Unlike our first three hikes, all of which are located in the Black Mountains south of Furnace Creek, Monarch Canyon is in the Funeral Mountains to the north. The principal attractions of a hike into its lower canyon is its relative remoteness and the journey it offers through tortured meta-sedimentary rocks and polished mosaics, capped off by small pools at the base of a 110-foot perennial waterfall. These features drew us to lower Monarch as our fourth (and last) hike during our 2017 visit to Death Valley National Park.
There’s no trailhead or trail for this hike; parking for it is simply on the side of the Daylight Pass Road about 0.7 miles south of Hell’s Gate at the 2,000 foot contour. This spot gave us a great view of Corkscrew Peak to the north.
There is supposed to be a faint old mining road going from around here toward the canyon but we never found that road (we did find a line of cairns seemingly going nowhere in particular). So we just headed off cross-country east toward the notch in the Funeral Range that marks Monarch Canyon.
Except for some minor ups and downs, traveling across this landscape was easy and the views on this full bluebird day were expansive.
This is another hike where you have to cross some open ground, here about 1.5 miles, before you reach the mouth of the canyon.
We crossed the open ground, then dropped into the outwash plain of the canyon, and followed along the side of that as the canyon began to narrow.
We were walking on mostly level, not-too-rocky ground for three miles before the canyon really started to close-in and get more scrambly.
At three miles, we reached the 16-foot waterfall (now dry),
which we passed via ledges on its left side.
It was in this area that we got our first close-up look at the insanely twisted and folded rocks that are one of the highlights of this hike.
About 0.15 miles past this point, after scrambling up some minor ledges and through some boulders, we turned a corner,
and came face-to-face with the lower 110 feet of this waterfall. There are apparently a further series of cascades out of sight above, which is why this is likely the highest perennial waterfall in the Park.
Monarch Spring, in the canyon just above the drop-off that signals the start of this waterfall, is apparently the source of its flow.
On the canyon wall across from the waterfall, we could see a massive layer of rocks folded back on themselves and shot through with a giant quartz dike. This echoed the rock torment we saw just above the 16-foot waterfall, but on a much grander scale.
After that, it was an easy walk back down the canyon,
with some early wildflowers to further brighten our day,
as we made the easy stroll across the desert back to where we parked.
This was an easy (6.6 miles round-trip; 600 feet of elevation gain) cross-country hike to an excellent water feature, with some tortured rocks added-in for extra fun. You can also drive around to access upper Monarch Canyon, along with Monarch Spring and the old Indian Mine, or hike in here to visit the south branch of the lower canyon with its narrows and falls. So many hikes, so little time…