I adopted this page after the original owner had become inactive for several years. The italicized text that follows is the original owner's, with some editing for spelling and grammar.
Manly Beacon is a towering spire that rises above the Death Valley badlands. The peak stands out in stark contrast to the backdrop of the Red Cathedral formation and the surrounding mud hills. The peak is not on the standard Golden Canyon to Zabriskie Point trail, but its dramatic relief attracts interest from hikers and climbers alike.
The peak is also a study in intense color at dawn and sunset, and it is justly famous with photographers. To many people, the peak may look unclimbable, but there is a narrow ridge that accesses the small summit, where there are unforgettable views of the surrounding badlands, the Death Valley salt pan, and Telescope Peak, the often-snowcapped highpoint of the Panamint Range. Prepare also to be dive-bombed by angry birds that must nest near the summit; two of my four times on the peak, I had to endure the threats from these unhappy avians.
Some people express a certain degree of amusement over the name, and snarky comments occasionally result. The following quote from the Wikipedia page for Zabriskie Point explains the name: "Manly Beacon was named in honor of William L. Manly, who along with John Rogers, guided members of the ill-fated Forty-niners out of Death Valley during the gold rush of 1849."
Please try to stay on the "real" rock and on the buttes that have hard-packed trails as much as possible. The makeup of many of the buttes is loose and easily damaged, and your fun does not justify making long-term scars on the formations.
This is one of the hottest places on the planet, with summer daytime highs usually topping 110 degrees Fahrenheit and often surpassing 120 (I have personally “experienced” 130 at nearby Badwater Basin). Not carrying enough water (one gallon per person per day is the recommended amount) can be fatal. It is best to visit this area from late fall through early spring, but it is accessible all year long.
This is also a dangerous place to visit during wet conditions. Flash floods can be sudden and deadly, and it only takes a little moisture to turn the clays of the badlands into a goo that is almost impossible to hike through. Your feet can literally become stuck in the mud, and your next steps may leave your shoes behind.
Finally, avoid entering the numerous old mine openings in the area. You are allowed to go up to them and look inside, but it against park regulations to enter them. Among the reasons: deadly gases; scorpions, black widow spiders, and rattlesnakes (the old mine tunnels make perfect dens for these animals), and unstable ceilings.
The unique landscape of the Badlands owes its appearance to the one material that is in short supply in Death Valley: water. The Badlands now exist in what was once a prehistoric lake. Mud and silt from the surrounding mountains washed down into the lake when what is now the national park was once a wetter environment. The silts settled to the bottom and were compressed and weakly cemented into soft rock over time. The clay minerals in the mudstone are shaped like tiny plates. These plates act like roof shingles, preventing water from penetrating the surface. The combination of the almost impermeable mudstone and Death Valley’s scant rainfall makes plant growth and soil development nearly impossible. If one looks closely at the photos, on some of the hills a layer of black rock covers the yellowish underlying layers. This is the result of volcanic debris deposited in the lake bottom when the valley was rimmed by ancient volcanoes. This layer forms a protective cap on the soft underlying sediments.
As the climate shifted, the lake dried and a geological upheaval (known as the Pacific Plate crashing into the North American Plate) caused the landscape to tilt. This tilt is easily identified in the rock strata. At Death Valley rainfall is intense but sporadic. Very long periods of drought are punctuated with drenching downpours. With so little vegetation and no soil, when water reaches the ground, there is nothing to absorb the rainfall. During Death Valley’s rain showers, water hits the surface and immediately begins to rush down the steep slopes, sweeping along particles of loosened mud. The rate of erosion can be incredible! Tiny rills are quickly carved into the soft mudstone. The more water in the downpour, the more rills are needed to carry the water away. Rills cut deeper to form gullies. Badlands are the ultimate result-- nature’s way of efficiently moving lots of water quickly.
Once the top crusty layer is punctured, the soil is quite powdery and very difficult to gain purchase in.
Getting ThereStart at Zabriskie Point, the very popular and very beautiful viewpoint about 5 miles east of Furnace Creek on CA 190. An alternate approach can be made via Golden Canyon, about a mile south of Furnace Creek on CA 178.
Red Tape, Camping and Lodging, and LinksThere is an entrance fee of $20 for Death Valley National Park. There is a self-pay kiosk just south of the Dantes View turnoff (off CA 190 east of Zabriskie Point). You can also pay at the Furnace Creek Visitors Center. Because there are no entrance stations in Death Valley, it is easy to cheat on paying the fees. Remember, though, that your fees help support your parks.
The nearest developed campgrounds are Furnace Creek, Sunset, and Texas Spring, all in the Furnace Creek area, about 11 miles from the Dantes View turnoff. Sites at Furnace Creek Campground can be reserved during the winter months.
You can backcountry camp here but should only do so if the chance of rain is nonexistent. Flash floods make camping in sandy washes a bad idea, and camping on the clay buttes in wet conditions can result in a displaced tent (with you inside) or an unbelievably messy campsite at the very least. Distances here are short enough that backcountry camping really doesn't make much sense.
Xanterra operates lodging facilities at Furnace Creek Ranch and Furnace Creek Inn. Rates are pricey, especially at the latter, but a stay at either facility often beats camping in the area, where nighttime temperatures are frequently uncomfortably warm.
Death Valley NPS site
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