The most surprising feature in Death Valley may be the presence of wetlands. These rare environments support distinct fish populations and provide life-giving watering holes for plants, animals, and humans.
Salt Creek supports its own species of pupfish in the delicate riparian environment. A short walk along the wooden wheelchair-accessible trail and the incongruous sight of a rushing creek in the tortured expanse of the valley floor give this place a lot of bang for the easy effort to get here.
The energetic creek here has literally shaped Johnson Canyon, carving out the sheer walls that tower above. Stroll along the creek’s edge or hike the steep ridge of the canyon to look down on this powerful thicket.
A short hike leads to a charming creek and the historic site of Shorty Borden’s camp, a friendly prospector who made a name in Death Valley history. The creek is fed by snow from the Panamint Mountains, and the hike is scenically framed by views of Telescope Peak.
Warm Springs Camp
Nestled within Warm Spring Canyon, a luxurious spring was the site of the Warm Springs Camp, a mining camp established in the 1930s by Louise Grantham. Wandering amid the abandoned buildings, you’ll come across the last thing you might expect—a swimming pool (now drained) which was fed from the spring’s source behind the camp.
Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge
This magical swatch of open desert in the Amargosa Valley contains crystal-blue pools of warm water, its own fish population, and the Devil’s Hole, a deep window into an ancient aquifer system.
The elusive Amargosa River surfaces in only two places during its 185-mile length. It makes one of its rare appearances at the China Ranch Date Farm, near Tecopa, creating valuable habitat for migratory birds and other animals.
These springs, hidden away in the park’s southeast corner, quietly mirror the desert sky. Surrounded by reeds and desert grasses, they provided water for mining camps in the area and formed the backbone of a short-lived but enterprising water-bottling plant.
The luxuriant springs of Cottonwood Canyon are the crowning set of wonders along an action-packed 4WD trail. The first spring begins just beyond the end of the road as an energetic desert stream. Two more springs beyond give rise to the canyon’s signature cottonwood trees and a shady oasis, a miracle of desert life that’s surprising in this rugged canyon.
The spur road to McElvoy Canyon is a faint track off the dusty Saline Valley Road that has you trudging over a hot alluvial fan until you hit the clear luscious creek. Following it to the canyon mouth will take you to a grotto waterfall, cool with hanging ferns. A second waterfall lies beyond if you’re up for a short rock climb.