Wingate Wash was an important historical route out of Death Valley which contains spectacular wide-open desert and mountain scenery but is one of the most isolated and seldom visited areas of the park. Difficulties encountered on the hike include being well-prepared for a multi-day backpacking trip and making arrangements for a trailhead drop-off if you wish to carry out the same hiking route that we did. Google Earth maps of the route which we used to explore the area can be found by clicking on the buttons above. The first map is turned to the west and the second map is turned to the northwest for better viewing. GPS coordinates for the Owlsheads parking area are 35° 41.452'N, 116° 54.458'W. GPS coordinates for Wingate Dry Lake are 35° 47.576'N, 116° 54.265'W. GPS coordinates for the Warm Springs Road parking area are 35° 57.239'N, 116° 45.244'W.
Our hike through the entire length of Wingate Wash (at least what is publicly accessible) was nearly five years in the making. Sometimes it takes me that long to get to hiking destinations which I have planned out. One interesting aspect about Wingate Wash is that very few hikers have ever explored it or seen it in person. It is one of the most isolated and desolate areas of the entire park. In fact, it is impossible to hike Wingate Wash in one day. The sheer distance involved means that it could not be reasonably done. As an example of this, if someone wanted to hike the entire length of Wingate Wash from Warm Springs Road to the military boundary at the east, the hike would be 22 miles one-way. Then, you would have to turn around and hike it back. The origin of the name Wingate Wash comes from one of two possibilities. The first is that it was named for Major Benjamin Wingate who died in 1862 during the Battle of Valverde, New Mexico. The second, and seemingly more likely, is that it is a variation of the terms "Wind Gate" or "Windy Gap" which were coined by 20-Mule Team drivers as they had to contend with large of gusts of wind in the Wingate Pass area. The main reason that I originally wanted to explore Wingate Wash was to visit Wingate Dry Lake. Just about everyone who is familiar with Death Valley knows of Owl Lake and Lost Lake, the two large dry lakes in the Owlshead Mountains. But very few people have ever heard of Wingate Dry Lake. Wingate Dry Lake is located about 5 air miles northwest of Lost Lake. Officially, the lake's name is Dry Lake. At least, that's what it is called in the Death Valley Historic Resource Study. Because the name Dry Lake is so generic and can be easily confused with other locations, I am calling it Wingate Dry Lake in this report. Wingate Dry Lake intrigued me because it is so isolated, no photographs were in existence of it anywhere, and it looked very interesting on satellite imagery. As I studied the Wingate Wash area, the old mining site looked like another good place to check out. On the Anvil Spring Canyon East topographical map, this area is labeled as Mine and there are a number of prospects marked around it. Finally, after a long wait, some improved satellite imagery became available for the Owlshead Mountains in 2014 and that led to my spotting several undocumented slot canyons in the vicinity of Wingate Wash. It was my interest in seeing these slot canyons firsthand which ultimately pushed this hike forward.
In November of 2014, I finally figured out the necessary logistics to complete a hike through the entire length of Wingate Wash. Our group (consisting of myself, Tobin, and Debbie) would need to park one vehicle at the finish point of the hike on Warm Springs Road. Then, we would need to get a ride and be dropped off near the end of Owlshead Mountains Road. In order to do this, we arranged for a trailhead drop-off by Farabee's Jeep Rentals. The cost was fairly expensive, but it was necessary in order to make this hike work. On Day 1, we left Furnace Creek at 5:30am and headed for the Owlsheads. After dropping off our return vehicle, we drove down Harry Wade Road and then out Owlshead Mountains Road. Just before the road turns to drive up to the microwave tower, we were dropped off at the trailhead for Epsom Salt Works. From there, we had a 27 mile one-way journey awaiting us (not including additional slot canyon mileage). The hike can essentially be split into three 9-mile sections. The first 9-mile section is from the starting point on Owlshead Mountains Road to Wingate Dry Lake. The second 9-mile section is from Wingate Dry Lake to our camping area at the mouth of Wingate Slot Canyon. The third and final 9-mile section is from our camping spot to the end point on Warm Springs Road. On Day 1, we would be covering the first two sections, which would be 18 miles of backpacking from the starting point to our camping spot for the night. Our backpacks were a bit on the heavy side starting out, as we were carrying all of the water we would need for the next two days. For me, that was 2 gallons of water. The first portion of the hike took us through desert tortoise habitat, although it was a bit cold and breezy for them to be outside. We did, however, run into a couple of live tarantulas. As we crossed by the northwestern side of the Owlshead Mountains, we had good views of the Crystal Hills. It definitely brought back memories of my hike to the Epsom Salt Works which I had done years earlier. After a while, we could finally see Wingate Dry Lake very far in the distance. It looked like it would take forever to get there, but because we had good terrain to walk on, we made good progress. Eventually, we reached Wingate Wash and found the old Wingate Wash Road, which made hiking even better. Once we arrived at Wingate Dry Lake, we took our lunch break on a small outcropping overlooking the middle of the lake. Wingate Dry Lake was quite fascinating to check out. It is a lot smaller than neighboring Lost Lake and Owl Lake which makes the setting much more intimate. Wingate Dry Lake is surrounded by small hillsides and dramatic mountain ranges. We found several interesting historical artifacts to check out while exploring the lake. We also found vandalism in the form of rocks placed on the lake bed to spell out words. The problem with doing that on dry lake beds is that the rocks can leave lasting impressions on the playa for years once they are removed. Rock words also detract from the natural beauty of the area. Instead of enjoying the peaceful tranquility all alone, your attention is forced to be upon previous hiking groups and how they have tried to draw attention to themselves. While not quite as terrible as cairn gardens, rock words on dry lake beds are still an unpleasant sight and should be dismantled if you come across them within the park. After leaving Wingate Dry Lake, we hiked by the location of Scotty's famous Battle of Wingate Pass. The Wingate Pass battle site is at a spot where there is a small wash below steep cliffs. While passing through this area, we could imagine being fired upon by Scotty's accomplices during the infamous hoax which took place in February of 1906. It is also good to keep in mind that when passing through this area, you are actually hiking through the divide between the Panamint Mountains and Owlshead Mountains. Roger Mitchell's Death Valley Jeep Trails says that if you are in this area in the springtime during a good year, "you will see a display of wildflowers unequalled in the entire Death Valley region. At times these hills in the southern end of the Panamints are covered with green grasses, accented with patches of yellow or blue. Sometimes here found is the Panamint Daisy. During such brief periods of wildflower display, it is difficult to remember that you are on the edge of Death Valley." The next 9 miles to camp were mostly filled with grand views of wide-open scenery featuring the southern Panamints and northern Owlsheads. It was a very beautiful but long hike. Day 1 ended with us camping on a small bank above Wingate Wash near the mouth of the main slot canyon I wanted to explore.
On the morning of Day 2, we set off to explore what I call Wingate Slot Canyon, as well as Wingate Slot 2 and Slot 3. You can read more about my exploration of these stunning and beautiful slot canyons in my report on Wingate Slot Canyon. After spending half a day hiking these slots, the backpacking down Wingate Wash resumed. There were quite a few interesting hillsides and canyon walls through the lower wash. There was also an abandoned mining site to explore known as the 478 Mine. The 478 Mine was named for the 478 foot elevation that was noted on a benchmark found in Wingate Wash directly opposite the mining area. The pole base for the benchmark is still in the wash, but the 478 benchmark itself is now missing and was no doubt stolen in an act of vandalism because of its historical significance. I will leave most of the details for what we found at the 478 Mine to the included full set of pictures and captions. Once Wingate Wash finally drains out of the hills and mountains which encloses it, the wash takes a sharp turn to the left toward central Death Valley. A couple of hours later, we were back at our vehicle on Warm Springs Road. We had just accomplished the hike of a lifetime in Death Valley. Our hikes took place on November 20-21, 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