Monday, May 02, 2011

Darwin Falls, a Real Oasis

Before we left Death Valley on this trip, we decided to check out Darwin Falls. The first time we attempted this was when Mark and Emma were visiting, and Mark was giving us directions on how to get the the falls. Instead of parking at the small parking lot, which was at the end of a 2 mile gravel road which followed a wash up towards the narrow canyon where the waterfalls are, we kept driving past it along one of the craziest mining road I've ever been on. It was called Zinc Hill Rd. That first attempt to go see the falls took us to China Springs, where Emma found a lush pool with a bunch of koi fish swimming happily in the middle of the desert next to an abandoned miner's house. This time, we read the directions and parked at the parking lot, which is the trail head to the falls.

Darwin Falls
The surroundings start to get greener as we near the falls.

The trail starts out in the middle of a wash. It was pretty hot already even in the morning, and it seemed a strange place to start a hike into an oasis, since it was bone dry! But less than a quarter mile from where we parked, we started to see some vegetation. First some tall reed grasses, and then leafy bushes, small willows, and finally a forest of cottonwoods. Then we started to hear the quiet trickling of water as it flowed beneath our feet. The farther and farther we went, the greener everything started to become.

Red Dragonfly
A huge red dragonfly buzzed around us as we hiked towards the first waterfall.

As we entered the canyon, we started to see lots of flowers, many birds, and a lot more insects. We saw gigantic red dragonflys, lizards, and frogs. We were the only ones on the trail. The temperature was a lot cooler too, since everything was moist. As we hiked, we noticed some man made pools, which might still be used for a cool bath, but they were really overgrown and gross looking (even for our low standard).

Darwin Falls #1
The first of nine waterfalls at Darwin Falls.

The trail involved a lot of water crossing, since almost the entire canyon bottom was filled with flowing or standing water. Mostly, the crossings were made by fallen logs and branches, or small slippery stepping stones. We both had sandals on, so it didn't matter if we stepped through some wet spots. It was nice to have some cool fresh water on my feet anyways.

Darwin Falls
Hiking up and around the first waterfall.

Finally, after about a mile of total hiking so far, we reached the first waterfall. There are nine waterfalls in total. The first one was kind of hidden behind a lot of vegetation, so to see it entirely, we had to wade through some swampy area to get closer. The waterfall cascaded over a tall solid stone wall, and the only way past it to see the others was to go up and around it. Luckily, we had Mark's old guide book with us, which told us how to get past the first fall. When we read the directions, it was kind of vague. All it said was to look for a footpath up the steep canyon wall to the left of the falls, and proceed along the narrow ledges until you see a safe trail back down. When we looked for a footpath up, as described, there were actually many, so we picked one and followed it.

Darwin Falls #3 and #4
We found the third and fourth waterfalls!

I guess we picked a good enough trail, because it took us up and over the fall, along the canyon walls on ledges that were sometimes less than a foot wide (not the best place to slip!) From up top, we could see the tree tops which filled the bottom of the canyon with a bright green color, in contrast to the dark towering rock walls. We didn't know how far to keep traversing. We saw a few steep drop points that were 'safe' enough to down-climb back to the bottom of the canyon, so again, we just picked one and went for it. When we got to the bottom, under the thick canopy of trees, we found an overgrown trail, and a bright orange ribbon that somebody tied to a branch. I took that as a sign that we found the trail again!

Darwin Falls #4
The fourth waterfall is the highest of the nine falls at 60 feet!

It wasn't very far to the second small waterfall, which was only 2 or 3 feet high. Getting around that was no big deal, and we continued on. Finally we got to the third which was a bit bigger. Behind that one, we could see the bottom of the fourth waterfall, which was roaring! This thing had to be big, but it was hidden from us by steep canyon walls. We were a little confused on how to get to it, and after trying to traverse a few parts of the walls in our clunky sandals, we gave up and looked at the book. It told us that we needed to go find a scree pathway to the right of the two falls. Half-way up the scree, we should see an opening in the canyon wall which would lead us to the top of the third waterfall, and to the base of the fourth.

Darwin Falls #4
The bottom of the 4th waterfall.

We followed the scree pathway, as the guide book told us to, and there it was - a narrow opening through the wall which opened up to a grotto-like space where the fourth waterfall dropped 60 feet into a clear and deep pool! The pool water then cascaded past where we were standing, into a second more shallow pool filled with grasses. The water here then poured out into the third waterfall, which we were standing beneath just a few minutes ago. It was a little challenging hopping between the pools to get to the bottom of the fourth and tallest waterfall with our wet sandals. Once we got underneath it, the force of the water was so powerful! We tried putting our hands under it, and it smacked our hands down really hard. Good thing we didn't fall in under the churning water, because some of the moss covered rocks were slippery!

Darwin Falls #4
Water cascades from the 4th to the 3rd waterfall.

We decided to stay in the sun-filled grotto between the third and fourth waterfall for a long and relaxing lunch break. It was so amazing to find such an awesome waterfall, and the fact that it was in the middle of a desert made it even more spectacular. We didn't see a single person on our whole hike, which made it even cooler! I have a feeling that 95% of the people hiking the Darwin Falls trail stop at the first waterfall.

Romy Climbing up to the Falls
Part of the hike back took us along the high canyon walls.

After spending a few hours at Darwin Falls, we made our way back out towards the car, which was baking in the heat! What a different world we just came from.


Trudy G said...

Darwin Falls is a real treat. Thanks for sharing!