Sunday, March 25, 2018

Zabriskie Point Loop - 3/24/18

Manly Beacon from Badlands Trail

Gower Gulch

Red Cathedral from Golden Canyon Trail

Trailhead at Zabriskie Point
 It is no wonder that Death Valley was named a national monument as early as 1933 then subsequently became a national park in 1994. History, culture, stories, geology and natural absolute beauty abounds within its vast boundaries. Located in the northwest corners of the Mojave Desert, it contains salt flats, sand dunes, badlands, valleys, canyons, and mountains. It is hot, dry and is 282 feet below sea level at its lowest. On the contrary, Telescope Peak rises to an elevation of 11,043 feet neighboring above this point. Today, Telescope Peak had a beautiful large cap of snow to show off its prominence of 6168 feet in the Panamint Range. The sky was clear. Temperatures would range from around 60 degrees at the trailhead to around 75 degrees when we finished. A cool breeze was never too far away as we attempted our first sun tan of the spring! (Don't worry! Lots of sun block! ... and water!)

First Peek at Snow Covered Telescope Peak
 Eleven hikers left Las Vegas from one of two locations: Santa Fe Casino and the Gas Station located at Hwys 159 & 160. The northern route was approximately 125 miles (2 hours). The southern route was around 100 miles (1.75 hours). The southern hikers arrived at Zabriskie Point Trailhead first.

Descending to Gower Gulch Junction
 Zabriskie Point Trailhead is located on Highway 190 after entering the park. You will pass the kiosk, the Dante's View Road (closed now for restoration), the Twenty Mule Team Road exit and entrance, then finally descend past the 1000 elevation feet sign to see a parking lot (usually quite occupied) with restrooms on the left side of the road. This is it!

Recently Washed Out Gower Gulch (Mud Sidewalks on Sides)

Colorful Gower Gulch
 *Christian Brevoort Zabriskie (1864–1936) was born at Fort Bridger, Wyoming Territory, where his father, E.B. Zabriskie was stationed. “Chris” attended various schools while growing up and at a very early age went to work as a telegrapher for the Virginia & Truckee Railroad at Carson City, Nevada. He was too restless and ambitious to stay in one place for very long and soon moved to Candelaria, Nevada and worked for the Esmerelda County Bank. Being an active young man, one job was not enough to keep him occupied and he soon branched out into other ventures, one of which was a partnership with a local cabinet maker to establish a mortuary. Neither of the two knew how to embalm, but it wasn’t considered necessary in a mining town—prompt burial was!

Gower Gulch from Mine Shaft Entrance
 *Zabriskie’s life took on new meaning in 1885 when F.M. Smith hired him to supervise several hundred Chinese workers at the Columbus Marsh area of the Pacific Coast Borax Company near Candelaria. This was the beginning of a life-long career in the field of Borax. He ultimately became vice president and general manager of the company and served in that capacity for thirty-six years until his retirement in 1933. During this time, the Pacific Coast Borax Company had phased out most of its borax operations in the Caldelaria vicinity but had moved on the greater production in the Death Valley area.

Returning to Gulch from Mine
 *All this occurred long before 1933, when the area became Death Valley National Monument, but Zabriskie Point remains to honor a man who devoted many years of service to the Pacific Coast Borax Company.
National Park Service website for Death Valley National Park.

Short Scrambles in Gower Gulch

Dropping toward Lake Manly
So eleven hikers decided to leave the overlook for after the hike since it was quite windy in the parking lot and we turned to the right to start the Badlands Trail. This trail was a mining road at one time. It crests a small hill then starts a curvy descent down to Gower Gulch. At the gulch junction, the road/trail turns sharply up to the right but our Badlands Loop turned to descend in Gower Gulch, a recently washed out wide colorful wash. It had been two days since the area had received rain and the dryness of the park along with nice temperatures had dried up the mud along the sides of the gravel. We called these "sidewalks!" We were very content to use the sidewalks whenever we could as we continued down immersing ourselves in the Death Valley badlands beauty.

Gower Gulch is named after Harry P. Gower, an official of the Pacific Coast Borax Company and co-owner of the Furnace Creek Inn and Ranch, before Death Valley became a national monument. The gulch contained mines, camps, and roads during the late 19th century and early 20th century. ~Wikipedia

Right Turn at High Dry Fall
The official Badlands Trail turns sharply up to the right from our route in a wide wash that flows into Gower Gulch. A sign is posted there. But, we continued down the Gulch. Eventually, we saw one of the mine shafts perched up on the hill in front of us and we climbed up to take a look-see. The mine is closed off with bars but, if you turn around while you are up there, the view is fantastic!

Lake Manly
After the mine, the gulch begins to narrow and mild scrambling ensues through the high walls. Soon, there are a few small 3 foot drops to scramble down. Lots of fun!

The Trail across terrain to Golden Canyon Trailhead

Taking a Break at Golden Canyon TH
The colorful narrows open temporarily with a view of Lake Manly (dry) and Telescope Peak. Then, we came to a very high non-negotiable dry fall. I couldn't tease anyone into pulling out a rope so we turned to the right to follow the somewhat exposed trail above the deep wash that emptied out into the dry valley lake bed. After everyone made it through this precarious section safely, we proceeded on the cross trail that leads over to the "full-past-capacity" Golden Canyon Trailhead parking lot. On the way, we took in the vast views of Death Valley's dry Lake Manly laying below sea level. This lake bed was once a thriving salted sea once fed by the Amargosa River. All that is left now is the salt! ... and very occasional water from drainage fed by desert flooding rains.

Golden Canyon Trail approaches Red Cathedral
We took our break at this trailhead before we started the more difficult half of the hike. If you don't start your loop at Zabriskie Point, the Golden Canyon/Gower Gulch loop hike can be started here. That loop is somewhat shorter and easier.

Canyon narrows on Red Cathedral Excursion
An old road heads up through beautiful Golden Canyon. At first blush, the canyon simply reflects its name, "Golden." But, it isn't long before the Red Cathedral rises above the gold in front of you. Then, Manly Beacon pokes up through the canyons on your right.

Xiang hikes through Slot

Waiting in the Shade for the Overlook Climbers
 *The lake and beacon were named in honor of William Lewis Manly, who rescued immigrants from Death Valley in 1849. The name "Lake Manly" was coined in 1932.  ~Wikipedia

 When our group reached the signed Red Cathedral turnoff, we continued straight to experience the upcoming slot climb to the Overlook. Above the slot, four hikers opted to climb all the way up to the overlook while the others rested in the shade below. On their return, we went back through the slot and returned to the signed intersection to turn toward Manly Beacon. The real climb out starts here! We joined ranks with several other recreational hikers and climbed up to the traverse trail that leads along the base of the beacon.

Barb exits the Slot
It is important to remember to take a look back at the views here. They are phenomenal! The wind was gusting at this location and we had to concentrate to stay upright on the exposed trail while taking the photos!

Manly Beacon from Golden Canyon Trail
We reached the saddle above, gathered again then we were on our way down along the trail. The trail is well-signed now. Smaller signs also attempt to keep hikers from wandering off trail to preserve the beauty of the badlands.

Climbing to the base of Manly Beacon

Traverse along Manly Beacon Base
This section of trail does not stay in the wash! Following the signs are easy enough and the trail takes hikers up and over a hill then back down into a large wash. Soon, you come to another signed intersection. If you continue down the wash, you will "flow" into Gower Gulch. If you take a left turn here, you are again on the Badlands Loop that heads up to Zabriskie Point. If you have the energy and it isn't too hot, you should always do this section! The overlooks on this section are ... well, I ran out of "over-the-moon" adjectives! They are really beautiful, okay? We turned left at the sign and were sure to watch the small signs keeping us on track.

View North in Death Valley
Did I mention energy? Yep. This is a heck of a climb but well worth it! The road/trail climbs up to a badlands ridge. Then, you can turn to your left and see Manly Beacon, the Red Cathedral and the Badlands all in one panorama.

Descent from Manly Beacon Traverse
There were a few other hikers just hanging out at this location! We took in the view and continued on. The next curve in the trail gave us a great view of Gower Gulch below.

Overlook View of Manly Beacon and Red Cathedral

Climbing out of Gulch
Finally, the road dropped down to that very first gulch junction where we turned in the morning. Here, we turned sharply back to the left to climb the initial curvy hill back up to the trailhead. This is probably the most difficult climb of the day ... because it is the last. When we got to the parking lot, we all agreed that a climb up to the official overlook was not necessary nor doable at the end of our long climb out. Then we all headed home. It was a beautiful relaxing day. Perfect weather! Great group of hikers. Not a flower in sight!

7.5 miles; 1350 feet elevation gain; 4 hours

Plateau at Overlook

Old Mining Road Trail above Gower Gulch

Last Climb up to Trailhead

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