Ramble On

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Death Valley's Golden Canyon Interpretive Trail

As advertised in the Best Easy Day Hikes book (Amazon link at the end of the post) the route for this hike follows a sand and rocky wash trail through a canyon for about a mile, and covers about 250 feet of elevation change. There is an option for a longer hike of about 6.5 miles, with 960 feet of elevation change, which goes back into the Zabriskie Point area. I chose the short route, since I knew I had a couple of additional stops to make while I was visiting Death Valley.

There is a story about the rocky wash. Apparently there was a road up into this canyon at one point, but a sustained rain in the ‘70’s dropped more than two inches of precip here, and the old road washed out. Now the route is restricted to ped’s, but it is a very interesting route.

A key point of interest is what’s happening here, in a canyon that is estimated to be only 3 million or so years old. That’s young by geologic standards (during my trip to the Grand Canyon, I recall that the exposed rocks near the river are billions of years old – half the age of the earth). You can see the rock layers, also called the Furnace Creek Formation, that have been carved out by wind and water, and then traces of seismic activity, so it’s almost like the earth is changing right in front of you.

I was particular struck by the one at the beginning of the post, it is a peak of bleached out sandstone.  All along the face of it climbing out of the canyon are chimney like gulleys that have been carved into its face. There were several of them, the photo I have is the one that showed the contrasts best – the images didn’t capture the depth of these very well due to the bright sunlight.

I spent an hour up in the canyon, walking probably about a mile. Ahead there was a rock formation called the Red Cathedral, which can just be seen in one of the photos. It was right about this point that I started noticing that the polarization in my sunglasses was highlighting colors I hadn’t noticed when I took my shades off – particularly greens and violets, so I stopped for a few to examine these features more closely.

The angle of these rocks, tilting upwards to the west, is a testament to the ongoing changes. Apparently, the western mountains continue to be thrust upwards, while the valley itself continues to gradually sink.

Coming to terms with the scale of the changes and the relatively short timeframes of the events brought home the fact that human activity can have a profound impact on the planet and our environment. That’s nothing that hasn’t been said before, I know, but for me, it only served to reinforce thoughts about my own responsibilities with respect to the environment.

Here’s a link to the Best Easy Day Hikes book:

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