Scotty's Canyon is a challenging canyon to explore that is located in the southern Black Mountains. Lower Scotty's Canyon is occasionally visited by hikers, known for once being a hangout of Death Valley Scotty. The lower canyon has several beautiful grottos including Camp Hold Out, Scotty's Spring (which has flowing water), and impassable dry falls with increasingly difficult bypasses when heading up canyon. Upper Scotty's Canyon is a completely different world and probably sees very few (if any) hikers every decade. The upper and lower canyons are separated by a large number of impassable dry falls which cannot be safely climbed. These dry falls are sometimes rappelled down by canyoneers. But canyoneers never enter by way of the upper canyon. They actually enter by hiking up neighboring Ashford Canyon and then dropping into the side canyon which splits off near Timpapah Spring. To most hikers, it probably feels like this side canyon (which splits off to the east) is Upper Scotty's Canyon. But a closer look at topographical maps reveals that Scotty's Canyon actually curves to the north upon reaching Timpapah Spring and comes to an end when overlooking Gold Valley. It is this 3-mile stretch of the upper canyon between the canyon head and Timpapah Spring which long ago caught my attention and made me want to find out what is there. This is yet another section of a Death Valley canyon which had never before been documented and no photographs were available anywhere. The first time I mentioned exploring Upper Scotty's Canyon came in January 2011, when I wrote: "I've been planning on hiking down from Gold Valley into the head of Scotty's Canyon and halfway down, stopping at the spot marked as Ruins on the topo map to find out what they are
." In October 2012, I further added: "I have been planning this ever since seeing the lower canyon as far as I could go. No guidebooks have ever covered the upper canyon and it looks interesting as it narrows to the gorge area near Timpapah Spring. It will also be cool to drive into Gold Valley for the first time while getting to the hiking starting point
." So as you can see, this was a hike that was in the planning stages for almost 9 years. Usually I can get to planned hikes in a much shorter time but what made this hike different was the difficulty in getting to the starting point. The hike begins in Gold Valley, which I had never before driven into. Gold Valley is the starting point for several major hikes including Upper Sheep Canyon, Upper Willow Canyon, Smith Mountain, and Upper Scotty's Canyon. As a precaution, we picked up a 4WD Jeep rental in Furnace Creek since we were not familiar with the road. That proved to be a good decision. After turning off of Greenwater Road, the first 2.5 miles to the west were on a fairly good road. But then the road begins climbing over the next 5.4 miles and it was very helpful to have 4WD. As the road crosses the pass and drops into Gold Valley, there is a loop that circles around the area. The portion of the road that is in the best condition circles around counterclockwise. But since we had HC 4WD, we went ahead and took the shortcut which connects 4238T to 4188T by crossing over a hill. We then rejoined the main road and turned left. A short time later, we parked and began our hike.
Before I get into a description of our Upper Scotty's Canyon hike, I wanted to share a word of caution. This is not a hiking route that I am recommending to the general public.
There are three major dry falls which must be bypassed and the bypass routes are very challenging. In fact, 2 of the 3 hikers in our group sustained injuries when we took a couple of nasty falls. So please, just enjoy the photographs and do not attempt to follow in our footsteps. That being said, let me do my best to describe the route that we took. We parked our Jeep at an obvious parking area (4,380 feet in elevation) and hiked until we reached the end of the road. From there, we had to pass through a small gap and then turn left to climb up to the saddle above the head of the canyon (4,830 feet). This first portion of the hike gains 450 feet of elevation over the course of 3/4 of a mile. The second portion drops from the saddle all the way down to the cliffs above Timpapah Spring (2,730 feet) over the course of 3 1/4 miles. Thus, the entire hike (which took us 8 1/2 hours) is about 8 miles round-trip with a cumulative elevation gain of 2,550 feet. But it is a lot harder than it sounds, thanks to the second portion of the hike. At the saddle, we enjoyed some outstanding views of Desert Hound Peak, Talc Canyon, Owlshead Canyon, and Owl Lake. From the saddle, we picked up a small wash which rapidly descends downhill. Soon, the 1st major dry fall was reached. We bypassed it on the left side by using a very long, steep slope. This bypass can be rated as highly difficult. It was a relief to finally get back into the main wash below the dry fall. We continued down canyon and a little less than one mile later, we encountered the 2nd major dry fall. We might have been able to climb down this one but there was a large bush growing out of the dry fall which blocked the way. So we used another bypass on the left side which crossed two small washes over. This bypass was much easier. Back in the wash and heading down canyon, the hiking got better for a while. We had a nice wide wash, soft gravel to hike on, and lots of interesting scenery to enjoy. We passed by some colorful boulders, natural rock shelves (labeled as wash platforms on the map), canyon constrictions, coyote melons, and we had regular views of Desert Hound Peak. About 1 1/2 miles later, we arrived at the rim of the 3rd major dry fall. This bypass can be rated as extremely difficult, and one member of our group chose to wait here for safety reasons. Once we completed this bypass (on the right side), we next reached a major junction in the canyon. A large side canyon turned off to the left, while we continued farther down Upper Scotty's Canyon. Some of the best canyon scenery was found in between this junction and Timpapah Spring. There were beautiful narrows, high walls rising above the canyon, polished chutes, and a number of easy downclimbs. After passing through a long straightaway, the rim of the 4th major dry fall was reached. Just ahead, the lush greenery of Timpapah Spring becomes visible. However, it cannot be reached due to the major dry fall. Thus, we followed some sheep trails up the hillside on the right and then worked our way down to some overlook points. The first overlook was of Timpapah Spring, which surprised us with tall-growing trees, pretty waterfalls, and lightly-flowing streams. Very few people have ever made it to Timpapah Spring, so it was a thrilling moment to make it there. The second overlook was of the major dry fall which leads to the side canyon that canyoneers use to access Lower Scotty's Canyon. The third overlook was looking out toward the lower canyon, salt flats, and Panamint Mountains beyond. The entire area above Timpapah Spring (marked as Ruins on the topo map as noted earlier) is fairly treacherous as you are surrounded by cliffs. But it is a very special place indeed. And perhaps the most special aspect of all was the presence of Bighorn sheep. Bighorn sheep come to Timpapah Spring to drink water and they are not used to seeing people. We got to spend a solid 15 minutes watching them and they weren't that far away from us. You will get to see some nice close-ups of Bighorns in our full set of pictures. After that, we retraced our steps and hiked back out of the canyon. As it was getting late and one of our hikers was waiting above the 3rd dry fall, we did not have time to attempt a potential loop hike back by using the side canyon we had passed by earlier. To watch the video that I filmed of this hike, click here
. Our hike took place on October 19, 2019.