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.
When most people think of Death Valley National Park, they don't think of stunning sunrises and sunsets. The truth of the matter is that they should. From Zabriskie Point, to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, and into the mountains like Dante's BM and the summit of Telescope Peak, the park has a number of amazing spots to watch the planet spin. In my opinion, the best - and easiest location to catch the sunrise is Father Crowley Vista. While it does not have the cache of Zabriskie Point, Father Crowley Vista has a great panoramic views of the Panamint Valley below, Rainbow Canyon, and the Panamint Range in the far distance. Moreover, its location - directly off of Highway 190 on the park's far West border ensures that it will not have the crowds that the more popular spots listed above will. The location is named for the Padre of the desert, Father Crowley, and is a great spot to stop at even if you miss the sunrise. Do note that unlike other park locations, this is a spot that is just a vista, and not much for hiking, unless you want to walk from the parking area down the unpaved dirt road of the actual viewpoint; but it is a great spot to start (or finish) your Death Valley adventure.
There’s a lot of hikes in the National Park system that get a lot of press as the “best hikes”. And, when I say “press”, I am not just talking about articles written by journalists and bloggers. I am talking about word-of-mouth hikes that are discussed between hikers and non-hikers; discussions that percolate world-wide about places that should be seen or, in some cases, depending on who is talking, have to be seen. A lot of these hikes deserve the reputation and the discussion that they get; and a lot of these hikes don’t deserve the reputation that they get. I’m not going to weigh in about which hike deserves what as it’s a matter of personal opinion in my book. What I will say, is that the best secret hike in the National Park system is the hike(s) I’m talking about here and last week: Golden Canyon.
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.