Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Photo Essay: Golden Canyon / Gower Gulch Loop, Death Valley



There are very few officially-marked trails in Death Valley, but since I'm not quite ready for solo rogue hiking in the most unforgiving place in this hemisphere, I took one of the moderate, designated trails: Gower Gulch Loop.



You start the hike in Golden Canyon, through a gorge along an interpretive trail...



...which follows an old road that's long since been washed out by flash floods.



Along the wash, you can see geology at work amongst the tilted sandstone...



...in yet another area that was once underwater in one of Death Valley's many prehistoric lake beds.



The main path is relatively clear, but it's easy to get distracted by several misleading side trails that either lead you into a slot, or to a dead end...



...until you reach the end of the Golden Canyon loop, past the Red Cathedral...



...and proceed onto the Gower Gulch loop.



You traverse the badlands...



...up to Manly Beacon towards Zabriskie Point...



...until you reach the main drainage of Gower Gulch, marked by the dark gravel pathway.



There is no formal trail here, but, with feet crunching along the gravel, it's relatively easy to follow the wash through the ravine...



...which leads you out of the mouth of the gulch to scramble down two dryfalls (whose dropoffs no longer feature water cascading down them), the last of which encompasses a 25-foot drop. I scrambled halfway down it, got freaked out, and scrambled back up, choosing instead to take the winding narrow path to the right, which bypasses it.



The hike ends with a relatively tedious path through the valley which follows Badwater Road back to the parking area...



...under the hot sun with the rising heat of the low elevation.

With names like "Badwater" and "Badlands" and "Gulch," I know it's not for everybody. Understandably with its more romantic and cuddly name, Golden Canyon is one of the more popular spots in Death Valley, but not many people pass through the colorful canyon and keep going. That means you mostly get the trail to yourself.

And, though arguably inhospitable, it is surprisingly welcoming.

At least, to me.

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