the ground (I packed it out).
We continued up Cottonwood Canyon until we had to turn east towards a saddle that would take us over towards Dead Horse Canyon.
On the east side of the saddle we stopped for some lunch and then continued our journey.
The only tricky part of this hike is that we had to turn out of this new canyon (we called it “fake-out canyon”) to get over another saddle in order to descend into Dead Horse Canyon.
And while we did this the clouds got really dark and then opened up.
The rain lasted about 15 minutes, and then this:
The rainbow lasted for 15 minutes or so, almost going double while we dropped precipitously into Dead Horse Canyon. It was hard to keep my eyes on my feet with all that beauty in the air.
By 1:30pm we made it to another spring to refill our water bottles.
Below the spring the canyon got narrower and rockier, leading us to a series of waterfalls. The tallest one was smooth and an 8 foot drop, but someone had left a tree trunk there to help with the descent.
The trail flattened out a lot after the falls and the canyon opened up for a while in the afternoon light.
Grass was growing up in cracks in the mud where it was drying and shrinking, making striped patterns all over the canyon floor.
As the shadows grew longer, we entered the spectacular marble part of Marble Canyon.
After a while the canyon widened once again and we stumbled on some ancient pictographs on the canyon floor:
Quercus spotted a lovely wide flat bench above the wash in the canyon for us to pitch our tents and call it a day