I woke up at 7 AM to see morning over Death Valley, California. After grabbing a quick coffee at the inn’s lobby (a necessary start to all of my days) I headed out to Golden Canyon to start the day with a hike. The canyon is amazing in the morning light, when the sun hits it just right to give all the rocks surrounding the trails a bright golden hue.
The hike is ‘self-directed’, meaning you can veer off the path if you want to and explore different trails, and also meaning I never actually discovered if the trail goes all the way through the canyon because I came across 5 different dead ends before I got overheated in the three layers I was wearing and decided to head back to my car. But the scenery was gorgeous, especially the approach towards a series of bright red rocks nicknamed ‘Red Cathedral”.
I got back in my car and kept on driving towards the main junction in Death Valley, passing some gorgeous views of the clear sky over the road and valley.
Eventually I ended up at the Mesquite Sand Dunes, which are the most Sahara-esque part of Death Valley. I ventured into the dunes for a while, and quickly realized hiking up sand dunes is painful and exhausting. And I was probaby wearing the worst possible footwear for hiking in these conditions (I had accidentally grabbed those sneakers that have strangely curved-shape soles to help you tone(?)).
On the way back, I remembered images I’d seen of ‘sandboarding’ in Namibia, which is basically snowboarding on sand dunes, and I wandered if I could just slide down the dunes, thus achieving my twin goals of acting like a 5-year old and avoiding further walking. Fun fact: if you sit at the top of a large sand dune and start shuffling down in a sliding position, you will not necessarily slide down, but you will get a gallon of sand to infiltrate your jeans and sneakers and eyes. Actually seems like that would be common sense now that I think about it.
Moving on, I had to pass Mosaic Canyon because I wanted to head up north a little (will do that route next time), but the drive to the edge of Death Valley more than made up for it. I had to pass the mountain range, so the elevation changed rapidly from -150 feet to 8000 feet , while the temperature plummeted 20 degrees to 40 F.
At the end, you can get a view of the valley from Father Crowley Vista. A small plaque up on the mountains commemorates Father Crowley as the ‘Padre of the Sierras’. I’m not sure exactly what he did, but anyone who trails around this place in the early 1900s on a donkey, braving elevation changes of 10000 feet and schizophrenic temperatures between 15 F and 130 F, is definitely worthy of admiration.
As I drove away and saw Death Valley receding in my rear view window, I actually felt somewhat sad to be leaving this strange, mesmerizing land behind. It’s unlike any other place I’ve seen before. Calming, surreal, serene. I know I will be back.