Dry Bone Main Side Canyon is a remote backpacking destination deep in the Cottonwood Mountains which contains beautiful narrows, an interesting rockslide area, and Joshua Tree groves. Difficulties encountered on the hike include route finding to access the correct side canyon, climbing or bypassing a medium difficulty dry fall, and being prepared for backpacking long distances. A Google Earth map of the hiking route can be found by clicking on the button above. GPS coordinates for the mouth of the canyon are 36° 47.037'N, 117° 21.184'W. GPS coordinates for the major rockslide and dry fall area are 36° 47.428'N, 117° 22.347'W. GPS coordinates for the Joshua Tree grove at the end of the hike are 36° 47.637'N, 117° 22.805'W.
Completing a hike through Dry Bone's Main Side Canyon proved to be one of the more challenging endeavors I have ever undertaken in the park. Except for a few parts, the hike itself is not very difficult. But it was the long planning stage, tremendous distance involved, and unbearable heat which presented the most problems. I first came up with the concept of hiking the Dry Bone Main Side Canyon (which is located about 1 mile above the mouth of Dry Bone Canyon) about three years ago. One of the first things I noticed was that doing the hike would require an overnight backpack. This was going to be one of the most difficult places in the park to reach because it was so far away from any road. Doing the hike in one day would be impossible, as the round-trip mileage was about 26 miles. On Sierra trails, 26 miles in one day could be done by the best of hikers, but that would be much harder on cross-country desert routes. A good general rule is that with desert hiking you can only do about 1/2 to 2/3 of what you can do on regular trails. And with this hike, we would have to hike the entire length of the Dry Bone Fan, which has a fearsome reputation within the park for being a pure nightmare. Another thing I noticed in my research was that this canyon had some real potential for amazing discoveries. It remained undocumented despite the fact that I widely publicized my plans over a period of several years. And it looked to have several sets of amazing narrows with the potential for major dry falls.
In April of 2013, a window in my work schedule opened up and I returned to the park for my second trip of the year. Joining me were friends Fred and Debbie, who are long-time Death Valley backpackers who mostly hike quietly and off the grid. They were actually the two people who inspired me to carry out my hike of Forbidden Canyon on Tucki Mountain, which was one of my favorite hikes of 2013. The three of us started out at about 3:00pm at the junction of Titus Canyon Road and the North Highway (Scotty's Castle Road). The weather was 93F outside and thus we packed lots of water for this overnight backpacking trip. I packed 2+ gallons of water and Gatorade. And I used about half of that water on the first day as we crossed Mesquite Flat and began the arduous task of climbing the Dry Bone Fan. The only thing that helped us out on our Day 1 hike of 8 miles was a constant wind blowing across the open desert. It cooled us off just enough to preserve some of our precious water. If that wind hadn't come through, then we would have likely had to turn back due to the heat. We set up camp for the night about one mile below the mouth of Dry Bone Canyon. If you haven't done the Dry Bone Fan yet, it is a must-do for die-hard Death Valley hikers who love long steep fans, very curvy washes, large rocks that make every step uncomfortable, and never-ending pain. The wind really howled at night and kept all of us up for most of the night. But that was okay, because my mind kept racing thinking about what discoveries would await us tomorrow. When the next morning came, we woke up and left camp behind, hiking up to the mouth of Dry Bone Canyon. We then hiked through Lower Dry Bone Canyon for about one mile before we reached the major junction and split in the canyon. To the left, Lower Dry Bone Canyon continued. To the right, Dry Bone's Main Side Canyon began. We turned off to the right, having done 10 miles worth of hiking to essentially reach the starting point. A short distance into the Main Side Canyon (or MSC for short), there was an interesting side canyon off to the right. It had some shallow narrows and countless dry falls. We scrambled over several of them in order to keep exploring. But the dry falls got progressively harder, so we turned back and continued hiking up Dry Bone MSC. At about 3,150 feet in elevation, we entered the long 1st Narrows. This was a truly beautiful section of canyon. Wildflowers were in bloom as we walked through the narrows and admired the stunning walls and scenery around us. About halfway through the 1st Narrows, we turned a corner and were stunned to find a massive rockslide completely blocking the canyon. I had never seen anything like this before. Because the rockslide happened in the narrows, there was nowhere for the falling rocks to go. Keep in mind that these were good sized rocks but they weren't huge boulders. So the rocks just piled up and created a formidable barrier in the canyon that was quite high. We were able to climb up and over it, but even now when I look at the pictures of this odd rockslide, I can't help but wonder what happens when the canyon floods with water. I would imagine that it would create a massive pool of water, stretching all the way from the major rockslide to the major dry fall which is just a short distance away. As we walked down the other side of the rockslide, we soon came to the base of the major dry fall. It was not an easy climb, but there was also a fairly basic bypass that was nearby on the right side. Beyond the dry fall, we passed through some amazingly sculpted chutes. The end of the 1st Narrows past the chutes was quite dramatic, with extremely high walls and views up at the peaks in the vicinity of White Top Mountain. Once we passed the 2nd and 3rd side canyons, we entered into the 2nd Narrows. The 2nd Narrows had some nice spots, including a section of canyon which had striped rocks reminiscent of Marble Canyon's 4th Narrows. In the 2nd Narrows, I had to climb a dry fall which wouldn't have been too challenging except for the fact that there was a large rock nettle plant growing right in the middle of the only route up. After getting rock nettle on my clothing, I continued up the 2nd Narrows until I reached a small grove of Joshua trees located at 4,300 feet. At this spot, about 3 miles up Dry Bone MSC, our incredible journey finally came to an end. Three years of planning, thirteen miles of hiking one-way, and over 4,000 feet of elevation gain had brought us one of our lifetime best hikes in the park. The hike back was interesting as well, as stormy weather moved in and we were cold. We had actually been cold all day, which was strange after being so hot the day before. During the long hike back, we would look around and see moisture dropping from the clouds at various locations around us. We were thankful for the cloud cover and the change in temperature, that's for sure. Because by the time I got back to the vehicle, I was out of water. We had all brought just enough. Our hikes took place on April 15-16, 2013.
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