Feb. 05, 2016
The day started early in anticipation of the morning rush hour. My brother and I left at 7:15 a.m. to get a head start on our all-morning drive to Death Valley National Park. It’s virtually impossible to anticipate traffic here so we did have to traverse some inconveniences on the road. An unforeseen lane closure on the 15 freeway forced us to take a detour on to side streets causing a fifteen to twenty minute delay. Our path then cleared only to be slowed again by a smaller one lane road, highway 395, filled with eighteen wheeled cargo trucks. I was then excited to find myself on a much less traveled highway with seemingly no one else on the road. Little did I know that the route of this highway was through a windy mountain pass on the side of a cliff, highway 178. It would have been a much more harrowing experience if there were more vehicles on the road. I can only recall two other vehicles that morning. I thought I was in the clear, we are almost at our destination until I spot a sign stating the end of the paved road. By the time I finished complaining about the lack of asphalt, “where are we Latin America?”, is what I said. The road came to an end we were now rolling on gravel, kicking up our own little dirt devil. Shortly after the pavement had been restored we were on highway 190 and just a short distance away from our destination. Within a mile of Old Toll Road we noticed three figures that appeared to be dogs in a field alongside the road. As we got closure it was apparent what they were. Coyotes traveling in a small pack. Most people might see this as bad luck but I saw it as an omen of what’s to come on our visit here in Death Valley, one of great fortune and adventure.
As we past Panamint Springs, I knew from prior research that Old Toll Road was the first dirt road on the left. Three miles of hard dirt, rocks and loose gravel that is passable by even normal two-wheel drive vehicles. After driving all morning, four hours, we had reached the trailhead to Darwin Fall. This had better be one epic hike to justify the eventful morning drive and the fact we we made special consideration to visit the falls which was a good distance form the rest our points of interest.
In short, the trail didn’t disappoint. It starts out uneventful on a dry riverbed. Stay to the right and follow the walls of the riverbed. You’ll notice a water pipe alongside these walls, pipes that carry the water to the road and into the local water system, I assume.
Halfway, you quickly hear a stream to your left and the desert shrubs giveaway to trees and a small gorge previously carved out by swift water.
The path now takes you to the scrambling portion of the trail, crossing the stream several times, going around large trees and going over large boulders. As you come around the trees, there it is a waterfall in Death Valley, California. A contradiction by all accounts. A region world renowned by the lack of water and I’m standing here in front of a waterfall.
A feeling, like I had found a unicorn, came over me. Death Valley only gets two inches of rain per year because of the surrounding mountains that collect the rain and keep it from reaching the valley. Darwin Falls is in the western edge of the national park and serves as a catch basin for the water runoff from the surrounding hillsides and mountains. The falls may not be as large or dramatic as most waterfalls but in this context, it has its significance. The trail is just under 3 miles, round trip, and not difficult at all. There is a larger taller falls which requires scrambling up the rocks but our time constraints didn’t allow for us to search for this 2nd falls. The route to the 2nd falls is unmarked and would take more effort. After absorbing Darwin Falls visually and mentally we were on your way back with the feeling of fulfillment. After a quick lunch stop, the expedition continued into the main portion of the valley.
In retrospect, the Coyotes were a good omen.