Peak Overview and Route Information
Peruse the postcards at any gift shop in Death Valley National Park (DVNP), and you’re bound to find a shot of Manly Beacon from above, but not so high above as to be an aerial photo, and from a perspective different from that at beautiful and famous Zabriskie Point. This different vantage shows Manly Beacon to be a little broader and bulkier than the knife edge it appears to be when seen from Zabriskie Point. Telescope Peak and the great salt pan of Death Valley loom beyond, and you find yourself both wondering where in the world someone took that shot and wanting to see that view with your own eyes.
That view is either from or on the way to Red Cathedral (unofficial name but known to many DVNP regulars), a large, reddish (imagine that) formation above and just north of the badlands of the Zabriskie Point-Golden Canyon area of the park. The formation is something in between a massive badland butte and a low, crumbly mountain, and it is a spectacular though seemingly less-photographed part of the panorama greeting unbelieving eyes at Zabriskie Point. The formation is also impressive when viewed from below in Golden Canyon (part of the trail system here leads right to the base), but few people would try climbing it from there; the formation is too steep to walk up and too crumbly for placing protection.
Fortunately, there is an easy way to the summit, easy in dry weather (which is almost always the case here), that is. There is one narrow, precipitous part to the route where a moment’s carelessness will get you a one-way ticket to finding out who’s been right about the hereafter all along, but the rest is Class 2 hiking on mostly hard-packed, occasionally steep terrain. Approximately 1 mile of hiking with about 300’ of elevation gain (670'-943', with some minor ups and downs) gets you there from the parking lot at Zabriskie Point. At the parking lot, notice a use trail heading right to a "doorway" into the badlands. Just past that doorway, head right on another trail that climbs toward Red Cathedral. The photos below show much of the route.
Up top, enjoy not only the unique views of Manly Beacon and its neighboring labyrinthine badlands but also sweeping views from the Furnace Creek area to the southern end of the Panamint Range. Don’t forget to turn around and appreciate the views of the Funeral and Zagros Mountains to the east.
What you're also likely to get here is solitude. If you love the Zabriskie Point-Golden Canyon area but want to escape the attendant crowds, Red Cathedral is a good place for you.
AVOID THIS PLACE WHEN IT’S WET! First of all, it’s nasty and slow to walk through the gumbo that the earth here becomes during and shortly after rains (in cooler weather, give it at least one full dry day for the ground to harden sufficiently). Second, it’s dangerous; that gumbo is incredibly slick, and along the narrower ridges, you could easily find yourself making one of the world’s fastest-ever descents into the terrain below you, a distinction that could come at the cost of your good health or even your life.
And avoid this hike in the summer unless you go out at dawn, in which case you should have ample time to reach the summit before the brutal heat of a Death Valley summer day comes bearing down. The best times of day to visit are during the first and last one or two hours of light; the colors then can be simply amazing.
Always carry plenty of water. This is a short hike, but it’s usually 80 F or above March-October.
FROM NEVADA: From Lathrop Wells on U.S. 95, drive south on NV 373, which becomes CA 127 after crossing the state line. At Death Valley Junction (23 miles from Lathrop Wells), the location of the Amargosa Opera House, turn left on 190, the road that crosses DVNP east-west. Past the turnoff to Dante’s View (worth the trip if you have the time), 18 miles from Death Valley Junction, continue west for about 7 miles. Just after the entrance to the road through Twenty Mule Team Canyon, turn left into the signed parking area for Zabriskie Point.
Those approaching from Las Vegas may spot Stateline Road, just north of the main strip of Pahrump. This road leads straight to Death Valley Junction and saves at least 30 minutes of driving time from Las Vegas.
FROM FURNACE CREEK: Furnace Creek is the site of the headquarters for DVNP. From there, drive about four miles east on CA 190 and turn right into the signed parking area for Zabriskie Point.
There is gas at both Lathrop Wells and Furnace Creek.
CampingIf you’re visiting in summer, do yourself a favor and stay at the lodge at Furnace Creek. Camping in the lower elevations of DVNP during summer is no fun--- expect nighttime temps in the 80s or even the 90s (daytime highs routinely top 120 F), and what wind there is will likely be a hot one. Visit Xanterra for lodging information.
Otherwise, camp at Sunset, Texas Springs, or Furnace Creek. The first two are small and are first-come, first-served. Furnace Creek is large, has all services (including showers), and takes reservations during some months. Visit this site for camping and reservation information.
Red TapeThere is a $20 entrance fee for the park, payable at ranger stations and visitor centers. Be honorable. The fee gets you a pass good for a week.
Carry sunglasses. They are more than just a luxury out in this landscape.