Moby Goes for Dope in Death Valley

March 2016

In preparation for our annual spring break trek to Death Valley National Park, I contacted explorer extraordinaire Guy Starbuck for hiking ideas. You can read his fantastic website here: Starbuck’s Exploring.

“I don’t know of anything in Death Valley Canyon,” Guy told me when I asked about the remote canyon. “Except the spring. Not sure if anything is at the spring besides water.”

He was right: a little water and a whole lot of nothing . . . and ideal conditions for a marijuana grow operation.

Our first clue that something was amiss was finding lots of footprints in the sand on our way into this normally deserted canyon. Where was everyone going?
Toothed dodder (Cuscuta denticulata) is a parasitic annual vine native to the deserts of the American Southwest. It kills its host by absorbing moisture and nutrients, a fitting metaphor for what we found later.
Even in a place as remote as this, others have come before. Perhaps a prospector fenced his burros . . . ?
Another mark of human activity–a Native American hunting blind . . . ?
Another mystery: an ancient and faded pictograph . . . ?
Petroglyphs–notice especially the very faint image of a man in the center.

None of these were surprising finds, but what we found next we’ve never seen before.

A bunch of sleeping bags in a black garbage bag weighted down by rocks.
More sleeping bags, a duffle bag, and empty water bottles and trash stashed under rocks. The whole site is under an overhang in a slot canyon. This would keep the camp from being spotted from the air.
Get your electrolytes!

We left this mysterious camp behind and headed higher up the canyon.

Inside a large crack in this rock, things became clear.
A scale and small plastic bags.

Perhaps stupidly, we continued further up the canyon until we reached springs that water a thicket of green shrubs growing on the canyon floor. No pot plants in sight.


At this point, we turned around, but Google Earth shows more water ahead.

DV Canyon
Green shows where springs bring life to an otherwise dry and barren landscape. We hiked as far as the first green patch on the left. Were there pot plants ahead?

Back at camp, we contacted the park rangers who said there have been marijuana grow sites in remote canyons of Death Valley National Park. They took our report and photos and said they’d look into it.

We had heard about illegal marijuana grow sites, but never imagined they’d be hiding in a national park that received 1.1 million visitors in 2014. From the Death Valley National Park website:

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 4.11.44 PM

Apparently, these off-the-grid pot growing operations are a huge problem on public lands.

Read the full story here.

We were lucky enough not to encounter anyone in the canyon, but now I’m afraid to go back.

I’m also afraid not to go back. Someone should watch over places like these. There’s so little water, so few living things–everything is fragile in the desert. I don’t want these springs dammed and diverted. I don’t want plastic piping and garbage. I don’t want fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides creating an environmental disaster in miniature. Not here.


Solutions? Legalize marijuana and bring its cultivation into the open? Increase budgets for discovering and eliminating grow sites? I don’t have answers, but this is public land.

I want it back.


6 thoughts

  1. Legalize! Of course an Oregonian would say that. If we have to live in a world where profit seems to count more than anything else, than make it unprofitable to grow marijuana in the national forests.

  2. yikes, yikes, yikes. couldn’t agree more: don’t go back. do go back. we want it back.
    I love the official sign suggesting you walk, run, or crawl to safety. yikes.

    1. I really want to go back and see what’s at the upper end of all that green in the canyon. We turned around because it was getting late. As it was, we got back to Moby after dark. The ranger said they wouldn’t go busting in there to check it out–too dangerous. So I guess I won’t either . . .

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