June 22, Day 21: We found hidden life in Death Valley. Yes, that picture is #nofilter, unretouched. While the temperature in the valley was well over 100F, Darwin Falls was a cool, willow-shaded oasis teeming with red dragonflies, lizards, and chirping birds.
Father Crowley Overlook
We arrived at Death Valley in late afternoon, approaching on Highway 190 from the west. Father Crowley Overlook provided dramatic views, with the highway a ribbon winding down through multicolored hills to the valley floor far below.
Panamint Spring Resort was our destination. The “Resort” label was a bit of a stretch, with small cabins and tents at the desert’s edge.
The place was largely empty, with one other cabin occupied by a girls-trip group and a tent nearby with a lone biker. He pulled in, dusty from the road, as I was unloading our Jeep. I offered him a cold beer, and we popped the tops and chatted for a bit. He was five days out of San Francisco, enjoying the ride and soaking in the desert. Then Jean and I went to find dinner. The resort’s restaurant was closed, so a slice of pizza from the gas station and a second beer comprised our dinner.
The following day, we woke early, intending a hike to Darwin falls before the heat. The dawn views over the desert were stark but beautiful as we loaded the Jeep.
An earthquake several decades ago dried up Panamint Springs. Since then, the tiny village has piped in its water from Darwin Falls, a few miles up the road. The system looks third-world, with the rusty steel pipe hanging by straps or lying on stones as it winds its way down.
We followed the piping to the trailhead, parked the Jeep, and started our hike along the dry riverbed.
As we followed the pipe on foot, we started to see green sage, then cattails, and finally willows, with damp earth at their feet. The sounds of life began… buzzing bees and dragonflies, birdsong, and the rustle of small lizards. Eventually, we found the pipe’s head in a small concrete pool that dammed a stream.
A bit further on, we found the stream’s source – a waterfall gushing from the cliffside in a narrow valley. Darwin Falls runs perennially, fed by underground channels that collect the sparse desert rainfall for miles and miles. We stayed in the oasis for over an hour, Jean working the camera to get a clear shot of the unusual red dragonflies and their egg clusters on the cattails. Life in Death Valley.
With the heat rising, we trudged back through the dry riverbed to the Jeep. We turned right on 190 and continued across Death Valley to our next destination, Stovepipe Wells.
The temperature was well over 100F by 11am, so we abandoned all thoughts of additional hiking and gratefully sipped the water from our cooler. After briefly visiting Mosaic Canyon and Zabriskie Point, we drove non-stop to Lake Kaweah. There our crummy little hotel had hot water, free ice, and a good bed. We slept peacefully and long and woke up refreshed, ready for the cooler climate of Kings and Sequoia National Parks.