Aha, two interesting canyon hikes from the same trailhead! In the south end of the park, where the remains of the Ashford Mill are just west of the Badwater Road, a rugged road heads east up to the trailhead for Scotty's Canyon and Ashford Canyon. The first part of the road (2.8 miles) is doable with a passenger car, but it gets progressively rougher and steeper. I was glad to have 4WD for the final half-mile or so, mostly for the low-range gearing.
Scotty's Canyon is named for the legendary Death Valley Scotty, this canyon was his favorite hangout, here in the first grotto about 3 miles from the trailhead.
The fall is not easily climb-able, but can be easily bypassed on the right side, about 100 feet downcanyon. Here's another view of the same grotto, but from above the wash. There is dripping water in the shady area on the right, really a neat place.
Above here there was a little bit of running water in the canyon. The second grotto is about a tenth of a mile further, guarded by a catclaw acacia tree that left its claw marks on me. I thought the second grotto was prettier, though it didn't have the dripping water effect.
The dry fall at the second grotto is easy to climb on the right side.The third grotto is another quarter-mile or so, and above that there is a very large rockfall zone (very large boulders, and lots of them) that looked like heavy going. The guidebook (Michel Digonnet, Hiking Death Valley) says that the going gets really ugly above that point, so I turned around.
Another vehicle followed me in to the trailhead, they were headed into Ashford Canyon so I had Scotty's all to myself. Back at the trailhead, their truck was still there... heh, here I had been hoping for my own personal private Ashford Canyon as well (not that it matters!). This is the view of the Ashford Canyon wash from the trailhead.
The main reason to hike Ashford Canyon is for the mining ruins, though there is supposed to be some interesting climbing on the dryfalls in the lower canyon. About a mile into the canyon, I met the couple who owned the truck, they were hiking out but hadn't found the mine they were looking for. I made it up to the Ashford Mine camp, a little over two miles from the trailhead. The cookhouse and bunkhouses are still standing. There are also a lot of mine shafts and prospects in the area.
Had I been really energetic (and started earlier in order to have more daylight) I could have gone another two miles and 2000' vertical up to the Desert Hound Mine. The guidebook says it is a much more difficult hike; the Desert Hound can also be reached from Virgin Spring Canyon (yesterday's hike).
GPS details on EveryTrail