Death Valley National Park – Day 2

Death Valley National Park – Day 2

Being in nature makes me happy, and National Parks are a great source of that happiness. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way, because the people you meet on hiking trails are in general the nicest and happiest bunch you’ll ever encounter. How can you not be happy when Mother Nature keeps you in awe at every turn around the corner.

Death Valley National Park is the largest in the continental US, but not necessarily the most popular. Maybe people aren’t as drawn to desert landscape, or the name itself turns people off. However, when you dig deeper, you’ll encounter stunning beauty all around you.

This morning we decided to check out Zabriskie Point. The plan was to get there by sunrise, but we didn’t make it in time. By the time we got there most of the photographers had already packed up.

Even without the sunrise light (hidden behind a thick layer of cloud in our case), Zabriskie Point is breathtaking. This reminded us of Rose Valley in Cappadocia, Turkey, but more impressive.

After lingering for a bit we headed off to the Mesquite Sand Dunes, another sunrise site, which we were obviously late to.

But no less impressive in the mid morning light.

Getting there early in the morning offered a more pristine view of the dunes, i.e., less crowds and footprints.

The mountain range in the background reminded us that we’re not in the Saharan desert

Hiking to the furthest end of the dunes from the parking loss is a short mile journey, but no easy feat on sand.

After a brief break atop the dunes, we reluctantly got up to leave to start our hike of the day at Golden Canyon, which was back near Zabriskie Point.

The scenery while driving in Desert Valley National Park – the road seems to stretch on forever.
There are several ways to hike this area. We decided to do the Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch loop with an out-and-back detour to the Red Cathedral (5.3 miles). In hindsight, we should have done the entire loop (marked in green for a total of 7.3 miles) to include the Badlands/Zabriskie Point loop.
Entrance to the Golden Canyon trail
With towering rocks on both sides
But the canyon quickly opened up
Some areas reminded Joe of scenes out of Star Wars. In fact some scenes were indeed shot in the Golden Canyon.
A view of the Red Cathedral from the trail

As we got closer to the Red Cathedral, the trail started narrowing again.

Making sure to stay hydrated
Entering into the Red Cathedral

This is probably the only spot along the trail that offers shade, so it’s a nice place to stop and rest. However, instead of stopping, we cautiously proceeded up a steep path and were rewarded with a fabulous view.

You can see the snow capped Telescope Peak of the Panamint range in the distance.
Another view of the Telescope Peak while on our way back
Looking back at the Red Cathedral, we spotted a couple of people where we were just minutes ago.
Back at the junction, we made a left onto the Gower Gulch loop with the towering Manly Beacon up ahead.
The vista quickly opened up as we ascended
The trail below the Manly Beacon
People atop the peak across the canyon – reachable from a side trail that splits off at the top of the trail
Headed towards the top of the trail
View of that same trail from the split. Check out that family with the 3 young kids – impressive!

We decided to take the side trail in order to get a different view

People on the trail with the Red Cathedral in the background
From the split, it was all downhill, literally and figuratively, from there.
This is the point where we should have proceeded up the Badlands loop, which I think would have been terribly scenic.
Most of the Gower Gulch was wide and relatively uninspiring
Sprinkled with a few colorful rock walls
With a narrowed spot that was fun to navigate
But ultimately dumped us onto a wide path that ran along the highway.

By the time we were done, it was time to head home. Had I had my way, we would have stayed a few more days to explore the rest of the park. If we ever return, we will need to bring a 4WD to check out the less accessible parts of the park.

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