USMM 142 Canyon is an isolated major canyon in the Funeral Mountains which contains forgotten mining relics, minor and major dry falls, and outstanding ridge views. Difficulties encountered on the hike include crossing 4 long miles of desert washes in order to reach the canyon mouth, dealing with 4 dry falls of increasing difficulty, and scrambling along the ridgeline if trying to reach USMM 142. Google Earth maps of the hiking route (turned to the northwest for better viewing) can be found by clicking on the buttons above. GPS coordinates for the parking area are 36° 37.810'N, 116° 56.737'W. GPS coordinates for the canyon mouth are 36° 38.701'N, 116° 53.015'W. GPS coordinates of USMM 142 are 36° 40.216'N, 116° 50.900'W.
Before I get into the details of this adventure hike, I should start by explaining the meaning behind the canyon name. Most long-time Death Valley exploration hikers and NPS staff members who hike previously undocumented canyons prefer to assign informal canyon names based on what they find within the canyons. Things like natural bridges, other natural features, distinct plant life, nearby benchmarks, and geology all can give ideas for informal names. Most canyoneers take a different approach, assigning informal names based on Hollywood movies, events that happen while they are rappelling, and sudden whims that pop into their minds. This hike was carried out by my friend Charlie (from NPS) and I. Thus, upon completing the hike, we had to choose an informal name. If you look at a map of the Funeral Mountains, you will notice that there are four major canyons located in between King Midas Canyon and Indian Pass Canyon. We were hiking the 1st major canyon south of King Midas Canyon (which would make it the 4th major canyon north of Indian Pass Canyon). Being that there was a lot of variety within the canyon when it came to plants, rock types, and overall scenery, we weren't sure what to call it. In looking at the topographical map, we noticed that Boundary BM was atop the ridge which separated this canyon from King Midas Canyon. However, since there was already a Boundary Canyon nearby, we couldn't use that as a potential name. (Boundary Canyon is the canyon which Daylight Pass Road climbs through in between the Grapevine Mountains and the Funeral Mountains.) We next observed that USMM 142 was located on the eastern ridge above the canyon. For clarification, USMM 142 stands for United States Mineral Monument 142. In doing some research, I found that the Mineral Information Service explains what mineral monuments are. The October 1962 edition states that "United States Mineral Monuments are carefully established and officially recorded reference points to which mine patent, homestead entry, and exchange surveys are tied in areas not covered by the public land survey. Such monuments constitute a useful aid in the less formal establishment of unpatented claims." I'm not sure how many mineral monuments there are in Death Valley, but upon looking up USMM 142, I found it listed as Emigrant Cons. Lode, dated February 17, 1911. Without getting into more historical details, the bottom line is that we found it appropriate to give the canyon the informal name USMM 142 Canyon, being that this prominent mineral monument was located high above the canyon.
As for the hike itself, fellow Death Valley adventure hiker Kauri suggested that we both consider looking into the four major undocumented Funeral Mountains canyons a couple of years ago. The one big hold-up in doing so was the sheer distances involved in reaching the canyon mouths. If you're hiking 5+ miles one-way just to reach the beginning of a canyon, that doesn't leave a lot of time and energy left for canyon exploration on a day hike. Still, I somehow convinced Charlie to join me in carrying out an exploration of the first of these four major canyons. It helped that we chose the easiest one to reach (being only 4 miles one-way from the parking area on Beatty Cutoff Road to the canyon mouth). I also told him that I thought the terrain would be mostly easy walking the entire way during that first 4 miles, and that proved to be true. We were carrying out this hike during the well-publicized 2016 Superbloom in Death Valley. And just by coincidence, the parking area for the hike was at mile marker 3 on Beatty Cutoff Road, which was exactly where the NPS was sending park visitors to for some of the most spectacular blooms. Thus, we were able to enjoy extensive wildflowers as we followed a minor wash around some low hills to start the hike. We also found some great wildflowers when we reached the canyon mouth 4 miles later. Off to the right near the canyon mouth, we found a natural wildflower garden which contained a variety of blooms. The canyon itself proved to be quite interesting as well. Just past the junction with the major side canyon (as noted on our map), we passed by some Tamarisk trees. Being a nonnative species, Tamarisk trees are frequently removed from the park by volunteer work crews. Charlie mentioned that in view of our find, another group of hikers would soon be following in our footsteps to USMM 142 Canyon in order to remove the trees we had found. Soon, the canyon tightened up and there were a series of small dry falls we climbed over. We then encountered four major dry falls within the canyon, which got progressively harder to climb with each one. The last one could not be climbed, but we found a very challenging way to bypass it. At the base of the 4th major dry fall, we were now a full 7 miles into our hike. Using the bypass and climbing onto the main ridgeline added another 1/2 mile. We were now at an elevation of 3,275 feet. Looking up the ridgeline and at our maps, we figured out that it would have required 1 more mile and another 1,550 feet of elevation gain in order to reach USMM 142. That was a little bit too much, in view of the fact that we had a hike back of 7 1/2 miles still waiting for us. In retrospect, someone who is interested in checking out USMM 142 and seeing the likely incredible views from that spot should probably plan to hike in from the top, rather than the bottom. And I just may end up doing that someday.
In conclusion, Charlie and I both agreed that while this was not the most outstanding undocumented canyon we had ever hiked, it was fun to carry out the exploration of it and find out what was there. And that's something that Charlie and I have been doing in Death Valley for quite a long time. Sadly, this was our final hike together in Death Valley. I met Charlie about a year after my first trip to Death Valley back in 1997 while attending the nightly slideshow programs at the FCVC auditorium. Over the years, we enjoyed taking many outstanding hikes and making significant discoveries together. A few of my personal favorites include our hikes to Teddy Bear Canyon, Rockfall Canyon, the Smoke Tree Slots, Tucki Bridge Canyon, and the Red Wall Canyon - Little Arches Canyon loop. Of course, Charlie only had limited time on each of my trips to join up for hikes. The reason being that in recent years he was Death Valley's Wilderness Coordinator. Much of his time was devoted to caring for this job and managing volunteer groups to help protect the park for future generations. At the same time, during his time in Death Valley he managed to hike hundreds of canyons and summit 110 named or significant peaks within the park. Thanks for the wonderful memories, Charlie. And thanks for all that you have done for Death Valley. Our hike took place on February 27, 2016.
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