The United States Congress designated the Surprise Canyon Wilderness (map
) in 1994 and it now has a total of 24,433 acres
All of this wilderness is located in California
and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
The Surprise Canyon Wilderness is bordered by
the Death Valley Wilderness
to the east.
Surprise Canyon Wilderness shares its entire eastern border with Death Valley National Park. It contains small alluvial slopes that gradually rise from the west into the jagged ridges and steep sides of the Panamint Mountains. Canyons cut deeply into the mountains to form the interior of the Wilderness. Although old four-wheel-drive tracks through Jail and Surprise Canyons carve the area into four sections, vehicle travel on these routes has been prohibited since 2000 to protect fragile desert riparian habitat. Elevations climb eagerly from about 1,000 feet in the west to more than 7,000 feet in the east, bestowing extraordinary vistas of the Panamint Valley from mountain summits. Creosote bush scrub and desert holly grow on alluvial fans. Cottonwoods and willows stand tall in the canyons, whose rocky walls sometimes support the rare and endangered Panamint daisy. Forests of piñon and juniper annoint the higher elevations. In addition to the views from on high, the Wilderness is graced by the lush riparian habitats of Jail, Surprise, and Happy Canyons (Happy Canyon forms the southern boundary). If you're wondering what inspired the canyon's jaunty moniker, it stems from the "surprise" travelers experience when they stumble into the unexpected springs bubbling from the steep walls of Surprise Canyon; the springs feed a yearlong flow of water. Most of Surprise Canyon has been designated an Area of Critical Environmental Concern in order to protect wildlife (including desert bighorn sheep and Panamint alligator lizards), vegetation, and historic and cultural resources.