Thursday, February 25, 2016
Hike 2016.008 -- Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch, Death Valley National Park, CA
So obviously, on the downhill side, with no where to pull over, hey, if you want to pass me illegally, be my guest. But I'm not going to pull on to some non-existent shoulder for your convenience: Pass me illegally, or get comfortable there, bucko.
there were some pretty thick pockets of wildflowers, mostly desert gold.
Upon arrival at the visitor center, I needed to orbit the lot once, and wound up on a deadend road for a bit. I turned around, returned to the lot, and found a spot the second time, around. Yeah, it was crowded, but not entirely unexpected--there had been several articles in the LA Times and other sources, plugging the bloom. Also, it was President's Day weekend.
I asked a ranger about one trail that was on my Trails Illustrated / National Geographic map of the Death Valley, but was not on the fold-out brochure or the park newspaper. It showed a connection from Golden Canyon to Zabriskie Point.
So I decided to eat a turkey ham and cheese on bagel sandwich I assembled there, drank a soda, then drove down to Golden Canyon Parking area, just a few miles south on Badwater Road from the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.
This is largely a mud conglomerate canyon, probably formed by the clayish mud coming off the higher hills, settling on to the bottom of an ancient sea, then being compressed for thousands of years. The result is a very compact clay-- no top soil, no way for water to soak in. It just runs quickly off the badlands, and into the Death Valley sink.
I continued one mile, up canyon, to the junction, where I would have to choose between continuing on the spur to Red Cathedral (an additional 1/2 mile each way), or turn towards possibly Zabriskie Point, or the big loop. Eventually wound up going to Red Cathedral. Dramatic evidence of past flash floods, with areas where short segments of pavement remained, and tangled ladders that were no longer needed, because the water had eroded walkways beneath large barriers.
At the end, there was a pretty nice view down and over the top of the badlands I had negotiated.
It's listed as a mere .8 of a mile from that Golden Canyon junction to the Gower Gulch Junction. At that junction, I looked at the sign (which had the same information as on my map, but somehow seemed more persuasive!). It would be 1.8 miles to backtrack the way I came (including a pretty significant altitude gain I gave up after crossing the pass below Manly Beacon), 1.1 miles to the Zabriskie Point trailhead, or 2.5 miles to return to my car by completing the loop.
Finally made my way out of Gower Gulch, and began the long, uphill incline back to my car. I finished the last of my water once I knew I was on the home stretch, and enjoyed the scattered wildflowers and the sight of cars on Badwater Road, with the Panamint Mountains in the distance.
5.3 miles total hiking distance. My Fitbit (set to 16,000 steps a day) buzzed, just before I got back to my car.