Golden Canyon: Death Valley

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Recently, Jon and I took two days off of work and took our brand new (well, actually used, but new to us) 2004 Subaru Outback to Death Valley. I know this is not the bay area; in fact, it is very far from the bay area, about a 7 hour drive. However, I want to do a number of posts on Death Valley because I believe it is a highly underrated national park and technically you can get there from the bay area so it counts. 😉

Strider the Subaru

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Look forward to a post about our car. We spent a lot of time trying to decide what kind of car to get to fit our lifestyle. At first, we were super sure we wanted a van since we wanted to be able to sleep in the back. As we got looking around, though, we couldn’t get a van we liked in our price range and we were also a little worried about gas mileage and how it would handle in windy roads.

That’s what lead us to the Subaru Outback.

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We slept in the back of our Subaru

I won’t go into it too much right now, but once we have the back all decked out with our bed and curtains, I’ll be sure to write a post. I think it’s a great car for those who love the outdoors and camping, especially since it has AWD.

The Hike

The hike started with immediate entrance to the canyon where Death Valley does it’s best to remind you that it is so much more than a boring desert. The towering sides of the canyon have an array of colors and rock formations that are fascinating to stop and look at.

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Along the way there are tons of little side passages that beg to be explored, but we decided that for this hike, we would stay on the designated path.

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Side canyon

The cool thing about Death Valley is that they are totally okay with you exploring off trail, as long as you are careful. In fact, there are only a handful of actual trails in the park. Most of the hikes are just exploration in open lands. It’s amazing.

About 3/4 of a mile into the hike we were already rewarded with stunning views of Red Cathedral.

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Red Cathedral

We decided to skip the additional 1/2 mile hike to the Red Cathedral and instead continue the loop up towards the Manly Beacon.

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The trail onwards to Manly Beacon

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This part of the hike got a little strenuous because the trail became a bit steep, but the views were so amazing that it was worth it.

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This part of the hike probably took me half an hour to go 1/2 mile because I kept stopping to take pictures.

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Quickly after passing Manly Beacon, we reached the top of a ridge. After pausing briefly to get even more photos, we started to head down into a valley.

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I was getting very hot at this point. A few days prior, I got a new tattoo on my arm and wanted to keep it out of the sun so I was wearing long-sleeves.

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First pass at my new Mother Nature tattoo (stay tuned for a post on Current Tattoo in San Jose, and shout out to the artist, Daniel Dagones!)

I don’t recommend doing this hike in the middle of the day when the sun is hottest in long pants and sleeves like I did, unless you like feeling like your blood is boiling.

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Jon wearing shorts and a t-shirt, me wearing leggings and a long-sleeve shirt

From this side of the ridge, there were a lot of rolling tan hills. We decided to keep going on the Badlands Loop. This part of the hike lead us up, down, and around those stony hills as we made our way closer to Zabriskie Point.

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The back view of Manly Beacon
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On to Zabriskie Point!

We decided not to finish the hike up to the point since we had driven to it earlier in the day. See more pictures from the point below under the Zabriskie Point header.

Once we finished the short Badlands Loop, we continued on to Gower Gulch. I had no idea what the difference between a gulch and a canyon were, and I’m going to guess that you don’t either, so I looked them up online for you. A gulch, according to Wikipedia, is “a deep V-shaped valley formed by erosion,” while a canyon is “a deep ravine between pairs of cliffs and is the most often carved landscape by the erosive activity of a river over geologic timescales.” They seem very similar, but the shapes and formation are just a little different from each other.

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In Gower’s Gulch (doesn’t look V-shaped to me but what do I know..)

There were some cool natural formation, like a flat portion of the side that looked like a stage. We had fun taking photos there.

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As we got to the end of the canyon the trail seemed to disappear and we found ourselves in a very skinny, V-shaped creek bed. This part involved the use of our hands sometimes as we had to climb and jump a bit. It wasn’t too difficult, but unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of this part.

When we finally exited the gulch, we got a great view of the valley before us. We followed the trail to a sharp right that tracked back to the parking lot and entrance of Golden Canyon. We decided to jog this part for a little extra exercise, so again, no pictures. Sorry!

Zabriskie Point

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Driving to Zabriskie Point is a great option if the full 7-mile hike to the top is too much. We didn’t get to start our hike until around 11:30am (which is a bad time to start a hike in Death Valley as between 12-2 are the hottest times), so we decided to stick with the shorter loop.

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Looks like the mountains in the game Tiny Wings!

Definitely don’t skip out on going to the point, though, whether you hike or drive to it. The view is incredible.

The Stats

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Golden Canyon is a great place to hike in Death Valley because you can really make the hike anything you want. There is a short, 2 mile hike that just goes through the canyon to these giant red rock formations (called Cathedral) that is the easiest and most popular hike. There is the longer and more challenging, almost 7 mile hike from the beginning of the canyon all the way up to Zabriskie Point. We decided to go for something in the middle by hiking Gower Gulch with the addition of the short Badlands Loop.

Our Trail Golden Canyon Death Valley

Click here to see Death Valley National Park’s hiking guide for Golden Canyon. It has more information on all of the different loops, as well as safety information. Click here for a PDF version of the trail map.

See the google map below for driving directions; it is very close to the Visitor Center in Furnace Creek.

Head over to Death Valley National Park’s website to see more hiking trails. Also make sure you keep checking back on Bay Area Weekend because I’ll be posting about more of my adventures in Death Valley soon!

Conclusion

Death Valley has gone from being WAY under my radar to one of my favorite parks I’ve been to ever. One of the things I really loved was the diversity in the landscapes. Check it out:

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I will reveal more reasons as to why Death Valley is a kickass park in future posts, but I hope this post so far has made you want to plan a visit. If you go, definitely make the trip to Golden Canyon because the hike is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

Have you ever been to Death Valley, or another desert park? Post about your experience in the comments below!

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