Striped Butte Valley

It is winter and it has rained every day for the last two weeks. I am a California guy and two weeks of rain and gloom seem like about ten days too much. I am starting to long for the desert and the sun. So I am starting to fantasize about going to the desert. Step one is to remember past trips, like Striped Butte Valley.

For years, I had read about the Striped Butte Valley. I had never gotten around to seeing it because it is only reached by the southernist and most remote road in Death Valley National Park.  It is not the toughest road, but, because it is far from the Visitor Center and – while it starts in Death Valley Nation Park (and Death Valley itself) – it ends outside the park in the very southern reaches of the Panamint Valley….or visa-versa; it just seemed too far out of the way. 

Last year, Howard D and I decided to finally check it out. We started in Death Valley and drove up a long, easy road up Warm Springs Canyon in the southern Panamints to the top of Striped Butte Valley.

An aside: every picture of every desert I have been to, shows the kind of warm, clear light that is only available for about an hour at dawn and dusk. But, my experience is hours of walking around in or driving in flat, washed out, glaring light. The experience is usually like this:

Striped Butte -1

Now, don't get me wrong – I love the desert and can walk in an area like this all day long. I love the air, the details when I look close, the sun in winter, I love the vastness. But – and it is a big but – it doesn't make a very good picture. A very good image. I have been on a quest to take pictures that show the desert as it is and be good images on their own. This is one of my best trys – to date. (double click to enlarge to viewing size)

Butte Valley -2 (3 of 1)-2
End aside.

As we climbed into the mountains, we ran into more and more wildflowers – especially in the washes where they get more water – and the sky got bluer

Butte Valley -3 

We also found more and more mine ruins and various semi-unexplainable objects.

Butte Valley -4 (3 of 1) 

But, by far the best thing we found – to use the term very loosely – was the Geologist Cabin over looking the Striped Butte of Striped Butte Valley. (double click again)

Butte Valley -cabin (3 of 1)


The geologist cabin is a stone cabin, long abandoned, that is open to anyone who wanders by. It is meticulously maintained by someone – or everyone. I have never seen an abandoned building so open and so well maintained; it is cleaner than the usual maintained National Park restroom. It was a great place to hang out and have lunch, looking at the view.

Butte Valley -6 (3 of 1)

Butte Valley -7 (3 of 1)

At the end of the day, after arguing with a burro over the right of way, we drove over Mengel Pass which was much rougher than we had anticipated.

Butte Valley -8 (3 of 1) 

But doable with Howard handling all the rough parts. To end the trip, we were rewarded with a great view and a giant cairn to mark the pass. 

Butte Valley -9 (3 of 1)

From the cairn, it was only 40 miles of dirt road and an ten hour drive back to the bay area where it was probably raining. That part, I don't remember.



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