A Death Valley Thanksgiving

Fossil coral on the huge alluvial fan of Dry Bone Canyon.
Fossil coral on the alluvial fan of Dry Bone Canyon.

Mike and I got out of town over Thanksgiving break to take advantage of balmy late-November weather and get in a little canyon exploring in Death Valley.

Mike planned a 36-mile loop that started on the Scotty’s Castle Road north of Stovepipe Wells. We would walk west up the giant alluvial fan of Dry Bone Canyon into the Cottonwood Mountains. Then we’d go around a 600-foot series of huge dry falls, head north along the crest of the Cottonwoods, and drop down eastward into Bighorn Gorge, down into the bottom of Death Valley and back to the Sprinter.

It was three full days of walking, fossils, sleeping under the stars, dry bones and even a five-course Thanksgiving dinner.

Map check and brief respite from carrying 45-lb packs (mostly water), Death Valley Wash.
Map check and respite from carrying 45-lb packs (mostly water), Death Valley Wash.
Inaugural voyage of the super-light-and-warm Feathered Friends double sleeping bag. Perfect spot for a 5-course dinner: Course 1: A nice lemon-lime Gatorade of obscure vintage Course 2: Cheddar + garlic appetizer Course 3: Bean + rice consommé (which was consommé'd) Course 4: Beans + rice seasoned with cheese and spices Course 5: Homemade chocolate chip-oat-pecan cookies of recent vintage
Inaugural voyage of the super-light-and-warm Feathered Friends double sleeping bag. Perfect spot for a 5-course dinner:
Course 1: A nice lemon-lime Gatorade of obscure vintage
Course 2: Cheddar + garlic appetizer
Course 3: Bean + rice consommé (which was consommé’d)
Course 4: Beans + rice seasoned with cheese and spices
Course 5: Homemade chocolate chip-oat-pecan cookies of recent vintage
Getting close to the narrowest sections of upper Dry Bone Canyon.
Next morning, we continue up-canyon and approach some of the narrowest sections of upper Dry Bone Canyon.
Desert bighorn ram skull, Dry Bone Canyon.
Desert bighorn ram skull, Dry Bone Canyon.
Many limestone narrows in the upper part of the canyon.
Many limestone narrows in the upper part of the canyon.
Catching our breath after the 800' gully we had to ascend to get around a 600' series of impassable dry falls. Floor of the canyon is in the background.
Catching our breath after the 800′ gully we had to ascend to get around a 600′ series of  dry falls.  Floor of Dry Bone Canyon is in the background.
Coffee break at the top of the bypass, and a great view down Death Valley, looking toward Furnace Creek. Lots of snow on the Panamints!
Coffee break at the top of the bypass, and a great view down Death Valley, looking south toward Furnace Creek. Lots of snow on the Panamints!
Dry Bone Canyon from above, amid the rugged ridges of the Cottonwoods.
Dry Bone Canyon from above, amid the rugged ridges of the Cottonwoods.
We found a bit more snow than expected on the upper section of old mining road, before dropping into Bighorn Gorge.
We found more snow than expected on the upper section of old mining road and postholed for a couple of miles before dropping into Bighorn Gorge.
North-side slopes had less snow, but the wind had blown that snow into our gully!
North-side slopes had less snow, but the wind had blown that snow into our gully.
After a couple miles of descent, we were below most of the snow and were able to camp in this pretty area of Joshua trees.
After a couple miles of descent, we were below most of the snow and were able to camp in this pretty area of Joshua trees.
Entering Bighorn Gorge proper the next morning. The entire canyon is walkable, with a few scrambles down small dry falls, and one bouldery bypass around a 60-foot fall.
Entering Bighorn Gorge proper the next morning. The entire canyon is walkable, with a few scrambles down small ledges, and one bouldery bypass around a 60-foot fall.
There were several short sections of really narrow narrows of polished limestone.
There were several short sections of really narrow corridors of polished limestone.
Incredible variety of rock colors and tilted layers.
Incredible variety of rock colors and tilted layers.
Fossils were embedded in the walls and floor of the gorge: snails, bivalves, and other ancient sea creatures.
Snails, bivalves and other small, ancient sea creatures were embedded in the walls and floor of the gorge.
Out of the gorge, back across Death Valley Wash, and back up to the Sprinter (see it?) on an old old "road" that is actually still marked on the map! Clearly it has seen better days ...
Out of the gorge, back across Death Valley Wash, and back up to the Sprinter (see it?) on an old “road” that is actually still marked on the map! Clearly it has seen better days.

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