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Upper Monarch Canyon
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Death Valley National Park
Upper Monarch Canyon
monarch canyon
Monarch Canyon Road at wash (view west).

Overview

This is a nice, 1-mile hike down a rugged canyon to a spring in the Death Valley Wilderness Area. The route passes several pour-overs, some interesting geology, and an old stamp mill and other mining structures along the way. The hike starts from the road to Chloride City and simply runs down Monarch Canyon to the spring. There is a pretty little side canyon to explore. Don't plan to drink water from the spring. Hikers can continue a short ways past the spring to a high pour-over with a view out over the Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes.

Link to trailhead access map or hiking map.

monarch canyon
Monarch Canyon (view west from atop the pour-over).

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, there are no particular dangers on this route. The pour-overs are easy to pass, but be careful. Stay off the stamp mill and the other mining structures, and it is never safe to enter old mines.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. Also, although this hike is short, the area is remote, so be sure to bring the 10 Essentials.

monarch canyon
Wild geology (view north).

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located in Death Valley National Park, about 3.5 hours northwest of Las Vegas.

From town, drive out to Death Valley. From the Furnace Creek Visitor Center (Table 1, Site 0712), drive north on Highway 190 for 10.6 miles to the Beatty Cutoff (Site 0742). Turn northeast (right) towards Beatty, and drive for 9.9 miles to the Hell's Gate parking area (Site 0769), which is at the Y-intersection with the Daylight Pass Road (Hwy 374).

From Hell's Gate, drive east towards Beatty for another 3.3 miles to the second dirt road on the south (right) side of the highway (Site 0753). This is the road to Chloride City, but the turnoff is marked by signs simply reading: "4x4 High Clearance" and "No Camping Next 2 Miles." If you are coming from Beatty, the turnoff is 2.7 miles west of Daylight Pass.

monarch canyon
Ore chute and stamp mill (view southwest).

From the pavement, the graded road runs south, up a valley, over a saddle, and down the other side to Monarch Wash (Site 0857). The wash is 2.2 miles from the pavement, and it takes about 10 minutes to get there. To this point, the road is fine except for some rocks to drive around and one hole from spinning times on a bump up, and a 2WD-HC vehicle should be fine if the road is dry (Feb 2013).

The road forks at the wash. The fork to the west (right) leads down Monarch Canyon. The other road leads to Chloride City and is said to be a rough 4WD road.

Drive down the canyon for about 0.5 miles to the end of the road (Site 0725). Don't drive too far or you will go over a pour-over. Just before the end of the road, there is a sharp curve to the right with a few rocks in the road. If your vehicle is not 4WD, inspect the road before driving over the rocks. The road was fine for a 2WD-HC vehicle when I was there (Feb 2013). Going downhill in a sandy wash is always easier than going downhill. This rocky spot is less than a 1-minute walk from the end of the road, so if it looks bad, back up and park; it isn't worth the risk of getting stuck this close to the trailhead and this far from help.

monarch canyon
Stamp mill (view southeast).

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 2, Waypoint 1), look over the edge of the pour-over and enjoy the view. There is some interesting folding and banding in the walls of the canyon below the pour-over.

An old miner's trail leads around the pour-over and steeply down the south side of the canyon. The miners did some nice rockwork shoring up the edge of the trail. The miner's trail starts out wide enough for a vehicle, but it quickly gets narrower and narrower, and then it ends just above the bottom of the canyon; something must have washed away since the end of the mining era. Scramble down the last few feet of cliff to the bottom of the wash.

monarch canyon
Monarch Spring and little miner's hole (view south).

The miner's trail ends just above a short pour-over formed by a layer of reddish, nicely polished, conglomerate rock. There is a seep just above the pour-over, and this spot is choked with reeds and rabbitbrush. A trail runs around the pour-over on the north side of the canyon.

Beyond the seep, the wash is well vegetated with lots of rabbitbrush, some Paperbag bush, Encelia, bursage, and a little Thamnosma. For the most part, the bottom of the canyon is an open wash that makes for easy walking. The sides of the canyon are steep hillsides and cliffs with a bit of desert fir and barrel cactus.

monarch canyon
Miner's cabin or store room (view southwest).
About 10 minutes below the second pour-over, the remains of a single-stamp mill operation (Wpt. 2) cling to the south side of the canyon. There must be a mine up there, but you can't see it from the wash. The miners built a long wooden chute that starts on a bench and runs down over the cliff to the mill on the edge of the wash. They poured ore down chute into a hopper that sits just above the mill. The chute and hopper are in pretty good shape, and much of the stamp mill remains intact. There is a fair bit of ore in the chute too, but I didn't see any big chunks of gold; lots of mica, but no gold. There are about 6 lengths of ore car rail track lying against the cliff a few yards upstream from the stamp mill, so the mine probably was extensive. Be careful around the mining structures to avoid damaging them.
monarch canyon
Canyon below Monarch Spring (view west).

Below the mill, the canyon jogs to the south and there is more water-polished conglomerate rock in the wash. Around the corner, the remains of more mining activity (Wpt. 3) sit a bench on the south side of the wash. A short miner's trail leads onto the bench where construction materials are scattered about. These include several bundles of 1x4s (some of which are 12-ft long) 2x4s, 1x12s, some pipes, and even a broken porcelain toilet. It is hard to tell, but it looks as if someone intended to build a house here.

At the next bend in the canyon (to the west), the wash is choked with reeds, rabbitbrush, saltbush, and a few other species. The vegetation hides Monarch Spring (Wpt. 4), but you can follow animal trails into the bush to find the water, which runs near the southeast side of the canyon. There is also a miner's cabin or a storeroom (not a shaft) in a hole on the hillside just beyond the spring. It looks like a shallow rock shelter that someone closed off with a wooden wall. The door is missing, but there are vents with screen in the wall above door. There is some broken plate glass, so perhaps there was a window in the door. Inside, tables or benches were built around the edges where a person of small stature could have slept.

monarch canyon
White cliffs that block the side canyon (view east).

Below the spring, the canyon is choked with reeds for the next 100 yards to another bend. It looks as if you would have to crash though the vegetation to hike farther down the canyon, but I stopped at the spring.

Return to the trailhead by hiking back up the canyon.

On the way out, bypass the miner's trail below the trailhead and hike up to the base of the pour-over. There is more interesting geology along the wash and some amazing folding and faulting in the walls of the canyon below the pour-over. From the pour-over, you can scramble directly up the hillside to the south rather than backtracking to the miner's trail.

Back at the trailhead, a side canyon enters the main canyon from the south. This is a pretty little canyon with more amazing geology. The rim of the canyon is capped by a layer of white rock, and below the cap are layers of contorted sedimentary and conglomerate rock. It takes only about 15 minutes to hike up the canyon through the contorted rock to where progress is blocked by the wall of white rock that forms an amphitheater. There are some polished scramble-ups and a couple of pour-overs to climb over or around before getting into the amphitheater. This short side trip added a nice finishing touch to my hike.

Table 1. Highway Coordinates based on GPS data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Highway GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Site # Location Latitude (N) Longitude (W) Easting Northing Elevation (ft) Verified
0712 Furnace Creek Visitor Center 36.46159 116.86574 512030 4034954 -186 Yes
0725 Monarch Canyon Parking 36.72962 116.91589 507510 4064680 3,465 Yes
0742 Hwy 190 at Beatty Cutoff 36.58805 116.94240 505153 4048974 -190 Yes-2
0753 Daylight Pass Rd at Chloride City Rd 36.75059 116.93581 505730 4067005 3,385 Yes
0769 Daylight Pass Rd at Beatty Cutoff (Hell's Gate) 36.72392 116.97718 502038 4064044 2,289 Yes
0857 Chloride Rd at Monarch Canyon wash 36.73679 116.91169 507885 4065475 3,541 Yes

Table 2. Hiking Coordinates based on GPS data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location Easting Northing Elevation (ft) Verified
01 Trailhead 507510 4064680 3,465 Yes
02 Stamp Mill 507315 4064204 3,105 GPS
03 Mining activity 507002 4064012 2,981 GPS
04 Monarch Spring 507048 4063805 2,941 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 130225

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