Death Valley National Park
|Death Valley National Park (Alan Van Valkenburg/courtesy, National Park Service)|
Generally, formal trails don't exist in Death Valleythat can be both its wonder and its frustration. When you leave the park's developed areas, there is frequently no evidence of any human having been there before. First, you should probably acclimatize yourself to the valley by taking a couple of short hikes. Before heading out on a longer hike, you'd better have a pretty good idea of where you're going, and have on hand the right maps and know how to use them.
A few points of interest are easily accessible for the casual or seasoned walker. The Harmony Borax Works lies about two kilometers (1.2 miles) north of the campgrounds at Furnace Creek. Harmony dates from 1883 and was the first successful borax plant in Death Valley. Golden Canyon is about five kilometers (three miles) south of Furnace Creek. Drive, walk, or bicycle there. Then spend an hour or so exploring this canyon of colorful rocks below Zabriskie Point. Mosaic Canyon can be reached from Stovepipe Wells by a four-kilometer (2.5-mile) walk or drive up an alluvial fan. Immediately above is an 800-meter (0.5-mile) stretch of polished marble narrows. The Sand Dunes, east of Stovepipe Wells, offer abundant opportunities for a casual stroll or an all-day jaunt. Photographers will find the lighting on the dunes at its best at dawn or in the late afternoon.
During hot spring, summer, or fall months, one gallon of water per person per day is the minimum you should carry. Many of the springs in Death Valley are either dry or have been contaminated by burros, so do not rely on them. Do not camp in drainages or washes. Camp at least two miles from a maintained road and 200 yards from water sources.
Read up about hiking in hot weather.
The Best Walks and Day Hikes
Trails are listed as strenuous (S), moderately strenuous (MS), moderate (M), and easy (E).
Telescope Peak - 14.0 mi. (S)
This is probably the best single hike in the park. It's seven miles to the top o' the peak from Mahogany Flat campground. The views along the trail are spectacular and varied. Mt. Whitney and the High Sierra, the White Mountains, and the Panamint Valley are visible to the west while Death Valley and Mount Charleston can be seen to the east. The trail will pass through pinyon and limber pine forests, with ancient bristlecone pines holding forth near the summit.
Darwin Falls - 1.6 mi. (E/M because of tricky footing)
Two great reasons to choose this hike: 1. Maximum reward for minimum effort; 2. To see an actual waterfall in Death Valley. It's no Niagara, of course, but the sight is pretty darn impressive when you consider its arid surroundings. Bird-watchers, bring your binoculars.
From Hwy. 190 near the Panamint Springs campground, turn onto the dirt road marked Darwin Falls. The parking area is about a quarter-mile down the road. Follow the stream into the canyon to the 25-foot falls.
Eureka Dunes - 3 mi. (M)
In a park where descriptors like "hottest" and "deadliest" make visitors reluctant to leave their air-conditioned cars, here's a friendlier superlative: "tallest," referring to the sweeping sand dunes that rise 600 ft. above the desert floor, higher than any dunes in the state.
From the parking area at the end of South Eureka Valley Rd., walk east toward the Last Chance Mountains, keeping to the bottom of the dunes. Turn south when the flat trail starts to get bumpy, then west to scale any of the tall ridges. Follow the ridgeline around and back down, where you'll dip and climb and curve your way home.
Keane Wonder Mine - 4 mi. (MS)
For those desert skeptics who don't understand how anyone could see beauty in this sandy sprawl, a visit to the former mining site where a down-and-out prospector named Jack Keane struck it rich in 1903 could end all speculation. Discovering huge amounts of gold in the middle of nowhere filled the unsuspecting Keane with wonder. Hence the name of the mine.
The trailhead is at the end of Keane Wonder Mine Rd. Start by reading the history of the mine on the information kiosk below the mill ruins, then follow the obvious path that traces the old tramway route to the mine. Stay out of the mine shafts or risk becoming a morbid addition to the site's history.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication