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Stretched Pebble Canyon
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Death Valley National Park, Death Valley Wilderness Area
Stretched Pebble Canyon
Stretched Pebble Canyon
Canyon mouth adjacent to gray hill (view SE)

Overview

The hike into lower Stretched Pebble Canyon is a pleasant and geologically interesting, 3-mile round-trip hike in the Death Valley Wilderness Area. The route runs cross-country up the gently sloping bajada, with great views off into northern Death Valley and towards the Cottonwood Mountains all along the way, to the mouth of the canyon. The canyon is narrow from the mouth and stays narrow. From the mouth of the canyon up to whichever obstruction blocks your progress, the walls of the canyon are a wonderful study in sedimentary and metamorphic rocks. The "stretched pebbles," a structural geology term, are rocks and boulders that were squashed flat under the forces of heat and pressure, but not really changed. Stretched pebbles line the canyon walls everywhere, and they even provide footholds and handholds when climbing some of the easier pour-overs.

Link to topographic map, elevation profile, and trip photos.

Stretched Pebble Canyon
Grand view from the bajada (view N)

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ... hiking into the lower canyon is quite safe. Passing the first major obstruction and getting into the upper canyon requires good rock climbing skills and a willingness to risk one's life on poor and crumbling rock. Climbing ropes are helpful in some spots, but not always.

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

Stretched Pebble Canyon
Leaning on one stretched pebble (SP) among several

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located in Death Valley National Park, about 2-1/2 hours northwest of Las Vegas.

From town, drive out to Death Valley. From the Furnace Creek Visitor Center (Table 1, Site 712), drive north and west on Highway 190 to Stovepipe Wells. From the Stovepipe Wells General Store, continue west for 3.3 miles and park on the side of the road (Site 984). Park here; this is the trailhead.

Stretched Pebble Canyon

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 2, Waypoint 1), the route runs southeast towards the base of Tucki Mountain where an oddly-gray, pyramid-shaped hill lies against the brown mountain. Stretched Pebble Canyon is on the south (right) edge of this gray hill. Hiking up the bajada, one is inclined to wander too far to the south because the washes trend that way, but aim for the gray hill and get into a wash with a high south wall (Wpt. 2).

The bajada is sparsely vegetated with creosote bush, some desert holly, and little else. One out-of-place pygmy cedar seems to be growing quite happily. In the canyon, the walls are so narrow and the flash floods so vigorous, that little but a few rock nettle and desert holly grow up there.

Stretched Pebble Canyon
Passing 1st pour-over -- not for the faint of heart!

Continuing up the wash, the route runs into a slot in the side of the mountain at the top of the bajada (Wpt. 3). From there, the route is obvious as the canyon is narrow, and it is nearly impossible to escape the bottom of the canyon. That said, it isn't long before on encounters the first major obstruction: a large chockstone at the top of a pour-over (Wpt. 4).

The geology is quite interesting, if a bit uncertain. It appears that during the late Precambrian (some half-billion years ago and before life really got started on earth), this area was a shallow, tropical sea, and limestone formed in the shallow waters. The climate cooled, however, and glaciers scoured some ancient mountains and pushed their moraine out into the sea, covering the limestone. Things warmed, and the seas came back, and more limestone covered the moraine. During the Jurassic, the age of dinosaurs, volcanoes were active in this area, and the heat and pressure of magma welling up partially metamorphosed the limestone and glacial moraines.

Stretched Pebble Canyon
Passing the 3rd pour-over wasn't worth the risk

Later, faulting lifted the mountains and erosion cut the canyons, exposing what we see today: loose and shaley dolomite adjacent to highly compressed conglomerate rocks. Large boulders and smaller rocks in the glacial moraines were squashed into pancakes, resulting in what are called "stretched pebbles," although "squashed pebble" might be more appropriate here. Exposed along the water-polished canyon walls, they look like stretched rocks, but they are actually 3-dimensional, pancake shaped rocks.

Enjoy the narrow canyon, scramble up the easier pour-overs, and marvel at the geology exposed here. When you get to a pour-over you don't want to climb, head back down to the trailhead knowing that you didn't miss much of importance higher up.

Stretched Pebble Canyon
Stretched pebbles line the walls lower in the canyon
Stretched Pebble Canyon
Nicely exposed stretched pebble

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
0751 Hwy 190 at Stovepipe Wells 36.60654 117.14594 486948 4051034 0 Yes
0984 Stretched Pebble Parking 36.57240 117.18822 483159 4047254 451 GPS

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

Wpt Location Easting Northing Elevation Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi) Verified
01 Trailhead 483159 4047254 451 0.00 0.00 GPS
02 Wash 484002 4046225 758 0.87 0.87 GPS
03 Mouth of Canyon 484254 4045866 889 0.28 1.15 GPS
04 Obstruction 484434 4045730 1,054 0.18 1.33 GPS
05 Obstruction 484557 4045652 1,152 0.12 1.45 GPS
01 Trailhead 483159 4047254 451 1.45 2.90 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 141109

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