On March 12, 2019, a significant portion of the Quail Mountains were officially added to Death Valley National Park. This was part of the 28,923 acre Bowling Alley section of land in between the Owlshead Mountains and military land to the south. Ten days later, my friend Tom (from NPS) and I headed into the Quail Mountains to hike to Death Valley's newest major peak, known as Quail BM (5,103 ft). In addition to Quail BM, two other nearby peaks within the Bowling Alley were also added. These two peaks were Head BM (Quail Mountains - 3,485 ft) and Toga BM (Avawatz Mountains foothills - 1,119 ft). But with Quail BM being the high point of the Quail Mountains and most major summit added, that was our first priority. There were only a couple of previous hiking reports posted online for routes to the summit of Quail BM. But instead of following those, we decided to create our own route. The criteria for our route would involve two factors. First, we would study satellite imagery in order to choose the most interesting route to follow. Using the quickest route possible was not important at all, as we were not trying to rush to the summit just to accomplish it. Instead, we wanted to focus on enjoying and appreciating the scenery along the way and making the most out of our hiking day. Second, our route would need to be a loop hike because we wanted to include a visit to Quail Spring and not backtrack and see repeat scenery during the hike back. Keeping these two factors in mind, we came up with a route that ended up working out perfectly and led to us having one of our most enjoyable peak hiking experiences ever in the park. A mere six weeks earlier, we had finished up our incredible backpacking traverse of the Owlshead Mountains which included visits to Never-Ending Ever-Changing Canyon, Owlhead BM, and Lost Lake. That 3-day backpacking trip ended at the parking area for Lost Lake on Owlshead Mountains Road. Now, for this hike, our starting point would be only about 2 1/4 miles west of where that hike had ended. So it almost felt like a continuation of our backpacking route.
From Furnace Creek, the drive out to the starting point for Quail BM takes about 3 hours. Thus, by the time we started hiking, it was 9:30am on a beautiful Friday morning in March. The sun was shining in a cloudless sky, the air temperature was pleasant, and we were excited to be among the first to be hiking into the Quail Mountains since the range was officially added to the park. Upon beginning our hike, we began following established wild burro trails which were heading into the range in the same direction we wanted to go. The burro trails really made the hike easier and more enjoyable, and they continued off-and-on all the way to the summit. At times, we would need to move from one trail to another. And there were short stretches with no trails. But for the most part, the burros have established an excellent trail system in the Quail Mountains. (They have also caused severe erosion to the landscape in some areas, but that's another topic.) In addition to the continuous burro trails, something else about this hike caught our attention right away. Just as the hike got underway, we were surprised to begin passing through an abundance of spectacular wildflowers all around us. This was totally unexpected, because it was known that the Spring of 2019 was not a good season for wildflowers in Death Valley. Yet, here we were surrounded by wildflowers literally everywhere we looked. For the next 3 miles, colorful wildflowers blanketed the flat ground and small hillsides nonstop as we hiked into the Quail Mountains. It was quite amazing to just by chance pick a hiking route that had perhaps the best wildflower experience possible in the 2019 blooming season. The highlight was making the discovery of Phacelia tanacetifolia (commonly known as Lacy Phacelia or Tansy Leaf Phacelia). This species of phacelia had never before been documented in Death Valley, although it has been found in nearby areas of the Mojave Desert. But we were the first to ever find Lacy Phacelia in Death Valley National Park. It was neat to be part of such a significant wildflower discovery. Lacy Phacelia is very distinctive due to the curved fiddlehead portion of the flower. In addition to large displays of Lacy Phacelia, we also found Fremont Phacelia, Bigelow's Coreopsis, Desert Gold Poppy, and Checker fiddleneck (also known as Devil's Lettuce). Painted Lady butterflies were enjoying the flowers along with us. In addition, the views looking back toward Owl BM, Lost Lake, and Owlhead BM were quite impressive. After passing through the 3 miles of wildflowers, we entered into a canyon and were greeted by several large displays of Grape Soda Lupine growing in the wash. The Grape Soda Lupines were in full bloom and quite beautiful to behold. We then hiked through an area of abundant greenery, passed some hills with fairly heavy burro erosion, and came across some mining remnants. As we got higher up into the mountains, Joshua trees which were beginning to bloom began covering the hillsides. The summit of Quail BM was a very nice area with great views all around. I found it fascinating to look into the Owlsheads from the south and see unique views of some of my most cherished places in Death Valley, such as Owl BM, Lost Lake, Owlhead BM, and Owl Lake. In looking through the summit register, a mere 7 hiking groups had signed in over the past 20 years. But I have a feeling that this peak is about to become a lot more popular. After getting our summit photos, we headed toward Quail Spring and passed two dry lakes along the way. One of the lakes wasn't dry, but it was full of water. Two of the largest and most scenic Joshua trees were found by this lake. At Quail Spring, we were sad to see that all of the surface water has disappeared. This seems to be an ongoing trend with some of the smaller Death Valley springs found throughout the park. Back in 1909, W.C. Mendenhall stated of Quail Spring: "The water is cold and good". But in the Quail Spring cabin register, the last mention of flowing surface water was in April of 2017. At that time, surface water was measured to be only two feet wide. So it obviously had been slowly drying up for quite a while. And now, it appears to be fully gone, perhaps for good. After checking out the cabin and nearby dam built across the canyon wash, we hiked down canyon and back toward our vehicle. On the day, we had spotted 23 wild burros enjoying the Quail Mountains along with us. Our hiking route had been a loop of 12 miles with an elevation gain of about 2,500 feet. Our hike took place on March 22, 2019.