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1.5 days in Death Valley - advice request (Frisco?)

BC
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1.5 days in Death Valley - advice request (Frisco?)

Hi:

My girlfriend and I will be driving from Vancouver BC to St George Utah in mid January, and want to see a bit of Death Valley on route. I say "a bit" because we'll arrive late in the evening on the 17th and stay until the noon on the 19th. One full day and one half day.

We'll be staying in either Stovepipe or Furnace Creek. I stayed at the Ranch about a decade ago and would do so again, but the latest reviews have not been kind. Definitely can't afford the Inn, so Stovepipe it might be.

I'm an avid photographer and my girlfriend is an artist. And we're both hikers. We're looking for some advice as to what to see and when to see it (when the sun is best positioned in the sky) during our modest time in the Park. Not interested in Scotty's Castle or anything northerly because we just don't have enough time. We'd much prefer spending a couple hours in a few spots than spending five minutes in a ton of spots.

Also looking for any advice I can find on our route there. I know snow is a problem at certain elevations, so the only way I can see is to drive down I5 to Bakersfield, and to come back up to DV from the south. Wondering if it should be safe to come back up via 395 or if it would be smarter to go all the way over to 127. Any thoughts?

If anyone can help (Frisco, you definitely know your stuff!), I'd be ridiculously grateful. Thanks very much in advance to anyone who replies.

Tucson, Arizona
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for Dusseldorf
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1. Re: 1.5 days in Death Valley - advice request (Frisco?)

First, I would not be at all worried about staying at the Ranch. We just stayed there last week, and while it has its problems, in our opinion it is better than Stovepipe. However, either one will be OK, as long as you realize the walls are a bit thin in both places. We think the food is much better at the Ranch, while Frisco may say Stovepipe. Matter of opinion. You will not starve at either place, nor will you encounter gourmet dining.

What to see? My recommendations would be start at Dante's View. To get a better feel for the valley, from Dante's View you will find a trail to your right while facing the valley. Go down this trail a bit...it is a ridge trail and gives great vistas and gives you an introduction to the topography. Next I would definitely stop at Zabriskie Point and take a little bit of a walk into Golden Canyon. I would not do the entire canyon, maybe spend half an hour at most back and forth. Then back to the car and head toward Badwater. You are now close to the lowest spot in North America and can experience the Salt Flat. Next, it is a question of what you like to do. I would really recommend that you drive to Mosaic Canyon which is very close to Stovepipe Wells. Get out of your car and walk for an hour or two. It will really give you a feeling for what Death Valley is about. Last, if time permits, walk over to the dunes near Stovepipe and explore.

No matter what, carry extra water in your car, always carry water with you, and realize cell phones do NOT work in the park. A good hat, a warm jacket, sunscreen are all prerequisites. Although the places I recommend are all easily accessible, people have a way of sometimes getting lost just a half mile from the car. Know where you are and how to get back. With the exception of Golden Canyon, you will not find a lot of signs nor a lot of people.

Other places you could consider are Artist's Drive, Salt Creek, 20 mule team canyon drive, but let us know more of what you like to do and I am sure we can give better recommendations.

ZB

BC
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2. Re: 1.5 days in Death Valley - advice request (Frisco?)

Thanks so much Zabriskibound. Some good stuff in there for sure.

I really wanted to see the pupfish again (I did so ten years ago and got some nice close-up pics of them), but I hear they're more endangered than ever (so sad!) and may now be innaccessible to the public.

My girlfriend wants to see the sand dunes. We're both interested in getting out of the car and walking/hiking to really get a feel for the environment and taking pics from unusual spots rather than zipping about in the car and staying five minutes in each location. Also, we will have our bicycles with us and would definitely be interested in biking a bit. And as I mentioned earlier, we're ruling out anything to the north because we don't have the time to do it justice.

Here are some of the spots we'd like to see: Aguereberry Point (on bikes?),

Dante's View, Badwater, Zabriskie Point ( at sunrise or sunset?), Artist's Drive, Devils Golf Course, Salt Creek (Pupfish), sand dunes (morning or evening?), and Mosaic Canyon. We're just trying to find out from someone really in the know what we do and don't have time to see in our 1.5 days there and perhaps even put together a suggested route so we're not flying back and forth at hyper-speed to fit it all in.

Thanks again to all those who might reply!

Tucson, Arizona
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3. Re: 1.5 days in Death Valley - advice request (Frisco?)

Got it. Here is my suggestion. Drive in from Pahrump on 190. First stop, Dante's View. This will be a left hand turn not too far after you enter the park. It is makred with a sign. Next stop Zabriskie Point. This will mean returning back to 190 and heading direction Furnace Creek. Watch for sign and again is on your left. Both of these are good at either sunrise or sunset, but with your limited time, I would do them first, whenever you arrive in the park. That way you will not do any backtracking. I would leave the bikes on the car for this part.

Continue on 190 from Zabriskie, and take the first pavement to the left toward badwater. Go down to Badwater. See it. Not too much time needed there. Continue on to Artist Drive and again turn left. Still I would not take off the bikes.

On your way to SPWells, stop at Salt Creek to see the pupfish. You can still see them there and there is a very nice boardwalk leading up to them and around the area.

Drive on to Stovepipe Wells and stay the night there. If you have time and daylight, you could take off your bikes and bike over to the dunes (driving on 190 but back toward where you came from). Park the bikes in the new parking lot and head off to explore the dunes. Take water. Always carry water. The dunes look close but are about one half hour walk from the road. Explore there. This will take you some time. Return to Stovepipe Wells or an alternate is to stop at the Dunes before you get to Stovepipe.

Well, next you have a choice. Mosaic Canyon is right next door to SPW but the road up will take at least 15 minutes, and the same back and the walk at least one hour. It is a great canyon and really worth exploring without rushing. We have spent entire days there with no problem, just to give you an idea.

Aguereberry Point is reached easily from SPW, maybe about a half hour drive to the turnoff and then another half hour up the dirt road. The road is not bad, but I do not believe you are really allowed to ride bikes off pavement....but I am uncertain...Frisco will know....we are not bikers. My recollection of the road is you will be much more comfortable in a car going slowly. The view is quite spectacular, but not any better than Dante's view, just the opposite direction. You should stop at Pete's mine along the way, it will only take you a few minutes.

On the way out I would do what Frisco always suggests, and go back a different way, perhaps up the Beatty cut off road, quickly stop and see Rhyolite Ghost town, and then to Beatty and back to Vegas.

Have fun.

ZB

BC
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4. Re: 1.5 days in Death Valley - advice request (Frisco?)

Awesome stuff, man. That all seems to make sense. The only thing is that we'll be arriving late at night, having driven all day from Redding, CA. I'm not sure which route to take into the park because we don't want to encounter snow in the Sierra Nevadas. If this was the spring, we'd cross over the mountains from I5 to 395 at Sacramento and then continue south on 395 to Lone Pine and enter the park that way. But who knows how bad the snow will be (maybe I'm overblowing the snow threat?), so we'll probably drive down to Bakersfiled, then drive back up north into the park via 395 North and through Panamint Springs.

I'll just adjust some of your advice to fit our arrival.

San Francisco
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for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
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5. Re: 1.5 days in Death Valley - advice request (Frisco?)

Sorry to get here late, but ZB has given you some great ideas. I may know my stuff, but I'm not the only one. I have a few comments to add.

It looks like you are going to DV on the way to St. George, so you want to exit the park eastbound. In fact, I just did this, going out 190 to DV Junction, Pahrump, but then detouring to Boulder City to get to Lake Mead. I did not go to Hoover Dam, but wanted to see the area because I had never been anywhere but the north shore. Anywhere along Lake Mead is a scenic alternate route to Utah, which is where I am now. The North Shore Road parallels I-15 and is far more enjoyable than the freeway—but that’s a different thread and a different forum.

The only hitch with coming in from the west is with Zabby's suggestion to see Dante's View first; it is on the eastern edge of the park. It's definitely a good intro to the park, where you are almost 6,000' above the Valley Floor and see Badwater and the surrounding mountain ranges.

Ordinarily, I'd caution folks about 395 in winter. However, being from BC, I doubt you'll be as challenged by the weather as our friends from Alabama or Malaysia. Starting from Redding, you have several opportunities to change your route. One is at Red Bluff, where you can turn off for Chico and Hwy 20, which is usually kept open. The point of no return is Sacramento; the last Sierra pass likely to be open is Hwy 88 through Jackson, and you have to decide at Sacramento. Well, you COULD decide at Stockton, and then make a long detour that you don’t want. So check enroute with the CalTrans road conditions hotline at 1-800-427-7623 for conditions on 395.

If you decide to take I-5 all the way, you'll turn off for Bakersfield and then Mojave, Ridgecrest, and Trona. Then you have a choice of Panamint Valley or Wildrose-Emigrant Road (aka Trona-Wildrose). The Panamint Valley Road gets you closer to Panamint Springs Resort and Darwin if there is anything there that interests you. The WIldrose route is mountainous and green, and it occasionally gets some snow in the winter. I usually recommend it for newcomers because they will see lots of classic Mojave Desert vistas in the park, and the Wildrose landscape is so unexpected for Death Valley. Either Panamint Valley or Wildrose road will put you in a position to see almost all the major sights in the park and have Dante’s View as your grand finale rather than the prelude.

I prefer Stove Pipe Wells because it’s smaller, less busy, and more rustic than the Ranch. The Ranch has more amenities (including horses) and it’s closer to the park visitor center and many of the major sights (Badwater, etc). But it doesn’t have the rustic feeling, and it can be pretty hectic. That reminds me, one of the popular visitor times is the M.L. King Day holiday weekend (Jan, 16-18 in 2010), so call the resorts once your plans are more firm. I like the food better at SPW, but much of that may be a matter of taste. I do have to put in a good word for the grilled calf liver with bacon and onions at the Ranch coffee shop, which I had last week. I like liver, but I seldom see it on menus anymore and the waitress said customers had liked it. It was delicious and a generous portion, with corn and mashed potatoes. The lodging, restaurant, etc. at SPW are a slower-paced, more personalized experience, and the dining room and saloon are in a nice Old West theme with mining artifacts, wagon parts, and Navajo craft items for decoration.

Aguereberry Point is at the end of a road that first goes to Harrisburg and Aguereberry Camp, two sites associated with early 20th century DV prospectors. The road is pretty rough, not extremely high clearance, just rocky and gravelly. You can walk around Aguereberry Camp and see some of the mine and mill remains both near it and in the distance to the south. It’s about 5 miles farther to the view point, and it has been a few years since I was there so I can’t tell you what the road is like today. But it is as high as Dante’s and can get snow, so check road conditions before starting.

Mountain bikes are allowed on any road in the park where motor vehicles are allowed, and on some paved footpaths. They are prohibited on closed roads (ones where motor vehicles have been prohibited, like the old Sand Dunes Road just west of the 190-Castle Road junction), on service roads (these will be marked), on trails designed for walking (e.g. Salt Creek boardwalk or Telescope Peak trail), or anywhere off established roads.

Enough for now, I think. You have a lot of ideas to mull over. Let us know if you think of anything else or have other questions. If you have specific interests in or enroute to St. George (e.g. Valley of Fire, Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon-—North Rim is closed in winter, etc.), let us know that too. Some of us here are pretty familiar with those places, and if you want to go there,it might affect our suggestions for your DV itinerary.

BC
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6. Re: 1.5 days in Death Valley - advice request (Frisco?)

You guys are unreal! Honest...just great stuff. Thanks so much for all the free advice. I'm going to print this out and take it with us.

As for Utah, I'm pretty familiar with the entire Canyonlands area. One of my favorite places on this entire planet. My girlfriend has never seen it, but the weather at Bryce and the North Rim and various other spots is still pretty nasty in winter. So we're going to go to the relatively snow-free St. George area, and check out Valley of Fire, Snow Canyon, and Zion just to give her a taste of the region. Then we'll head down to the warmth of Tuscon or maybe even Yuma (not particularly pretty but definitely warm) and just lay about like beached whales (!) for a week before driving back home.

And Frisco, yes, I'll follow your advice on getting to DV. We'll monitor the weather reports as we make our way down the coast.

Thanks once again to both of you.

San Francisco
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for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
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7. Re: 1.5 days in Death Valley - advice request (Frisco?)

Are you really thinking of laying around YUMA for a week like beached whales? If you have that much time, why not go to San Diego for a couple days, and then you'll be in position to hit I-5 for home.

Tucson, Arizona
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8. Re: 1.5 days in Death Valley - advice request (Frisco?)

Frissy, what is it you don't like about YUMA?

ZB

Tucson, Arizona
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9. Re: 1.5 days in Death Valley - advice request (Frisco?)

Frissy, I forgot to tell you we were just up to Aguereberry Point a few months back and the road was rough but nothing that a normal passenger car could not handle. We had a rented 4 x 4 and had no problems, but aside from some small rocky patches it is a picnic compared to our last ride up Trail Canyon where we gave it up after the road turns suddenly into the wash.

ZB

San Francisco
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10. Re: 1.5 days in Death Valley - advice request (Frisco?)

It isn't a matter of liking or not liking--but if our guests have a week to sit around at the end of their vacation, why spend it all in one place? They can enjoy a couple days there and then be in San Diego in a few hours?