Hiking Death Valley is not like hiking any other place I’ve been. For one, the park is so gargantuan that the trails don’t really show up on the map. Instead they just point out a few popular trailheads, most of which lead into small-to-medium canyons. The trail is essentially the canyon wash, sort of a wide, dry “riverbed”, that you walk up until you can’t walk any longer.
Our first hike like this was into Golden Canyon, just south of Furnace Creek. It was only a mile and a quarter long (so 2.5 miles roundtrip), but at that point in the early afternoon it was over 90°F. The ground cover was an unusually coarse, dusty gravel—unusual because I associate gravel with man-made landscaping, not nature—which made the hike kind of like walking through a pebbly beach. In other words it was hard. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been in 90° heat. I told Stephanie that it felt like an endurance challenge. But this is exactly why we came. We wanted to hike and camp in a place that actually gets hot—something that doesn’t happen in the Bay Area.