As its name implies, Death Valley has taken its toll on a fair amount of inhabitants and travelers these past few thousand years. The first American Indian hunters and gatherers to inhabit the land moved into the region nearly 9,000 years ago. Since that time, three other Indian cultures have come and gone. In 1849, the first white settlers travelled to the area while searching for a short cut to the gold fields in California. Their hardships, fate, and tales of survival would ultimately lead to the naming of the area: Death Valley.
In February of this year, we teamed up with Rover Accessories and Hannibal USA to explore portions of Death Valley, taking advantage of the cool season while it lasted. Charles D'Andrade and his crew from both companies set about planning the trip routes. On this journey, the unique array of Land Rovers consisted of Defender 90, 110, and 130 series and vehicles from the Discovery series. Each vehicle displayed some type of custom work, but the most exciting part was seeing how each one of these world-renowned four-wheel machines would perform off-road.
As ominous sounding as the name implies, Death Valley is actually full of life and a wonderful place to explore. Four-wheelers can find great adventure in areas rich in history and folklore. The most comfortable time to visit the area is between late October and the end of April, when high temperatures average between 65 and 89 degrees and low temperatures average between 37 and 62 degrees. If you have a fondness for extreme heat and dry weather, you can expect to find temperature averages between 99 and 115 degrees during the warmer months. In 1998, a high temperature of 129 degrees was recorded, and in 1913, the record high was 134 degrees. As the old saying goes, "it's a dry heat, so you really don't notice it."
The plants of Death Valley are quite beautiful certain times of the year, especially after the area receives its seasonal light sprinkling of rain showers, which average about 2 inches a year. The scarcity of rain makes this area one of the hottest and driest places in the country, yet it's actually surprising how much water is in Death Valley; there are several natural cool and hot water springs. The park's ecosystem is abundant with animal life, consisting of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and five species of fish.
All of the magic of Death Valley stretches across 3.3 million acres of Mohave Desert. Telescope Peak is the highest point of elevation, spiraling in at 11,049 feet. The lowest point of elevation is Badwater, dropping down to negative 282 feet below sea level, the lowest point in the Western hemisphere. Death Valley became a national monument February 11, 1933 and a national park October 31, 1994.
The start of our journey began off Interstate 15, about 40 miles east of Barstow at Afton Canyon. From Afton Canyon we followed the Mohave River through the canyon and back around to highway 15 at Basin Road. This area is dotted with historical monuments, and it offers excellent 'wheeling opportunities, such as water crossings, sand dunes, and rock trails. We proceeded to the town of Baker, home of the world's largest thermometer, and turned north on Highway 127, heading toward Death Valley. From highway 127, we made our entrance into the park on Saratoga Springs Road. This was the starting point for our long and dusty journey through Death Valley.
The unusual and unique geological formations in panoramic valleys are the first characteristics you notice on your visit to the park. The vast, desolate areas usually have some sort of trail leading to a geological or historical feature, and because Death Valley was heavily mined in its day, there are still a few mines operating. There are also a few ghost towns to explore, such as Ballarat, one of the largest in the area. All that remains today are ruins. Miners were drawn to the area in the early 1900s by gold, silver, and borax. This area is still a major source of borax, a crystalline mineral compound used for many purposes, such as cleaning agents and water softeners. This is where the famous 20-mule team wagon trains came to be famous, hauling the mineral out of the area.
While driving inside the park, please keep in mind that four-wheeling is only allowed on designated roads and trails. The trail system will range in difficulty from easy, well-maintained gravel and paved roads, to those that challenge vehicles with suspension systems, lockers, and off-road tires. Make sure you and your vehicle are prepared for Death Valley's elements and harsh conditions. From Saratoga Springs Road we traveled west. After a few miles, the road turned to the north, and took us along the Amargosa River. From Saratoga Springs Road, we turned west onto West Side Road, taking us to Butte Valley Road. This is where the 'wheeling became interesting because the trail is not maintained; high clearance vehicles and four-wheel drive is recommended. Butte Valley Road led us into Crested Butte Valley, where we found a few old geologists cabins from the early 1900s.
The park service and travelers who come through the area maintain these cabins. It's amazing to see these historical points of interest still intact. Visitors are asked to help maintain and care for these cabins by removing all trash and not defacing or removing anything from these properties.
From Butte Valley, we headed south on Coyote Canyon Road to Baker Ranch. This was home to one of the Valley's most infamous residents: Charles Manson. The ranch is still standing, and it's where Charlie was eventually captured. From here, we traveled west to Wingate Road and then north to the old mining town of Ballarat. The town has a few standing structures from the mining days gone by and one operating gift shop.
Highway 190 took us through Panamint Springs, which is the last place to fuel up before driving on to Saline Valley. Traveling through Saline Valley, the vast and remote area east of highway 395, offers spectacular desert scenery locked between two tall mountain ranges. The valley offers just about any outdoor activity anyone could imagine, and the area is rich in animal and plant life. Saline Valley also contains a natural hot springs with a camp area. Careful, though; it's clothing optional.
The convoy of Range Rovers and Land Rovers performed flawlessly -- as expected -- through this rough and hostile environment without any mishaps. This adventure was an excellent way to become familiar with Death Valley and to see why Defenders are touted as some of the best adventure vehicles available. We will take many more adventures through vast expanses of Death Valley to see everything the area has to offer. We can hardly wait.
|THROUGH DEATH VALLEY|
The waypoints show the roads' intersecting coordinates.
|Description||Mileage||Latitude (North)||Longitude (West)|
|Afton Canyon||0.0||N35* 04.257'||W116* 24.756'|
|Desert Megaphone in Afton Canyon||N35* 00.233'||W116* 11.565'|
|Basin Road||12.0||N35* 06.119'||W116* 15.857'|
|Baker||28.8||N35* 15.773'||W116* 04.375'|
|Saratoga Springs Road||59.6||N35* 38.009'||W116* 17.442'|
|Badwater||65.87||N35* 38.809'||* 23.530'|
|West Side Road||91.87||N35* 54.598'||W116* 23.530'|
|Butte Valley Road||104.87||N36* 01.747'||W116* 49.758'|
|Coyote Canyon Road||122.17||N35* 55.399'||W117* 04.942'|
|Baker Ranch||N35* 51.334'||W117* 0518.7'|
|Wingate Road||129.8||N35* 51.478'||W117* 10.785'|
|Ballarat Town and Road||144.3||N36* 02.876'||W117* 13.436'|
|Trona Wildrose Road||147.94||N36* 02.017'||W117* 16.904'|
|Panamint Valley Road||158.04||N36* 10.109'||W117* 18.036'|
|Panamint Valley Springs Gas||N36* 20.241'||W117* 28.044'|
|Nadeau Trail, Highway 190||172.74||N36* 20.348'||W117* 25.374'|
|Saline Valley Road||182.74||N36* 19.840'||W117* 42.901'|
|Saline Valley Hot Springs||N36* 48.179'||W117* 46.222'|
|Death Valley Road||246.54||N37* 07.516'||W118* 03.849'|
|Highway 168||258.34||N37* 11.110'||W118* 15.174'|
|Highway 395||260.7||N37* 10.384'||W118* 17.410'|