Owl BM is the high point of the Owlshead Mountains at 4,666 feet in elevation and features incredible views of the Crystal Hills, Wingate Dry Lake, and Lost Lake. Difficulties encountered on the hike include having the proper HC (and sometimes 4WD) vehicle to reach the starting point and using good route finding on the hike back to stay on the correct ridgelines. A Google Earth map of the hiking route (turned to the east for better viewing) can be found by clicking on the button above. GPS coordinates for the parking area are 35° 42.763'N, 116° 53.354'W. GPS coordinates for Owl BM summit are 35° 43.881'N, 116° 52.907'W.
The hike to the summit of Owl BM (or benchmark) proved to be one of the most enjoyable peak hikes that I've ever done in Death Valley. Before even starting the hike, though, I had an extremely special Death Valley experience earlier that morning. I had announced to a few friends that I would be carrying out a search for desert tortoises in the Owlshead Mountains before doing the hike. From previous hiking within the range, I had spotted an area which seemed to have a high concentration of them, in view of the numerous tortoise burrows. However, I had not yet found a live desert tortoise during any of my past Death Valley hikes over the course of 19 years. Thus, I had the early morning set aside for my "desert tortoise search". To my delight, I was able to find a live desert tortoise within one hour of beginning my search. That was quite remarkable to accomplish that, to say the least, especially with no outside help or tips. You can see pictures of the desert tortoise on our Wildlife Page here on the site.
Owl BM, as noted in the overview section above, is the highest point in the Owlshead Mountains at 4,666 feet in elevation. Reaching the summit was one of the true highlights of my extensive exploration of the Owlshead Mountains, which has now reached a total of 18 days of hiking. Prior to reaching the summit of Owl BM, the only other major peak which I had summited within the Owlsheads had been Con BM, high above Contact Canyon. One of the special aspects of hiking Owl BM is the drive which goes along with it. In this way, the hike bears some similarity to the Thimble Peak hike. In order to carry out that hike, a mandatory 27 mile one-way drive of Titus Canyon Road is required. To carry out a hike of Owl BM, a mandatory drive of the entire 30 mile length of Owlshead Mountains Road is required, in both directions. In addition, you must drive the dirt and gravel Harry Wade Road from either the north or south just to get to the beginning of Owlshead Mountains Road. Thus, a hiker driving down from Furnace Creek can expect to drive about 19 miles on Harry Wade Road and about 30 miles on Owlshead Mountains Road to reach the starting point. That's nearly 100 miles RT driving on gravel roads. But don't let the long driving distances scare you away, as long as you have the proper vehicle. The full length of Owlshead Mountains Road is actually one of my favorite drives in the park. The first 10 miles are generally referred to as Owl Hole Springs Road. Beyond the springs and mines located in that area, the road passes by the edge of a military base (with clear warning signs ordering people to stay out) and then climbs and descends through a beautiful area which passes by Sagenite Canyon. As the drive continues, there are great views of Owl Lake and then Lost Lake (with numerous drainage crossings and hill climbs with washouts in between). Finally, the road passes by the parking area for the Epsom Salt Works hike and then circles around and climbs steeply up to the Radio Facility. On the Hidden Spring topographical quadrangle map, the tower at the top is called the Radio Facility, while some other maps refer to it as the Microwave Tower. If you've never driven up to the Radio Facility before, this hike gives you an excellent reason to do so. In fact, the views from the parking area and cliffs of the Radio Facility have outstanding beauty as well. The Radio Facility itself is quite an oddity in the isolated desert to walk around and check out. In order to get your bearings for the hike (if you haven't already done so at home with satellite imagery), it is a good idea to park at the Radio Facility and climb up the small hill there (near the seismic monitors), where there is a good vantage point of the entire hike. The hike to Owl BM begins about 1/4 mile down the road from the Radio Facility. Burro trails lead the way up onto the first short ridgeline, and it's not long before you have a full view of Owl BM. Now, it's just a matter of choosing which bumps along the ridgeline to climb, and which ones to try to work your way around. I tried both options, but ended up finding out the hard way that some of the burro trails weaving around the bumps are false paths which lead off to random places. At about the halfway point of the hike, there is a magnificent viewpoint of the summit block and a small canyon drainage located 1/4 mile to the west of it. I found that the best way to continue from here is to enter into the drainage and follow that all the way up until being forced to climb up onto the ridge. Once on the final ridgeline, the views of the Crystal Hills, Wingate Dry Lake, and (eventually) Lost Lake were absolutely incredible. Seeing Owlhead BM across the way towering over Lost Lake valley instantly made me add it as a future hiking destination. On the hike back to the parking area, I was able to reflect back on how successful my spur-of-the-moment 2016 Superbloom trip to Death Valley had turned out. Finding the desert tortoise and reaching the summit of Owl BM was such a great way to end the trip. As a side note, I highly recommend doing this hike as part of an overnight trip, rather than just a day trip. There is so much more to do and see in the area, that it makes sense to camp for 1-2 nights when making the long drive out to this isolated area of the park. My hike took place on February 28, 2016.
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