Death Valley, CA - March 25-28, 2006
If you've never experienced Death Valley, this is one place that is a must for all adventure seekers. Although it is known for it's lowest point (300 feet below sea level), it does have a vast variety of scenery not found anywhere else in the world. You can venture down the badlands or even attempt to hit one of their highest peak at over 11,000 feet!
Since this was my second time back to Death Valley, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to check out. You can literally visit Death Valley many times and not see the same thing twice. This is what makes this location great as you can go back so many times and just enjoy what nature has to offer.
My trip began from Los Angeles fighting the Friday evening traffic on the 15 North. As miserable as it may sound, having a great company along side on a rough drive like this can make it a more memorable experience. Between chatting and listening to the local truckers talk nonsense made for some good times. Once on the 395 North the drive was smooth sailing aside from the long drive. After the grueling 4 hour drive, we promptly arrived at Panamint Springs Resort RV Camp Site at around 12:45am. Most of the fellow members had gone to sleep aside a few others that had just returned from their night run.
Bright and early on Saturday morning, Bob, Patty, Glenn and Daniela were generous enough to make us a great breakfast burrito which was awesome! Soon after everyone was ready to depart, we gathered around and did a quick head count to confirm who actually made the trip and who did not. After a quick introduction and going over the basic offroading rules, we headed out to the racetrack. We headed West on 190 for 12.7 miles until we hit Saline Valley Road. Once on Saline Valley Road, we continued North for 8.2 miles towards Hunter Mountain.
At the Y junction of Saline Valley Road and San Lucas Canyon, the group decided to air down as the roads were getting very rough. The image at the top shows everyone posing after the quick air down. The image to the right shows one of the cows checking us out as we were airing down.
One would think that there would be no livestock out in the desert but I'll be damn I'm wrong! Right after this, we continued on Saline Valley Road for another 7.3 miles until we reached South Pass (elevation 5997 feet). We made a left turn onto Saline Valley Road through Grapevine Canyon for another 10.3 miles until we reached Lippincott Grade.
Lippincott Grade turned out to be a more challenging trail than we anticipated. Apparently the recent rain made the trail more rutted and therefore the trail became a 4wd only trail. Luckily everyone was 4wd ready so this was no biggie but we did anticipate a few 2wd members though. 7.0 miles of off-camber uneven trail with steep ledges definitely did add a pucker factor for those novice drivers as well as some of the passengers. With a steady hand and foot everyone successfully made it through the trail without any damages. After we cleared the Lippincott Grade, we made a left onto Racetrack Valley and headed towards the racetrack.
The image above was our first destination - The Racetrack. Rumors say that these heavy rocks (some which can weight a few hundred pouds) glide across the valley during heavy rainstorm by the sheer forces of the winds but nobody has witnessed this event. Apparently the valley floor gets very slick when water is introduced causing the rocks to become very mobile with the help of the winds. It's very interesting and it does sound logical but until I see this with my own two eyes, I'm not going to believe it!
After relaxing here for approximately 1.5 hrs (which included a nice lunch break), we headed out North toward Teakettle Junction (approximately 9 miles north of the racetrack). Sadly I did not take any photos of the Teakettle Junction but was definitely a sad sight to see. Apparently looters has taken many of the teakettle that it does not look at amazing as I saw it the first time around. Hopefully visitors in the future will contribute to this landmark and make it a worth while destination for others. At this junction we made a right heading Southeast on Hidden Valley towards Hunter Mountain. Because of the recent rain, we experienced a lot of mud and snow!!
Videos of everyone going through the mud!
After mudding in Hunter Mountain we looped back to South Pass (23 miles from Teakettle Junction) and then headed back to camp at PSR. The total mileage for this expedition was approximately 107 miles.
We ended the evening with a group dinner which was a potluck. Everyone brought a little of something which ended up being a lot of everything. We had some shrimp cocktails, steak, grilled chicken, fried chicken, various salads, rice, mash potatoes, meat loaf patties. You name it, we had it. Not only this we had a full array of deserts as well some of which I never got to even touch as we definitely out did outselves. It was a blast relaxing by the fire eating dinner with everyone while we all enjoyed eachother's company. After a full meal, I quickly exited myself and took a quick shower and headed to sleep in my 4runner. We packed up in the morning on Sunday as we were heading out and not returning to PSR. As we had half of the group heading home, we decided to do a quick half day run to Darwin Falls which was a few miles West of PSR off the 190 and a quick 2.4 mile dirt road south to Darwin Falls. The BLM closed the last mile of road to Darwin Falls to help protect the wildlife, which depend on this rare desert stream so we hiked the last mile from the small parking area. At the end of the trail was the fall as shown in the photo to the right which proved to be an awesome end for those heading back home. Some of us actually climbed up the side of the mountain above to go around the falls to get a better perspective of the valley below. It was defintely something that you do not normally see in Death Valley. After a few photo ops of the group scattered around the falls and even on the ledges, we headed back to say our good byes.
Those that were able to continue on with the rest of the Death Valley expedition headed towards Ballarat. From Darwin Falls, we headed East on 190 for 3.6 miles and then South on Panamint Valley Road for 23 miles. At this point we headed East to Ballarat on a dirt road. Our ultimate goal for Sunday was to explore Goler Canyon and find a quiet location to back country camp for the evening. As we did not have a definitive itinerary set for the back country camping, this gave us the ability to be very flexible and to be adventurous. From Ballart we headed south on Indian Ranch Road for 16.4 miles until we hit the Goler Canyon trail. This dry wash was definitely a speed trail. Speeds easily exceeded 50 mph although I never really looked at how fast I was going.
It was unclear which mine this was but it was definitely a big mine in comparison to the two vehicles above it. This mine was located a few miles into Goler Wash and actually had an inground pool! Also at the site were two campers along with a cabin. Mark was able to locate an outhouse that even had a roll of toilet paper to the side. The mine did not look to be accessible as debris from the cave in pretty much covered the entire opening. Only the framing was the only thing left standing up. Here's a quick shot of my 4runner just below the mine as I am heading back to on the Goler Wash trail. This is my feable attempt to flex my front and rear as best as possible in Death Valley.
Who said you couldn't flex an IFS setup! Flex baby flex! Surprisingly all four tires were still on the ground with full traction still available. Apparently there's a bit more room for droop but considering the terrain I must say this was pretty good for Death Valley. Moving along, we made a quick detour to visit Baker's Ranch which was infamously known for Charles Manson's hideout prior to his capture at the ranch. As scary is it can be, I must say it was pretty interesting to check out this place. Although this was not in our itinerary, my misdirection in leading the group gave us the wonderful opportunity to see this landmark. The photo shows the ranch from the back as well as where we found 2 chairs bolted to the ground which gave a magnificent view of the valley floor. Apparently this is where Charles Manson relaxed while all of his followers were busy doing his dirty work.
Along the way, John experienced a flat on his stock tires. We're not sure when it happened but it must have happened during several of the rocky gardens. After a quick fix with the help of several guys, we were able to get John back up and running in no time. As we continued east through Goler Wash towards Mengel Pass, we encountered a mini rock garden as shown. Here is John in his 2005 Toyota 4runner showing off what a stock 4runner can do. The only modification done to this rig was a pair of Hanna Quality sliders. It's simply amazing what these stock 4runners are able to handle. After successfully navigating 4.5 miles of Goler Wash and 5.6 miles of Mengal Pass, we arrived at our destination for the evening, Geologist's Cabin.
Surprisingly the cabin was well maintained so we all decided to cook dinner and make some smores using the built in fireplace. The cabin was a very cozy little place as it barely had enough room for all of us to fit. The concrete walls helped to insulate the cabin and keep everyone warn as we all shared stories while we all ate and relaxed after a long day out on the trails. I must say that between the two dinner gatherings, this one was definitely the best that we've all experienced as the cabin definitely brought the group closer together due to the nature of the size. Some of the children as well as the fellow members were having a blast using the fireplace to make some smores courtesy of Scott and Molly (thanks!). Surprisingly my better half decided to eat charbroiled smores as she did not want to make a new evenly cooked marshmellow like the one I made!
The evening was quiet for the most part execpt for a few surprises. Apparently wild boars or some sort of creatures were lurking near the campsite as Ken and Audrey told us that they had some animals rub up on their tents during the night. I personally heard the crying of the boars(?) while walking around my 4runner in the evening. Luckily nobody got hurt but it did surprise a few of us that did not expect this at all in the desert. Of all of the locations possible, this located proved to be the best back country camping spot ever!
Total mileage for this expedition was 58.1 miles.
A quick shot of the "Geologist's Cabin" as we head out towards Furnace Creek, our final destination for the trip. From the cabin we headed east through the Butte Valley for 6.9 miles and then due east on Warm Spring Canyon for 15.9 miles. There were a few rocky terrain but for the most part the trail was prerunner friendly. After flying through half way down Warm Springs Canyon, we came across Warm Springs Mine. The photo to the right shows one of the closed mine entrance. By the size of it, it looks as though a full sized bulldozer is capable of fitting into that opening. Not too far from the this mine is a base camp with several buildings. Many of the buildings actually had air conditioning or some sort of central air (heat and/or cold perhaps?). It also had running water and electricity both of which were not functioning anymore. Apparently this was a pretty sophisticated camp ground as it accomodations were very modern. We came across many wasp nests or some sort of inset nests in some of the building interior walls so be very careful when entering some of the rooms. Apparently it looks as though the camp ground is still fully functional and people do come here to camp out and use the camp grounds as shelter. The entire compound is well maintained.
Upon hiking into the hills following the water run off, we came across a warm spring as shown in the image to the left. At first we expected the water to be cold but upon further inspection, it was pretty warm! It had a hint of sulfur so that should prove that these are most definitely hot springs that come from the ground.
Back at the base camp site, there was a small cave entrance that one of the members were able to find. After careful inspectiong of the entrance, I decided to go in and find out if it led to anything. The cave had a rather small opening but once inside, it opened up to the point that you can literally stand upright and still have atleast another 5-10 feet above of dead air. The cave was approximately 25 feet in. Although it was small we were able to find plenty of rat feces as well as a bat sleeping on the ceiling.
After a quick break at Warm Springs Mine, we continued East towards West Side Road. Here's a quick shot of Ryan smoking down Warm Springs Canyon. These trails were very dusty as expected in Death Valley and also fun to drive fast. The soft dirt gave us the ability to power slide through some of the turns just like those professionals and maintain the appropriate speed to continue down the trails. As we approached the midday mark, a few other members went their separate ways when we junctioned at West Side Road and Warm Springs Canyon.
For the rest of us, we continued on and headed to Johnson Canyon driving north of West Side Road for 6.4 miles. Our goal was to get to Hungry Bill's Ranch for lunch with the remaining group prior to calling it a day as well as the end of the trip. Once we arrived at the Johnson Canyon junction, we heade West into the hills toward the ranch for 10.5 miles. The first 9 or so miles was very easy with plenty of loose rocks but the last mile or so ended up becoming a very challenging run. The trail definitely was not travelled much so the water run off was quickly deteriorating what's left of the trails to the ranch. Unfortunately, the last half mile ended up being impassible due to high brush so we called it a day as it was getting dark quickly. We stopped as far as we can venture and had a late lunch with everyone. This trail although not that difficult was a very beautiful trail as there were many water crossings. The drive back to West Side Road was definitely a blast! I finally had the chance to test out my full suspension setup by blasting through the trail back hitting speeds of 70 mph. Since I was leading the group, I was able to see what was ahead of me and fully utilize my suspension configuration to quickly accelerate through the turns and completely the 10 mile trail back to West Side Road in no time.
After getting back on West Side Road, we continued North towards Furnace Creek and passed by the lowest point in Death Valley along the way. This is what the lowest point in the United States looks like. From the picture, the ground was very hard and salty. The ground was so uneven and it proved to be a challege to walk along the rocky floor. After a quick photo shot, we continued North on West Side Road until it hit the mainroad back to Furnace Creek. On our final night in Death Valley, we stayed at the Furnace Creek Ranch as we wanted to freshen up and be clean prior to heading home. Having one night of living back in civilization is definitely relaxing for the body as it is a vacation after all. For dinner, we all gathered at the local steakhouse located next to the ranch and had a quiet evening afterwards.
Total mileage for this expedition was 72.6 miles.