Like the body of a giant serpent moving to and fro on a north-south axis, Ernst Valley stretches from the river all the way to the southern slopes of Telephone Canyon.

Calling it a ‘valley’ is somewhat of a misnomer, in actuality the area consists of a series of valleys and small basins along most of its length. The ends of each are pinched by narrow canyons, some with sheer cliff faces a hundred feet high or more. The photograph taken is in the largest of these valleys, about five miles into a prowl.

Not many go this way, and that fact is probably just as well. The only real way to access this part of the park is through the Strawhouse Trail, unless you want to spend a great deal of time and effort climbing and sliding in from the west.

Once you begin traveling its length of near fifteen miles, you are basically bottlenecked in with the trail being your main lifeline out. This calls for a special awareness and planning in your trip. Available water, save for certain hard to reach tinajas, is usually nonexistent.

When in the belly of this natural serpent, remember you are in the middle of a watershed coming off the slopes of some good-sized sierras to both sides, including the Deadhorse Mountains.

The old joke was when Noah’s Flood happened, the Deadhorse got about two tenths and most of it was blowing sideways.

Joking aside, when rain does come the storms can be fearsome, sending torrents of water through these canyons no sojourner could possibly survive. To drown in the desert is perhaps one of the greatest of ironies, but it has happened innumerable times.

Yet the greatest hazard here to human life is the heat, and that is when the giant serpent will turn on you with the speed and fury of a maddened rattlesnake. This is not the place to go in the summer, or any other time of year with chance of a warm day.

Too many have fallen prey to the mistaken idea that if it is seventy-five degrees in early morning, they are safe take such a trip. Nothing could be further from the truth. Remember this is a desert, with pitifully little to contain heat during the night. Temperatures can sometimes vary forty and fifty degrees in the matter of several hours.

Also, a given ground temperature may seem quite pleasant when standing on open ground with a nice breeze. But there is usually no breeze at all in those constricted canyons, and no shady spot to escape the rays of the sun at mid-day. All you can do is bake in these naturally created ovens, with the setting cranked to high and then the knob ripped off.

In this eminently unforgiving country, the ball marked ‘Darwinism’ is always in play.

God bless to all,

Ben H. English
Alpine, Texas
USMC: 1976-1983
THP: 1986-2008
HS Teacher: 2008-2010
Author 2017-Present
Facebook: Ben H. English
‘Graying but still game’