|3rd Narrows of Marble Canyon|
Date: November 25, 2016
Place: Marble Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California
Coordinates: 36.619184, -117.330605
Length: 4.8 miles
A 4x4 vehicle is required to get to the trailhead.
The morning of Thanksgiving Day 2016 in Death Valley NP was clear and very, very cold. Pappa Quail was the first to stick his nose outside of the tent, and by the time I got out he had the campfire going and the water fro the morning tea boiling. Such a treat!
He had also found the dutch oven under the table where I had left it the night before and had sampled its contents - my pitiful first attempt at a campfire peach cobbler. He managed to scrap some unburnt bits and actually liked it! (Or perhaps told me he did to make me feel better.)
By the time the chikas were out and we all finished breakfast the sun popped from behind the mountains and the morning chill had subsided. We got ready for the day's planned hike.
Our original plan was to meet with friends there, but their plans have changed, and so we were in Death Valley by ourselves, having already seen all the 'must see' park sites, and with a 4X4 vehicle on hand.
We knew this a couple of days before arriving at Death Valley, so when Pappa Quail asked me where are we going to hike I had the trail already selected and ready.
"It'll take us 2 hours to get there," he observed after one glance at the map.
|The way to Marble Canyon, a look back toward Amaragosa Range.|
W found a reasonable flat patch by the side of the 'road', parked the car and started to the mouth of Marble Canyon. Right away I realized that my assumption that in fall time there won't be any bloom there was wrong. It wasn't a spread by any means, certainly not like in spring earlier that year, but we did encounter some blooming plants along that trail. The first of which I almost stepped on. I probably would have if not for its flowers- the foliage blends in so well with the gravel.
|Our hike up and down Marble Canyon as captured by Pappa Quail's GPS|
Either way, I expected that we would not be alone on the trail.
|A few steps past the trailhead|
I diverted the girls' attention to the beautiful geological display of the canyon walls.
|Layered sedimentary rock cliff near the trailhead.|
|Pygmycedar, Peucephyllum schottii|
Fairly close still to the trailhead we found a burrow in the rock. I wonder wether it was the remains of a futile mining effort or a primitive residence of some desert hermit.
The trail description I had listed four 'narrows' - sections of the wash where the canyon walls are tall and sheer and very close to each other. The higher the canyon walls and the narrower the passage between them - the more exciting the hike is. The type of rock combined with the space and violent nature of precipitation and collection leads to more of these 'narrows' or slot canyons seen in the desert.
The variety and beauty of the rock formations blew my mind. I kept seeing shapes and little fantasy omens in the cracklines and color patterns. Little messages from the universe emulated in the rocky images.
Here are some of the interesting formations shapes I saw embedded in the marble walls of the canyon.
It is in these places that I feel most regretful for not taking the geology program in college. Its one of the first education gaps I intend to fill as soon as I find the time for it.
I tired to get the chikas' interest in these shapes but it took only a few seconds before they started naming imagery of offensive nature, so I shooed them off and sent them to follow their father up the canyon.
We backtracked a few yards and saw that there was a line of rocks laid across the creek bed and a narrow foot path leading up the side slope to the right.
We sat there to rest a but, and as we were discussing what's next, a person came down that path. He was a sole backpacker who was coming down from Upper Marble Canyon, completing the Cottonwood-Marble Canyons Loop. He confirmed to us that the little foot path was indeed a bypass of the boulder block and that the Marble Canyon Trail continued further on past it.
|Bypassing the boulder block|
It is important to check the weather before entering a canyon narrows, for if a flash flood is a possibility it could be a dangerous trap. There was no such threat during our visit and we could enjoy the fun of Nature's rock trenches in all their glory.
|Marble Canyon third narrows|
And they're beautiful.
|Rock Nettle, Eucnide urens|
We didn't get to the forth narrows of Marble Canyon. At the end of the third Pappa Quail announced that it was time to turn and head back, "if we're to drive out while there's still daylight." Considering the road's condition I reserved my usual protest and agreed.
On the way back through the third narrows I paid closer attention to the wall paintings. All natural, of course.
I cannot imagine the kinds of geological forces that produce patters like the one below. It looks more exquisite than any human-made art displayed in museums.
I also looked more carefully at the local flora. Some of the shrubs that at first glance appeared to be devoid of bloom actually did bear some flowers. Tiny flowers. And very few.
|Brownplume, Stephanomeria pauciflora|
|Buckwheat, Eriogonum sp.|
Now we were chasing the sunshine. We were less than four weeks before the winter solstice, deep in a canyon on the mountain range's eastern slopes, and daylight was waning fast. The higher regions of the canyon wall were still nicely illuminated though, and the reddish barrel cacti glistened in the light.
|Cottontop Cactus, Echinocactus polycephalus|
But as we progressed towards the canyon mouth these sunny areas were harder to catch. The sunny spots were receding faster than we walked.
|Creek Bed Sediments|
Pappa Quail and the chikas walked quickly ahead of me. The chikas forgot their marble search but I kept looking for interesting rock patterns. This one below looks just like a liquid that solidified in mid-flow. It is, however, not an igneous rock but sedimentary, so I can't even guess how this pattern came to be.
|Desert Holly, Atriplex hymenelytra|
There was no more color in any of my photos near the end of the hike. The sky above was bright blue still, but down below it was twilight. Has we been backpacking our day would have been called then and there.
As it was, we still had a couple of hours drive to get to Mesquite Springs Campground. We arrived at the car and were on our way out without delay.
It was only after we cleared the Panamint Range that I stopped the car and stepped outside to take one last shot of the range to the east as it glowed in the light of the broader world's sunset.
That night was even colder than the night before, and much windier. Well practiced, we got dinner down and chikas in the tent before 8. Once again I remained outside to clean up and enjoy the peace. There were no stars to see that night for the clouds had rolled in.
I didn't stay out very long. The wind had intensified and I drowned the campfire in fear of flying embers. Once the fire was quenched it was bitterly cold out so I joined my family in the tent for our last night in Death Valley.
Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying plants!