Tucki Bridge Canyon contains the most difficult-to-reach major natural bridge in Death Valley and requires advanced bypass skills to progress up canyon. Difficulties encountered on the hike include route finding to access the canyon, figuring out how to carry out a complex series of bypasses of major dry falls, and having enough daylight to actually accomplish the hike in one day. A topographical overview map of the hiking route and bypasses (turned to the west for better viewing) can be found by clicking on the button above. GPS coordinates for the mouth of the canyon are 36.513875, -117.011468. GPS coordinates for the turnoff of the 1st bypass are 36.509903, -117.008952. GPS coordinates for Tucki Bridge are 36.497903, -117.011086.
Tucki Bridge is a previously unknown natural bridge that was discovered in Death Valley National Park in late 2012. It was discovered by two canyoneers named Rick and Abby who have pioneered many new routes and first descents in the technical canyons of the park. Tucki Bridge has been determined to likely be the 3rd largest natural bridge in Death Valley. It is a spectacular natural bridge that is located deep within the southeastern half of Tucki Mountain, which is a world of mostly inaccessible canyons that remain undocumented and seldom visited by hikers. About the most well known canyon in this general area is Trellis Canyon, and that doesn't even appear on park maps. South of the giant Trellis Canyon fan about 3 1/2 miles or so, there is a fan directly across from Cottonball Marsh which leads into the informally named Cottonball Marsh Canyon (see my report elsewhere on the site for a look into Cottonball Marsh Canyon). A short distance into CM Cyn, a side canyon turns off to the left which ultimately leads to Tucki Bridge. This canyon, which we will refer to as Tucki Bridge Canyon, is a physically challenging and very isolated place. Our group (consisting of myself, Charlie, and Tobin) became the first ever documented group of hikers to reach Tucki Bridge since it was originally discovered. But by no means was it easy. It was especially challenging for us since we did it as a day hike, and it takes about 6 miles of hiking just to reach the beginning of Tucki Bridge Canyon. From there, it is about 2 1/2 miles to Tucki Bridge if you execute your route perfectly. As a side note, the only two other hiking groups that we know of who have attempted to reach Tucki Bridge were unsuccessful due to the high difficulty. Let me share some important details about the route and two complex bypasses required in order to reach the park's newest natural bridge as of 2012.
Starting at the junction of Cottonball Marsh Cyn and Tucki Bridge Cyn (130 ft. elevation), the canyon begins very narrow (and stays that way the entire way). There are a series of boulders, small dry falls, and rock slides to navigate through over the next 1/3 of a mile before arriving at the beautiful small grotto dry fall. This is a great spot for photographs. Those without basic climbing skills might not be able to get themselves up this small dry fall, unless a friend is with them and can give them a boost. But most will have no problem with it. Above the small grotto dry fall, the narrow canyon continues another 1/2 mile before you encounter your first serious obstacle -- the 1st major dry fall of Tucki Bridge Canyon (400 ft. elevation). At this point, it is necessary to backtrack about 1/4 of a mile to the junction with a small side canyon to the west (330 ft. elevation). This is the beginning of Bypass 1. Climb up the steep first part of the side canyon and follow the drainage up for a while. (You can print our photograph of this spot and various others along the way to bring with you and match up.) For mapping purposes, I have divided Bypass 1 into three sections -- Bypass 1A (beginning to left drainage turn), Bypass 1B (left drainage turn to canyon rim ascent), and Bypass 1C (top of canyon rim back down to Tucki Bridge main canyon). Here is a map showing Bypass 1A. About 1/3 of a mile up Bypass 1A (540 ft. elevation), you will see a drainage coming in from your left. You need to turn left here and take this smaller drainage. The key here is that you don't want to go too high up onto the main ridge dividing Tucki Bridge Canyon and Cottonball Marsh Canyon. Instead, you want to stay just above the canyon rim that follows along above Tucki Bridge Canyon. This is a fairly short section. Here is a map showing Bypass 1B. Once our group reached the rim, we sat down and had our lunch, enjoying the views down into Tucki Bridge Canyon. From this point, Bypass 1C begins (shown on previous map) which connects the canyon rim back down to the main canyon. The key here is to not drop down right away, but "sidehill" around some of the hills and find an easier drainage to follow back into the canyon. A number of the drainages will work. You need to choose the one which feels safest to you. Providing some assistance as you sidehill are the numerous sheep trails here. But be aware that this area is somewhat steep and your steps should be taken slowly. Bypass 1B and 1C combined are about 1/2 mile long. Once you are finally back in Tucki Bridge Canyon you have three options -- you can head back down canyon to see what you missed, head up canyon to see the massive dry fall, or begin Bypass 2. We did the latter two options, as this map of Bypass 2 shows. We first headed up the main canyon. Keep in mind that during our hike, we did not know what obstacles to expect beyond this point. There was no information available on that. After we passed a section with some pretty red colors, we were stunned to arrive at the base of a titanic 75 foot dry fall. This was the 2nd major dry fall of the canyon. We didn't know it at the time, but a 3rd major dry fall was just above it. Thus, we backtracked down the canyon and headed up the opposite side when we found a safe route (this would be the eastern side). This is labeled as Bypass 2 Main on my map. From there, we worked our way up to the ridge and saw one of the most special views we had ever witnessed in Death Valley. From the top of the ridge on Bypass 2 Main, we had our first view of Tucki Bridge below. It was an incredible sight that we will never forget. Fortunately, we took some great pictures so we will be able to share our first view with you. From our view up high, we could see something very interesting about Tucki Bridge. The natural water flow of the canyon used to go around the location of the bridge, wrapping around in a semi-circle to the right of it. But after hundreds or thousands of years of flooding, the water eventually broke through the bottom of a small hillside and out the other side, forming the natural bridge. From this point on, the bridge grew larger and water ceased using the old route around the bridge. Bypass 2 Main from Tucki Bridge Canyon to the top of the bypass was about 1/2 mile with 500 ft. of elevation gain. Next, we dropped back into Tucki Bridge Canyon past Tucki Bridge, where we could see an easy and safe route down. We then walked down the canyon and into the area which contains Tucki Bridge. It was completely amazing. Once you check out Tucki Bridge (if you by some miracle make it this far), you now have two options -- you can go back the way you came or you can attempt Bypass 2 ALT. Bypass 2 ALT was discovered because we wanted to see what was below the natural bridge. Immediately below it there is a challenging obstacle, which is a polished sloped dry fall without a lot of holds. Those without medium climbing skills will not be able to handle this. The other issue is that it is easier to go down the sloped dry fall than it is to come back up. And it would not be good to get stuck down below it if you needed to come back out this way. But our group managed to make it down and we continued hiking down canyon through some narrows and one other dry fall boulder obstacle. We eventually came out at the top of the 3rd major dry fall of the canyon. From there, we bypassed it to the left and followed sheep trails that stayed close to the canyon rim (but a safe distance away from the edge) and reconnected with Bypass 2C. It would be possible to do this route in reverse and get to Tucki Bridge much quicker, but this is not recommended because some hikers might not be able to handle the sloped dry fall just before the natural bridge. And that might lead them to do something unsafe which is beyond their abilities or have to head all the way back and take Bypass 2 Main. Tucki Bridge Canyon turned out to be one of my favorite lifetime hikes in Death Valley. Tucki Bridge is an informal name that Charlie and I assigned to this natural bridge since those who discovered it did not choose a name. If they choose a different name in the future, this report will be revised accordingly. Our hike took place on February 11, 2013.
This hike contains sections of climbing, exposed bypasses and/or high dry falls and may require safety ropes and equipment in order to complete the entire hike. Those without the proper training, experience, and safety gear should not try to climb any dry falls or take any bypasses encountered during the hike which feel unsafe or beyond personal abilities.
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