During the late 1800s, Panamint Valley and Death Valley were hotbeds of mining and exploration, which later gave rise to the famous Death Valley Days radio and TV program. In the early days, covered wagons creaked across Death Valley and up the narrow canyons to mining sites. Those wood-wheeled wagons are but a memory, and 4x4s now creak into old mining areas during the Panamint Valley Days, a 12-year-old event hosted by the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs. The most famous trail open during the event is Surprise Canyon, which requires front-mounted winches to drag your ride up a series of waterfalls to the former mining town of Panamint, high atop the Panamint Range. Of course, the idea is to drive up the falls, but few 4x4s prove capable of completing even one without the hook.
We've featured Surprise for a number of years-it's a killer trail, and we even used it for our controversial "Winch Shootout" in the Nov. '97 issue. But as radical as Surprise Canyon is, there's much more going on during Panamint Valley Days. There are other trails ranging from easy sightseeing to rough-and-tumble rockcrawling. We decided to take advantage of the other offerings this year by trying the Stone Canyon run, which is situated across the valley from the Panamint Range.
Stone Canyon consists of a series of dry waterfalls that grind up the canyon, similar in difficulty to Surprise Canyon but without the water. Originally, the Stone Canyon Trail consisted of nine waterfalls, but because of the S-21 desert closure bill the top six falls are now within a wilderness area and can't be legally traversed.
Regardless of your vehicle or skill level, Panamint Valley Days has something to offer just about everyone. The event is held in the beginning of November, which brings cool nights and warm days to the desert, although the overnight run to Panamint City has had snowfall in the past. If you want to be part of the excitement of future Panamint Valley Days, write to the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs at 3104 O St. #313, Sacramento, CA 95816, or call 800/4X4-FUNN. If you're interested in the Surprise Canyon overnighter, remember that lockers, tall tires, and a winch are required, and the number of vehicles allowed on that run is limited.