Death Valley, Day 1: Golden Canyon, Natural Bridge, Badwater

It wasn't a great night. For some reason, even though I was very tired after all the driving and it was 2:30am when I went to bed, it took me a long time to fall asleep. Then I was sleeping like a stone... until 7am when the noises from the outside woke me up. I was far too tired at that point to function properly so I stayed in bed until 10am, but hardly got any more proper sleep.

It was time for breakfast. I could not find the breakfast place that I found on Yelp and it was already late so I ended up in Subway. The way the view that greeted me after leaving the hotel, my first peak at the surroundings at daylight, was not bad at all. Judge for yourself.

The view from my motel room :)

After breakfast I jumped in the car and went towards the park. My first stop was Hell's Gate where I took a couple of photos, paid the entrance fee and was on my way to the main Visitor's Center of Death Valley, at the Furnace Creek.

So called Hell's gate and my gate to the Death Valley National Park.

There I was hoping to get some info about possible running options. The ranger lady was very helpful but also a bit surprised that I wanted to run there and I had the usual problem: they had some hiking options but most of them were far too short for what I had in mind. Oh well.

It was already late so I decided to just head to the closest one on the list of interesting places. And that was Golden Canyon

Golden Canyon (Workout details)

The place looked quite other-worldly, with its colorful rock formations and rolling hills. For a couple of kilometers I followed the main trail, until reaching the well-known Zabriskie Point, offering a great view.

After that point I decided to try some off-trail running and just headed up some hill in the general direction of a distant peak that I saw. This turned out to be a much more difficult climb than I thought. After a while I found a path but even following it, this hardly qualified as running, as I was struggling with the technical and difficult path. The main problem was that it was very rocky and the rocks were small and very dry, so they would slip under one's feet very easily. Few times I ended up climbing on all fours and another couple of times I wasn't but the gravity persuaded me that I should give it a try ;)

Hiking in the Golden Canyon

I trudged along, eventually reaching the peak. But before that I realized that in less than two hours and less than 10K I run out of water. I had 2 liters with me that that would usually see me through fairly long runs. It was hot here. I don't remember where I read someone calling the holding of Badwater in July suicidal, but it's hard to disagree with that.

View from the Zabriskie Point.

After reaching the top I decided to take the shortest path to the bottom of the canyon, which was also very steep so my running/hiking turned into climbing.

Natural Bridge (Workout details)

My next stop was the nearby natural bridge. Since it was a short hike and there was an unpaved road leading to it I decided to run that as well. Some of the people passing by me in their cars offered encouraging, friendly smiles. But a more common reaction was a smirk, probably accompanied by a though that I must be completely nuts. That was quite sad really. So was the fact that all of those great places were reachable by roads. For instance, I run to the Zabriskie point, but if you look at the map above you'll see that it is reachable by a road on the other side of the Golden Canyon. And that's how vast majority of people got there. And many of them looked like they would rather do by car the short (100m) walk leading from the parking lot to the top. I really think that such attitude makes it so much more difficult to truly appreciate all those natural wonders. But hey, who am I to judge...

Sunset hike to the natural bridge.

Badwater Basin (Workout details)

By the time I finished the previous section, the sun was setting and I was heading to the nearby Badwater basin, my last point for the day. Located at 86 meters below sea level that's the lowest point in the North America. The history of the name is interesting. Water is very scarce in Death Valley and when one of the pioneers lead his mule to the small lake at Badwater (see photo below), the animal refused to drink so, thinking that the water is poisonous, he called it Badwater.

In fact the water isn't poisonous, it's just that it has very high concentration of salt. The Badwater basin ground is completely covered with salt crust. As this crust expands it starts to lift and crack, forming interesting structures, as you can see on the second photo below.

This also made for a very interesting run. Since it's completely flat there I thought it would be an easy end of the day. Not so. The peaks formed by salt were high enough that I had to hop over them, which was constantly breaking my stride (the platforms are less than 2 meters across). What was even worse is that those salt platforms were constantly cracking under my stride, causing a feeling which I believe must be comparable to ice braking under one's feet -- deeply unnerving!, even if I was hoping that there's no cold water waiting for me underneath :). It certainly was the most interesting surface I ever run on! The last difficulty was the fact that eventually it was completely dark, so I had to run solely by the light provided by my headtorch.

Sunset at Badwater, the lowest point in the North America.

Originally I was hoping to run across the valley floor -- I had no idea how far that was but the mountains on the other side seemed within reach. However, it was late, dark, getting cold and I was tired, so after 5 kilometers of jumping over salt platforms (it kinda felt like a live arcade game ;) I decided to stop and then turn around. When I stopped and the sound of cracking salt ceased I realized how wonderfully quiet it was. No sound whatsoever. Very unusual. Even in most remote places you can at least occasionally hear some animals; not so here. And the sky was just brilliant. However, I'm glad that I decided to turn around as I only made it approximately one third across the valley, maybe less.

Such salt plates form the base of the Badwater basin.

Afterwards I went for dinner at Furnace Creek, which was an overpriced and not too great buffet and then did my 1 hour drive back to the hotel. I did less than 30km on this first day and on the following one I was hoping to substantially top it. So, bedtime :). (Read here about what happened once I woke up ;)

(See more photos: Best of Death Valley and More of Death Valley).


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