Note: Poison Canyon, Trona, Trona Pinnacles, etc. are also listed under “nearby” section.
Hwy 178 is also called Trona Road in Ridgecrest – head east out of town, up the hill and keep going!
BLM Wild Horse and Burro facility
east on Hwy 178 – right turn right at the top of the hill above town at the sign .2 mi; there is a dirt road around the corrals; horses seem to be on the east side, burros on the west side.
The government has decided that there are too many non-native wild mustangs and burros, all left over from mining days 100 years ago, roaming BLM lands. They are eating forage that the native animals, particularly mountain sheep, would be eating, and they foul up water holes that are needed by quail and tortoises. So several times a year BLM folks, often with helicopters, round up stray burros and horses and bring them to this facility. Your tax dollars pay for the round up, and then the feeding of these animals. They are all available for adoption! If you see a furry friend you’d like to take home with you, talk to the folks at the Fire Station. There is a fee and some regulations, but these animals all tame down well and make great pets! Take a bag of carrots up there and make some new friends. They’re quite used to humans now.
Trona Pinnacles Natural Landmark:
*east on Hwy 178 about 20 miles, south on signed dirt road 5 miles: caution – don’t go if it has just rained!! The whole place turns to a quagmire!! High clearance best – 4x4 (usually) not needed.
These strange formations are actually tufa towers just like those of Mono Lake, only these are bigger and thicker. Tufa forms underwater from a reaction of a fresh water calcium-laden spring coming up from earthquake faults (the end of the Garlock fault system) and mixing with the carbonates of the Pleistocene lake waters with the help of precipitating blue-green algae. As you drive out to the towers, note the “bathtub rings” all around the valley from the ancient Searles Lake which was over 600 feet deep as the glaciers melted from the last “ice age” in the Sierra, some 25,000 years ago. This is when the tufa formed. The 500 strange calcium carbonate towers are quite delicate, some 140 feet tall – please don’t climb on them!! They can’t be replaced. The whole area is open for exploration – just don’t get stuck. Better to walk around than to drive… Take pictures at low light, dawn or dusk. Movie companies use the area a lot!! Star Trek has filmed here several times. Dispersed camping is allowed, but only one toilet! Don’t make fire rings!
one pit toilet, no water, no shade. http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/ridgecrest/trona.html
*east on Hwy 178 about 25 miles; elev 1659 ft.
Searles Valley Chemical Company is the main presence in this conglomeration of West End, Argus, Trona and Pioneer Point. Once a year in October, usually Columbus Day weekend, the Searles Valley Gem and Mineral Society holds their annual show with lake tours for hanksite crystals, and the plant is open to tours. The Trona Historical Society has a small museum open on weekends. www1.iwvisp.com/svhs/ Searles Lake is partly owned by SVC and partly by BLM. It is incredibly rich in many minerals which were deposited over the eons by continual erosion and deposition from the mountains. Borax and related chemicals are extracted from the mile-deep sediments. The lake brine is mixed with carbon dioxide at the Argus plant and soda ash is produced. It is used extensively in the production of glassware. The Trona plant boils the brine to extract potash, used in fertilizers, and borax products. The Westend plant produces boric acid and other sodium sulfate products. These products are shipped all over the world by way of daily trucks and the Trona railroad. The huge coal-fired cogeneration plant produces steam for the plants but also a whole lot of electricity to add to “the grid.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Searles_Valley_Minerals gas, some stores, restaurants, rest stop with nice bathrooms.
http://www1.iwvisp.com/svhs/SVTimeLine.htm A history of the activities in the Searles Valley, mineral explorations, etc.
On your way there – the white mud hills in Poison Canyon near “fish rocks” have Pleistocene fossil snails and clams in them from when this whole area was underwater during the last ice ages. They’re small, 5-8 mm, white, fragile, but 20,000 years old! Stop and have a look!!
Hwy 178 ends at the Pinnacles road officially, but the road continues through Trona, past Great Falls Basin, over the Slate Range and into Panamint Valley and on to Death Valley, Panamint Springs, Darwin Falls, Hwy 190, etc.
Great Falls Basin (1.5 hrs to get there, 4x4 necessary due to soft sand)
Several of the dirt roads north of Trona lead to Great Falls Basin, a series of 7 dry waterfalls that come off Argus Peak. Pretty area for picnic, sometimes water in the spring, but dangerous to try to climb down the falls without a rope and rock climbing techniques.
Darwin Falls: (now in Death Valley National Park) (1 hour to get to Panamint Springs)
*from Ridgecrest: east on Hwy 178 through Trona and into the Panamint Valley. Turn left at the Death Valley/Wildrose junction. Turn left onto Hwy 190. Go exactly one mile west of Panamint Springs, turn left onto a dirt road heading west (high clearance is helpful as the road is quite washboardy!!) Follow the white pvc water line.
OR – From Lone Pine or Olancha – take Hwy 136/190 east, past Darwin turnoff, past Father Crowley Point- fantastic views into Panamint Valley and down into colorful Rainbow Canyon- and wind down the switchbacks into the Panamint Valley. Just at the bottom of the hill, turn right (west) onto a dirt road. You can see a white pvc pipeline heading west up the wash – this is the road you want!! Or it’s 1.0 miles west of Panamint Springs.
Follow the road along the wash 2.5 miles. Just as you round a corner to head south, turn west at a large rock cairn to a parking area. Hike 1.0 mi from here to the falls.
The main county road continues up the hill to Darwin, but it is rough in places and usually 4x4 is needed, high clearance for sure!! http://www.hikespeak.com/trails/darwin-falls-death-valley/
A waterfall in the desert??!! Two of them in fact – the lower one is fairly easy to get to, the upper one requires 3rd class rock-climbing skills and a hike upstream to the 30 ft. falls. As you walk along the hot rocky wash, you will pick up a trickle of water. Soon you reach cattails, a sure sign there is water!! Then willows. You clamber up the rocks and trail and duck under trees – it’s not all a flat hike and you might get your feet wet!- and soon you are at the base of a lovely 15 foot high waterfall!! Watercress and wild celery abound in the waters. Maidenhair ferns are tucked under the big rock. It’s paradise in the middle of nowhere!! Look for signs of mountain lion tracks in the mud – they come here to drink. Barrel cactus cling from the cliffs of the wash. Swifts whistle, canyon wrens give their delightful down-scale call. It’s good any time of year. This hike does require scrambling up and over things, ducking under stuff, and you have to work hard to keep your feet dry.
No facilities: don’t drink the stream water unless your treat it properly.
Telescope Peak trail: (1.5 hrs. to trailhead, all day 14 mile hike)
*east on Hwy 178 through Trona into the Panamint Valley. (**Lower Wildrose Road is washed out and OFFICIALLY CLOSED – you’ll have to go around to Emigrant Canyon to be legal and safe; Turn left at the Road Closed sign and head north through Panamint Valley. Turn right on Hwy 190 and go up and over Towne Pass – the pretty colors you pass through are the throat of a very old volcano! Go down to just above the Emigrant Station and restroom, turn right onto Emigrant Canyon Road and wind around and over more passes and down to the area of the Wildrose Campground. Keep going up the paved road uphill for about 8.5 miles, pass the ten Charcoal Kilns and continue to the end of the road at Mahogany Flat campground. The last mile of road is steep and very rugged – high clearance for sure, front wheel drive best- you may want to park at Thorndike Camp and hike up from there. Road closed at the charcoal kilns in winter. Park at Mahogany Flats, a “dry” campground.
The trail to Telescope Peak is 7 miles long, one way, elevation gain 3000 ft. The view from the trail and from the peak makes the whole thing very worthwhile!! It winds its way around Rogers Peak, is fairly level for a while, then climbs up the ridge of Telescope Peak past bristlecone pines. Through the notch,it is still another quarter mile to the true summit at 11,049 ft. You are 11,320 feet above the Death Valley floor, as Badwater is below you!!
From here you can see west to Mt. Whitney and the entire Southern Sierra crest, north to White Mountain Peak, east into Nevada to Charleston Peak (beyond is Las Vegas), and south to the mountains of the Mojave Desert. On a clear day you can see about 120 miles in all directions!! Snow blocks the trail until mid May most years. Crampons and ice axe and caution necessary when there’s snow! It is a great summer or fall hike if you want something cool to do!!
Wildrose Peak Trail – starts just behind the first kilns and zig zags to the top of Wildrose Peak, about 4 miles.
Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley National Park: (2 hours to get there)
Scotty’s Castle, Badwater, Death Valley National Park: (3 hours to get there)