More on the area between South Park and Butte Valley

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Posted by Marek Cichanski on March 10, 2004 at 13:24:13:

Here is some more info on the area between South Park and Butte Valley / Redlands Canyon:

About 10 years ago I did my geology dissertation in the southwestern Panamints, and so I spent a fair amount of time on the roads and trails in the area SE of Ballarat.

A few days ago, someone posted a question about whether or not there's a road from South Park to Butte Valley. Several people correctly replied that there's no road connection. Just thought I'd throw in a few words about my experiences up in that area...

I think that the questioner had noticed a road that goes south from the South Park playa. This is the road that goes partway down Big Horn Canyon. Well, what it really does is to go S and SW from South Park playa into a relatively flat area that I used to call "The Altiplano". This area is just west of the crest of the Panamints, and is just below the pinyon-juniper zone. It is technically part of the Big Horn Canyon drainage basin, although up at that elevation, BHC is not a deeply incised canyon. It's mostly a series of small tributary streams that eventually drop down the west side of the Panamints, forming the deep, dry-fall-filled gorge of Bighorn Canyon. On airphotos, the road goes about as far as that drop-off, but no farther. It's a spectacular spot, but continuing down BHC would be a canyoneering trip, with rapelling, etc... That 'Altiplano' area is seriously remote. I suspect that virtually no one ever goes into that area. If you want DEEP solitude, that's the place to go.

When I was doing my field work, I had a 4WD, but I was a poor grad student who couldn't afford many repairs, so I tended to park and hike miles before most people would. So, I've hiked up South Park Canyon many times, past the Briggs cabin and over the bridge, but only ever drove up to the Briggs cabins once.

Back in 1994, just a week or so before the desert bill passed, I was lucky enough to make some of the last helicopter landings in the 'Altiplano' area. A mining company called Echo Bay was exploring the World Beater mine site in Pleasant Canyon, and they gave me some chopper time. The pilot would drop me off on top of the peaks that lie just E of the 'altiplano', and I'd hike around all day doing geology, and get picked up in South Park at the end of the day. It was great; I was really lucky.

For anyone who's interested in doing some hiking, there IS a good foot trail from the 'Altiplano' to Redlands Canyon. It goes from the north rim of Redlands Canyon down to the divide between Redlands Canyon and Butte Valley. I spotted it on airphotos and then later hiked it, and most of it was surprisingly good. I don't know if it's an old miner's trail or a really good burro trail. I don't have GPS coords for the trail, but if I get the time, I'll try to figure them out from the topo map and the airphotos.

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