Death Valley’s Golden Canyon… The National Park Series

A hike up Golden Canyon in Death Valley National Park awards hikers with this view of Cathedral Ridge.

A paved road once snaked its way into Golden Canyon in Death Valley National Park. Tourists could drive in and enjoy the view.  No effort was required. People would take out their cameras, do the ‘ah’ bit, and leave… hurrying on to the next must see sight.

Flash floods are common in desert areas, however. One roared down Golden Canyon in 1976 and took the road along with it. Ever since, access has been by foot. Consider it a blessing. I am not against driving and gawking. I do plenty. But we miss a great deal of nature as we roll along in our sleek air-conditioned vehicles.

What was once a paved road providing access to Death Valley’s Golden Canyon is now a wide, easy to follow path.

And there is much to see in Golden Canyon. The hike is easy as long the sizzling heat of Death Valley’s summer is avoided. October through April is the best time to visit. I also recommend hiking in early morning or late afternoon when colors are vibrant. Carry water. Stroll up the canyon, stop often and look around. The experience is best when savored. It’s a two-mile round trip. For a shorter version, stop at any point.

Markers along the trail provide insight into area’s rich geological history. Topsy-turvy planet altering processes caused by the movement of the earth’s tectonic plates folded and twisted ancient rocks that had been created from deposits in even more ancient seas. Erosion has exposed this work of eons and gives us a glimpse into the past. The bright colors of the different rocks and the different rate they erode provide a feast for our eyes and imagination, not to mention our cameras.

The lower rocks provide a clear view of how Golden Canyon  obtained its name. The upper rocks show sedimentary layers of rocks that were once laid down in ancient sea beds and have since been raised and folded by tectonic forces.

Golden Canyon is located two miles south of Highway 190 on Badwater Road. Trails to Zabriskie Point and Gower Gulch cut off of the Gold Canyon Trail. Ask at Park headquarters for maps and details.

Another view of the red Cathedral Ridge above Golden Canyon in Death Valley. The red color is created by iron oxide.

Views on the way out of Death Valley’s Golden Canyon are equal to views on the way in. I liked the contrasting colors in this photo.

The upward thrust of the layered rocks that were once horizontal is particularly dramatic in this Golden Canyon photo.

Looking down Golden Canyon across Death Valley provides a distant view of the Panamint Mountains wrapped in a blue haze.

6 comments on “Death Valley’s Golden Canyon… The National Park Series

  1. Another reminder why everyone should spend a little more time exploring Death Valley. I look forward to a return visit! The colors are spectacular.

  2. Hi Curt, we were just in Death Valley (for the second time) about 3 weeks ago. This time we entered from the west, on rt. 190. At the top of the first (I think) mountain range we crossed, we stopped at a pull-off and walked up a path to the top of an overlook. A man was set up near the edge of the canyon filming military planes that use the canyon for training purposes. Apparently they fly below the rim of the canyon–very fast and loud. The man told us they call the canyon Star Wars Canyon because some of Star Wars was filmed there. Greetings from Mary, PC Liberia group 9. Hope you’re doing well.

    • Hi Mary. First, thanks for commenting. Death Valley is a favorite of mine. Peggy and I have been there several times. I’m guessing that you were probably overlooking Panamint Valley. There are several locations where Star Wars was filmed in Death Valley including Gold Canyon and the sand dunes next to Stove Pipe Wells. Some fun. I’m doing well. Just finished a 700 mile plus backpack trip down the PCT. –Curt

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