Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

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My rental Jeep Grand Cherokee on Tucki Mine Rd in Death Valley National Park After a refreshing night at Emigrant Canyon Campground, I quickly washed up in the public rest rooms (that, quite surprisingly given the remote location, have running water) and was on my way towards Tucki Road at around 6:30am. I wouldn't have known about its existance if it weren't for the "Hiking Death Valley" book by Michel Digonnet; and it struck me as a good remote destination where I could just enjoy the solitude of the desert; and get to see areas of Death Valley that the typical tourist doesn't get to see.

Tucki Mine road and cabins

I drove a couple miles up Emigrant Canyon road, and then took the small dirt road on my left. First, I had to cross a fairly wide wash; where the high clearance of the Jeep came in useful. Shortly after wards, I stopped near the carcass of an old car that had clearly seen better days - the only thing that remained was the rusty lower frame of what might have been a 1930s car. I continued up the road, occasionally stopping for pictures. The road was in an okay shape, with no major bad spots; but I still made only very slow progress. As the sun rose, I gradually climbed in elevation, and at some point realized that I had already passed the spot where North fork and main part of Telephone canyon separate, and where I'd planned to hike to Telephone Arch. Alas, it wasn't meant to be and in glorious sunlight, I continued my ascent up towards Tucki Mine.

One of two cabins still standing at Tucki Mine I arrived there shortly after 8am, or around an hour and a half since I entered the wash - The book indicates it's 9.9 miles and around 2000 feet of elevation inbetween these two spots. The small wash where Tucki Mine and the two small cabins are located was still mostly in shadows, and I spent some time exploring and photographing the inside of the cabin and the entrance of the mine shafts. One funny thing about one cabin was that every drawer and box inside had been labelled to indicate its contents: "utensils", "candles", etc. There was a log in the cabin (which I didn't sign, even though I probably should have), where I saw that while the area wasn't a tourist magnet, it still got visited once every few days. I didn't see anyone on the road, or at the mine.

There was still a faint trace of road going past the mine, and I followed it for a few yards in the car before deciding that I would be better off following it by foot. This would turn out to be a good decision, because it was increasingly cut by deep ruts, and not very many spots where I could have turned around with ease. After a few minutes, I arrived at the mouth of the wash, a dry fall that was too high to climb down. Rather that scramble around the rocks (and possibly slide and fall down in a very remote location), I took this as a signal to turn around, and set off to go back to the car.

Side-road to Old Martin Crossing

I turned around, drove past Tucki Mine, and oh a whim decided to follow the side road maybe a (half?) mile down the road that I had already seen on my way up. It wasn't marked or explained in the book, so I had no idea how far it would take me, or what the destination would be. Still, I had plenty of water, plenty of time, so why not; I thought. As I drove up the road over a lot of loose rocks, I began to question that reasoning. It would soon turn out that the trail was steeper than it looked, and I had to inch the car over all those loose rocks. Whenever I heard a new one slide down under me, dislodged by the tires, I worried about getting a flat. The trail was narrow, and it was steep enough to not allow me to turn around, so I had little choice but to head on and hope for the best - that is to say, get to the top safely, be able to turn around, and make it back down safely.

Looking down at Old Martin Crossing I made it to the top safely, and even though the road continued I told myself that I'd park the car and not take such a crazy chance again (well, except to get back down; but I had no choice about that). So with the car parked and my nerves calmed down again, I was able to look around and enjoy the scenery. I was on a bench between two valleys, and I could follow the road as it headed down into the second valley. At its base, there was a crossing, and a faint line exited the valley while the other road went straight down the valley and stopped at what I identified as a small cabin. (Here, the big Sigma zoom lens that I brought along paid off). I sat there for a while, and then decided that this cabin would make a good destination for an easy hike.

As I followed the road down into the canyon. It was very steep, and I was glad I had parked the car (and there was a "foot travel welcome" sign, which I presume meant that vehicle travel was not allowed beyond this point anyway, although there was no sign stating that explicitly). Either way, while the car might have made the trip down into the valley, there's probably no way I could have taken it back up - even on foot the ground was slippy and I had to be careful not to land on my rear.

Pretty soon, I was at the bottom of the valley, and a sign proclaimed that I was at "Old Martin Crossing". I followed the road that would take me towards the cabin. The bottom of the valley was sandy, and I kicked up quite a lot of dust. I arrived at the cabin a little while later, and opened the door to find the floow littered with mouse scat. Other than that, the cabin seemed to be fully furnished, including things like a gas cooker and a sink (with a small water tank behind the cabin, although I didn't check if there was any left). It was time to turn around and hike back up to the car. The hike had been about 2 miles round-trip, with 450ft of elebation difference. Now, I'd have to hope the Jeep's tires would survive the down-hill stretch. They did, but I sure was glad to be back on Tucki Mine road. I almost felt like celebrating, but instead merely proceeded to follow Tucki Mine road back down to Emigrand Canyon.

Mosaic Canyon

Polished marble at the narrows near the mouth of Mosaic Canyon Shortly after noon, I was back on paved roads, and after a short stop at Stovepipe Wells to refuel, I decided to hike Mosaic Canyon. This one is just a short distance from a main highway, and as such (unlike in the morning) I would run into a few hikers.

I had been to Mosaic Canyon before, and as such this hike wasn't to discover a new spot; but merely to revisit a nice place and see if I'd be able to get any further into the canyon in a succession of dry falls and obstacles that need to be circumvented.

Unfortunately, the low sun meant that even at 1pm, part of the canyon was in shadow already. This was plainly visible along the first narrows at the mouth of the canyon already, where a lot of the polished while marble and the mosaics at the bottom were no longer getting any direct sunlight. The canyon gets wider beyond this, and it was getting hot even though it was late November already. At the second narrows, I went around a big boulder (other people turned around here, already), and was forced to backtrack when I ran into a dry fall too high to climb. I walked back a bit, then climbed the ravine on the right, and followed the trail that goes around the narrows. Still, I had to turn around at another dry fall a short time later. I hadn't brought the book; and as such I didn't have a description of how to get around this obstacle (and apparently, I suck at route-finding). So I turned around and hiked back down to the car.

While there were deep shadows along part of the hike, there's an advantage to every downside however: the colours were pretty much ideal and the canyon walls looked like they would around sunset in summer.


I still had some time, so I opted to head towards Skidoo. I didn't take any pictures along the way, and as such made it up to the town site in around an hour - the last part of the road before the flat where the town was located is narrow and winding, and takes some time to drive.

At Skidoo, I was looking for the large mill which I had somehow missed when I visited in 2002 - back then, I had taken my compact sedan as far as the roads would allow me, but hadn't hiked any of the roads. This time, I parked at the same spot even though I had a jeep, and explored the place a bit more thoroughly on foot.

Unfortunately, the mill was partly in shadows already; and I didn't really get the photo opportunity I had hoped for. As such, it didn't take me too long to get back to the car, and I was soon back on my way towards Emigrant campground. The sun set before 5pm.

Miles driven: 83mi (134km)

Campground Accommodation: Emigrant Canyon Campground (Death Valley National Park): $0

Written on 18th June 2006 in Luxembourg.