Tafoni Canyon is a little-known but beautiful area of canyon narrows with tafoni features which have unusual shapes and formations. This hike covers the South Fork. Difficulties encountered on the hike include having the proper 4WD vehicle to drive to the starting point, route finding to access the canyon, and getting past a major dry fall if attempting to do the hike as a loop. Google Earth maps of the hiking route can be found by clicking on the buttons above. GPS coordinates for the parking area are 36° 57.022'N, 117° 40.101'W. GPS coordinates for the major junction in the South Fork are 36° 57.643'N, 117° 41.002'W. GPS coordinates for the Polished Stone Grotto are 36° 57.726'N, 117° 41.785'W.
In some ways, a hike of Tafoni Canyon is a continuation of a hike of Chalk Canyon. The tafoni features which are seen in fleeting glimpses near the beginning of Chalk Canyon completely take over Tafoni Canyon from beginning to end. Tafoni features can be defined as "cavernous weathering features which look like small caves or alcoves that are covering hillsides and canyon walls". This hike was first brought to my attention by two hikers named Stephen and Lydia. On a trip to Death Valley in April of 2015, they decided to carry out exploration of some undocumented canyons. One of the canyons which they explored turned out to be this one. Upon returning home, they told me a little bit about the canyon they had found. Stephen told me: "The two canyons on the west side of Saline Valley just south of Steel Pass were great. There were some short slots with walls about 20 ft high. Everything was covered with tafoni -- those wind eroded cavities you will see in many of the pictures. There were whole hillsides of it. The highlights include the amazing partially smoothed obsidian in the large wash on the way in and out. These were just beautiful pieces of rock. There is also the Polished Stone Grotto (this was the main highlight) named such for the polished stones embedded in the tuft (the ashy rock that makes the canyon walls here)." Hearing Stephen's description and seeing some of his photographs convinced me to add Tafoni Canyon to my short list of future hikes in Saline Valley. Thus, as part of our January 2016 trip, Tobin and I decided to spend some time out in Saline Valley in order to carry out a hike of both Chalk Canyon and Tafoni Canyon, since they are close to each other. The parking area for Tafoni Canyon is located about 13 miles past Saline Valley Warm Springs. This is only 2.5 miles north of the parking area for Chalk Canyon. Like Chalk Canyon, a hike into Tafoni Canyon heads to the west into the Saline Range. At the starting point for the hike, Tafoni Canyon immediately splits into two major forks -- the South Fork and the North Fork. Both forks are worth exploring and have unique attributes to them. The South Fork contains more immediate beautiful scenery, as the narrows start sooner (and split into two minor forks). The South Fork can also be hiked as a loop (for those with above-average bypass skills and good balance while scrambling). And it has the Polished Stone Grotto, which was referenced above as the canyon highlight. The North Fork is actually the main canyon wash and based on satellite imagery, it appears to contain the highest and tightest narrows. However, due to time constraints (we ran out of daylight), we were unable to explore the North Fork during this hike. Thus, our documentation of Tafoni Canyon has to be split up into two separate reports. This report covers the South Fork and a future report will cover the North Fork. As you will see in the included full set of photographs, the South Fork contains plenty of outstanding scenery to make a good stand-alone report.
As for the hike itself, from the parking area, we had to angle out of the main wash to the left in order to get into the South Fork of Tafoni Canyon. Upon arriving at the mouth, there is kind of a teaser sampling of the formation which you catch sight of way in the distance and hike toward as your first goal. Shortly after that, the minor junction of the South Fork is reached. We stayed to the left and immediately began hiking through shallow and sometimes broken-up sections of tafoni narrows. The higher in elevation that we got, the better the narrows became. Once we had passed through the narrows, we climbed up the hillside to the right and attained the ridge by gaining a little over 200 feet in elevation. Our objective was to loop hike the left and right minor forks of the South Fork. As we came down the other side of the crossover, we soon came to the top of the Polished Stone Grotto major dry fall. This is quite an impressive sight to behold, especially seeing it from the top. In order to continue hiking down canyon, it is necessary to bypass this 100-foot tall major dry fall by walking along the south rim and looking for a safe place to scramble back down into the canyon. Once we found a way to do that, we hiked back up canyon to the base of the dry fall. This area of the canyon is very interesting and has a lot unique scenery to it. After that, we hiked down canyon through some additional tafoni narrows of considerable length. The highest narrows of the South Fork are contained within the section of canyon near the bottom of this area, just before the two minor forks combine at the junction. A full hiking loop of the South Fork (as we did it) is 8 miles RT with an elevation gain of 1,200 feet. Our hike took place on January 2, 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