Death Valley VI: 40 miles in the Owlshead Mountain

After the fall semester ended I got my wisdom teeth removed and after a day or two of not doing much I was itching to head to Death Valley. Ira and I headed south in search of solitude and adventure. We spent the ride down discussing potential routes as we each had spent a lot of time researching where to go. The trip started as many other trips to Death Valley did, at Emigrant Campground.

Emigrant Campground

We decided to go to the ranger’s station at Furnace Creek to seek advice, but they told us that their guess was as good as ours. They were quite impressed with the trips we had done in Death Valley and were quite friendly but unfortunately did not give many suggestions. Thus we decided on Ira’s proposal: 50 miles in the owlshead mountains, which involved crossing an enormous barren valley to get there. Soon, we set out into the desert.

It was late by the time we set out so we camped near the beautiful Ibex dunes. This was the last time we’d see another person on the whole trip.

Ibex dunes
abandoned mining structure near the ibex dunes
Ibex dunes at sunset


The next morning we set out across the Amargosa Valley, we topped off our water at Saratoga Springs but the water tasted very salty and we avoided drinking it as long as possible into the trip. There may be a better place to fill up water here but we did not find one.

Saratoga Springs


Ira crossing the enourmous Amargosa valley on the way to the Owlsheads

It took the better part of the second day but we finally made it to the Owlsheads and to the mouth of Passage Canyon.

the mouth of Passage Canyon, our gateway to the Owlsheads

We spent the night in Passage Canyon to hide from the wind and crested over the Owlsheads the next day. We were treated to a panoramic view and our first glimpse of Owl Lake.

Owl Lake from afar
walking across owl lake

It was very windy at Owl lake and as always is the case in the desert, water was limited so we could not linger in the Owlsheads. Soon we headed down contact canyon.

Ira navigating down Contact Canyon
Walking down Contact Canyon
Stars over Contact Canyon

The next day our trip came to an end, we returned to the Amargosa Valley were we walked North to the road and planned to hitch out. Eventually I would like to find a route in the Black mountains to link with this one and create a Death Valley traverse route, but for now we wanted to head back to the Bay Area to celebrate the holidays with our families.

Finally reaching the Mouth of Contact Canyon, the Black Mountains loom in the distance

Hitching out on the road was tougher then expected, because of the uncertainty of hitching out we carried plenty of extra food and water. Well we originally intended to go south to our car, it quickly became apparent that cars were quite sparse along the road and we could not afford to be picky, thus, we were forced to hitch North to Badwater where we knew there would be a much more favorable number of cars for hitching. 3.5 long hours later we got a ride. Never lose trust in the road.

Ira playing the Ukelele as we waited for a ride out

We got an impromptu tour of Death Valley after getting a ride North out of Badwater from two UC Berkeley students, who happened to be in the same hiking club as me. We saw Artist’s Drive and Zabriskie point. They then dropped us off at the junction to Dante’s view.

Ira hitching as the sun sets

Eventually we got two rides east which got us to Death Valley Junction. Almost every car going by was following the same formulaic tour: Badwater, to Zabriskie Point to Dante’s View for sunset and then east towards Las Vegas. They certainly had a very different experience in the valley then the one we just had and seemed noticeably less stoked about it. We were offered at least five rides to Las Vegas but turned them all down. Just as we thought our luck had run out, as it so often goes with hitching we found a ride all the way back to our car. We drove south and out of the desert. Good bye Death Valley!

As with all of my trips in Death Valley, thank you to without which we would not have even considered the Owlshead Mountains.




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