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Cautions about Death Valley

ppine
Explorer II
Explorer II
I have been going to Death Valley for 30 years in the winter and wandering in the desert which is a very interesting thing to do. I have taken a TT once, but enjoy going in a pickup and remote camping in the true boondocks with no one around. DVNP is the largest Nat Park in the lower 48 and is mostly designated wilderness.

Last week we visited the Saline Valley which is the remote part of the park in my friends new Nissan Frontier pickup. It took 2 1/2 hours to go around 40 miles off the highway from Lone Pine. The roads are rough, the elevation varies from about 2-6,000 feet which can be cold in winter. There was ice on the road. There is no water for 60 miles. Few people, no cell phone.

We had two maps, DeLorme atlas, and Nat Geog DVNP. We headed over Saline Range to the Racetrack. The road looked similar to the road we came in on. The familiar roads had cautions listed. The new Saline road had no cautions. About 7 miles in the wash outs started, large boulders, severe bank in the wrong direction. We backed out until we could find a place to turn around. Might be pasable with a Jeep with lockers and big tires and a winch but not really with regular 4wd pickup.

After talking to Park Service personnel, there are two other roads in the park, Steele Pass is one of them. The NPS is well aware that some of their roads are terrible after the recent wet winters. They need to put some signs up before somebody gets killed. If you wreck your oil pan or diff you are walking out a long way and there is no help out there. I will be talking with the Park Superintendent soon about it. Use caution in the most remote part of a giant desert park with no water.
20 REPLIES 20

ppine
Explorer II
Explorer II
The paved roads are fine. Most of the dirt roads suffered washouts. Bring a shovel, check the latest postings on the Park website.

The West Side Road is still closed. That is the main access road I use to find remote canyons on the east side of the Panamints.

Cell phones are of little use in DV. A sat phone can get you some contact, but finding anyone to come all the way out to Saline Valley is going to be really difficult. You might be able to get Search and Rescue. A wrecker to pull your truck is going to cost around $3,000 or more.

I got hurt once in a mule wreck a long way from help in eastern Oregon. There were no helicopters available. It took all day to get to a hospital. They drove me 100 miles on dirt roads with a busted femur. The fixed wing plane ride cost $15,000 and my insurance would only pay $5k

One final note, Death Valley is a dangerous place. Do not go anywhere near the back roads in the summer heat. I do not even drive through the Park in the summer months. The best time to be there is Nov to about early March.

time2roll
Nomad
Nomad
Anyone been to DVNP this year? Reports are a lot of washouts and closed roads from the rain this winter.
Headed out to see in a couple weeks.

profdant139
Explorer II
Explorer II
Titus is fine in an ordinary truck, most of the time. But the side canyons can deposit sand on the roadway after thunderstorms. And there are some narrow places -- maybe not too narrow for a 101 inch vehicle, but I am not sure I would take a wide rig on that road. We did encounter some mud, but nothing serious.

If you go, allow extra time to explore the Leadville ruins. And there are amazing calcite "mosaics" on the walls of the lower canyon -- we thought they were petroglyphs, but they are just random patterns in the rock:

Click For Full-Size Image.">Calcite
2012 Fun Finder X-139 "Boondock Style" (axle-flipped and extra insulation)
2013 Toyota Tacoma Off-Road (semi-beefy tires and components)
Our trips -- pix and text
About our trailer
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single list."

ppine
Explorer II
Explorer II
A Sat phone is always a good idea, but who is coming to your rescue in Saline Valley? Not many people I know are going out there.

time2roll
Nomad
Nomad

pnichols
Explorer II
Explorer II
older_fossil wrote:
pnichols wrote:
Gary, the road in your Titus Canyon photos looks like it could be handled with a small Class C like you/we have.

Is that the case?


The Titus Canyon road goes through a number of different environments and conditions can and do change. The road is frequently closed if significant rain or snow has fallen (mostly because of Red Pass). I'd really only recommend a high clearance vehicle with good tires. The beginning of the road in Nevada can get fairly washboarded. A camper full of stuff would want to go very slow over that to avoid shaking things too much. Down in the canyon bottom we've seen fairly deep sand. Miller's Towing in Lone Pine has made large $$$$ recovering vehicles in the remote areas in and near Death Valley. We love driving Titus Canyon, but drive it in a Jeep.

UPDATE: While the music gets a bit monotonous, this Youtube video looks to reflect similar conditions to our last trip through Ttius Canyon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLsJ9wDEToc

My $0.02,
Art


Thanks much for the video link!

I just watched parts of it where they were enroute. The road in about the first third of the video looks like it's too narrow for a 101 inch wide Class C of any length ... my passenger (DW) wouldn't tolerate it ... and good luck if we would meet someone coming toward us (or is it a one-way road?). A short and narrow chassis Class C maybe could do this part of the route.

The road in about the second half of the video looks like it would be slowly and carefully doable in a short, 101 in. wide, Class C - but still with maybe an approaching vehicle problem.

IMHO a rig like the off-road Sportsmobile I linked to earlier in this thread would be my dream machine for traveling way out there and then camping there in complete non-minimalist comfort -> which is me in my post-backpack/post-vehicle-camp mode. I definitely don't care for getting out into the Far Side of Beyond in a supplemental vehicle and then having to backtrack, or otherwise leave, the area in order to get back to a comfortable camping vehicle before nightfall.

FWIW, I used to own an all-out V6 jeep CJ that could crawl up hiking trails and was also OK traveling under about 55 MPH ... but presented an intolerant nightmare when trying to drive to outback staging areas using regular roads/highways. 😉
2005 E450 Itasca 24V Class C

garyhaupt
Explorer
Explorer
Phil...the first 5 or so miles are rugged and then there are a couple narrow spots and that deep sand..man, I wouldn't take mine. If you really want to spend a day doing it, rent a Jeep. Be a lot cheaper than paying a damage bill.


Gary
I have a Blog..about stuff, some of which is RV'ing.

http://mrgwh.blogspot.ca/

time2roll
Nomad
Nomad
Titus canyon is an easy drive unless raining or recent rain. Some soft gravel at the end (dry stream bed) and though the narrows. Truck campers seem to make it so a small C should be fine. Allow more time than you expect, go early in the day.

There are rental Jeeps available in the valley.

ppine
Explorer II
Explorer II
Titus Canyon is a good road.

older_fossil
Explorer
Explorer
pnichols wrote:
Gary, the road in your Titus Canyon photos looks like it could be handled with a small Class C like you/we have.

Is that the case?


The Titus Canyon road goes through a number of different environments and conditions can and do change. The road is frequently closed if significant rain or snow has fallen (mostly because of Red Pass). I'd really only recommend a high clearance vehicle with good tires. The beginning of the road in Nevada can get fairly washboarded. A camper full of stuff would want to go very slow over that to avoid shaking things too much. Down in the canyon bottom we've seen fairly deep sand. Miller's Towing in Lone Pine has made large $$$$ recovering vehicles in the remote areas in and near Death Valley. We love driving Titus Canyon, but drive it in a Jeep.

UPDATE: While the music gets a bit monotonous, this Youtube video looks to reflect similar conditions to our last trip through Ttius Canyon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLsJ9wDEToc

My $0.02,
Art
Art & Barbara
2016 Tiffin AB 37AP
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

pnichols
Explorer II
Explorer II
Gary, the road in your Titus Canyon photos looks like it could be handled with a small Class C like you/we have.

Is that the case?
2005 E450 Itasca 24V Class C

ppine
Explorer II
Explorer II
Good post.
It depends a lot on when you are there.
President's Day weekend is the most popular time. I travel on week days and not then. In a day we might see 2 vehicles on the main roads, and none on roads like Lippincott. Do not have a false sense of security. Bringing water is a must if you leave the pavement as in 5 gallons. I would never go out there without food, sleeping bags, etc. Since I was there someone crunched a rental truck and left it there and hiked out.

garyhaupt
Explorer
Explorer
We were fortunate to team up with Off-Highway, a buddy for years, that has the Jeep and skills to make it all look easy. We spent two weeks with Brian this past couple months...into the Saline from the south end...off the Panamint Springs end...to the hot springs. Had lunch a and a dip.

I am going to enter into the fray tho..about traveling the DV roads n trails. You are never..ever, alone. There is as much traffic on those remote trails as any I have ever seen. That doesn't mean a fool should just take off and hope for the best...that won't last long. You need to have a skill set and tools, and some basic parts. A person does need to prepare to be broken and parked for a couple days...meaning food, water and a tent. You don't have to get a sat phone. You don't need to get a caravan. You just have to have the smarts to know your own limitations.

Here are two Blog posts...

Saline Valley
https://mrgwh.blogspot.com/2020/02/saline-valley-oasis-and-hot-springs.html

Titus Canyon
https://mrgwh.blogspot.com/2020/02/titus-canyon-in-death-valley-and.html


Gary Haupt
I so wish I proofed before submitting
I have a Blog..about stuff, some of which is RV'ing.

http://mrgwh.blogspot.ca/

caver
Nomad
Nomad
ppine, you can rent a sat phone from places online. I once rented a Spot tracker from a guy on advrider.com for 3 weeks. It was nice as he gave me a link where friends could follow along online.