By Dave Boyer

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In  early  2009, Sportsmobile  Forum  member  CellularSteve  E-Mailed  me asking if  I wanted to do a few runs with a couple other members from the group in and around Death Valley. The suggested date would be in late January or February. Although my buddy Don Dunbar (also a Forum member) and myself had never actually met any of these members in person, a group run sounded like something interesting. I’m usually a loner but traveling with a group of similarly equipped SMB’s was something I had planned for some time. Steve” would set up the trip and both Don and I set aside time from the company that we both worked at as fellow employees. Although I didn’t know it, this would be something that would continue for several years to come.

SMB Death Valley Run 2009.

Please note that this writing was originally posted on the Sportsmobile Forum in the trip report section of the site and can be viewed there provided you are a member of the group. As a side note, there is no cost to join the Forum but any donation is appreciated and will give you full access to the all sections of the Forum. Some changes have been made to the post below but the majority of it is a duplicate of the Forum posting.

Nor-Cal to Red Rock Canyon State Park:

In early January CellularSteve set up a date to join him and a couple other fellow SMB owners to meet at Death Valley during late February and do some off roading in the park. Mengel Pass via Goler Wash was high on the list but anywhere around Death Valley was OK with me. The plan was to meet up at Ballarat and go from there. I contacted a friend who off roads with me frequently (Don) and we loaded up for the trip. Don and I have covered quite a bit of DV during the past few years but Mengel had eluded us during our past travels.

Being DV is a good 8 hour trip from Nor-Cal, we left out 1 day before the rest of the group.

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Red Rock State Park has always been a reasonable spot to layover at and helps to break up the long drive.

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We arrived about 4:30 PM and the wind was howling. No fire for us that night so we had a little nip inside the van.

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In the morning we had a little espresso, then loaded up and headed out.

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This was the greenest I have ever seen it here at Red Rock. I’ve always thought the rock formations were some of the best around.

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On the way out of the campground we hit a small trail called Iron Mountain that was kind of nice and well worth the drive.

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It starts off at the vista point (pictured above) across the highway from the entrance to the campground. This area is similar to the background at the campground and very scenic. Being the drive short, the trail should not be missed if you’re in the neighborhood.

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The trail is easy and probably doable with 2WD but there are a few spots that are slightly steep and sandy.

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It starts off crossing a wash then follows it for a ways, passing short bluffs here and there.

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The trail has a spur (Nightmare Canyon) that leads closer to one of the cliff area. This region is closed off at certain times of the year due to disturbing birds of prey that roost in this zone.

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The trail gets a little rougher toward the end but nothing bad during good weather. The cliffs are very similar to Red Rock SRA.

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As I’ve posted before, many western movies have been made here.

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This was about the steepest spot on the trail.

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It’s sandy but fairly firm. I probably could have done the whole route in 2WD.

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Overall it’s a nice little run whether or not the trail into Nightmare Canyon is closed. We hit the asphalt and headed toward our Death Valley rendezvous.

Off to Ballarat:

We were off to meet the group at Ballarat where we had planned to meet up. After we left out of the Red Rock area we passed the road to the Burro Schmidt Tunnel. http://www.burroschmidttunnel.org/

Steve had made the comment prior to the trip of the group going there to take a look. As we passed on by the entrance road we had no idea that Steve was actually there checking it out. Too bad; I have wanted to see it for some time now.

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When we arrived at Ballarat no one was around. I shot a couple of pictures of the store and some old buildings that are in the local vicinity.

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I told the storekeeper to tell any other vans who showed up that we were gonna head out to explore and would be back by dark. We checked out the so called campground. It was quite warm, around 70 degrees, and the insects were somewhat annoying. I don’t think it’s a very nice campground and would rather run up one of the local canyons if it was up to me. But this is a good spot to meet at and easy to find. When we returned to Ballarat sure enough we saw a couple vans with roof lights on that made the area look like some kind of top secret military site. I have got to get me some of those lights. Pulling up we met Steve (CellularSteve) and Jeff (Myriadmyriad). It was nice to see some members in person. Steve had a BBQ fired up and Don broke out some of our brews. A few minutes later Craig (Calclimber) drove up in his rig.

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Steve (left), Craig talking with Jeff (right) and Jeff inside his van (rear)

Craig was accompanied by his buddy Dave while Steve’s co-pilot and navigator on the trip was Tom. Jeff came by himself. We had a great time discussing everything about our vans, previous trips, and what we were going to do the next day. That night I gave the group a lesson in snoring, or so they said. Me….Snore? I tried to blame the burros that were making noise all night but that didn’t hold water.

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In the morning while everybody else made a killer breakfast, Don and I had El Mucho Cup O Noodles while talking about what route to take. The spot we camped at looks kind of scenic, but here is really where we camped at:

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(Picture by Craig)

Plans were starting to change. The consensus was that the recent rains might have washed out Mengel and the group decided to hit Cottonwood Canyon instead. I suggested that we take the drive through Wildrose and Emigrant Pass rather than the highway and everyone agreed. On the way out we all stopped before we hit Panamint Valley Rd.

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Steve wanted to reset his new winch rope and we all had to air up.

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With the vans all lined up in a row a jet fighter plane flew over quite low to the vans.

It seemed like the pilot was taking a look at us. We could see his helmet and figured we looked like a good target or maybe he owned a SMB. But now days it could have been a gal and maybe she owned an SMB!

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Several jets flew over us while we were in the Panamint Valley. It’s common to see these “air shows” this close to the China Lake Navel Weapons Center. I tried to snap off a couple of shots but the planes are on you before you know it. After airing up we were off to DV. Jeff suggested we take a look at Mosaic Canyon across from Stovepipe Wells. I don’t think anybody but Jeff had been there, I know I hadn’t seen it.

 

Ballarat to Mosaic Cyn:

The drive toward Wildrose is paved most of the way but at least it’s more scenic than the highway. There is a length limit on the road and the map describes it as “narrow and winding”, neither of which is true. I don’t understand the length limit at all.

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The Emigrant/ Wildrose junction split.

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Driving up the Emigrant Canyon Rd past Wildrose campground takes you to the Charcoal Kilns and a couple of campgrounds called Mahogany Flat and Throndike. The Charcoal Kilns are worth a look but I’ve been there. As far as campgrounds go, Wildrose is usually open year round but Mahogany and Thorndike are closed during winter due to their elevation of about 8100 feet. But we were headed the other direction toward Stovepipe Wells. From the split we still had to drive over Emigrant Pass (5318’) which also passes two other short drives; Augereberry Point and the Skidoo town site.

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We stopped for a quick break at Skidoo but quickly headed toward the valley floor and Mosaic Canyon. Even though Mosaic Canyon is a tourist trap it is a very interesting walk. The road to it is a short spur off 190, west of Stovepipe Wells.

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Jeff said he would stick with the vans while the rest of the group headed up the canyon.

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The canyon is very narrow in spots, even narrower than Marble Canyon which Don and I visited the year before. We only had time to walk up a ways to get a few shots.

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Tom, Craig, and Steve in the foreground. Don, Jeff, and Dave in the background.

After returning to the vehicles we talked a bit, had a beer, aired down, and left out for the store for beer and ice. For Gods sake, bring your own beer. In Death Valley they charge by the bottle for the good stuff. Over 24 bucks for a 12 pack…YIKES! We bought Mojave Red and Gold in Ridgecrest for a quarter of the price. BTW, I have to give a plug to Indian Wells Brewing Company. Fantastic brew! There located off highway 14, N/O the Inyokern junction and are open seven days a week. I’ve never been there but it would be a definite SMB group visit.

NOTE: Stovepipe Wells does not have diesel. If you need diesel fuel and you’re entering the park from the 395 area, get it at Panamint Springs on 190. Panamint Springs is about 18 miles south west of the 190/Emigrant Canyon intersection. From Stovepipe Wells, Furnace Creek is the closest place to purchase diesel but it’s about 25 miles away. This may change over the years.

 

The drive to Cottonwood Cyn:

From Stovepipe we drove toward Cottonwood Canyon. Steve gave Jeff a hand held CB to communicate with that came in very handy being he was in the lead.

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The sand can be dense after high winds but it was OK this year. The trail is fairly smooth in most spots, so the word on the radio from the rear rig was “come on Jeff, speed it up”. Steve and Craig like to haul ass!

Eight miles in, the road switches to a Jeep trail. From here the road is rocky but most 2WD vehicles with reasonable clearance can do it. I never had to use 4WD for the first section of the route but the rangers claim switching into four wheel drive helps cut down on the washboard.

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A short ways into the Jeep trail the road enters a canyon.

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I followed the 2 tan vans in. Jeff knew right where he wanted to boon dock at.

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I looked in my mirror and saw a mad man on my butt, so I pulled over and let him by. Actually I wanted pictures for the trip report and three vans look more impressive than two.

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This part of the canyon is pretty cool. There are petroglyphs here. Last year I found where an ancient Indian named John tapped out his name and a picture of a burro over 4000 years ago. I always wondered how “John” knew that burro’s would be brought to America after the 1500’s. Too bad people have to screw things up. Nevertheless, there are many real petroglyphs here if you know what to look for.

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This is the spot where Jeff wanted to set up camp. It is a nice spot but I prefer inside Cottonwood Canyon itself. 

A run into Cottonwood Canyon.

As Jeff set up camp, the rest of the group asked about going into Cottonwood for a drive and checking it out. Even though it was getting late I was definitely up for it. My feeling is that someday the park will close Cottonwood to vehicle travel. God I hope not. It’s arguably one of the nicest spots to boon dock in Death Valley and it seems the Feds are always looking to close areas like this.

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Most of the run is flat and a little rocky. The trail splits just outside the canyon where we had planned to camp at. The right spur takes you into Marble Canyon. Marble is a fantastic canyon but is closed off to vehicle travel and must park outside the mouth of the canyon. The hike is an easy 2 mile walk that should not be missed if you are in the area. The left spur leads to Cottonwood Canyon which is a great drive and the one we were after.

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Don and I followed Craig’s EB and Steve’s RB into the canyon. Did I say those guys haul ass? The only way we knew they were there most of the time was when we caught a glimpse of them or when they called back on the radio to see if we were coming. About half way in, the trail runs by a large carved out chunk of the mountainside. It looks kind of like a symphony hall. It’s a cool spot and the guys finally made a stop to take some pictures and check out the cave. We pulled up with Rage Against The Machine blaring on the tunes…just me and Don showing our age.

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Soon we entered the canyon itself. Within the somewhat confining walls there are several fantastic spots to boon dock at. If I had only a few days to just kick back and relax, Cottonwood would be one of the places I’d pick.

The group stopped at what appears to be the end of the line, but actually the road drops into the wash and continues on. This is where four wheel drive might be a good idea. The path becomes sandy, a bit off camber, and runs in and out of the wash which starts to look more like a riverbed. One of the Death Valley rules is “if you find water you can’t camp within a quarter mile of it”. I don’t know if that applies to standing water or flowing water. I had a feeling if we continued on we might of found water. Unfortunately we were out of time and had to return. It was still a great run and I’m sure I’ll be back. On the way out the guys…well, they hauled ass.

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You can see how large the cave is compared to the vans. Heading back Craig and Steve pulled over for us where we grabbed a beverage.

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It was time to rejoin Jeff and get our camp together. This was a fantastic run.

 

A night at Cottonwood and to Zabriskie Point in the morning:

As we drove up on Jeff, everybody was picking a spot to set up. To keep from being banned from the group forever, I parked away slightly further away so everyone else could get some sleep that night.

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Craig had brought fire wood and Jeff insisted I get out the Pit-2-Go. In Death Valley you can have an above ground fire. I go one step further and pack out any charcoal and ashes via the trustworthy army ammo can. Charcoal can last a long time in the desert, so I pack it up and take it with me. The BBQ’s came out once again and we even gave it a go. I saw vegetables, couscous, and BBQ chicken, not to mention the Corona’s. Wow. Now I don’t mind gourmet food but I like to keep it simple most of the time. Steve, Tom, Craig and Dave really put on a show and I wondered where the waiter was who would be pouring the wine. Sure looked good. I told em I like wine once and a while, and always look forward to screwin that top off and takin a big swig myself. All joking aside I actually do like good wine with supper. Don fired up our grill and threw on some chicken. We started in on our supply of beverages and got the fire going. The weather was cool enough for the fire during the entire trip and I was glad I brought the Pit-2-Go along.

Someone commented on the Moon and a very bright star unusually close to it. I told them it wasn’t a star but actually Venus. Don had told everyone I was packing a scope and we both have some background in astronomy. Steve set up a tripod to try and get a camera shot. Maybe Steve can post his picture

The guys asked if I could get out my scope and take a look. If I don’t have a larger scope with me, I carry a small Televue NP-101 which does OK. I had some fun targeting Venus which was in a crescent phase just like the moon. They all swore they saw the moon not Venus until I swung it over to the moon where all they saw were huge craters. This caused the standard verbal “WOW” effect. It was just a trick to give a little perspective to the night sky and what better place to get it than in the dark skies of the desert surrounded by friends. As I was putting stuff away I asked Don about the chicken…CRAP! Burnt to a crisp! OK who needs food; we had beer (liquid bread).

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It was now time to kick back around the fire, relax and enjoy a fine cigar that Don had brought. The night was a kick in the ass and at least the insect life was not as abundant as at Ballarat.

In the morning we watched the chef’s engaged in a real breakfast while we had Mucho-Cup-O-Noodles again. Jeff had his giant coffee pot going, while Don and I went for espresso and Kahlua to wart off the evil spirits. Jeff looked down at all the beer bottles and asked “You guys don’t drink do you”? This was one morning I was glad I had some hair of the dog. Mengel was still the #1 goal for the next day with a pit stop at Zabriskie Point.

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We all left out for the facilities at Stovepipe Wells. This time even I hauled ass. Besides having restrooms, the store also has a spot to dump garbage and we had a bunch of bottles to get rid of. Another nice convenience that Stovepipe has is free air. It’s a slow pump but definitely better than nothing. Everyone picked up some supplies, aired up, and headed off toward Zabriskie. We had to fuel up at Furnace Creek in preparation for Mengel. On the way I got some shots of the sand dunes.

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You can walk out to them if you wish. Before I ever went to Death Valley I thought most of the area would look like this. The word desert just conjures up images of sand dunes I guess.

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Driving up on Furnace Creek we passed the Furnace Cr Campground. This campground (one of three) is about the greenest spot in the lower valley.

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After picking up some supplies and fueling up I got a picture of the palm trees before we headed out toward Zabriskie Point.

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In all the times I’ve been to Zabriskie I had never made the walk to the vista point. Not that I’m lazy; hell older people are even walkin up there. But Zabriskie has always been the place we dumped garbage when coming out of Echo and it is more or less a tourist trap, so we never made the walk. It’s also one of those places that’s best visited when the sun is setting to get nice colorful pictures. Being our group showed up in the mid morning I really wasn’t expecting much. We made the trek (with all the old folks) to the point. We got some pictures but someday I need to be there toward evening with my camera.

Walking back to the van I laughed at the attention our vehicles were getting. Zabriskie like Badwater has tour busses coming in and out most of the day with gobs of people from all over the place. The vans did looked a little out of place. I won’t lie; it’s cool when you get a little attention. As we walked up to the vans, the guys said they had made a change in our destination. They now wanted to do the dry falls in Echo rather than Mengel. Steve’s goal in doing the pass was in jeopardy but he agreed the change. Echo is an easy drive but the falls are something else. Jeff said he had been there but I don’t think the rest of the group had been there. Last years Forum rally explored Echo but they never made it to the dry falls as far as I know. We left Zabriskie and headed toward Echo.

Echo Canyon:

As Craig flew past the entrance I screamed on the CB that he just blew past it. The trailhead is slightly hard to see if coming from Zabriskie. CB’s are really a great tool. He flipped around and we all pulled over to air down at the start of the trail.

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Jeff had to go back to fuel up at Furnace, and as he drove off I realized that when Don and I were at the store we forgot the most important items. BEER AND ICE! Was this even possible? I cranked up the CB to 50 watts and yelled at Jeff to at least bring ice. It’s a good thing I always have a backup. In this case it was Vodka, Rum, and a bottle of Long Island Ice Tea. However, ice was imperative. Both Steve and I transmitted several messages to Jeff; “pick up ice-pick up ice”. As we drove into Echo my palms were sweating. Did Jeff hear us? Craig said he had some extra ice and it eased the ride.

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(Picture from 2006)

We pulled over at the Eye Of The Needle which is the highlight of the trail. This is a great spot and you can walk up to the formation and check it out if you wish. We moved on toward the mine site and I decided to let the speedsters take the lead. As we pulled up to the mine I noticed the chefs were once again were in action. I guess I have to re-evaluate my pantry. Sure; even a PB & Y sandwich that others make looks better than when I make one, but they were making one hell of a great looking lunch. Even though Don and I had just munched down, my eyes were on their creations. We muttered under our breath.

Some of the guys checked out the mine.

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(Picture from 2007)

When Jeff pulled up, all I was worried about was if he heard us on the CB. Nope. We were in for a night of warm drinks. But this was DV; sometimes you got to rough it.

We left out for the dry falls and once again Jeff was in the lead. Steve told Jeff there was a little old lady with a walker passing us. Craig also made a comment that he also was being passed by the little old lady. Jeff’s answer was something to the effect of “you guys are real funny”. We finally made it to the falls a few years later. Na…I’m just joking Jeff.

Here are pictures from last year and although the images really can’t show the level of difficulty they are about class 5 to 7 depending on the rating scale.

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I had to laugh at the look on Craig’s face when we walked up to the first fall. The Badger’s did it but they have an RB. Jeff was willing to give it a go and we all felt he should go first because he has a rear winch and…..because he’s Jeff. Steve said he would go next but Craig wanted me to go after Steve. Hum…I wasn’t too sure. I have ran similar obstacles before and last year we started up these falls by ourselves, only to stop when we figured the tail end would start to drag. Nothing had changed except on this trip we had beau coup help so it seemed like we could make it. But what if a rock kicked out? What if we snapped something or side walled the van? Jeff started up the route and we figured we should utilize our winches to avoid an axle or U-joint failure. Sloooowly we started to talk ourselves out of the climb. It really was locker worthy for sure and I didn’t think Steve or Craig had even had a front locker. The other issue was by the time the last van would have made the grade it would have been dark. It was time to re-direct our plans. Sorry Steve! Somewhat frustrated we returned to the mine area to set up camp. On the way back we only took a few pictures.

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This was the steepest portion of the trail we encountered heading back toward the mine. Although there was an easy way around it we couldn’t resist in taking the steep part.

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(Picture by Tom)

Tears wept as we returned from the dry falls. This picture hit the spot.

We checked out areas around the mine. At the end of the road there is a great place to boon dock at but the wind was bad. Steve asked about the spot that Don and I boon dock at. Our site we frequent can be windy but it is usually calm and that was what we were betting on. It was only 15 minutes away and worth the chance to have a nice camp site for the night. And it was. We all pulled in and set up camp.

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The night started with drinks and I was thankful that Craig still had some ice. We bartered ice for booze but we would have shared anyway so everyone came out a winner. Don and I started off with rum and coke. Jeff made steaks and offered some to the group. Stabbing one off the grill, it hit the ground. Oh-no; 5 minute rule? Steve washed it off with water and made it palatable with his famous Margarita’s that were conjured up that night. Craig and Dave had some good stuff going as well; Asada tacos with Corona beer. We had steaks going ourselves along with veggies to round out the meal. After everyone was stuffed we started up the fire and poured on the wood. This would be the best night by far.

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(Picture by Craig)

Steve had marshmallows to roast. Marshmallows and Margarita’s?

Again Don broke out the fine cigars to add to the night. The campfire stories were tall and everyone had a good time. I un-leashed the Long Island Ice Tea’s minus Coke and lemon. My trick…use Fresca as the citrus flavor. Fresca? Again I was showing my age but it worked. Now what to call the drink? A Drunkin Echo? It’s actually a great drink but you know how everything tastes better when you’re camping. That drink kind of put the lights out for me but not before having an enjoyable night.

 

Echo to Zabriskie:

In the morning we all posed for a group shot before breaking camp. Steve took the picture after we all had breakfast.

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Left to right – Steve, Don, Jeff, me (Dave), and Tom.

Below – Dave, and Craig.

Plans on which way home everyone would take were discussed.

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The trip was ending for most of the gang, but Don and I had a few more days. We still wanted to see Charlie’s place but the group decided to split. Jeff and Craig headed toward home but Steve still had some time to burn and decided to check out Artist Palette on the way out. Since it was another spot I had never seen we tagged along. As we were breaking camp, Steve took off to run the 20 Mule Team Road that I did last year. This is a short one way dirt road and is a nice little drive. Here are some pictures of that area I took last year. (Click on smaller images to enlarge)

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When we called Steve on the CB he was returning from the 20 Mule Team Rd, but there was a different driver.

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Can you say insurance company?

OK we were off to see another 2WD road. Artist Palette is a similar drive to where Steve and Tom had just visited (or should I say Tom and Steve) but it’s a bit longer and has one of the most colorful rock formations in the park. Even though it is another tourist trap, it is well worth a drive by. In fact it might be the best two wheel drive road in the park. It’s another spot that would excel during low light conditions. Even though these snap shots won’t do justice to the drive, it was well worth the time to see the area.

Echo to Artist Palette Drive and on to Furnace Creek:

Well, loosing Jeff, Craig, and Dave had to head out but the trip must go on.

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The Artist Palette Drive starts about 4 miles west of Furnace Creek Inn. Even at the start of the road, the mountains are fairly colorful.

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We found a spot to pull over that led to a hill which overlooked the local area.

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We followed the trail to the top and again I was in competition older tourists. God I got to get in better shape.

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We weren’t sure if this was the highlight of the drive so we got some pictures. Does Tom look exhausted? He doesn’t know it but I had to edit this picture.

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This would be a great run for a 2WD vehicle. The road has narrow canyon like sections in spots to add to drive. THE spot was just up ahead.

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We finally made it to the Artist Palette. It’s easy to see how it got the name. This mountain range is the postcard of Death Valley.

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I’ll bet this place kicks butt during a good sunset. I don’t think they let busses in here, so we never saw the crowds that Badwater basin gathers. In fact, the whole drive had minimal traffic for a tourist trap.

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The road winds its way back toward the main road passing some more canyon like spots. It was a great little drive and would suggest anybody visiting Death Valley with a car to take this drive.

Off to Furnace Creek:

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Steve and Tom stopped at the Furnace Creek Inn which is the premium resort stop in DV. What would other SMB’ers think of this?

At Furnace Creek store we grabbed some supplies. Steve and Tom were off and we told them to have a safe trip home. Being we were heading toward Beatty Nevada and they were exiting via Panamint Valley we kept in radio contact until signal was lost. The last transmission by Steve was when he was headed up Emigrant Canyon and we were just coming into Beatty. Not bad; about 50 miles away from each other.

I needed some fuel and wanted to buy some military canisters from this guy in Beatty we missed last year. We also wanted to hit the store. Don’t go to Beatty to find a store that has any kind of reasonable food supplies. You’re better off at the Furnace Creek store. With the size of the town I’m surprised they don’t have a small supermarket. At least this time we didn’t forget the beer and ice. We were off to the Chloride Cliffs trail and our nights destination; Monarch Canyon.

Off to Monarch Canyon:

Monarch Canyon is another nice small spot that can hold a limited amount of vehicles. The canyon is accessed off the Chloride Cliffs trail. A few miles off the highway the trail splits. The right split will take you on the short spur that shortly dead ends. Here is a link to a site that is more suited to rock climbers but has some good pictures and a great explanation of this area.

http://www.dankat.com/swhikes/monarc.htm

I really liked Monarch Canyon when we explored the area a couple of years back. You can drive to the dead end where a cliff overlooks an area of brush like no other I’ve seen in DV. There is a spring just below this cliff which seems to keep things growing. The end of the road is a fine place to camp but can be windy at times.

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The wind was a little bothersome so we set up a couple barriers. Here are a few pictures of Monarch from past years:

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                                       This vegetation was a strange site.

I wish the group had time to join us on this part of the trip. It seemed strangely silent now that we were by ourselves. Now I don’t mind being by myself or with a friend while off roading, but my smile muscles were recuperating from the last 3 days. This was one trip were it seemed everybody clicked. Still Don and I had a great night in Monarch. The fire was comfortable as we kicked back and watched mice run around the rocks next to us. I wondered if they knew we were going to feed them. As they scurried around I hoped they would stay out of the van. I’ve had an intruder in my van before and I don’t like.

In the morning we decided to leave DV. As we left the canyon, the same Jeep group that we had seen in Echo showed up.

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At Echo we had discussed the rock dry falls that our group had avoided and suggested they could make it provided there rigs had lockers. They didn’t have any problems climbing the dry falls, but they informed us that there was another section of the trail which was more difficult due to a wash out. The word was “highly off camber”. It was good information to know. I’m glad we decided to pass it by on this trip even though the vans might have been able to make it. You never know what’s around the bend and apparently the rangers didn’t know about it either. After the Jeeps passed us we headed for the highway. The previous night we had discussed what route we were going to take on our trip home. The Jawbone area was on the list but eventually we decided to return to Red Rock state Park for the last night. We planned to leave the park via Emigrant Canyon.

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On the way out we finally saw some wild flowers along the roadway. I don’t think it would be a good year for flowers but what do I know. It was a little early for spring time flora anyway.

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Dropping into lower DV we noticed the weather was changing. The wind was blustery and we could see a sand storm off in the distance.

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I did not want to drive through this even though it didn’t look bad. In 2006 we had endured a solid week of extreme high winds. Both of us have had enough of wind storms at Death Valley.

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This time we missed all the blowing sand while heading up and out of the valley floor. At the top of Emigrant Pass I took a picture. It was amazing what the temperature difference was up there. It was flat cold up there.

Dropping down into the Panamint Valley we got strafed again. One of the jets flew so low and fast we didn’t have time to react, but I got the next guy.

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It still wasn’t as close of a fly-by as the day we were coming out of Ballarat, but it’s cool to watch these aircraft no matter how close they are.

In Ridgecrest we stocked up on food, ice, and beer. We finally made it back to Red Rock. Unfortunately it was cold and windy, so the evening party time occurred in the van.

In the morning we got up early, made some espresso, and had our traditional cup-o-noodles. We had three choices on our return trip; head straight home, Jawbone, or Dove Springs. Being the Dove Springs trail was less than a half mile away we went for it.

 Red Rock State Park and home via Dove Spring Canyon Trail:

The Dove Spring Canyon Trail starts at the kiosk as you enter Red Rock State Park Ricardo Campground.

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Where we started out the trail enters the Dove Springs OHV Park. At first I was wondering if we made a mistake. My biggest fear was some idiot flying over a hill and smashing into us.

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The road looked like we might encounter heavy traffic but we actually had the area to ourselves. A weekend might be a different story.

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At first there were some unique surroundings but is soon turned into a typical OHV park with a bazillion bike trails on every hill. This place is dirt bike heaven for some, but there were so many trails I had a hard time staying on the main road. Even with my GPS up and running it was difficult to navigate this area. Some of the main trails are marked with numbers; for example, Dove Spring Canyon Trail is SC-103. Between the markings and the GPS, we made it through the park but there were a few times we had to back track to find SC-103. The Los Angeles Aqueduct crosses through here also. It did help to give us our bearings. As we got further from the center of the park, the road was easier to follow.

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Eventually the road leaves the park via a short steep climb. It was nice to get out of the OHV park. Over the crest the hill, the trail became a bit more scenic.

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It becomes a single sandy trail that cuts through the desert with spots that offer commanding views of the area.

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The view was outstanding at this point of the trail. Soon you actually drop down into Dove Spring. The spring is surrounded by cottonwood trees but there wasn’t much water. According to the Backcountry Adventures Book, Dove Spring was the site of a small city during construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct between 1907 and 1913.

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The drop into Dove Spring is rather steep although these pictures don’t show it. I had to drive back to pick up Don. The picture below shows the vehicle coming back. Actually we were heading toward the hills in the background.

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Dove Spring Canyon Trail has only a few spurs off it, one being the Pacific Crest Trail which is unseen in the background of the above picture. The hiking trail crosses this route about 3 miles from Dove Spring itself.

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Leaving out, the path became extremely sandy. About a mile up the road is Dove Well.

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At Dove Well we noticed that there was once a windmill standing here. Parts of it were still around but the well itself was capped over. We wondered if they piped water down to Dove Spring when it was active.

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Dove Well had the most Joshua Trees I had seen on the drive. It was kind of like a mini forest of Joshua trees.

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My mirror found out these trees don’t yield. Yea, I broke the housing. Crap! A couple of miles up the road we passed the Pacific Crest Trail. We didn’t even notice it until I saw the familiar sign that designates the route. The altitude is about 5,300 feet. From that point on, the vehicle trail begins to drop. The other side does have a few Pinion Pines that changes the looks of the area as you continue to descend.

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Soon you reach Willow Spring. I was surprised to see so much water.

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It looked quite refreshing. We had lunch here and then moved on.

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Nearing the end of the trail, you must cross a couple of washes that might pose a problem during a storm. There are several short steep climbs and descents before coming to the paved road. Eventually it ends on Kelso Valley Road which leads to the town of Weldon and highway 178.

I really liked this trail and other than the OHV Park, it offers a scenic drive as opposed to the highway. We left out for northern California through Lake Isabella and made our way home.

 

Summary:

In some ways this adventure to Death Valley and the surrounding area was similar to the trip I took earlier this year to Colorado. I was apprehensive about both. Before leaving for Colorado I didn’t know if I would like to travel back east through so many states by myself, and on this outing I wasn’t sure I would be comfortable in a larger crowd. In both cases I was wrong. Each trip was an experience that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

I think I can speak for Don when saying we both had a great time. This trip was so rewarding I can’t wait for another. More pictures would have been nice, especially nighttime camp shots. I’ll remember that on the next trip.

It’s always interesting to see new country and make new friends. Unlike the Colorado trip, I felt more secure about having a breakdown while traveling with a group. It’s a big plus off roading with a group of people. Not to rub it in (Steve 🙂 but I do wish we would have made Goler Pass. On the other hand I’m glad we gave up on the trip into Nevada through Echo Canyon.

It would have been nice to have a little more time but there’s always next year for another Death Valley run.

One last note:

Apparently on the way home Jeff had some drive train problems. I understand he made it home OK. Rumor has it HE WAS DRIVING TOO FAST

 

Thanks for following AutoRamblings Sportsmobile 4×4 Adventures