DV 2015 Adventures and Mishaps


Tried to plan a last minute trip to Death Valley last week and thought I had two other trucks to head down with. But as the week came to a close, work issues surfaced and they couldn't make it. Since it was Ella's 5th year and she was dying to go, we ventured off on our own for a few days. We were excited to use the roof top tent for the first time, I wired in some cool LEDs in the tent and finished the install of my lightbar. Not coordinating a group of people gave some freedom and a loose itinerary for our trip. As mentioned, I have been exploring DV the past 5 years and know the backcountry trails quite well. The areas we had planned on visiting: Warm Springs, Striped Butte valley, Goler Wash, Ballarat, Briggs Cabin, Minietta mine, charcoal kilns are far enough away from tourists, but frequented by overlanders.

We left Sacramento at 3pm and swung by my buddy Rob's place to pick up my MFC gas cans from King of the Hammers. Booked a hotel in Barstow and charged down 99. We rolled into the hotel around 10:30pm and crashed for the night. Headed to Baker in the morning to top off gas and picked up some 'alien jerky'.



Then we hit some traffic, of the people kind. They were running a foot race from Baker to Shoshone and most of the teams and runners were law enforcement and fire departments. Not a good idea to speed around them or cause any trouble. We patiently waited and then finally found some open road and turned off early at Saratoga Springs to enter DV from the south eastern side.

Once offroad, it was just the two of us. DV is such a magical place and beautiful in its starkness. The rock formations and colors are so different from anywhere else.




We ventured back onto pavement as I wanted Ella to see Badwater, the lowest point in North America at -282ft, a point she hadn't seen since she was a baby as all the other DV trips bypassed the pavement.



After that, we headed back to Warm Springs for some lunch and dip in the water. Met a nice family who was heading back to Santa Rosa after 8 days exploring. He is an airplane mechanic and avid HAM radio enthusiast. His son and Ella ran off to catch lizards while we chatted. Ella and I grabbed our suits and hiked up for a quick swim in the springs. It always amazes me when you find yourself relaxing in a little 'hot tub' in the middle of the desert.


After our swim, there was another couple camping at Warm Springs in a very nice Westfalia van. It was their 4th night when they were only planning to stay one and had run out of beer. I handed them a few and off we went in search of a cabin in Striped Butte valley. Some adventure riders had just passed through and mentioned that the Geologist cabin was vacant. Then the real adventure began...:Wow1:


then the fun really begins...

Shortly after leaving Warm Springs, I noticed my temp gauge creeping past midline and immediately pulled over. Over the past few years, My P38 has always had issues with the cooling system. My first trip to DV in 2011, I overheated climbing Lippincott grade from a poorly repaired radiator by the previous owner. I vowed not to have the same issues again and bought a custom aluminum radiator which cost me dearly and took 4 months to build. Since then, I have still had issues loosing a small amount of coolant requiring about a quart every 1000 miles or so. I forsee a new headgasket in my not too distant future, but didn't have time before this trip. We had climbed a few big grades last night without any issues and I checked the coolant before we left. But there I was, in the hottest place on earth with my P38 overheating... again...When I got out of the truck, I vented the cap but noticed a steady stream of coolant near the front of the vehicle. Maybe a hose sprung a leak this time...but I have a large steering guard plate that protects the front and can't see where it is coming from. Under the truck, I start taking everything apart to assess the situation. With the guard out of the way, I find a hole in the radiator. Apparently, the radiator was sitting too close to the frame and rubbing. This eventually poked a hole and cracked the bottom of the radiator. Wonderful. I installed the radiator 3 years ago and have been on countless other adventures without issue. I dig into my tools looking for my JB Weld, but it is no where to be found. Gotta be kidding me!


A nice new 4Runner passes by and gives my some gum and duct tape. Might work...So Ella and I chew the gum and try to wedge it under the radiator. I helps...I fill 'er up with water and head back to Warm Springs to camp. The couple with the Westfalia are still there and thankfully, he has some Q bond, an instant epoxy that hopefully will work. By this time, I am tired, hot and we set-up the tent and start on dinner. I cook up some steaks, mashed potatoes, broccoli that we share with Eric and Sandy, our new found best friends. We open some nice bottles of IPA and relax for a little while at sundown.

Looking at the Q Bond, it is a powder that hardens when you add some superglue like liquid. But the hole is on the bottom of the radiator, with gravity working against us. So I remove the whole damn thing in order to do it right. Eric is a great help while Sandy plays Old Maid with Ella. We patch up the radiator, re-install everything, fill it with water and pressure test the system to 15psi. Looks like it is holding pressure well with no leaks to be found.

Feeling better about our situation, we relax around the fire and smoke a few cigars. Turns out, Eric is well known nature photographer (Eric Wunrow) who has been published in numerous magazines and books. Sandy, unfortunately, had a debilitating stroke about 10 years prior. The medical bills and rehab literally bankrupt them at which point they sold everything and are living fulltime in the Westfalia. They are in great spirits and Sandy has made a remarkable recovery over the years. They have some incredible stories and Eric started off photographing motor sports before his work with nature. They were avid hikers summitting most of the top 100 peaks in America. They are an inspiration to positive thinking and perseverance. We are so lucky to have spent some time with them.



The 1mm hole that killed the trip. You can see how it has been slowly rubbed down until it cracked.


My new LED 'dioder' lights from Ikea wired into the tent. The lights can change all sorts of colors and is much nicer than dealing with headlamps or lanterns crawling into bed. Got the idea from here: http://www.adventureparents.com/blog/dads-dirt-roads-blog/322-a-sure-fire-way-to-improve-your-roof-top-tent-eezi-awn.html?fb_ref=facebookRecommendation

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The next morning, I cook up some pancakes and bacon for everyone and start working on the truck again. Yesterday, I also noticed my right rear shock was dangling and not connected to the axle. The lower washer and bushing were gone, but the retaining nut was still attached. Weird...I find some spare washers and tighten her down to make it home. We start packing up, take another morning dip in the spring and head out from Warm Springs back the wy we came. No Striped Butte valley or Mengel pass for us. :( . I coast most of the way down the valley, trying not to bang the rocks too much. We get to pavement and I reassess...I see coolant dripping from below...crap! I also notice my spare tire is dangling from my tire carrier being held up by the Trasharoo. Double crap! Apparently all the lug nuts had worked their way loose after the tire rotation last week. Great...toss it into the back seat with Ella...

I pull out onto the pavement watching the temp guage like a hawk. Get about 5 miles before I have to pull over again. Let her cool down, fill her up and wedge some rubber between the radiator and the frame. The previous piece had worked its way loose on the rocks and wasn't helping. With that in place, we make it to Badwater and I meet some Toyota guys who have some JB Weld type epoxy. Thank goodness!

We make the remaining 30 miles to Furnace Creek and let her cool some more, buy more water (thankfully, from home I brought 10 gallons stored on top, 2 more distilled gallons and 2 gallons of coolant). The rubber wedge seemed to be holding with almost no coolant lost. Finally with cell service, I call my wife to let her know we are OK and my buddies in Sacramento prep for a possible recovery mission the next day. At the gift shop, I find Eric's book, "Death Valley Impressions" and of course buy it. (http://www.amazon.com/Death-Valley-National-Impressions-Farcountry/dp/1560372958)

We keep heading to Panamint Springs (about 50 miles) without incident, I drain the coolant, we have a nice meal, Ella falls asleep and I am under the truck again.



In the morning, I fill her up with coolant, the JB weld looks to be holding and we start heading home. The remainder of the trip was uneventful but we stopped many times and crawled up the passes on 395. We stopped by the U2 memorial, just outside of DV along with Mono Lake to check out the alkaline flies. Making it home about 8pm Monday. What an adventure!



I got the radiator back from an aluminum welder and installed it today. Ground away part of the frame where it was rubbing and built up the weld near the bushing so it sits higher.


Back in the day (the day being sometime in the 70's or 80's,) there was almost always someone camping (living) at the Springs who had a welding rig and knew how to use it. Mammoth Bob was one of those people; I've seen him weld cracked blocks and the like. His whole bus was like a mobile machine shop, plus he always brought a trailer with his Power Wagon and a bunch more stuff. If you had a mechanical issue, you had to sometimes fight through the crowd of old timers who all wanted to fix your vehicle.

Those were the days...


Expo this, expo that, exp
Nice trip report. Glad you were able to keep going.. Vehicle challenges that's part of the adventure! :)


Great report... sorry for the problems but a good lesson for your daughter to learn about perseverence in the face of adversity! Good for you!


Yes, we do all we can to prepare for an adventure, but there will always be unexpected issues that creep. Hence the reason for plenty of tools and fluids brought along on any trip along with plenty of food and water for any emergency. I met some great people and everyone was very helpful and generous. Even though we didn't get to explore other areas of the park, the best parts of the trip were spending time with her.

On the other hand, I will be picking up a DeLorme InReach satellite communicator for extra security that allows satellite emails and for dire emergencies, a call to search and rescue. It also tracks your position so others can see where you are or are stuck.

Fitted the radiator yesterday and pressure tested the system. Looks like it is holding. Also fitted new rear bushings on the shocks from Doetsch Tech. She is ready for the next adventure!


Expedition Leader
Good luck with fixing her up. I just had to do the headgaskets on my Disco. It took me 2 days to do it myself. Not really fun, but it runs great now.


Head gasket is on the list for this summer. I see some coolant build up on the side of the block. Debating about putting in KSEAL as a temporary measure but don't want to gum up the system or radiator.

Here is the radiator back from the welder. Not the prettiest but he said there was a larger crack underneath.


Expedition Leader
I wouldn't use that stuff. Mine blew out the fire ring. I wasn't losing any coolant. I just had a loud popping noise. I lost one cylinder and didn't have much power.

Some lady put some of that crap in a BMW and brought it into the shop I was working at. It ended up clogging up the radiator and ruining the engine because it overheated. $7000 later and 3 weeks, it ran good again.

Intents Offroad

New member
Geez, the bad luck just didn't let up on that trip hey?! I wanna get back to DV in a suitable vehicle one day, we went through there in a Nissan Versa rental car last year. Not allowed to take that thing on dirt tracks, and it was bloody hot that day like 122 or something mental!


2007 Expedition Trophy Champion, Overland Certifie
Great write up and pics...
very cool to get out there with your daughter and these are the stories that you two will laugh about for years to come.
Glad the vehicle issues were overcome and sounds like you kept your cool while the rig didn't...that is strong work as I often get very frustrated in those moments.