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Death Valley and beyond in December

Braidwood, Illinois
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Death Valley and beyond in December

Hi! I'm planning a 2 week trip in late November to early December ... I'll be flying into Las Vegas and meeting a friend with a vehicle, and from Las Vegas we'd like to spend time in Mojave National Preserve (1 day) and DVNP (2 days) before heading to Great Basin NP and on our way to Utah for some more parks and then home to Illinois.

I have a few questions about the early parts of our journey, and I realize some apply more to Utah/Great Basin, but the Great Basin forum is pretty quiet so I thought I'd try here ...

I'm wondering if any of you have any experience driving from Death Valley or Mojave to Great Basin. It looks as if we'd either be driving on 95 to route 6 (if coming from Death Valley) or route 93 (if coming from Mojave). Is there one that is clearly more scenic/enjoyable?

I have noticed that there will be a full moon right around when we will be in Death Valley - is it safe to go hiking/exploring at night? Any particularly good spots for stargazing?

I've spent a bit of time snooping around the DV forum looking for trip itinerary ideas - you guys have certainly spent a lot of time in the park and a lot of time giving great advice - thanks! It's very helpful! But since there's no forum specific to Mojave ... I was thinking of doing hikes at the Kelso sand dunes, Teutonia Peak, and the Rings Loop Trail near Hole-In-The-Wall. Are there any other must-sees?

What is Great Basin like in the winter? We are drawn there because we've heard there's some pretty spectacular stargazing, but I'm wondering if the roads stay open during the winter - is it possible to do the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive in the wintertime?

Thanks in advance for your help!

San Francisco...
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1. Re: Death Valley and beyond in December

The joshua trees in Mojave are impressive so be sure to visit. And i had great fun with the road sign to Zzyx. My wife just loved the still and alien landscape .. very different from any other place, yet beautiful in its own way. Others on this forum can add more.

San Francisco
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for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
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2. Re: Death Valley and beyond in December

I’ve driven from to Great Basin from Death Valley a number of times, but not from Mojave NP. The distance between either CA park to Great Basin is not too different, between 370 and 390 miles. So you can choose to visit either CA park first and not have a big impact on the travel distance.

I am familiar with both Hwy 95 and Hwy 93 in Nevada. If you love nature and like to escape crowds, you’ll enjoy these routes because they are very rural and sparsely populated. But being from an urban area, you need preparations that may seem like overkill, which in rural Nevada are simply good sense. Always have some food and water with you. I never pass up a chance to buy gas even if I did so 100 miles ago, because I don’t know if the next settlement might still have the services I’ve been expecting. This is just what the Nevada countryside is like. In winter, carry tire chains if you don't have a 4wd vehicle.

Personally, I think the Hwy 95-Tonopah route is more interesting. The historic mining towns of Beatty, Goldfield, and Tonopah are on the way. Goldfield is a whole town full of old historic buildings and a mining boomtown ambience. It looks like a ghost town but is a county seat; I believe it has the distinction of being the U.S. county seat with the smallest population. Tonopah is a substantial town, with two good history museums and all visitor services. Warm Springs is the ruins of a former mineral springs resort (now uninhabited) and the northern gateway to Area 51, and Ely has a railroad museum. But there is stuff to see on 93 as well, like the historic RR depot at Caliente, Cathedral Gorge State Park, and a handful of tiny hamlets.

If you prefer less likelihood of snow, Hwy 93 would be better. It’s more of a Mojave Desert habitat and is at lower elevations more of the way. On Hwys 95 and 6, you are largely in the Great Basin desert province at higher elevations, with a chance of encountering snow or iced roadways around Beatty, Tonopah, Ely, and Baker. At least once that I can recall, I needed 4wd from Daylight Pass in Death Valley all the way through Beatty to Tonopah. Main highways are maintained regularly, but road clearing won’t be so frequent in some remote areas. If snow isn’t a problem for you, my own choice would be 95.

Much of Great Basin gets snowed in. Wheeler Peak summit is over 13,000’ and the road could be closed when you get there, but lower sections of the park will be accessible. This is a cold park. Heck, it’s sometimes cold in summer! The “gateway” town of Baker is 5300’ in elevation. Actually, the area around it is pretty good for stargazing because it’s so far from anything urban. There is a motel-casino-gas station complex on Hwy 50 (the Border Inn) a few miles from Baker, right on the state line, that advertises its location for stargazing.

Moonlight hiking in Death Valley is fine, but pack a light regardless of where you go. Death Valley is more than bare sand dunes, and much of the terrain is irregular. An occasional flash of light will alert you to tripping or falling hazards. If you have a light with a red lens cover, it’ll save your night vision (or tie or tape red cellophane over it, fastening it tight so it doesn’t rustle and scare away wildlife that you might have a chance to see). Golden Canyon makes a nice moonlight hike, and it’s close to Furnace Creek. Most of it is wide enough that it will get light for a long time, enabling you to see more. Mosaic Canyon, near Stovepipe Wells, is better for daytime hiking because it’s narrow and has sheer walls, so it won’t get light for the same extended lengths of time. More open landscapes, where you can see better, include the Sand Dunes and Badwater. The terrain there is smoother and more exposed, so you’d be less leery of tripping or stepping into a hole.

For stargazing, Dante’s View is the premier spot on the east side, at 5475’ above sea level. You’ll look down on Badwater, and around at the mountain ranges on all sides. You will see a dull glow to the SW, which is not the Aurora Australis playing tricks on you but the lights of Las Vegas, 85 air miles away. And you thought you were safe! Zabriskie Point is also good for stargazing, although it’s much lower than Dante’s. If you want to go to the west side, you could drive down Emigrant-Wildrose Road (junction on Hwy 190 nine miles west of Stovepipe Wells Village) and stop at any number of places where there are views of the sky. This area has no settlements, only campgrounds and an inactive ranger station, so there will be no artificial lighting. This is up to an hour or more from Furnace Creek, less from Stovepipe Wells. Also, Emigrant Canyon Road can get snow (high point on the road is 5300’).

Remember that if you’ll be there at full moon time, the sky won't be at its darkest for stargazing.

Encinitas...
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for Zion National Park, Joshua Tree National Park
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3. Re: Death Valley and beyond in December

For your trip to the Mojave Preserve, you can get off the Interstate at Cima Road, and Teutonia Peak trail starts off that road. That area has the largest concentration of Joshua Trees in the world.

From there drive down to the park headquarters at the Kelso Depot. Also inside is a museum and the Beanery diner.

Pics:

https:/…DriveThruMojavePreserve

The drive to the sand dunes is not very far from the depot.

You can take Kelbaker Road to Baker and enter DV from that way.

Pics:

https:/…

If you have a 4x4, you can do the section of the historic Mojave Trail, that starts near Laughlin and ends near Barstow, and runs thru the center of the park.

If you take 95 you can stop by Goldfield and Tonopah. Also the back way into Scottys Castle is off 95.Notice how the road deteriorates right at the CA state line.Still paved, just more torn up. Be sure to fill up in Tonopah as its the last gas for miles around.

Between Tonopah and Warm Springs look for wild horses, and at the intersection of the highway to Rachael, get a picture of the Extra Terrestrial Hwy sign.

If you go up 93 you can check out the rail depot in Caliente, which looks alot like Kelso.

Edited: 1:06 am, September 16, 2012
San Francisco
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for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
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4. Re: Death Valley and beyond in December

** "If you take 95 you can stop by Goldfield and Tonopah. Also the back way into Scottys Castle is off 95.Notice how the road deteriorates right at the CA state line" **

The Scotty's Junction-Hwy 267 route has been closed due to storm damage in August and it was reported that it would be closed indefinitely. According to the Park website, this is still true and there is no access between the Castle and Hwy 95 on the Nevada side.

It may be confusing that the Nevada state highway hotline says Hwy 267 is open to the CA state line. To clarify: Hwy 267 is only in Nevada and goes to the DV park boundary and CA state line, which are the same. There, it becomes a park road called North Highway. The damage is on the CA side within the park. You can take Hwy 267 from U.S. 95 as far as the park/state line, or North Highway in the park as far as the Castle. I hope NDOT has signs at the 95/267 junction warning that the road is closed at the DV park boundary. Anyone wanting to enter DV from 95 will have to continue south to Beatty.

For updates as you get closer to trip time, check the Morning Report on the park website

http://www.nps.gov/deva/index.htm

Encinitas...
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for Zion National Park, Joshua Tree National Park
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5. Re: Death Valley and beyond in December

Thanks for the update Frisco.I did that route in January and it was an interesting drive.

6. Re: Death Valley and beyond in December

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