Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Water Canyon - Argus Range

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Dry Wash

Water Canyon

A cold winter-like front came rolling in with high winds to keep us in the house Monday. The weather wasn't much better Tuesday morning but we wanted to get out, so we headed out to the Argus Range - our standby for this kind of weather day. The lower elevation, and often less wind, makes for a nice outdoor refuge from the elements. While the Indian Wells Valley to the west and Death Valley to the east were experiencing 30+ mph winds all day, in the Argus we experienced no more than 15 mph. Susan searched around on-line and found this hike with part cross-country, part BLM roads through an area where we had never been. Off we went.

The Argus Range is just west of the Panamint Mountains and Death Valley and experiences the same extreme dry climate. With a relatively decent rainy season this year there are flowers. While it was past peak for most of the annuals, there were still good flowers around. This area has long been mined for various minerals so the historical sites were also of interest to us. 

We started by climbing an old mining road up a dry wash to the mine shaft. It wasn't much to see, but there was a Say's Phoebe nest just inside the entrance. Continuing up on a donkey trail we gained the ridge overlooking Water Canyon. Chuckar, Rock Wrens, Bell's and Black-throated Sparrows all kept us company for the climb. 

Hiking up the road

Mine entrance

Say's Phoebe nest
Feral donkeys (Burros) are pretty amazing creatures. They have inhabited these desert mountain ranges for over 100 years, having escaped or been abandoned by miners. And they are quite the trail builders; creating paths to move from one area to another, or to and from water sources. Standing on the ridge 700 vertical feet above our destination in the canyon below, we need a way down the steep canyon wall. Follow the donkey trail! We wound our way down the most amazing trail, engineered as well as many man-made hiking trails we've been on. It even had multiple switchbacks on some of the steepest sections. In a short while we were safely on the floor of Water Canyon. All thanks to our trail building donkey friends.

Susan stands in a donkey rolling pit, used for dust baths to rid the animals of parasites in their fur

Standing on the ridge above Water Canyon

Water Canyon far below

View northeast toward the mouth of Water Canyon and the Pamamint Mountains beyond

View west to the Argus crest. Susan is hiking on the awesome donkey trail.

Mojave Aster

Side canyon
We walked down Water Canyon for a little over a mile stopping a few times to investigate old mining sites and have lunch. As we ate a flock of about a dozen White-throated Swifts buzzed overhead at close range for a great show. Next up was a side canyon that would get us back to the ridge top and heading toward our car. 

Water Canyon looking upstream to the west

Water Canyon looking downstream

Narrowleaf Goldenbush

Narrowleaf Goldenbush

Water Canyon

Mine tunnel
While the old mines and structures make for interesting features as we hike, the modern PVC open ended pipes marking mining claims make for bird killers.  This area is loaded with them.  From just one pointed we counted 13 of these death pipes, and there are miles of canyon marked this way.

Rock Nettle

Rock Nettle

Old miner cabin
PVC mine claim markers - also known as bird death traps...

We were able to walk up the side canyon bottom usually following the donkey trail. Along the way Susan found a very cooperative Rosy Boa who allowed great photos, keeping with the general theme of cool reptile sightings for the past week or so.

Side canyon escape from Water Canyon

View across water canyon as we ascend

Rosy Boa
Rosy Boa

Susan ascends the canyon

From the top back to Water Canyon
At the top of the ridge we met up with a dirt road that would take us back to the car. Shortly along we came to an old onyx mine that demanded a brief side trip. The onyx deposit was at the top of another ridge that gave an outstanding view across to the Panamint Range.  All the was left to do was the two miles to the car in a freshening breeze. 

From the ridge looking south

Horned Lizard
Taking a break at the onyx mine

View across to Panamint Mountains

A beautiful Notch-leaved Phacelia still hanging on near the mine

Old mine structure

We think this is onyx stone, but we really weren't certain what we were looking for

Desert Star


  1. Very interesting account and photographs of this area. Thanks. Are you carrying 75 pound packs to get ready for your BIG trek up the PCT?

    1. Dan, thanks. Our base weight is low enough that even with full packs we'll be under 30 lbs except in parts of So. Cal. where we have to carry extra water. We'll manage. We start in two days!

  2. Hi, great trip report! I was just curious about the "bird killers" and how these open ended pipes harm birds? I see them a lot while hiking and if there is a way to save a bird, I'd like to be able to. Thank you.

    1. Thanks. Look at the following links: