29-Dec-2002 -- Almost three years to the day after Ross
Finlayson's initial visit to 36°N 117°W, my wife and I decided
to pay a visit to this confluence as part of our annual retreat to
Death Valley National Park. This is one of two confluences that lie
within the official boundaries of the park, the other one being 37°N 117°W.
As Ross mentioned in his report, the confluence lies in the Panamint
mountains about 1 mile north of Warm Spring Canyon Road where it
crosses 117°W longitude. It's about 15 miles west from the West
Side Road and is an easy trail for a 4WD vehicle, or even a 2WD with
good ground clearance. The road is well-graded for the first ten
miles and rocky for the last five. The trail north for the last mile
requires a modest degree of technical 4WD skill.
My wife René and I started out around noon with the intention
of getting some good late-afternoon pictures. The drive was easy and
quite beautiful as expected. What we weren't prepared for was what a
fascinating section of the park this is. The Panamints are quite rich
in natural beauty as well as California history. As we drove along we
saw mines that have probably been worked since the days of the
49'ers and the famous 20 Mule Teams, and some of them are still being
worked today. Although most people think of gold and silver when they
think of mining, the honest truth is that unglamorous substances like
talc seem to draw the most attention these days.
Since we took our time and did some sightseeing, it was around 3:30 PM
when we got to the intersection of Warm Spring Canyon Road and
117°W. I had my wife get out and do some spotting for me, then
proceeded north for 3/4 of a mile in my truck. I picked a spot about 1/4
mile away from the confluence to park and after a five-minute
hike I was there! However it wasn't a total cakewalk due to the
upward slope of the land in this area, which forms a sort of plateau
that is not visible from the road and feels quite remote once you get
there. It would have been an excellent site for wilderness camping if we had
come equipped for that.
Even though this is the first visit reported to the DCP since
selective availability was turned off in May 2000, to my surprise
there were at least two small rock "sculptures" quite close to the
confluence point so it was obvious that this location was of interest
to people even if they hadn't heard of it through the DCP web site.
Although it was nice to get late-afternoon pictures of the confluence,
I found myself regretting that we hadn't started earlier. Instead of
turning back we could have continued on to the Striped Butte and
perhaps gone all the way into Panamint Valley through Ballarat via
Goler Wash, which is the only 4WD route across the southern Panamints
that remains open at present due to closures by the NPS and BLM in
response to pressures from environmentalists and private land owners.
A few notes about the equipment I used. As always my Garmin Etrex
Vista was excellent. I fashioned a primitive dashboard mount using
Garmin's bicycle handlebar mount, the advantage being that it's bolted
to the dash and therefore vibration-proof (this is important for
off-road use). My camera is a Canon EOS D30 which I've had for two
years now, and even though it's not the "latest and greatest" anymore,
I still think this is one of the best digital cameras for outdoor use due to
its outstanding image quality and above-average battery life. And of
course my 2000 Toyota Tacoma acquitted itself with no trouble at all.
Please visit my web site www.rssnet.org for more information
about my adventures with René, including detailed trip reports
and more pictures.