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Death Valley Roads - how bad?
  
 
tmiller9
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Death Valley Roads - how bad?


Starting to think of my first visit to Death Valley later this year. Quick question - how are the roads? Specifically looking at the road to the Racetrack? Should I consider renting something more suited - or is my mid-size suv going to survive? Are there roads/areas to avoid (if I do take the suv)? thanks everyone.
Todd



Jul 23, 2014 at 01:59 PM
harshaj1
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Death Valley Roads - how bad?


I have been to racetrack three times, all in a rented 4WD. Road is rough but very driveable. I have seen RVs and regular cars doing the trip but not recommended. If you decided to rent a 4WD to drive to racetrack, read the retal agreement carefully. It may not cover the damage to the vehicle on that road.
Harsha



Jul 23, 2014 at 05:00 PM
gdanmitchell
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Death Valley Roads - how bad?


I've been shooting DEVA for something like 15 years now. I've been to the Racetrack a number of times, and I've visited many other areas of the park, though there are still a few blank spots on my map.

Your mid-sized SUV should probably be fine, though not all SUVs are created equally. I've driven out there in a huge, highly modified, old-school 4WD Suburban, a 4WD Dodge Durango (older model), and two versions of the Subaru Outback. To my way of thinking, if conditions are typical, 4WD/AWD is not really all that critical, but good ground clearance and good tires are — and decent driving skills and knowing your limits are also important.

The main technical challenges include:

- some sections of rather deep gravel, including the first section rising up the broad valley just beyond where the gravel road starts at Ubehebe crater.

- many miles of bone-rattling washboard road

- some areas that can be deeply rutted, creating a high-centering risk if you aren't cautious, especially if you have limited clearance

A bigger issue, I think, may be people who drive outside of their experience zone. There are some who know what they are doing and have vehicles that are more appropriate for surviving such an approach who will drive sections of this road at high speeds, often pointing out that this is one way to flatten out the jarring from the washboard. (An unfortunate side-effect for others is that if they don't slow down when they approach you, the rocks they throw up have the potential to damage your vehicle. Fortunately, most people realize that they should slow down when encountering other vehicles.) Some less-experienced drivers who see this approach seem to think that either it is macho to drive that way or that it is normal, and they may make the mistake of going faster than they should. The problem is that once things go slightly wrong on gravel at high speeds, they can quickly go very, very bad before you realize what has happened.

So, go slow. Plan on perhaps two hours to drive the road each way.

If you are unsure about your own vehicle, you can rent capable jeeps in the Valley.

Are you going out there in the summer? All I'll say is to be prepared for this rather tough environment. The Racetrack is at a higher elevation than Death Valley, so it is less hot... but still quite toasty in the summer. The late fall through early spring is the more ideal time to visit.

If you are going in the summer, the following is probably so important... but if you go at other times, the playa can be very wet and even flooded. Do not walk-on the playa in those conditions, since the damage from footprint tracks, which can extend for as much as a mile, lasts a long time. Also, be aware that the playa is no longer a virgin, undamaged place. Unfortunately, in the past few years the increasing number of visitors has led to increasing damage and vandalism of sorts I will not describe here. (This is one reason I rarely go there any more.)

The best light is typically late in the day and in the early evening. Midday light, especially in the summer, is rarely conducive to photography in this location.

Dan

(If you stay at Stovepipe Lodge, you'll see my photographs in the rooms, and a new Death Valley book features one of my photographs of Mesquite Dunes on the cover with more inside.)








Jul 23, 2014 at 06:06 PM
tmiller9
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Death Valley Roads - how bad?


Harsha - thanks for the input

Dan - I appreciate the lengthy reply. I'm looking at late October/early November for the 1st trek out there. Still gathering info - and was hoping to include your thoughts. Thanks for doing this.



Jul 23, 2014 at 07:38 PM
gdanmitchell
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Death Valley Roads - how bad?


tmiller9 wrote:
Harsha - thanks for the input

Dan - I appreciate the lengthy reply. I'm looking at late October/early November for the 1st trek out there. Still gathering info - and was hoping to include your thoughts. Thanks for doing this.


You are welcome. Later is still better that time of year, since it can still be pretty warm. Plus it starts to be a bit more likely that you'll see clouds from winter weather fronts, and that can be a good thing.

Enjoy!

Dan



Jul 23, 2014 at 08:00 PM
 

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Greg Campbell
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Death Valley Roads - how bad?


Keep in mind that road conditions will vary over time, often to a significant degree. All it takes is one storm to alter a short stretch of road to the point of impassibility in a given vehicle.

In general, the popular back roads are kept in decent shape, passable in most vehicles. No guarantees, but your SUV will probably be work fine. Suggest you bring a small air compressor so you can soften your tires when/if you encounter sand or particularly venomous washboards. Make sure your spare is in good shape, and consider bringing an extra, if one is readily available. I've heard stories of people suffering multiple flat tires on the Racetrack road, but it's hard to say how much of this is down to poor driving and preparation.

Be sure to spend a good chunk of one day in Titus Canyon. The rugged, colorful Red Pass area is lovely in the AM sun.

If you'll be spending a respectable amount of time there, get this superb guide ASAP and read up! http://www.amazon.com/Hiking-Death-Valley-Natural-Wonders/dp/0965917800



Jul 23, 2014 at 08:31 PM
tmiller9
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · Death Valley Roads - how bad?


Greg - thanks. Your thank you card from Amazon should be received shortly.



Jul 23, 2014 at 08:53 PM
Greg Campbell
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · Death Valley Roads - how bad?


tmiller9 wrote:
Greg - thanks. Your thank you card from Amazon should be received shortly.


Who am I, Ken Rockwell?



Jul 26, 2014 at 11:12 AM
tmiller9
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · Death Valley Roads - how bad?


Isn't that how "you support your family"? Ha ha


Jul 26, 2014 at 11:45 AM
gdanmitchell
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · Death Valley Roads - how bad?


Greg Campbell wrote:
Keep in mind that road conditions will vary over time, often to a significant degree. All it takes is one storm to alter a short stretch of road to the point of impassibility in a given vehicle.


That is an important point that I failed to mention. Usually the roads are in fine condition, but when conditions change roads can quickly become impassable for a short time... or even a much longer time. I rediscovered that fact earlier this year (or was it late last year?) when I blithely headed off on my first winter trip of the year. I took my usual route through Ridgecrest, where I stopped for gas and food and the last decent internet, killing a good hour in town before getting on the road again.

I resumed my drive toward Trona and the Panamint Valley... only to find an electronic sign near the edge of Ridgecrest announcing that NO routes into the park were open from that direction.Yikes. I had to do quick recalculation, head back to 395, and come in from the more northerly route. It turned out that flooding had done very significant damage to the road up to Wild Rose Canyon from the west and to the connector up Panamint Valley to the highway over Towne Pass.

It is sometimes hard to figure out the details of road conditions from the Death Valley "morning report" and other materials on the park website. You can call the park ahead of time, and you can certainly visit them in person when you arrive. And if you come through Ridgecrest, the people at the Maturango Museum are usually very knowledgable of conditions in the park and a wider area... and they even seem to know some backstories that you won't find anywhere else.

Many people who aren't familiar with DEVA are surprised to find that one of the primary terrain shaping forces in this desert has been... water. Everywhere you look you see the evidence. So it shouldn't be a surprise when periodic apocalyptic desert storms rearrange that landscape in ways that can interfere with our travel plans.

Dan



Jul 26, 2014 at 02:40 PM





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