Death Valley is full of microclimates: a local atmospheric zone where the climate differs from the surrounding area. The term may refer to areas as small as a few square feet (for example a garden bed) or as large as many square miles. On Tuesday we visited Darwin Falls, one of the many microclimates in the area.
We drove two hours to get to Darwin Falls because it is on the west side of Death Valley National Park and we are close to the east side at Scotty’s Castle. The rough dirt road turns off the paved highway just past Panamint Springs – a tiny “resort” with a campground, small hotel, restaurant and the highest priced gasoline in the area. They charge over $5 for a gallon of gas because they are the last gas station in Death Valley. The dirt road was very rough and Tom drove the 2.5 miles slowly.
Darwin Falls is a lush, verdant valley with the only waterfall in the park that flows year-round. The waterfall comes from an underground spring. There are moss, lichen, reeds, cottonwoods, and willow trees, surrounded by the usual harsh mountains and dry desert. It is a tiny oasis in the desert. The deep, green pools invite you to sit for a while and relax.
When we got to Darwin Falls, after an easy mile hike up the canyon, there were only two other people there: a young couple where the husband was climbing high up the cliffs beside the fall and a wife who spent the whole time yelling at her husband to get him posed properly for pictures. It was difficult to get around her to take pictures of our own and I finally just asked her to move aside. I would have enjoyed staying for a while – I love to listen to waterfalls and this one is very unexpected – but the wife’s yelling totally destroyed the quiet solitude of the place. We snapped a few pictures and turned around. It didn’t look like they would be leaving anytime soon.
From the mouth of the canyon you would never expect the lush falls just a mile away. The mouth of the canyon looks like the same desert you see everywhere around Death Valley. Darwin Falls was a beautiful spot, and one that I would like to visit again, without the tourons.