Corkscrew Canyon's highlights include a main canyon with well-preserved mining ruins surrounded by steep cliffs and a side canyon with twisting, towering narrows that go on for considerable length. Difficulties encountered on the hike include gaining permission to hike in the canyon since it is located on private land, staying safely off old mining structures and out of mining tunnels, and climbing or bypassing two medium-difficulty dry falls in the main canyon (if using our route). Topographical maps of the hiking route can be found by clicking on the buttons above. GPS coordinates for the mouth of Corkscrew Canyon are 36.377751, -116.760708. GPS coordinates for the main side canyon junction are 36.368383, -116.763910.
This report continues our journey from where we left off in our report for Borax BM. In that report, we had reached the summit of Borax BM and continued hiking along the ridgeline for another mile until the ridge transitioned into some dangerous cliffs. At that point, we backtracked a short distance to the area where a steep slope dropped into upper Corkscrew Canyon. My sister Tiffany and I now faced two options: (1) continue hiking along the ridge back toward Borax BM and follow our original route back to the car, or (2) take a huge risk and attempt an unprecedented drop directly into Corkscrew Canyon from the ridge. The second option was the one we chose, but we didn't choose it without considerable debate. It was a highly risky move for several reasons. First, the route was very steep to begin with and could become impassable at any time. The only reason we could even begin the route was that the ground terrain was very soft and had good footholds. Second, from our vantage point high above on the ridge we could see two locations where the canyon closed in tight far below and looked to have major dry falls. Dropping all the way down to those spots, failing to make it through, and then having to hike all the way back up to the ridge would have taken hours of time and tremendous extra energy, which could have affected the rest of our trip. And third, a route from Corkscrew Canyon all the way to the ridge above it had never before been documented and seemed like a lost cause based on the surrounding terrain. Corkscrew Canyon has a massive headwall above it with towering vertical cliffs as seen from below. I remember telling Tiffany just before we started down that the route had a less than 50 percent chance of going through. Despite all these factors aligning against it, we decided to take a shot. We figured the rewards were too great to pass up if the route happened to go through. We also figured it would be a nice accomplishment after having failed in our efforts to reach the blue mountain.
Beginning the descent, the route down was extremely steep. But we were able to manage the first portion by allowing our shoes to fill up with small rocks and sand. It was actually kind of fun, reminding me of walking down the steep angles of sand dunes. The key was to stay off of anything that looked like solid ground, but instead to stay on the soft dirt and sandy areas. There was a bit of navigation to zigzag back and forth as we chose the best route down. But nothing scary. Eventually, we got into an established gully once the terrain became more normal. The gully had some massive boulders which we had to work our way around in a few spots. After this section, the canyon leveled off and we found ourselves on much flatter terrain. As we approached the first major dry fall, it looked like our hike was going to be finished. Surely, we were walking up to the edge of an impassable dry fall. But when we got to the rim and looked over the edge, we could see a bypass just to the left of the dry fall. We used it and had successfully passed the first major obstacle. A few minutes later, we reached the second dry fall. Once again, things looked bad from a distance. But when we looked over the edge, we noticed that we could carefully climb down the dry fall. After that, there were no more major obstacles. It wasn't long before we arrived at the old mining ruins. As noted in the Death Valley Historic Resource Study: "The Corkscrew Mine at the head of Corkscrew Canyon has been developed by two adits, but its ore body is considered about exhausted. Mine workings found here alongside a wash consisted of several adits, a huge wooden four-chute ore bin, and an adjacent platform loading area." The wooden ore bin and adjacent platform are still standing and it is a magnificent structure to behold. When I first visited this area and hiked Corkscrew Canyon (with legal permission) on November 28, 2008, there were a few hazard signs but everything was wide open. Upon visiting this time nearly a decade later, I found that a huge fence has been erected around the entire structure with No Trespassing signs posted. I think this was a good idea because although it disrupts photography, it keeps people who lack common sense and good judgment from attempting to climb up on the (likely) unstable structure. Continuing down canyon, we reached the junction for the main side canyon. Having visited before, I knew how impressive the main side canyon was. Thus, we turned off to explore it in full. On my original trip report for Corkscrew Canyon (which has now been replaced by this new one), I explained what it was like to walk through the main side canyon: "Imagine you are drawing the letter S on a piece of paper. But instead of stopping when you get to the bottom of the S, you keep drawing curves and S's all the way down your paper. This is what the Corkscrew Main Side Canyon is like." I thought that was a fitting description that still seems appropriate. After hiking through the side canyon for a while, which included passing through several especially tight and dark curves and crawling under a wedged boulder, we arrived at the formation formerly known as Corkscrew Natural Bridge. Corkscrew Bridge was once recognized as one of Death Valley's major natural bridges, which is a very short and prestigious list to be on. However, upon further investigation by NPS staff members, it was determined that Corkscrew Bridge was not a genuine natural bridge at all. Rather, it was a collapsed portion of wall that had broken off one side and fallen against the other side. The result was that it is now referred to as a false natural bridge. I was able to confirm that this adjustment was appropriate during my visit. Regardless of its status, "Corkscrew Bridge" is still very interesting to check out and see in person. We continued hiking through the side canyon past the false bridge for quite some time. I actually went about twice as far through this area than I had on my previous visit. We then returned to the main canyon and hiked back to our vehicle parked on Hwy 190. On the way out, I noticed that there was a new No Trespassing sign placed on the gate near the mouth of Corkscrew Canyon. This sign was not there on my previous visit to the area. Thus, it is possible that Corkscrew Canyon is now off-limits to Death Valley hikers. Please do not hike into Corkscrew Canyon without stopping by the Furnace Creek Visitor Center and asking a park ranger for permission to do the hike. I have noticed online that there are a number of other reports documenting hikes into lower Corkscrew Canyon. But keep in mind that it is never a good idea to hike on private property without permission. As mentioned earlier, the first time I hiked Corkscrew Canyon in 2008, I was granted legal permission. On this follow-up hike, I came down from the ridge and did not come into contact with the No Trespassing sign until I exited the canyon. Our hike took place on February 24, 2017.
Many more photographs taken during our visit are available for viewing for this destination. To see all of them, choose one of the two options presented below. The two options are Slideshow viewing and Trip Report viewing. The Slideshow option allows for viewing larger images with an autoplay option and a full screen option (available on most browsers). This option works very well for large computer screens and tablets. The Trip Report option allows for viewing smaller pictures in a standard scroll-down format and enlarging of any panoramic photos taken during our visit. Click on the option of your choice to view all of our photos from this destination. The Slideshow format opens in a new browser window and the Trip Report format uses the same browser window for viewing.
TRIP REPORT FORMAT