Kaleidoscope Canyon in Death Valley – Part 1/2

A land of lost rivers, with little in it to love; yet a land that once visited must be come back to inevitably.
(Mary Austin in The Land of Little Rain)
 

Death Valley National Park in California is one of the jewels of our planet, a vast expanse of geologic wonders in an austere, remote desert landscape, harried by extreme, unforgiving conditions for much of the year.

On our recent visit there, we explored a canyon, known to only a few, located in the Black Mountains of the Amargosa Range. It is obscure enough that it does not even have an official designation. There is no mention of it in the definitive tomes written by Stanford University physics professor, hiker, and Death Valley expert, Michel Digonnet. The close knit group of aficionados who are privy to its secrets has informally named it Kaleidoscope Canyon.

I first came across its existence in a trip report filed by the seasoned Death Valley adventurer, Steve Hall. With the help of the clues provided therein and Google Earth, I figured out its location and had it validated (thanks, Steve!).

On this hike I was accompanied by my wife, Veena and our capable guide, Death Valley Jim. The distance traversed from our parking spot by the side of the road to the mouth of Kaleidoscope Canyon was around two miles, with an elevation gain of around 1400 feet, and from there it was another half a mile or so to the most relevant (read colourful) section of the canyon. In all it took us over two hours one way over what seemed like an interminably long wash, but the grade was gentle and the terrain friendly.

I carried two DSLR bodies, two lenses (24mm and 50mm primes), and a tripod. The quality of light on offer was a concern but I was dealt a favourable hand. Cloudy conditions prevailed for the most part and the diffused illumination helped retire the harsh contrast that is usually the bane of canyon photography. The sun did peer out for a bit but in another stroke of good fortune, the orientation of the canyon narrows turned out to be appositely aligned with December’s late afternoon sun.

This photo essay is divided into two parts. The present post covers the hike to the mouth of the canyon. In Part 2, our findings in the canyon proper are disclosed.

The long wash

The wash to the canyon
5D Mark III, Zeiss ZE 50 f/2 MP

 
View of the wash looking towards Owlshead Mountains

Looking back down the wash towards Owlshead Mountains
5D Mark III, Zeiss ZE 50 f/2 MP

 

Colourful rocks in the wash of Kaleidoscope Canyon

Colourful rocks in the wash of Kaleidoscope Canyon

Colourful rocks in the wash of Kaleidoscope Canyon

Variegated rocks along the wash
5D Mark III, Zeiss ZE 50 f/2 MP

 
Looking at the mouth of Kaleidoscope Canyon

Mouth of Kaleidoscope Canyon
5D Mark III, Zeiss ZE 50 f/2 MP

 
View back from the mouth of the canyon

Looking back from the mouth
5D Mark III, Zeiss ZE 50 f/2 MP

 
Entering Kaleidoscope Canyon

Entering Kaleidoscope Canyon
5D Mark III, Zeiss ZE 50 f/2 MP

 
 
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