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Road conditions in March: L.V. - Death Valley - San Diego

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Road conditions in March: L.V. – Death Valley – San Diego

Road conditions in March: Las Vegas – Death Valley – San Diego

We are a couple in our 60’s (well travelled) and plan collecting a hire car in Las Vegas beginning of March and taking the following route.

Las Vegas to Death Valley:-

US-95. NV-373. CA-127. CA-190

Death Valley to Barstow

CA-127. I-15 I-15 (S)

Barstow to Palm Springs

CA-247 Twenty Nine Palms Highway

Palm Springs to San Diego

I-215 (S) I-15 (S)

Also considering Palm Springs to Julian

I-86 CA-78

Would appreciate info. on road conditions at that time of the year and if we are likely to encounter snow. Also any suggestions on preferred alternative routes. Many thanks.

BJ

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11. Re: Road conditions in March: L.V. – Death Valley – San Diego

Hello, Arloanise--

I got your PM, but posting here will let more people add to the conversation.

Hwy 160 goes from Las Vegas to Pahrump. It’s possible to see a little snow or ice around Blue Diamond, a hilly stretch just outside Las Vegas. It should be very little (if any) in March. At Pahrump, you can pick either Hwy 373 (for Shoshone and Death Valley Junction) or Bell Vista Road (local street to Ash Meadows Road and Death Valley Junction). Shoshone is a tiny town but very quaint. It has one motel, one store with gas, and a local museum. In the 1920s, there was a lot of borate mining around Shoshone.

At the lower elevations within Death Valley, it won’t snow; in fact, spring will be well under way by March and one of the delights you might experience is the wildflower crop. It’s impossible to predict what it will be like; it depends on the combination of winter weather, timing of storms and amount of rain, and how soon and how fast the temperatures warm up. Some years, a fabulous crop is expected but the weather heats up too quickly and stunts the bloom. Temperatures of 40°C and higher are common at the lowest elevations by March.

Emigrant Canyon Road is in the mountains, but it tops out just over 5,000’ above sea level. There won’t be snow on the road that late. It can get a good amount in December or January; I’ve been on it when there was enough accumulated snow to require 4wd and to narrow the roadway to one-lane width. This is a pretty area with lots of greenery, and you can see the tree-line on the west side of the Panamint range. There is a small pullout on the right side past the summit where you can park and see the trees and look down onto part of the final stretch of the road toward Wildrose. It’s steep and twisty but perfectly safe; stay in lower gears and don’t wear out your brakes and you’ll be fine (this advice is needed more by Americans, most of whom grow up with automatic transmission). This route is one I often suggest because it’s so different from the “classic” Mojave Desert landscapes at the lower elevations. It will give you an idea of the widely contrasting ecosystems in a relatively small geographical area.

This road has a section about a mile long that is graded gravel (unpaved). It won’t stay paved because flashflooding and runoff from Wildrose Spring keep tearing up the surface. The Park Service gave up paving it around 1985. After the twisty section, south of Wildrose Campground junction, you’ll see where the road is washed out and water runs over it. The NPS grades this road regularly and it is OK for any vehicle; take it easy to avoid flat tires. This is the only unpaved surface you will be on unless you drive to some of the natural sights within the park (e.g. Devil’s Golf Course, 20 Mule Team Canyon, Mosaic Canyon—and those roads are also maintained for all vehicles),

At the south park boundary, the road becomes Wildrose-Trona Road. You’ll see a junction for Panamint Valley Road, an alternate to Emigrant Canyon Road that starts farther west near Panamint Springs. This is a good choice if winter conditions are too challenging (won’t be a factor for you), and it is scenic but very similar to the more “desert-y” landscapes within the Valley. Hwy 178 starts in Trona, an interesting town that makes its living mostly from harvesting and refining mineral deposits on the lakebed of Searles Lake. This was an ancient lake like the one that covered DV, and the salt deposits are said to contain about 90% of the chemical elements known to science.

Ridgecrest is about 2 hours from Stovepipe Wells (probably a bit more if you take the scenic mountain route). It’s a big city with all services, so stock up. Your next opportunity will be at a most unattractive spot called Kramer Junction (Hwy 395 at Hwy 58), about as ugly a highway stop as you can imagine. If you have time along the way, here are a couple of stops I’ll mention for you to file away for reference:

1. Ballarat ghost town (marked graded gravel road south of the southern DVNP boundary), a, early 20th century settlement that supported mining in the Panamint range just east. The mines weren’t at Ballarat, but prospectors came to town to get supplies, get mail, get drunk, etc.

2. Trona Pinnacles (marked graded gravel side road south of Trona), once under Searles Lake and now exposed with great tufa formations, which were created from mineral deposits from the lakebed. This is the same principle as the tufa spires at Mono Lake.

3. Randsburg, a great little semi-ghost town in the hills southwest of Ridgecrest (marked paved side road after Trona). It was and is a gold mining settlement, and you can still see historic mining structures and old buildings (many of them still in use) as well as modern mining apparatus. Randsburg and the nearby town of Johannesburg were named for rich South African mining regions.

4. Boron, on Hwy 58 west of Kramer Junction. Like Trona, this is a company town. The firm called BORAX (formerly U.S. Borax, descendant ot the 20 Mule Team brand) have an open-pit mine that produces most of the borates mined in the world, There is a visitor center open to the public (small entrance fee, all donated to local charities), with exhibits on borax, some of the mining equipment, and an overlook into the mine.

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12. Re: Road conditions in March: L.V. – Death Valley – San Diego

P.S. For lodging in Death Valley in March, reservations are essential. Spring is always a popular season, your visit will probably coincide with Easter or spring break for many American schools, and if the wildflower season turns out to be a good one, even more people will want to go.

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13. Re: Road conditions in March: L.V. – Death Valley – San Diego

Thank you so much for all the detailed information - it is very much appreciated.

I have sent away for a more detailed map as some of the places and roads you mention I cannot locate on the California map so will be able to follow your suggestions more easily when the Death Valley map arrives!

Regarding the mile long graded gravel (unpaved) road to which you refer, do you happen to know whether hire cars would be allowed on this stretch or would it be better to upgrade to a Jeep or similar 4 wheel drive?

Many thanks again.

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14. Re: Road conditions in March: L.V. – Death Valley – San Diego

PacificNWFamily

Very much appreciate your helpful suggestions re. maps. I have printed out the ones from the websites and sent away for the more detailed map.

Many thanks.

Edited: 6:41 am, October 02, 2011
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15. Re: Road conditions in March: L.V. – Death Valley – San Diego

This is a main road into the park. It is routinely maintained. I've driven it very often and never found it in bad condition. I would be comfortable in a hired sedan, going a bit slower to protect the tires.

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16. Re: Road conditions in March: L.V. – Death Valley – San Diego

Frisco_Roadrunner your help and advice has been amazing and invaluable.

We have our 'plane tickets booked - greatly looking forward to the trip.

Many thanks for giving your time and sharing your knowledge. We will hire the sedan and take care on any unmade roads!

Edited: 3:41 pm, October 02, 2011
17. Re: Road conditions in March: L.V. – Death Valley – San Diego

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