Wind Caves Canyon and Owlshead Slot Canyon are two neighboring canyons which contain wind caves, ventifacts, massive decomposed granite boulders, and a rare slot canyon. Difficulties encountered on the hike include route finding to access the canyon and figuring out the correct crossover route from one canyon to the other. A Google Earth map of the hiking route can be found by clicking on the button above. GPS coordinates for the parking area are 35° 44.119'N, 116° 32.330'W. GPS coordinates for the mouth of Wind Caves Canyon are 35° 43.894'N, 116° 34.671'W. GPS coordinates for the mouth of Owlshead Slot Canyon are 35° 44.220'N, 116° 34.277'W.
Wind Caves Canyon and Owlshead Slot Canyon proved to be two very important canyons in my personal exploration of the Owlshead Mountains. The main reason for this is that these were the last two major canyons which drain from the eastern side toward Harry Wade Road that I needed to hike. Prior to hiking these two officially unnamed canyons, I had already hiked fifteen other canyons stretching all the way from Slickenside Canyon to the north to Military Canyon to the south. By hiking all fifteen of those canyons, the only two which I had left on the eastern side were the two major canyons between Quartz Canyon and Sand Canyon. When my February 2013 trip came and went without hiking them, I figured that it was going to be a long wait before I ever got to them. But then I was able to return to Death Valley for four days of hiking in April 2013 and things changed. Before leaving for the trip, I knew for a fact that I would have to hike these canyons. But it almost didn't happen. As I was driving out early one morning to do the hike, fierce winds were blowing across Death Valley. When I started driving down Harry Wade Road, I came to one area where sand was blowing across the road for a long stretch of several miles. The sand was so heavy that visibility was limited and sand was piling up on the road. Briefly I considered turning around, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it because the hike was so important and I had already driven all the way down from Furnace Creek to the Owlsheads. It was stressful every time I would pick up speed and race across sections of sand on the road. A few times I almost got stuck. But my 2WD Jeep pushed through and after about 10 minutes of stretches of heavy sand, I made it past and the road returned to normal. Going back for a moment to what I was saying at the beginning about these two canyons being very important to me, there was another reason besides just successfully hiking all seventeen major canyons. And that other reason would come to light near the end of my hike. Keep in mind that these two canyons I was going to loop had no official names but they also had no informal names. Nobody had ever documented hiking them. Years earlier, on my very first hike in the Owlshead Mountains (on March 10, 2009), a friend had told me about a long-rumored secret canyon in the Owlsheads known as Owlshead Slot. This really caught my attention because slot canyons are my favorite type of canyon, and as the years went by, I realized that the decomposing granite of the Owlsheads is not really conducive to slot canyons. That's what made The Passage in Passage Canyon so special when I found that short slot. The problem with Owlshead Slot is that its location had been lost over the course of time. Going into this hike, I had pretty much given up on ever finding Owlshead Slot. After hiking fifteen canyons and not finding it, you can understand why. But even while sitting at home before the hike, I knew there was a slight chance that I might stumble across it when I looped these two canyons. This is because the only nugget of information about Owlshead Slot which was known was that it might be in the vicinity of Quartz Canyon. And I was going to be hiking the two major canyons north of Quartz Canyon. After parking my car along Harry Wade Road, I set out for the short 2 mile journey to the mouth of the canyon. I believe that this is the shortest hike from the road to the mouth of any Owlshead Canyon, which might make it appealing to other hikers. Even before I reached the mouth, I started to notice something very interesting. There were a number of caves that I passed by which all had been created by the blowing of the wind. These were wind caves, similar to what I had seen while hiking near The Slot in Anza-Borrego one year earlier. For the first half of the canyon, I continued to see these wind caves and also ventifacts, thus you now know why I assigned the informal name Wind Caves Canyon to this place. At the end of the canyon, I was deposited into the large wide open area which stretches all the way down to Quartz Canyon. Then, I began my crossover into the next canyon to the north. It proved to be an easy crossover, the easiest one which I have ever done in the Owlsheads. It only took maybe 15 minutes until I was into the other canyon. From there, I hiked up this canyon (which is the major canyon south of Sand Canyon). But after a short time, I got spooked. I was solo hiking and as you probably know, the Owlsheads are out in the middle of nowhere. I have never seen another hiker out there and the entire range probably only sees a few hikers per month. Just like Wind Caves Canyon was, this canyon was very narrow and I could never see very far ahead because of all the quick turns. Soon, I started following what appeared to be mountain lion tracks and it got me worried a bit. So instead of hiking into the upper canyon, I turned around and just hiked down the canyon. I still had a lot to see, and basically I had only skipped 1 mile of canyon. On the way down, I found a couple of things that were interesting in the always narrow canyon -- lots of Rock Nettle plants and evidence of Bighorn sheep. It has been said that Bighorn sheep abandoned the Owlsheads a long time ago but apparently they are now back. And before this hike, I hadn't realized that Rock Nettle grew in the range. As I neared the mouth of the canyon, I started to feel a bit sad that I hadn't found anything extra special or important during the hike. I then thought to myself, "Hey, maybe I will find Owlshead Slot up ahead. Wouldn't that be amazing?" It was only a few minutes later when I rounded a bend and saw a long slot side canyon off to my left. Going over to explore it, I was stunned. Here was a real rarity in the Owlshead Mountains -- a true slot canyon made of decomposed granite. I measured the canyon and calculated it to be about 100 feet long. Then, I bypassed it and got some pictures from above it, since it dead-ends at a dry fall. I realized that this had to be Owlshead Slot. With all of my hiking in the Owlsheads, I had never found anything quite like it. Thus, I went ahead and gave the entire canyon the informal name Owlshead Slot Canyon since Owlshead Slot is located there. My entire hike was about 7.5 miles RT with an elevation gain of 1,300 feet. A couple of years later, I ended up discovering Wingate Slot Canyon, which was a far more impressive place. But still, this was an excellent hike which I truly enjoyed. My hike took place on April 17, 2013.
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