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Death Valley in December

Melbourne, Australia
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41 posts
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Death Valley in December

We are a family of 4 from Australia travelling to the US in December of this year. As part of a month long holiday we are planning on driving from Las Vegas, through Death Valley to Mammoth Lakes over two days and hence an overnight stay somewhere in Death Valley.

I would appreciate any advice on where to stay, sites to see and best route based on:

1. Hire car will not be 4WD

2. We are happy to get out and do walks

3. Can leave LV as early as needed on the first day but would like to be on the mountain at Mammoth by night fall of the seond day

4. Accom doesn't need to be fancy but expect clean and happy if it is an interesting place to stay - not just touristy.

5. The kids are aged 16 and 13yrs and we are all reasonably fit.

Thank you! Lisa

San Francisco
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for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
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1. Re: Death Valley in December

Death Valley is very pleasant in December. Generally, the temperatures are moderate at lower elevations with some snow in the mountains, a beautiful contrast. It can rain, sometimes heavily, to the point that roads are washed out and canyons flooded.

I'll come back later with a more complete reply because I don't have a lot of time at the moment. Since your trip is in December, you have a little time to plan ahead. We'll talk about the lodging options so you can do your research and decide soon; winter is a popular visitor season so you'll want to reserve while there is a good selection.

Back soon. And other DV enthusiasts will come and share too.

Melbourne, Australia
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41 posts
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2. Re: Death Valley in December

Thank you so much! I really appreciate you taking the time to help. It is a long way off yet, but I have found already that accommodation in various places is filling up.

I look forward to hear from you again when you have the time.

Warmest regards Lisa

San Francisco
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for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
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3. Re: Death Valley in December

Hello again!

From Las Vegas to Death Valley is a couple of hours. Other good news is that Mammoth is about four hours from Furnace Creek in DV, so you can spend some of the morning seeing places in Death Valley and taking your time to Mammoth; see my post on Leicestershire’s thread titled “I think I have boobed” for some comments about the route.

The most direct way in, and the one I’d suggest for people with only a day or two for the park, is to Pahrump, then Stateline Road to Death Valley Junction and CA Hwy 190 into the park. It’s possible to go from Pahrump to Shoshone on NV Hwy 372, and then CA Hwy 178 into Death Valley via Badwater. This is a beautiful scenic route, but it will take you longer. The major natural wonders along Badwater Road are in the northern 25 km, so if you go through Shoshone, most of the southern portion of this road will be about long-range panoramas rather than specific natural marvels. Also, this will put you far out of the way to go to Dante’s View, one of the great must-see places of Death Valley. On 190 from DV Junction, it is right on the way, then 190 takes you to the north Badwater Junction and closer to Devil’s Golf Course, Badwater, Natural Bridge, Artist’s Drive, and Golden Canyon.

In December, you’ll have fewer daylight hours, so it’s good to get an early start. Death Valley Junction is a ghost town, a former borax mining settlement. Today, the only services are the Amargosa Hotel and Opera House and a café. So if you want groceries, stop at Pahrump. If you fill your tank there, you’ll have to buy less in Death Valley where gas is very expensive.

You have a couple of choices of lodgings in the park, and we do suggest staying in the park for the most authentic Death Valley experience. You’ll be out in nature and be able to see the vistas all around, enjoy sunrise and/or sunset from a variety of magnificent settings, take nature strolls or rides, and maybe have a roadrunner or coyote greet you in the morning. Furnace Creek has two facilities. FC Inn is more upscale, a historic Spanish villa with hand-cut stonework, beautiful terraced gardens, and elegant pool, and a fine dining room with unique specialties and a mild dress code. The Ranch is a more mainstream, family-oriented place with more services: a variety of room styles, a big pool, golf course (lowest in the world), a general store, several restaurants, post office, and a small museum. In winter, there are guided horse tours. Furnace Creek is close to many of the major sights, including Zabriskie Point, Golden Canyon and other places along Badwater Road, the park visitor center, Harmony Borax Works, and Salt Creek.

The other resorts are Stovepipe Wells Village, a half hour northwest of Furnace Creek, and Panamint Springs, a half hour west of Stovepipe. SPW is my own favorite; it’s smaller and more rustic than Furnace Creek and it feels more to me like "being in Death Valley." Panamint Springs is still more rustic, and it’s on the west edge of the park so it might be farther than you want to go. If you stay there, you’d need to see all of the major sights in the park on your first day, or else backtrack on the second day, which I don’t think would be an efficient use of your time.

You won’t need 4wd to see the sights I’ve mentioned if the weather has been mild. They are all on paved roads or graded gravel side roads that are maintained regularly. HOWEVER, a couple of big CAVEATS: December is winter in California. Death Valley has snow at higher elevations and often heavy rain elsewhere, and this may cause some roads to be closed or require chains. JimG is one of our TAs who experienced Death Valley when almost no roads to natural wonders off the main roads were open, because of snow, ice, or mud. I see it like this pretty often. Hwy 395 from Lone Pine (or more usually Big Pine) northward is subject to winter storms that may bring heavy snow, icy surfaces, and high winds. Mammoth is a renowned ski destination and there will be snow, on the highways around the town and on local streets.

And what plans do you have after Mammoth? You need to know, if this applies to you, you CANNOT enter Yosemite from the east in winter once Tioga Pass closes; this usually happens in early November but can vary. If your plans have you continuing north on 395, the winter storm conditions are possible all the way to Reno and beyond.

I think we’ll probably be talking again, once you digest some of this info and have a chance to think about your time in Death Valley.

Edited: 5:29 pm, April 28, 2012
Melbourne, Australia
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4. Re: Death Valley in December

WOW! I feel like I have my own personal tour guide. I will, as you say, digest all of your information (whilst looking at a map) over the next few days.

I appreciate the offer for even more help too! Warmest regards , Lisa

Santa Ana, CA
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5. Re: Death Valley in December

It's good to make your reservations 7 or 8 months in advance otherwise you could be staying in a motel an hour away.

I like Stovepipe Wells, too. They have a few different sizes and prices to choose from.

I would add that the sun goes down very early in December. Probably before 5:00 PM.

Melbourne, Australia
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6. Re: Death Valley in December

Many thanks for all of the wonderful advice. I have now booked our night at Stovepipe Wells. We will do as much as possible on the drive to there from LV on the first day. I also am excited about the drive from SPW thru to Mammoth on the second day - it sounds like it will be a very scenic trip!

San Francisco
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for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
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7. Re: Death Valley in December

mistaken post deleted

Edited: 7:49 pm, April 30, 2012
San Francisco
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for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
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8. Re: Death Valley in December

Do you know what kind of room or perhaps even what building they are putting you in? The most quiet area, and the darkest for nighttime stargazing, is the Roadrunner building. It's a quick walk to the central part of the resort, the restaurant, store, etc., but it's at the edge of the property where there is less foot traffic and the lighting is less intense. Stovepipe in general has more subdued lighting than Furnace Creek. The dining room and saloon have an Old West decor with wood interior, mining artifacts, Native American crafts, and wagon wheels, and the passageway between them looks like a mine tunnel.

The Cottonwood and Panamint buildings are the most close-in, so there is more foot traffic. But you can walk across the road to the campground or the path to the airfield and find it quieter and darker.

Since Las Vegas is only 2-3 hours from much of DV, you will have time to see Dante's View, Zabriskie Point, the places along Badwater Road, the Furnace Creek area and visitor center, and maybe Harmony Borax and Salt Creek on the first day. But yes, sunset will be early; if you want to be at a particular place to see it, check at the visitor center for the time and give yourself a time cushion so you can enjoy all of it. The Sand Dunes are magical at sunset and also sunrise. In the morning, there is the additional fun of looking for animal tracks in the dunes.

Mosaic Canyon is a fine hike just west of Stovepipe; it's on a gravel road that's OK for any car driven carefully. This canyon is better in daylight (mid-morning to mid-afternoon), especially in winter, because it is a north-south canyon with sheer walls, so the lighting is best when the sun is higher.The canyon has white polished walls that look like marble, and broken rock floors resembling mosaics. These are the product of water erosion down the canyon, You can see some of the beautiful colors and formations without a strenuous hike..

9. Re: Death Valley in December

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