Saturday, February 27, 2021

Zabriskie Point Loop (Death Valley NP) - 2/26/21

Manly Beacon and Red Cathedral

Panamint Mountains beyond Golden Canyon

Red Cathedral above Golden Canyon

Starting down the Old Road
Sneaking just over the state line, Rita, Mike & I drove to Death Valley in California for a little fun in the sun! It would be a warm day and very little wind. Can we all say "shorts?" We arrived at the Zabriskie Point Trailhead on SR 190, almost down to Furnace Creek, just before 9am. Cars were already filling the lot. The hike begins on a trail that leads to the right as you near the climb up to the overlook. This is an old mining road. The view at the top of the little hill sets the stage for the day. (See photo to the left.) The road drops down steeply with curves and arrives at Gower Gulch where there is a sign for "Zabriskie Point Junction." The first part of our hike would be a descent down through the gravel of the wide wash of Gower Gulch. We turned to the right.

Zabriskie Point Junction (Gower Gulch, Old Road, & Trail)

Crunch, crunch, crunch. The gravel was loud under our feet. But, soon, we were able to walk on the silent side islands of dry mud.

Gower Gulch

Going from island to island, the landscape opened up to white and brown hardened and ancient sand dunes. The colors were other-worldly. 

Mine #1 Visit and View of Mine #2

Hiking down Gower Gulch
We passed the junction (complete with a sign) that led to the crossover to Golden Canyon. Then we passed an area where there are a few mines. We found one mine (today's Mine #1) up and over a low hill on the left side of the wash. This one was new to us. There was enough light inside to take a decent photo from behind the iron gate protecting the entrance. We also noticed that there is very warm air coming from inside the hole. After our mine visit, we soon passed the mine we usually visit up on the hill to the right. Next, the gulch enters into its narrows. The wash curves and drops down easy moderate scrambles. Then, the wash opens out into tall red and green walls. Not too far ahead, we came to the end of the wash at a high dry fall that flows into Manly Lake, the dry lake at the bottom of Death Valley.

Gower Gulch Narrows

Just before the dry fall drops, the trail climbs up and out of the wash to the right to sidle above a deep ravine. It then curves around the corner to continue straight across the base of the foothills to our right.

Mike exiting Narrows

To our left was the wide basin of the dry lake with Badwater Road between. Badwater could be found behind us and Furnace Creek in front.

Dry Fall transition at Manly Lake

Nearing Golden Canyon Trailhead
Arriving at the packed Golden Canyon Trailhead parking lot, we sat in shade for our break. Here, there were a large amount of hikers with masks hiking up and down past us. Some hikers did not wear a mask but everyone was keeping a very good distance from other hikers. After our break, we began climbing up Golden Canyon staying far to our right on the trail. It is a wide wash. The landscape offered gorgeous colors and geology. Soon, we were passing the Red Cathedral Junction. Knowing the trail narrowed ahead, we donned our masks and headed up through the scrambles. We climbed all the way up to the overlook at the base of Red Cathedral and took our photos. From there, we started to take the usual "descent by Mike."

Break in the Shade

This trail was a little washed out so we returned up to go down the usual way. Then, Mike and Rita spied another alternate descent. I stayed down. Someone has to take the photos!

Hiking up Golden Canyon

I scrambled down through the narrow canyon and met Mike & Rita at the junction below. Fun was had by all! Then we continued back down to the signed junction and turned to the left.

Masking up for the Narrows Scramble

Tenacious Trio on Red Cathedral Overlook
Manly Beacon rose pointedly in front of us for another group photo. Then, suddenly, we noticed that we were the only hikers around! I got all the photos I ever wanted without other hikers! We climbed up to the base of the beacon and traversed underneath. This section of the hike is the most beautiful! And, with no other hikers around, Mike compared the desolation of the landscape to Karakoram Pass located on the borders of India, China, and Pakistan! After several photos and around 325' of gain, we arrived at the top of a ridge where we would immediately descend to the other side. Closely following the trail, we came to the Badlands Junction sign and turned to the left. The trails are well marked at this point in time.

Rita and Mike finding an Alternative Descent

The trail begins a long climb of another 200' of gain up through the sand dunes and onto the old mining road. Here, we began seeing more hikers that had come down from Zabriskie Point.

Manly Beacon from Red Cathedral Junction

As we neared the old road at the top of the ridges, our view of Manly Beacon was exceptional! The first photo of this entry was taken from this area.

Tenacious Trio ready for the Climb

Rita and Kay hiking past Beacon Base
The trail curved around on top of the hills then dropped down to Zabriskie Point Junction, the first signed junction that we had passed. At the sign, we turned to the left and began another 150' of gain on the old mining road to the top of the hill near the trailhead. This hike seems easy until you get to the climb out of a total of 625' in elevation. For this reason, I would suggest to choose a day that isn't too hot to hike this route. We were warm today but when we returned to our cars, it was only 67 degrees! Beautiful day! Excellent choice for getting away from city madness!

Stats: 7.6 miles; 1525' gain; 4 hours

Beautiful View at Base of Beacon

Manly Beacon from Old Road Trail

Zabriskie Point Junction Below (Gower Gulch & Old Road)


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Top of the World Arch (Up Canyon / Down 3 Steps of Death) - 2/22/21

Heading down to the 3 Steps of Death Descent

Yellow & Pink Slot

Two Moms and a Baby at White Domes

Morning at White Domes
On another gorgeous day at Valley of Fire State Park, three of us met at the visitor center for a hike to the Top of the World Arch. As it happened, we also met John W. and David & Brenda M. getting ready for their own hike in a different part of the park. We drove up to White Domes Trailhead at the end of Mouse's Tank Road. When we walked up to the trailhead, we noticed several (about 6) bighorn sheep grazing on the hill behind the restrooms. At the time, we didn't notice any babies. It's the first time I have seen the bighorns hanging out so close to this trailhead. After photos, a slow start to our hike, we descended the long hill beyond that leads to the movie set and the Kaolin Wash.

White Domes Descent to Movie Set

We turned right in the Kaolin Wash and hiked through the tall slot. Beyond the slot, we continued up wash until we passed the rock wall on the left.

First Hike of the Day through Tall Slot

Finding the trail leading up between the cryptobiotic soil on the left, we turned. The trail led us to the first wide opening in the wall and turned up this wash.

Pointy Mountain Bypass Trail to Main Alley

Eye of the Iguana
The trail continued up and over a small hill and we passed the Pointy Mountain on the left side. This put us in the Main Alley to go straight. Two wide washes went past on the left. On the right, we passed the Chocolate Wall and the Eye of the Iguana. The next landmark was a fat monolith rock that stood in the middle of a junction of three washes. The main alley continued in the wash ahead with a small fork coming up soon. The end of the 3 Steps of Death descent was directly right and the canyon wash headed off at a 2 o'clock direction. We headed into the canyon for our climb.

Main Alley passing Beautiful Wash

The canyon trail is clear but it is narrow so it would be difficult to lose the route anyway. We ducked under the overhanging rock and the bent tree. (The tree was a real test!)

Canyon Ascent

The canyon got steeper and, in the end, we came to a large square boulder blocking progress. Our scramble was on the left end of the rock.

Last Scramble to top of Canyon

View from top of Canyon
We scrambled up and around the boulder then made our way to the sand dune up a level on the right. Following old footsteps through the sand, we came to the first ramp climbing the wall to the right. Up the ramp, jump to the left, down a ramp, cross the desert floor at the bottom, then start up the next ramp. These ramps represent quite a bit of elevation change and at the top of this last ramp, pass the rock on the left side and circle around to see the large, sturdy arch. This arch was created out of a large tinaja area in the peak of the sandstone hill / mountain. It spans what was probably a very deep tinaja at one time.

Crossing Sand Dune, Climbing Ramp and Rock Pointing the Way

While we were taking our photos, we heard voices clearly from far below. The sound carried very well. Then we heard, "Mike!"

Down and Up Ramps to Top of the World Arch

While we were taking our break, we saw John W.'s group far below on the Prospect Trail. And, they saw us. Later, we exchanged photos!

View from Up Ramp to Arch

Mike climbs up to the Arch
We took a very pleasant break then faced the music! This would be my first descent on the 3 Steps of Death! Everyone kept telling me that the scariest part of the descent is the name! So, we climbed up behind the arch, dipped down to the right side of the steep sandstone slab wall and found the passage. The 3 steps that the name refers to is one small 10 foot section where the slab is steep and hikers are required to climb up the slab about 3 feet that is somewhat sandy to reach the comfort of a narrow space behind a large boulder. After passing behind the boulder, we followed a sandy, rocky and steep trail down to a long steep slab descent.

Three Musketeers on Top of the World Arch

At the bottom of the slab, we connected with a trail that finished the descent down a steep old rockslide. We finished at the fat monolith landmark.

Rock Layers at Arch

We took a short rest looking back up at the steep descent we had just made. Then, turning back to the left where we had come from previous to the canyon climb, we headed back to the first large wash opening up on the right side of the main alley.

View from Top of the World Arch to Northwest (Prospect Trail below)

Rita and Kay near Hike High Point
I call this wide wash "Beautiful Wash" but I don't yet know the official name. I tend to name things as I see them. And, this wash has beautiful and incredible yellow, pink and orange colors. The wash has a few flat features but also has a few undulating dry pour overs. Most of them need to be circumvented due to their slightly too high drops. The wash winds around a little until it reaches Mouse's Tank Road. This is the Wash #3 crossing. We continued down through the sandy wash until, soon, it made its next bend to the left. Staying straight, we climbed up the orange colored rock on the right.

Mike and Rita at the 3 Steps of Death

It is in this area that many delicate fins protrude from the rock underfoot. It is important that hikers watch their step during this section of the hike so not to break the fins.

3 Steps of Death Slab Descent

The route continues over the flattish sandstone terrain by veering to the left slightly. Finding your own exact path, the hike eventually drops into the Kaolin Wash next to the red crack wash at the right.

Hiking into Beautiful Wash

Delicate Fins
Passing some photo shoot equipment with a caretaker, we turned to the right and followed the wash until we came to a crack to the left that leads up to the Fire Wave. Usually, you recognize this by all the people around! Staying out of the photo shoot, we passed the unusual rock design and hiked over to the Wave Wall where we stopped for a short pause. It was getting warm so we didn't linger long. Our next move was to climb the adjacent wash, go over the pink & yellow hill, and drop back into the Kaolin Wash. The yellow & pink slot was next. The walls in this slot have soft curvy lines that make the slot appear like a dream.

Photo Walk View

The Mouse's Tank Road Wash #5 crossing is next. The continuance of the Kaolin Wash offers many colors and appearances all the way back to the movie set.

Passing the Fire Wave

During this section, there are three different small slots. It has been a few years since I have been able to pass through these slots certain that they will be dry.

Passing the Wave Wall

Entering the Yellow & Pink Slot
When we reached the tall slot again, there were bighorns up on the sandstone ridge high above. I didn't realize until I got home and saw my photos that there was a baby there as well. So cute! (See third photo of entry.) The large group of bighorns that we saw in the beginning of the hike had spread out into the high cliffs of White Domes. We saw them as we finished out the hike on the White Domes Trail. This was a lovely day at the park. We are beginning to feel like the park is becoming an old friend.

Stats: 5.7 miles; 1100' gain; 3.75 hours

Mike and Rita in one of the Kaolin Slots

Bighorns watching the White Domes Trail

Returning to the White Domes Trailhead