Teddy Bear Canyon is the difficult to reach major canyon south of Nova Canyon and contains a recently discovered vast garden of Teddy Bear Chollas along with four very impressive side slot canyons. Difficulties encountered on the hike include needing high clearance (and potentially 4WD) to reach the starting point for the hike, a strenuous 3 1/2 mile hike up the fan to reach the canyon mouth, locating all of the side slots, and finding a way to safely loop from the north fork into the south fork of the canyon. A Google Earth map of the hiking route can be found by clicking on the button above. GPS coordinates for the parking area are 36° 16.143'N, 117° 20.239'W. GPS coordinates for the mouth of Teddy Bear Canyon are 36° 17.880'N, 117° 17.702'W. GPS coordinates for Teddy Bear Slot 1 are 36° 18.294'N, 117° 17.085'W.
For Part 2 of our three-day exploration of the major canyons located between Nova Canyon and Nemo Canyon, Charlie, Tobin, and I targeted the largest unnamed canyon in the northwestern Panamints. The entrance to this lengthy canyon which splits into two forks just above the mouth is about 1 1/4 miles south of Nova Canyon and 5 miles northwest of Nemo Canyon. On my planning map, I temporarily labeled these two forks as Nova Slots 5 and 6, as they both looked to have some interesting scenery which included several potential side slots. Little did I know that this two-forked canyon would turn out to be the highlight of my trip and result in a surprising discovery that would become huge news in park circles. To reach the starting point for the hike, we drove over to Panamint Valley and headed south on Panamint Valley Road. We then turned off to the east on Minietta Road, heading towards the foothills of the Panamint Mountains. We drove that to the junction with East Side Panamint Valley Road, which runs along the east side of Panamint Dry Lake. After parking close to the junction, we began hiking up a steep, rugged wash. Our starting elevation was 1,650 feet and it was going to be about 3 miles of hiking before we would reach the edge of the canyon hillsides, with another 1/2 mile from there to the true canyon mouth at 2,850 feet in elevation. It was just before we reached the canyon hillsides that we made our unexpected discovery. When it comes to making discoveries in the park, I am mainly focused on finding undocumented natural features such as natural bridges and slot canyons. But what we found was much different as it was an important botany discovery. As we were hiking up the long fan, Charlie took out his binoculars and began studying something in the distance. He then passed the binoculars to Tobin and I, and we took turns looking through them. Up ahead, we could see what looked like a tall cactus garden growing that was spread out everywhere -- on hillsides, in washes, and on banks above the washes. As we discussed this development, we continued hiking ahead to take a closer look. In Death Valley, I have become accustomed to passing by Silver Cholla Cactus (Opuntia echinocarpa) frequently during my hikes. The Silver Cholla in the park are small for the most part, and easily dodged while hiking. However, as we approached the cactus garden we had seen from a distance, we could see that these were indeed chollas, but way different than what we were used to seeing. These were much taller, with some cholla specimens growing 6 to 7 feet in height (the next day we would find one nearby that measured 9 feet tall). In addition, many of these chollas had multiple large branches extending off the main trunk. Finding this giant cholla garden just outside of the canyon mouth literally stopped us in our tracks and we spent the next hour photographing and checking out many sections of the garden (which was spread out in quite a large area). It dawned on Charlie as we were taking our photographs that these could be Teddy Bear Chollas. And, indeed, botany experts were later able to confirm that he was correct. To recap a few of the points I made in my blog shortly after our hike, this was a significant discovery because the Teddy Bear Chollas (Cylindropuntia bigelovi) that we found are actually growing about 100 miles north of their usual range. The park botanist confirmed that this is the first recorded find of Teddy Bear Cholla in Inyo County -- so officially it is the furthest north garden of Teddy Bear Cholla. In view of this, as co-discoverers we assigned the informal name Teddy Bear Canyon to the canyon which contains the Teddy Bear Cholla garden at the mouth. So that means the major canyon south of Nova Canyon now has a designated name. The remaining question is how did an isolated population of Teddy Bear Chollas end up getting established and growing so vibrantly in Death Valley National Park? An educated guess might be that the cactus was transported to its remote location by a bird. This cactus doesn't propagate well by seed as it is usually spread by one of its "joints" being broken off and taking root so we might guess that a joint somehow became attached to a bird and was dropped where the cactus are currently growing. Another theory presented online was that the Teddy Bear Chollas we found got stranded in the Nova Canyon area centuries ago while the rest of their species located nearby died out. We will have to wait for park botanists to weigh in on the matter. Some have already visited the location and you can see two exclusive pictures that they provided at the end of this report showing the Teddy Bear Chollas in bloom.
Moving on in our hike, we entered Teddy Bear Canyon and hiked up the north fork first. We soon passed by Teddy Bear Pinnacle, which was towering above the canyon wash. Within the north fork, we were targeting three separate side slots which I had spotted on satellite imagery that looked to be interesting. Teddy Bear Slot 1 (as marked on the map) turned out to absolutely incredible. It rivals the Sidewinder slots and Lost Slot for being the best in the park. The height of the walls, the narrowness of the slot, and the coloring were all very impressive. Teddy Bear Slots 2 & 3 were a bit farther up the north fork of Teddy Bear Canyon. These two slots started out as one before splitting off into two directions. We checked both of them out and once again got some great photos. The challenging part of the hike was now ahead, as we wanted to loop from Teddy Bear Canyon's north fork into the south fork. Using a slight variation on a route that I had charted out at home, we reached our high point at 4,550 feet in elevation and crossed over into the south fork. Scrambling down into the south fork was a bit challenging, but we all made it without getting any scrapes or bruises. Heading down the south fork, we had another side slot to check out. Teddy Bear Slot 4 was also interesting, but not quite as impressive as the slots in the north fork. Within my trip report photos, you will see some very nice scenery from the four main slots of Teddy Bear Canyon. Without a doubt, in view of the discovery of the Teddy Bear Chollas and also finding the four amazing slots, this was one of my lifetime best hikes in Death Valley. To find out what motivated me to begin exploration of the Nova Canyon area, be sure and read Part 1 (my report entitled Mud Drip Canyon). And to see even taller Teddy Bear Chollas that we found the next day after this hike, read Part 3 (my report entitled The Nova Slots). Our hike took place on February 24, 2014.
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