Thursday, February 25, 2016

Hike 2016.008 -- Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch, Death Valley National Park, CA

Hiked Saturday, February 13. 5.3 miles. After driving up from Las Vegas, and through Beatty, I took NV-374 from Beatty into Death Valley. It's some slow speed limits through Beatty (25mph), and for much of the pass into Death Valley (35mph in some parts, 45mph in other parts, and 55mph for basically just the straightaway heading up. And there's no shoulder along much of the road near Daylight Pass, where you begin a long descent into Death Valley.
None-the-less, a moronic motorcycl-ist passenger was gesturing aggressive-ly for me to pull over so that they could exceed the speed limit down the hill. Normally, I'd have no problem letting them pass. But, as mentioned, there was no shoulder. Also, I made it clear on the whole drive up to the pass that I was going to maintain the speed limit (well, okay, 3-5 mph above the speed limit), and they had ample opportunities to pass me on the way up to the pass.

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.
From the pass, my plan was to visit the Furnace Creek visitor center to get information on where the wildflowers might be viewing. Along the way, on that Beatty Cutoff from NV-374 to CA-190 east, 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.
After the stop, I sort of determined that I had already seen a pretty amazing bloom, and should probably find myself a trail to hike. Then, maybe tomorrow, I'd either explore the southern section of the park for additional blooms, or drive on out the western side of the park, and return to Los Angeles via U.S. 395.

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.
Turns out the NPS had a flyer that zoomed in on this area, with a very detailed map, and distances indicated. So, thank you, very much!

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.

Cars lined both sides of the road for some distance, both north and south of the lot. Yet, although I usually just park rather than look for a closer spot, I had a feeling there'd be rapid turnover in the lot, and a chance to find something right there. And, if fact, I did find a spot, closest to the trailhead.

Walked on up the canyon, still not sure what my final destination would be.

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.
Very barren. Very dramatic.

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.
After enjoying that view and snapping some shots, I headed back the way I came. At the junction, I opted to turn left, towards possibly Zabriskie Point, or else making the basic loop through Gower Gulch.

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.
Well, at this point, I was feeling a little bit tired and a little bit dry. Didn't bring as much water with me as I should have. And, though it wasn't that warm, it was low in humidity. I was feeling the dry, and kicking myself for not being better prepared.
I decided I would be too tired to head up to Zabriskie, so I continued on down Gower Gulch. Lots of broad, muddy wash bottom, here, the ground formed into blocks of cell-like fragments.

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.


  1. Hey Skyhiker, great report. Just wondering, have you visited the bristlecone pines yet in the White Mountains?

    1. Yep, last summer. I've also visited bristlecone forests in Great Basin National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, and Spring Mountains National Recreation Area. Here's my blog for the White Mountains bristlecones.

  2. Nice, going to have to put them on the bucket list. I foolishly skipped Great Basin NP driving through Nevada last year.

    1. It's not dramatic, like the Utah parks, or Yosemite Valley, but it's nice. Lightly visited, too. And really dark skies. I thought I was going to be heading there for their star festival this fall, but it conflicts with a trip some Observatory friends are planning to, hey, guess what? The White Mountains. Going to camp the same place as last time, but we're going in late September instead of late-middle August, I'll plan to hit the eastern Sierra and look for fall foliage during the trip, this year.