Mojave Road and Death Valley NP March, 2011 ExPo trip report...

Martinjmpr

Wiffleball Batter
First off, let me just say thanks again to Scott (ScottB on the forums) for putting this together. It was a great trip and Scott, Sib, Ted, and Mike were great guys to be on the trail with.

Second, I wasn't on the Mojave Road portion so I can't comment on that. Sounds like it was a good time, if somewhat cold/snowy. Scott is still on his way back to Georgia, and I think Mike is somewhere in Arizona, so I'll go ahead and start the report.

I left Denver early on Tuesday, March 22. After a somewhat snowy/slippery ride over the two passes on I-70 (Eisenhower Tunnel and Vail Pass) I was on dry, open roads. Driving along I-70 in Utah I came across the oddest looking "Travel trailer" I think I've ever seen:



At first I thought maybe he ran a business but I didn't see any business names on the "trailer." Definitely very odd looking and attention-gathering!

My destination was Cedar City, UT. Instead of staying on the interstate, though, I decided to take a route I had never taken before, so I jumped off the highway onto UT 72 East of Salina and took the very twisty (and very scenic) route to Loa. From there I took UT 24 and then 62 through Koosharem and down to Kingston and Circleville, where I picked up US 89 and headed South towards Panguitch. After filling up with gas, I decided to take UT 143 over the mountains past Brian Head ski area and into Parowan. Initially I though I might take the Cedar Breaks cutoff to shorten my distance to Cedar City, but when I got to the turn for the cutoff, this is what it looked like:



Yes, that's about 3' of snow piled up on either side, and the cutoff was blocked by 10' of snow piled up by the plows. Nevertheless, I made it down the mountain to Parowan and on to Cedar City where I "camped" at the local Wal Mart.

Next morning I headed West on UT 56 across the desert towards Nevada, where I passed through a number of small towns including the semi-ghost town of Modena. Into Nevada I was climbing higher and higher and saw my first Joshua Trees, which were everywhere (funny thing, I guess I assumed that Joshua Trees were in the lower, Mojave desert regions but everywhere I saw them on this trip they were at altitudes of at least 4,000'.) I followed US 93 all the way to Crystal Springs where the turn-off for the "Extraterrestrial Highway" (NV 375) begins.



Lots of businesses like to capitalize on the name of the "ET highway..."



After lunch at the "Little Ale Inn" in Rachel, I continued on towards Tonopah. Tonopah was cold, overcast, extremely windy, and snowing, so I only stayed long enough to fill up with gas.

My original plan had been to spend this night in the Nevada desert, but it was so cold, windy, and generally miserable, that I decided to head straight into Death Valley today, figuring that the lower altitudes would make for a more comfortable climate.

Along the way, I passed through Goldfield, a semi-ghost town on US 95 that had a parking lot featuring a number of "Art Cars.":



This was only one example, and in case you can't tell, that Volvo wagon is pulling a similarly decorated trailer. I assume these cars go to Burning Man, since it's a few hundred miles to the North.

After a final fill-up (including my 5 gallon can) at Beatty, I headed Southwest over Daylight Pass and into the park itself. The snow that had been dogging me all the way from Tonopah eventually turned to rain as I was getting my first glimpse of the park:





The drop in altitude was dramatic! I had not fallen below 4000' above sea level since I left Colorado, but now descended quickly. Eventually, I passed the "sea level" marker and took this shot of my GPS. Note the altitude displayed on the lower left of the screen:



I camped out that night in Cottonwood Canyon, about 8 miles from the Stovepipe Wells service center. The rain quit before I got to Stovepipe Wells and the temperature had climbed to a comfortable 65 degrees - quite a switch from the snow and sub-freezing temps I had been in just an hour before!

To be continued...
 

Martinjmpr

Wiffleball Batter
Trip report, part 2

After breaking camp, I had the first half of the day to myself. The plan was that the other guys would meet me at Stovepipe Wells (hereinafter abbreviated as SPW) at 2:00 pm. So, I headed up to the Furnace Creek area (FC) to check out the visitor center. To my disappointment, the visitor center was closed for renovations so I had to stop at the temporary visitor center instead (oddly enough, I think the visitor center was closed for renovations the last time I was in DVNP, which was in May of 1998!)

After talking to the Rangers at the Visitor Center, I headed up to Dante's View, to get some nice photos before the heat of the desert set in and made the view more hazy. As always, the Dante's View vistas are spectacular:



Really, no picture could do it justice including that one. I'd honestly put the view from Dante's View right up there with the view of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in terms of spectacular park scenery. Dante's View, which is at about 5700' above sea level, is directly above Badwater, which is 282' below sea level, and offers stunning views of the valley floor, all the way across to the park's highest point, Telescope Peak, at about 11,500'!

Scott and his crew were running a bit late, but we finally met up at SPW and I met all the guys, Scott, his dad Sib, Mike from New York and Ted, who had the cutest little traveling companion with him: Harley.



We headed back to Cottonwood Canyon to a campsite near where I had camped the night before. I suggested Cottonwood because they were a little tired of being so cold, and I knew Cottonwood, being at only about 600' elevation, would at least be warm. Cottonwood also offers some great views, here's the sunrise on Friday the 25th:



After breakfast, we went back to SPW and then on towards Scotty's Castle in the Northern part of the park.

Along the way, we stopped to assist a couple of women who, with their husbands, had taken a stock Suburban onto Racetrack Road the day before and suffered 3 flat tires! They changed one, and tried to plug the other two but the plugs kept blowing out. By this time, they had spent the better part of a day and a half, driving for a few miles until the tires ran out of air, pumping them up again (with a hand pump!) and going on for another few miles. Their husbands had gone ahead to meet a tow truck, and they were sitting by the side of the road when we pulled up. I used my electric air pump to partially inflate their tires and Ted decided to follow them back towards SPW so he could help them out when their tires ran out of air again. He agreed to meet us at Scotty's Castle and we headed back to the North.

It was starting to get warm in the valley, so the climb to 3,000' to Scotty's Castle was a nice refreshing change. We parked near the "oasis" at the castle and waited for Ted.



As for Scotty's Castle, it was amazing (and well worth the $11 tour cost, for anyone who goes through there.) I didn't take many pictures because photos don't do the place justice. But it's a real engineering marvel and the story is a notably colorful one.







After touring the castle, we continued on towards our destination for the night, which would be near the Racetrack. Racetrack Road is about 20 miles from Ubehebe Crater to Teakettle Junction, and while it was quite scenic, it was also one of the worst washboard roads I've ever been on! It took us about 2 hours to go the 20 miles to Teakettle Junction. When we got there we found out where it got its name:



In addition to being on a very rough road (easy to understand now how the two couples in the Suburban got 3 flats here!) the road climbed considerably: From about 1500' at Ubehebe Crater, the road goes up to a low, flat pass at about 4800' and then goes downhill slightly. We turned Left (South) at Teakettle Junction to find a campsite near the Lost Burro mine. While it was scenic, it was also very windy and quite cold. We cooked and then went to bed - too cold to be staying up late!

Part 3 coming up...
 

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Martinjmpr

Wiffleball Batter
Trip Report, Part 3:

After a quick stop at Teakettle Junction, we decided we'd take a group photo there the next day. The information at the Scotty's Castle visitor center indicated that Lippencott Road was extremely muddy and/or snow covered and Inyo County had signed South Pass road as "closed" even though it was not apparently gated. As a result, we camped out near the junction of Hidden Vally Road and Lost Burro Mine Road. It was cold and windy the entire time so once we got done cooking we crawled into our sleeping bags for the night!

Next morning, we took our group photo at Teakettle junction. Notice that with the exception of Ted (who is in shorts!) we are all pretty bundled up due to the wind/cold:



From there we continued on down the very washboard-y Racetrack Valley road to the Racetrack itself. We parked at the first parking area (directly across from the rock formation in the middle of the dry lake called the "grandstand.")



From there, we explored the Racetrack itself. Ted and Harley took the lead:



Very eerie looking, and very flat dry lake!



For those who've never been there, the "racetrack" gets its name because it periodically fills partially with water, which makes the mud floor very slick. Then the howling winds (which were screaming when we were there!) pushes large rocks across the flat playa. Although most of the "racing rocks" are at the south end of the lake, we did manage to see this one. notice the "track" it has left being pushed across the lake bed:



After the obligatory racetrack photos, we were anxious to get to a lower altitude so we could warm up! So we headed back down the 26 miles to the paved road at Ubehebe Crater, near Scotty's Castle. Even though it was "only" 26 miles, the extremely washboard-y road meant that the trip took us nearly 2 hours.

From there we aired back up and hit the paved road back to Stovepipe Wells. We gassed up there and Scott jacked up his truck to try to rotate one of his coil springs which had "unwound" on the washboard! It took us an hour or so but finally we got it done. From there it was getting close to dinner time so rather than stop at Furnace Creek, we continued past Furnace Creek to our campsite, which would be off of West Side road (the dirt road that runs along the West side of Death Valley, whereas the paved road that goes past Badwater runs along the East side.) A little before dark, we finally found a nice, flat spot with a great overlook of the valley below:



It was still windy, although nowhere near as windy as we had experienced along Racetrack road. Best of all, though, at only about 600' elevation, it was nice and warm!

Next morning (Sunday, March 27) we got up and broke camp and headed back to the main road, where Ted and Harley departed to get back home.



As Ted aired up, we said goodbye to Harley:



After Ted left, the rest of us turned North for the short drive to Furnace Creek. While we were there we got maps at the visitor center, and we saw this little roadrunner hanging out in the parking lot:



I kept expecting him to say "Beep Beep!" but he never did (note that he was not being chased by a coyote!) :D
 

Martinjmpr

Wiffleball Batter
Trip Report, Part 4

Our time at the visitor center was ... interesting, to say the least. :sombrero: We mentioned to one of the volunteer rangers that we were planning on going through Warm Springs canyon. She thought that was a good idea and suggested we stay at the Geologists Cabin near Striped Butte. We then asked about Mengel Pass, which leads over the mountains to the West side of DVNP and out of the park, and which is marked on the map as for "experienced 4-wheel drivers only." She looked at our vehicles in the parking lot and said "well, I drive my Jeep over that pass, but I don't think you guys will make it with what you're driving." :rolleyes:

Needless to say, we headed off to the South, along the paved (East side) road. Along the way, we stopped at Badwater. Now, Badwater photos are easy to find so I haven't posted any, but I did want to post this one, of our trucks at the parking lot:



This photo just looks like a typical parking lot photo, right? But the reason I posted it was because, up above us on the cliff is a sign. Here's a photo of the same thing with the sign circled in red:



The sign waaay up there on the cliff reads: "SEA LEVEL" :Wow1:

After walking out onto the semi-dry salt bed at Badwater, we continued South to the Southern end of the West Side Road. From there it was an easy 3 miles up to the Warm Springs road turnoff.

Oh, great! MORE washboard! :p



But the washboard lessened as we got up past the Talc Mines. We were about to camp in the open desert when a "field Ranger" (in a Jeep!) stopped by and suggested that we go up just a few miles to the cabin. We got there close to sunset, in time to see Striped Butte all lit up by the setting sun:



The cabin was very clean and amazingly well stocked (which I added to by dropping off some excess canned food that I had.)



Even though it wasn't windy, it was nice to cook "inside" for once. After dinner we watched the stars and then went to bed in our trucks, since there were no beds in the cabin and we had been warned about the possibility of Hanta Virus from all the mouse/rat droppings. We say evidence of rats, in fact, one little Kangaroo Rat kept trying to sneak into the cabin while we were cooking (sorry, no pictures of it.)

Next morning we would tackle Mengel Pass, despite the warnings of the desk-bound volunteer Ranger (the Ranger in the jeep said we could make it, no problem.)

To be continued....
 

Martinjmpr

Wiffleball Batter
Trip report, Part 5

We enjoyed breakfast and a gorgeous sunrise at the Geologists Cabin and then mounted up to ascend Mengel Pass.







Mengle Pass was a no-kidding 4wd trail! We were all in 4 low and I had my locker on for the first time in over a year! But after a short but strenuous climb, we ascended to the top of the pass to see the stone cairn that was put there in honor of Mr. Mengel:



"Only in a Jeep" my *****! :p

After that, we descended down the West side, and after a couple of false starts, found the turnoff for the infamous Barker Ranch, where the Manson "family" members were arrested after their grisly 1969 murder spree in LA:





Unfortunately, most of the ranch house burned down a couple of years ago but the site is still very much worth seeing:



We took another group photo at the ruins of the Barker Ranch and then headed down into Goler Canyon.



To be continued...
 

Scott B.

SE Expedition Society
I'll jump in real quick to say I made it to Georgia late Saturday - with few "almost" issues with the truck.

Thanks again to everyone - it was a very memorable (in a good way!) expedition!

I'll add my writeup later this week.
 

Martinjmpr

Wiffleball Batter
Trip Report, Part 6

Since lots of folks go to the Barker Ranch, we figured it must be a pretty easy road down into Panamint Valley. Shortly outside the park, we came across the remains of the Keystone Gold Mine, a huge bunch of equipment just left to wither away by the side of the road. This CAT front loader was only a small example of the tons of equipment left behind.



Descending from the Keystone mine, Goler Canyon became the narrowest canyon I've ever driven in! In several places it was barely wide enough for the road plus the creek! The final obstacle was a waterfall we had to drive down that dropped approximately 3 - 4 feet. And it was full of water - it would not have been fun trying to go up that!

After exiting the canyon, we rolled up the dirt road past the huge mining operation (not sure what it was, but some kind of surface mine) into the small semi-ghost town of Ballarat. Ballarat has a small "store" full of odd and eclectic things,



...as well as a nice old WWII half ton Power Wagon sitting across the street:



Since we had dropped significantly in altitude, it was quite warm. We aired up and ate lunch as F18 and T38 jet fighters from China Lake flew all around the desert sky.

From there it was a short jaunt to the pavement where we took the Wildrose Canyon turnoff onto the sketchy, semi-paved (and badly rutted) road heading Northeast. We stopped to stretch at the top of Emigrant pass and observed this oddity wheezing its way slowly up the pass:



For those who don't know it by sight, that's a Citroen 3CV, a little French utility car owned by a collector in California. It had right hand drive (British import) and a horizontally opposed, air cooled 2 cylinder engine of about 600cc displacement (or about 2/3 the size of my motorcycle engine!) The 3CV is a variant of the more well known 2CV or "Deaux Cheveaux", sometimes called the "Duck." (Note: Wikipedia is telling me that the vehicle may have been a 2CV "Fourgonnette" or delivery van, but the license plate said 3CV and the driver also described it as a 3CV.)

The owner/driver, an expatriate Brit, opened the hood to show us the tiny engine. That's it, stuffed into the front end of the engine compartment!



We then headed down, down, down, from the 5400' heights of Emigrant Pass, all the way to Stovepipe Wells at sea level, and refilled with ice. From there, we decided to head down to Furnace Creek to do some souvenier shopping and to enjoy a nice restaurant-served meal. We enjoyed the warm, breezy climate at Furnace Creek and a well cooked (if somewhat tourist-priced) meal. There were a lot of people enjoying the ambience of the resort, and being dirty, unshaven and unshowered since the previous Tuesday, I felt a little out of place!

Since it was dark by the time we left Furnace Creek, we decided to just go back to our campsite from a couple of nights before, off of Trail Canyon. We found the spot and crashed, exhausted from the days highs and lows (literally!)

Next morning we woke to a spectacular (if subdued) sunrise:







Scott cooked a magnificent breakfast of scrambled eggs, Chorizo (spicy mexican sausage) and potatoes and I bid a fond farewell to the group. I drove all the way down West Side road to its junction with the paved highway, and aired up for the last time as I shot my last photos (and got my last look) at Death Valley.



To Be Continued...
 

Pedro

Capitan rally fluffer
Descending from the Keystone mine, Goler Canyon became the narrowest canyon I've ever driven in! In several places it was barely wide enough for the road plus the creek! The final obstacle was a waterfall we had to drive down that dropped approximately 3 - 4 feet. And it was full of water - it would not have been fun trying to go up that!
Do you have pictures of this? :Wow1:
 

dbreid

Adventurer
Hey! I saw you guys in the parking lot of the gas station at Stovepipe Wells on Saturday. I was driving a Black Suburban (37's etc) and came over to make sure you guys didn't need anything. You were wrenching on the white Ranger (Coil spring needed reseating?) and had it all under control. Right after I talked with you, we headed north, camped, and did the RaceTrack and Titus canyon the next morning.

Nice to see people on the road!
 

Scott B.

SE Expedition Society
Hey! I saw you guys in the parking lot of the gas station at Stovepipe Wells on Saturday. I was driving a Black Suburban (37's etc) and came over to make sure you guys didn't need anything. You were wrenching on the white Ranger (Coil spring needed reseating?) and had it all under control. Right after I talked with you, we headed north, camped, and did the RaceTrack and Titus canyon the next morning.

Nice to see people on the road!
Thanks for the offer of help (although I didn't hear about it until I was finished with the spring.) It was an easy fix - more of a hassle to unload the truck to get to my tools than actually rotate the spring.
 

Recommended books for Overlanding

Martinjmpr

Wiffleball Batter
Do you have pictures of this? :Wow1:
I was pretty much white-knuckled on the steering wheel so I wasn't taking pictures. ;)

If you google "Goler Canyon" and look at the images you can see some of the narrow passages, though.
 
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