On the Eastern border of California, and near the Western border of Nevada, is an area that is full of mystery, wilderness, and desert solitude. This area is Death Valley National Park. The name alone “Death Valley” transcends time and space, and for hundreds of years has been a beacon to prospectors, explorers, adventurers, and today, casual visitors. While Death Valley is, as its name suggests – a fundamentally hostile environment, with temperatures regularly soaring over 100 degrees from April through October, it is more than a flat wasteland. In reality, Death Valley is one of the most geologically diverse environments on the planet, where the remains of glacial Lake Manly are laid bare, and the effects of active volcanism and erosion are easily visible. Within the confines of Death Valley, one can find tall, uplifted mountains, year-round waterfalls, volcanic craters, sand dunes, eroded canyons, and the lowest spot in North America.
It should surprise no one that I am a child of the latter half of the twentieth century. As one, I listened to a lot of one-hit wonders. Now that I’ve made myself sound like my father: “You know what was great in 1962? Wilt Chamberlain”, I’ll get to the point. The point is this – in 1997, there was this song. It started with a little high hat, and then it had a repetitive five chord introduction, and since that could be any song, I’ll tell you what it was: it was Smashmouth’s Walkin’ on the Sun. I’m not sure what’s more embarrassing; that I’ve had this long lead in about how I used to listen to Smashmouth, or that whenever I think of the song, Walkin’on the Sun, I can’t even get the lyrics right, and I always think the lyrics are “You might as well be walking on the moon”.But let’s be honest here – sun, moon – who’s keeping score? Whenever I go to Golden Canyon, this is the song I think of because I associate it with being on the moon (not sun), and that lunar type of terrain is exactly what you will see from the moment you enter Golden Canyon.
If you play your cards right, you can follow the previous posts from a snowy 11,000 foot peak (Telescope Peak), past some unique structures (the Charcoal Kilns and Eureka Mine), through an ancient canyon with cracked granite blocks (Mosaic Canyon) down to rolling sand dunes (Mesquite Flat) all within a day. That alone should make Death Valley a “must-do” in anyone’s book – I personally can’t think of another place world-wide where you can traverse such a variety of terrain in a day or less. Granted, if you’re going to do all of those things in a day, you’re going to need to get an early start, and move quick, but it is indeed possible.
Do you like rocks? I like rocks. I’m constantly staring at rocks; picking up rocks, and trying to analyze rocks. Part of my interest in rocks is based on the fact that I’m wondering, “Is this safe to climb? Will this hold my weight? Can I traverse it?” and part of my interest lies within a much simpler explanation: the rule of cool (“ROC”). Rocks, in my opinion, are cool. Think about it for a minute: rocks are the very bones of the planet; forged in the molten interior before being slowly exposed on the surface. Even if you disagree with my analogy above, and say that rocks are more like the soul of the planet, dark and inscrutable, or some other metaphor, rocks are cool because they are time capsules. Any geologic feature, large or small that one gazes upon probably stood for millions of years, and during that time, was probably altered by heat, wind, water, ice, or platetechtonics. If nothing else, the long view of earth’s history gives you pause – that rock there that you’re sitting on? Probably stepped upon by dinosaurs; and it’ll probably be present long after you’re gone. Then again, if you don’t want to think about such big picture things, it’s easiest to say what I said above: rocks are cool.