On a recent trip to Death Valley National Park, I was traveling along Racetrack Valley Road – from Teakettle Junction toward the Ubehebe Crater, on my way to Beatty, NV. It had been a long day of exploring in the vicinity of Hunter Mountain, and Hidden Valley, and I was thinking that it was about time to bed down for the evening at the Stagecoach Hotel & Casino. It had been a few days since my body had touched anything resembling a shower or soft mattress with sheets, and a blanket. While I highly enjoy roughing it in the outdoors, I do enjoy treating myself to a room every few days on these longer excursions.
Just before I reached the volcanic lava field of the Ubehebe volcanic field, the colorful hills between there, and Tin Mountain, caught my eye. I pulled off to the side of the road, and hopped out of my Jeep with camera bag in hand. I’ve become a real sucker for photographing colorful and rocky mountains – trying to capture as much of the beauty and detail as my telephoto lens will allow.
As I shot the mountains and hills, I noticed a square looking cave at the base of one of the hills. I was intrigued – was it a natural cave, did it have rock art in it, or was it a mine? All of these questions and others passed through my head.
There was only one way to find out, so I grabbed a bottle of water – wrangled my exploration partner (it didn’t really take any convincing), and we hiked the short quarter of a mile across the colorful desert pavement.
It wasn’t but ten minutes before we stood about fifty-feet below the cave; it didn’t appear so high up from the road – we climbed up the steep embankment to the cave entrance. An assortment of various sized volcanic rocks sat outside of the cave – one of which contained evidence that it had been used at one time as a grinding slick. Entering the cave, I now had high hopes that there would be pictographs inside, but instead I was greeted by walls of thick bat shit, it had dripped over all sides of the cave. If there had been pictographs here, they have long been erased by years of bat excrement.
I walked out of the cave, feeling a bit dirtier than I had before. I noticed that the canyon coming out of Cottonwood Mountains was lined with colorful stone walls. I suggested to my partner that we check it out.
The wash in the canyon, passed right by the cave – one only knows what we’d find, it isn’t as if this was a highly traversed area of the park.
The bright yellow, red and purple walls of “Prismatic Canyon” quickly closed in – becoming almost slot canyon like in portions. The colors and rugged nature of the rock reminded me immediately of Kaleidoscope Canyon; in the more southern portion of Death Valley. The wash leading through the canyon, was jammed with an assortment of boulders – including a number of which were basalt. The basalt didn’t belong in this lower section of the canyon, but rather traveled here from further up, or from above the canyon walls.
I noticed that one of these stray basalt boulders contained a few, very worn petroglyphs. This would be the only petroglyphs that we would find in the canyon, but there is a possibility that there may be something additional further up. We soon ran into a dry-fall, which would end our progress for the day – due to an injury my partner had sustained a couple of days prior.
Based on our findings – I am positive that the cave was used by Native peoples to the area, the grinding slick, located just a few foot steps from the cave are enough to confirm this. The petroglyph boulder in “Prismatic Canyon,” provides additional evidence of localized land usage – along with known activity just a few miles away at the Ubehebe Crater – which was named by the Timbisha tribe, and translates to “big basket in the rock.”
*NOTE* – “Cottonwood Shaman Cave” and “Prismatic Canyon” are names that I have given to these locations – they are by no means official names, I have used them because I do not know of any given names to these locations.