|Manly Beacon |
|Manly Beacon and Red Cathedral|
|Telescope Peak from Zabriskie Loop Trailhead|
|Dropping down on Old Road to Gower Gulch|
Fifteen club members made the two hour drive to Death Valley on Thursday to the Zabriskie Point Trailhead; found ~25 miles west from the 373/190 junction on SR 190. Throughout our 7.5 mile hike around the loop, we ruminated on the geology that created the other-worldy scenery. It is so unusual that several movies have been filmed here in the badlands to represent other planets in outer space. In fact, just today, there was a filming going on for something and we have also seen some modeling in the past. So, before getting into the logistics of the hike, I went to Wikipedia for some information.
Zabriskie Point is a part of the Amargosa Range located east of Death Valley in Death Valley National Park in California, United States, noted for its erosional landscape. It is composed of sediments from Furnace Creek Lake, which dried up 5 million years ago—long before Death Valley came into existence.
The location was named after Christian Brevoort Zabriskie, vice-president and general manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company in the early 20th century. The company's twenty-mule teams were used to transport borax from its mining operations in Death Valley.
|Nearing Gower Gulch Junction|
Millions of years prior to the actual sinking and widening of Death Valley and the existence of Lake Manly (see Geology of the Death Valley area), another lake covered a large portion of Death Valley including the area around Zabriskie Point.
|Recently made Gouge in Gower Gulch|
|Dry Mud Flow of Gower Gulch|
This ancient lake began forming approximately nine million years ago. During several million years of the lake's existence, sediments were collecting at the bottom in the form of saline muds, gravels from nearby mountains, and ashfalls from the then-active Black Mountain volcanic field. These sediments combined to form what we today call the Furnace Creek Formation. The climate along Furnace Creek Lake was dry, but not nearly as dry as in the present. Camels, mastodons, horses, carnivores, and birds left tracks in the lakeshore muds, along with fossilized grass and reeds. Borates, which made up a large portion of Death Valley's historical past were concentrated in the lakebeds from hot spring waters and alteration of rhyolite in the nearby volcanic field. Weathering and alteration by thermal waters are also responsible for the variety of colors represented there.
|Hiking Dry Mud of Gower Gulch|
Regional mountains building to the west influenced the climate to become more and more arid, causing the lake to dry up, and creating a dry lake.
|Entering the Narrows|
Subsequent widening and sinking of Death Valley and the additional uplift of today's Black Mountains tilted the area. This provided the necessary relief to accomplish the erosion that produced the badlands we see today.
|The Narrows Curve|
|A Few Fun Scrambles in Narrows|
The dark-colored material capping the badland ridges (to the left in the panoramic photograph) is lava from eruptions that occurred three to five million years ago. This hard lava cap has retarded erosion in many places and possibly explains why Manly Beacon, the high outcrop to the right, is much higher than other portion of the badlands. Manly Beacon was named in honor of William L. Manly, who along with John Rogers, guided members of the ill-fated Forty-niners out of Death Valley during the gold rush of 1849.
|Reprieve in Gower Gulch Narrows|
The primary source of borate minerals gathered from Death Valley's playas is Furnace Creek Formation. The Formation is made up of over 5000 feet of mudstone, siltstone, and conglomerate. The borates were concentrated in these lakebeds from hot spring waters and altered rhyolite from nearby volcanic fields. ~Wikipedia
|Narrowing just before Valley Outlet|
So, there you have it! Death Valley is a very complex geological feature of this planet. It is difficult for me to wrap my head around the whole of it!
|Gower Gulch Wash in Valley|
So, one group of hikers came from the Santa Fe Casino taking the 95/373 route and several other hikers chose to bypass the gas station meetup and headed on over. The trailhead restrooms were sparkling clean. There was no trash piling up anywhere. No evidence of the government shutdown here!
|Traverse Trail ending at Golden Canyon Trailhead|
|Finding a Place to take a Break|
We started the hike around 9:45am heading over to the trail that drops down from the right side of the prominent overlook where an unusually few people were milling about. Parts of the trail we hiked today are remnants of old mining roads. This road led us down to Gower Gulch; a wide dry mud wash that leads down through the badlands. In the distance, we saw a snow-covered Telescope Peak and neighboring peaks rising above the valley below us. The sky was clear and the temps began in the upper 50's for us. Very little breeze and highs in the lower 70's were expected. Perfect! The group of strong Thursday hikers sailed down Gower Gulch comfortably while taking in the badlands scenery. The dry mud is easily navigated.
|Starting up Old Road in Golden Canyon|
We passed the junction of the Golden Canyon / Gower Gulch Loop then came to the old mine up on the hill. Choosing to pass up the opportunity to peer inside the grated hole in the hill, we continued on to the nearby narrows.
The narrows of Gower Gulch offer a little bit of fun scrambling and we dropped through the rocks one by one. The walls of the gulch here are towering and colorful.
|Manly Beacon from Golden Canyon|
|Climbing up toward Red Cathedral|
Next, we came to where the gulch flows out into the wide valley by way of a tall non-negotiable dry fall. The trail climbs up and over the right bank (Be careful here!) and follows a traverse along the base of the hills toward the Golden Canyon Trailhead. The view of the valley is impressive! At this TH, we found the parking lot only half full and the same clean conditions of the first TH. During the entire hike, we felt like we almost had the whole park to ourselves! We took our break here then headed up Golden Canyon. The scenery of the hike gets better and better with views of Manly Beacon and the Red Cathedral rising in front of us.
|Fun Slot Scrambling|
We hiked up the old road and soon came to a junction of the loop. Instead of making this right turn right away, we continued straight up to the base of Red Cathedral.
|Last Climb up to Overlook|
The wash gets narrower and views of the beacon and the red rock become demanding. All at once, the wash disappears into an ancient rock fall. Good scrambling through a tunnel ensued.
|Returning to Junction from Red Cathedral|
|Starting First of Three "Hills"|
At the top of the wash, the trail continues up to a fantastic wide view overlook. A handful of hikers took the "loop route" down from here. We met up and returned down to the loop junction to turn left. This is the first of three major hills to climb before we got back to the cars. This hill climbed up from the junction, traversed the base of Manly Beacon and crested out above the badlands with major great views! Next, we followed the trail down, up, over and across to the next signed loop junction. Here, we made a left turn to follow the trail back to Zabriskie Point Loop Trailhead. This also began the second of the three hills to climb.
|Manly Beacon Approach|
Usually, I hear a lot of complaints about how the hike ends with the uphill portion but today's group was exemplary in that regard. They welcomed the challenge as I did. My philosophy with this hike as it is laid out is that the scenery pops in the beginning then builds and builds throughout the hike.
|View Back Mid-Climb|
It also doesn't hurt to have a restroom at the break area and prevents another 7 to 10 miles of driving if you begin the hike at Golden Canyon.
|View Ahead Mid-Climb|
|Descent from First Hill|
The second hill tops out on a badlands ridge with gorgeous views of Manly Beacon and Red Cathedral. (See first and second photos of this entry.) With the trail circling around on top of the ridges, this is perhaps (okay, besides hiking the base of Manly Beacon) my favorite part of the hike. This is also a part that is missed if you simply hike the traditional loop of Golden Canyon / Gower Gulch. We got a view of Gower Gulch below us as we turned a sharp ridge corner then the trail descended to the old road that we came in on. This is the junction where, earlier, we turned down Gower Gulch.
As we dropped, we saw the movie people across from us doing their thing. It looked like one man was in fatigues and one man was in some sort of space suit or parachute suit. ... Well, we were in California. Just act natural.
|Climbing Second of Three Hills|
We turned left onto the old road to return up the hill. We could see the Zabriskie Point Overlook above the movie makers. We were beginning the third of the three hills.
|View from Mid-Climb|
|Gower Gulch from Above|
This hill is not as challenging as the first two hills but it is the end of the hike so it requires effort. The fifteen hikers spread out a little but I think it was more due to deep conversations than physical effort! Best over 50 yo hiking club in Las Vegas! Back at the cars, we signed out and left for our two hour trip back to Las Vegas ... except for three hikers who planned to stay a couple more days. Great reprieve from the cold windy days we've been experiencing lately.
7.5 miles; 1350 feet elevation gain; 3.75 hours; average speed 2.0 mph
|Descent from Second Hill|
|Climbing Last of Three Hills|
|Old Road Remnants as seen from Below|