Golden Canyon - Death Valley National Park

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This page last updated on 02/09/2018
MAP-Death Valley National Park-2
(Fig. 02)
Directions: From the Stratosphere Casino head southwest on S Las Vegas Blvd toward W Baltimore Ave. Travel 1.7 miles and turn right onto Spring Mountain Rd. Go .7 miles and turn left to merge onto I-15 South. Follow for 5.4 miles and take exit 33 to merge onto NV-160 W/Blue Diamond Rd/State Route 160 W toward Pahrump. Continue to follow NV-160 W/State Route 160 West for 55 miles  In Pahrump, continue straight on Hwy. 160 through three stoplights then drive 3.1 miles. Turn left at Bell Vista Road and continue 25.5 miles to Death Valley Junction. Turn right and then immediately left on CA Hwy 190 and drive 31 miles to Furnace Creek Junction.  Turn left onto CA 178 (Badwater Road) and travel about 1.7 miles and turn left to the turnoff for Golden Canyon.
Area Description: The rocks along Golden Canyon tell tales of ancient times when a lake once covered this land, and when violent flash floods raced down the canyon. It is a fascinating showcase of the effects of water in an arid land. As you enter the canyon, there are segments of what was once a road. In February 1976, a four-day storm dropped 2.3 inches of rain at Furnace Creek. On the last day of the storm, a violent downpour caused a surge of water, mud, and rock to flow through these narrows, washing away the road. Flash floods like these have been shaping the canyons of Death Valley for millions of years. The walls of the canyon are covered with conglomerate rock. Estimated to be about five million years old, these rocks tell of a former alluvial fan. Burial and cementation transformed the loose material into a solid conglomerate. Subsequent uplift and erosion have exposed these deposits. As you continue to walk up the canyon, the conglomerate layers have given way to light-colored deposits of silt and clay. Such fine-grained sediment typifies debris deposited at the bottom of a calm lake. In crossing the boundary between these different rock layers, you have walked across an alluvial fan and into a lake! At the end, it changes from the relatively gentle yellow slopes in the foreground to steep red cliffs beyond. More resistant to erosion than the soft yellow mudstone, the rocks of Red Cathedral form steep cliffs. These cliffs are composed of conglomerate similar to that  near the mouth of the canyon. Oxidation of iron creates the red color, like rust.
01/27/2014 Trip Notes: On a recent daytrip to Death Valley National Park with my friend Jim Herring, we decided to hike a spot known as the Golden Canyon Interpretive Trail. I have driven by this spot several times on earlier visits to the park, but this is the first time I decided to stop and check it out. As we entered the canyon, there were segments of what was once a paved road. This road was washed away in a flash flood in 1976. During the early part of this 2 mile R/T hike, the walls of the canyon are a conglomerate rock (Fig. 01). Midway we entered an area of light colored silt and sandstone (Fig. 03). Along the way there are several side canyons with a wide variety of deposits that are millions of years old (Fig. 04). Towards the end you come to an area of barren hills that looks like the badlands of South Dakota. Over time, the intense runoff of water forms the numerous gullies and ravines that characterize the ‘badlands’ look. This ‘badlands’ area leads up to Zabriskie Point, seen in the middle of (Fig. 04). Once you reach the very end of the hike, you are confronted with a large vertical cliff of oxidized conglomerate rock known as Red Cathedral (Fig. 05). From the trailhead to the end of the hike, the gradual, but steady uphill climb provides a 300 foot elevation gain. If you feel real energetic, there is a marked trail at the end that will take you to Zabriskie Point. This will make the hike a total of 2.5 miles one-way from the parking lot with a total elevation gain of 950 feet. We opted to just return the same way we had come. Though a moderately strenuous hike due to the soft sand and elevation gain, the views of the surrounding geology made the hike well worth it.
(Fig. 03)
(Fig. 04)
(Fig. 05)

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