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Death Valley: A Galaxy Far, Far Away

Being a Jawa among the cliffs

Our first Death Valley adventure of this trip was a hike and a ranger talk among the cliffs of Tatooine- er, I mean, Golden Canyon. After a breakfast of eggs and potatoes, with oat milk instead of blue milk, we headed out from the Texas Spring Campground and headed south on 190 to Badwater Road, stopping at the first parking area on the left. This was the start of Golden Canyon Trailhead.

Golden Canyon gets its name from the yellow-colored sedimentary mudstone prevalent in the canyon. Death Valley itself was formed by a variety of geologic processes- from ancient bodies of water to geologic uplift and volcanism. Over the years, faulting broke large chunks of rock and formed the diagonal scarps in the cliffs. Finally, erosion carved the canyons and sedimentary deposition formed the alluvial fans at the mouth of the canyon. These processes resulted in the fascinating, Outer Rim feel of Golden Canyon.

We met Ranger Annie, a seasonal national park ranger, for the 9 am ranger talk. The boys were completing their geology merit badges on this trip, and I figured this was a good way for them to learn more about the park while finishing up the last activity in the workbook. They would get to see up close some interesting geology while on a pretty cool hike.

Ranger talks are a great way to learn more about our national parks.

The trek did not disappoint. The weather was perfect- not too hot, sun shining, and just enough shade to be comfortable. The hike itself, while slow paced took us through the scenic canyon, and Ranger Annie stopped at points of interest, explaining the geology and other cool facts about the canyon. This is where I learned about the history of the park’s mining and tourism days. I also found out that scenes from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope were filmed in Death Valley, and that the scene where the Jawas captured R2-D2 was actually set in Golden Canyon. The Jawas were played by elementary school kids local to the area. I had not thought of it before, but rewatching clips of Episode IV, I can see it.

After the guided portion of the ranger tour ended, we continued toward the ruddy conglomerate rocks of Red Cathedral. We did not feel we had enough time to complete the hike, however, we did get pretty close. And even so, the rocks were so pretty in the midmorning sun; so though we turned around to head to Badwater Basin, it was still a worthwhile hike.

The colorful rocks in the cliffs of Golden Canyon

I would have liked to have a bit more time to check out the alluvial fan, the result of deposition of sediment from the flow of water out of narrow canyons, like Golden Canyon. But there were more adventures awaiting.

Some things to consider:

The Golden Canyon hike can be done as an out and back or as the Golden Canyon-Gower Gulch-Badlands loop that could take one to Zabriskie Point. The trail guide can be found here.

For Star Wars Fans, there are other areas in the park that can be explored. According to the National Park Service, the following areas were Star Wars filming locations for Episode IV: A New Hope:
Dante’s View- Mos Eisley Overlook
Artists Palette- The scene with Jawas’ Sandcrawler and R2D2’s solo trek
Desolation Canyon- Tusken Raider Attack
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes- Tatooine Dunes

Death Valley, while not dead, is an environment of possible extremes- kind of like Tatooine. Be prepared for weather changes. Make sure to bring plenty of water, trail snacks, and I recommend layered clothing. Even on a mild day, temps can change readily. On stormy days, flash flooding is possible.

There is no cell service in the canyon. This is great for getting away and relaxing, however it does make it difficult to contact people in the case of an emergency.

Golden Canyon was a beautiful way to begin our Death Valley adventure, and while it would have been nice to take more time in the canyon, there was more to see and do in this expansive park.
Off to the lowest point in North America!


“Golden Canyon.” Golden Canyon | U.S. Geological Survey,,to%205%20million%20years%20ago).

“Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch, & Badlands.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior,


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