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Death Valley

Overland1

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The trip started off on the dim side as Erin and I jumped into the fully loaded Jeep to meet Lew and Nate. To my surprise the headlights didn’t turn on. After a slight amount of fiddling we pressed on figuring there was enough light in the early morning haze to be safe and we would fix it on the trail.

We meet up with the group on I-70 just outside of Denver where we popped the hood and wiggled some wires. With enough wiggling we got one light on and figured it was enough to show we could get it fixed down the road but we would have to make good time. I figured if we could get off the pavement before sunset I could use fogs and be fine. If we couldn’t make the 13 hour run in time then I would have to pull over before getting there out of safety concerns.

With that in mind we tried to put the hammer down and make a rush for Death Valley. I think the plan would of been slightly more successful had we not encountered massive headwinds in Utah. There was so much wind my MPG dropped below 10. I think it might have something to do with driving a brick with another brick attached to the top.

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We stopped for gas and decided to tie my RTT cover down better to try and reduce drag.

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Luckily we were 30 minutes from turning off the pavement when the sun set and we were able to make it. Camping the first night was in Denning Springs, just south of the park. Lew took the lead with his light bar but navigation was still difficult since a lot of the trail was in a wash and it was hard to follow. The next morning we finally got a good look of where we were.

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After everyone was fed we pulled the headlights out and found the problem. Evidently the wires on the factory wiring harness got bent and were shorting out. After making a zip tie splint the lights where working again and we packed up to head into the park.

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Coming down from Denning Springs we got our first look at Death Valley.

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The dirt road leading into the park was the best dirt road I’ve ever driven. It was soft but hard enough to keep speed without floating. The downside was the dust but as we were to learn dust is an ever present factor in the desert.

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The next stop was at Ashford Mills Ruins where ore was processed before heading to the smelter.

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A lizard keeping watch on the Mill.

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Overland1

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From Ashford we continued north to Badwater Basin. The basin sits 282 feet below sea level and is both the lowest and hottest spot in North America.

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If you look hard you can see the sea level sign about in the middle of the photo.

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After feeling a bit underwater we loaded up and made our way to Furnace Creek for some gas.

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While expensive it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

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Since Furnace Creek was home to real trees due to irrigation we decided to have lunch in the shade.

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After lunch we walked over to see Old Dinah, a steam tractor used to pull ore cars out of the mines.

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Overland1

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As Furnace Creek faded in the rear view mirror we cut off the main road to work Echo Canyon.

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Erin played in the rocks

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Nate surveyed his domain

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And we took some pictures

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Until Erin got bored and wanted to move on.

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Overland1

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Echo was supposed to be an easy trail and we were surprised when we hit a real obstacle. Nate used lockers and Lew drug his hitch getting over the steepest part.

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After everyone made it we continued up the canyon.

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When we finally crested the top the Nevada desert opened up before us.

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Overland1

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The next problem awaited us in the desert. As we left the canyon the trail slowly disappeared before our eyes.

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We huddled up and tried to find something to navigate off of. After a lot of talking pointing and searching we finally found the road again.

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We made our way through the remote desert and ran across a historic FAA station.

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Desert roads tend to change on a regular basis as water cuts deep swatches where you don’t expect.

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Overland1

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The plan was to do Echo Canyon, cut through the desert on the Nevada side and then head back into the park on Titus Canyon. Titus is tight enough it’s a one way and it was getting dark. I didn’t really want to get caught in the canyon but we felt good about getting out right before the sun set and planned to grab a camp ground spot so we could have a real fire. In Death Valley you can only have open fires in designated camp grounds and we hauled wood all the way from Colorado.

We got a couple miles down the road when we ran into a nice couple in a Grand Cherokee with the hood up.

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They said it just died and weren't sure what the problem was but thought it might be a fuel pump. We checked fuses and didn’t find anything so I put a jumper pack on it and the GC fired up without a problem.

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We decided to take him out the wrong way since it wasn’t very narrow and it was shorter then finishing the canyon. We got him almost to the paved road when it died again. After another look Nate diagnosed it as a dead alternator. He had a spare battery so we swapped that and get him to where AAA could give him a tow.

At this point it was dark and we decided to camp on the Nevada side on the boarder in the BLM where we could have a fire.

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Since we were close to Rhyolite ghost town we decided to have a look before heading back. On the out skirts of Rhyolite was Goldwell open air art museum. I use art museum loosely but to each their own.

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Overland1

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After we were done soaking in the art we continued up the hill to see what was left of Rhyolite.

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Rhyolite was a booming but short lived town. Founded in 1904 it had over 10,000 residence 12 years later when it collapsed. The financial panic of 1907 coupled with the mines playing out made it a true boom to bust town.

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During it’s few short glory days it had a bank, two schools, and train depot.

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Overland1

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We decided to fill up in Beatty since it was a couple miles away and a lot cheaper then Furnace Creek.

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After the top off we debated taking Titus back or the highway. With noon sneaking up we hit the blacktop to try and get back on schedule.

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Our first stop back in Death Valley was Ubehebe Crater, which was caused by a volcano and today is a big hole.

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With the crater seen it was time to head north another 50 miles on washboard. Being a relatively straight road we were able to make some good time cruising at 65mph. We spaced out and opened them up when I saw a huge water cut as I crested a hill. I slammed on the brakes but it was too little too late and we barreled into the dip launching us upwards. A quick call on the radio slowed everyone else down and no one took damage. I think we were lucky since last month I reinforced the front axel, if it wasn’t for that we might have bent the axel tube.

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We made the hook over the north end of the park and headed towards Eureka Dunes.

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Overland1

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The dunes where nice and we decided to have lunch since picnic tables were already there.

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With our bellies full it was time to tackle Steel Pass, reputedly the second hardest trial in the park. The maps had one area marked as “Experienced 4 Wheelers Only” and it wasn’t long before we hit the obstacles.

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For all the hype it wasn’t really that bad and with some spotting everyone rolled through without a problem.

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After the hard area the pass opened up into a valley and we could make good speed. Erin likes to run hard so we covered ground fairly quickly.

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Along the way we ran across this guy. It was the largest lizards I had ever seen in the wild with a body close to a foot.

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Overland1

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Coming down from the valley we hit a couple rocky areas that helped break up the high speed runs.

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After we cleared the rocks we ended up in a series of washes which caused our speeds to reduce.

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Overall we made great time over Steel Pass and were able to get into camp early. We hit the hot springs and found a nice sandy spot to relax into.

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Overland1

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The hot springs definitely had a hippy commune feel to it with a lot of old naked guys soaking in the springs which we opted to skip. On the way out we found the “sign” post which I’m guessing was put up when the Dark Night was hot.

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Where we turned back onto the “main” road was a series of small dunes we stopped to take pictures of.

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Washboard roads really suck and we did everything we could to smooth out the ride. One trick was to put a wheel up on the shoulder.

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Overland1

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Unfortunately I clipped a rock doing that while running at speed and blew a tire.

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As far as locations go this was a pretty good spot, flat and dry. The tire shop decided to torque the bolts to about a 1000lbs and we worked to get them off.

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Finally we pulled the handle of the hi-lift to use as a cheater bar.

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Since the sidewall was blown there was no good way to fix it so I was out of backups.

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Overland1

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After our roadside repair it as time to head over Lippincott Pass to see the Race Track.

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We didn’t realize there was a Death Valley Monument inside Death Valley Park until we saw this sign as we started the climb.

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While heading up the dirt road we passed a white Hyundai SUV that was nice enough to let us by. Not long after the road went from dirt to trail, while nothing a high clearance 4x4 couldn’t handle, we where worried about the Hyundai clearing the obstacles. The trail turned back on itself and we could see down the canyon.

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We decided to wait and make sure the SUV didn’t get stranded.

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The couple ended up being smart and walking the trail so we settled in from our perch to watch what would happen and had a little popcorn.

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The SUV finally decided to play it safe and turned around so we continued up and over before descending to the famous playa.
 
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Overland1

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The Race Track is one of the most famous attraction in Death Valley.

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The Race Track was fun to see but I’m disappointed by the idiots. You could see where people had driven on it despite the signs and some people even stole rocks that had been moving.


After walking around we decided to have lunch next to the playa.

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North of the Race Track is Tea Kettle Junction, we all had a hard time picking which tea kettle we wanted but eventually everyone picked one out to take home : )

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We started a climb out of the valley and the landscape started to change as the shrubs gave way to bushes and the bushes started to give way to trees.

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Overland1

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At the top were some ranchers moving their cattle down the road.

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We also got some great overlook views of Badwater Basin.

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The decent back to the valley floor was uneventful and we eventually hit Lee Flats and it’s plethora of Joshua Trees.

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It was the afternoon on Saturday and with a long drive home coming up we decided to point east and make our way into the Nevada desert to be closer to home in the morning. We dumped the auxiliary tanks and started the push out of the park.

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Overland1

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Blacktop in the desert is always a treat as they tend to stay smooth and soft due to the heat and we were able to take in a couple more views during the traverse.

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We made a quick stop at the General Store in Stove Pipe Wells and spotted a couple nice Land Rovers.

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Saturday night we found a remote part of BLM to call our own. It was a fairly warm calm night and everyone settled in prepping for an early departure. It wasn’t until 2:30am when the wind came up. Dragging yourself out of bed to stake down an annex or tent really sucks when all you want to do is sleep.

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Overall the trip was a lot of fun and never having spent real off-road time in the desert it was also a new experience. We all agreed that we had no desire to live there but we are glad we did it.

If there was one word to sum up the trip, it was dust. The ever present layer of dust covered everything and everyone but if you haven’t experienced the desert at least once it something you should try.

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Overland1

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It's 1800 miles round trip and then we went from the southern most point to north and west to east. I have no idea how many miles we coved but I'm guessing 2300-2400 total.