28 hours, drive from LA to Death Valley & back, worth it? If so, what would you suggest as the itinerary?
July 23, 2007 2:20 PM   Subscribe

28 hours, drive from LA to Death Valley & back, worth it? If so, what would you suggest as the itinerary?
posted by parttimeninja to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Totally worth it. Make sure to stop at the Death Valley visitor's center -- while I usually bypass these, this one is really good. Also see Zabriskie Point, if you can (preferably around sunrise/sunset). Finally, make sure that you get out of the car just to stand alongside the road as you head into the valley -- the feeling of vertigo, as if everything's slipping into the valley, is more noticeable if you're not in a car.
posted by parilous at 2:31 PM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

How long are you going to stay? For me, that's too far for a day trip, and it's going to be hotter than hell up there this time of year. That said, it is an incredile, unique place, and well worth the visit.

You have to go to Badwater, which is the lowest point in the US. There's a marker on the cliff across the road at sea level-- it's kind of hard to see because it is much higher than you expect it to be. There are turnoffs on the road to Badwater to Artist's Pallette and the Devil's Golfcourse that are both worth a look. The tour at Scotty's Castle is also really interesting.

I'd recommend going around Veteran's Day in November when they have Death Valley Days. The weather is much better, and you have a lot of events going on. The fiddle contest is worth the trip alone.
posted by InfidelZombie at 2:48 PM on July 23, 2007

Climb telescope mountain. It's a 5-6 hour round trip hike from the highest parking lot. It's nice a cool up there, and from the summit you can see both Mt. Whitney and Badwater from there. Those are the highest and lowest points in the lower 48. Snappy. Be gentle to your car on the drive. It's nothing too serious, but it's not paved. I had no qualms about driving a rental car on it. Just go slow.

There are also a couple of abandoned towns that are cool to check out.
posted by thenormshow at 3:35 PM on July 23, 2007

Hike up Mosaic Canyon. If you have a high clearance vehicle drive through Titus Canyon. Agreed though, very hot right now there. High of 112 (actually not bad for Death Valley in July) but a low of 96.
posted by Big_B at 3:39 PM on July 23, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the response guys. It will be my first time there. I will be there the Sunday of the second weekend in August (plus the following Monday) and have access to a rental car (non 4x4 though). More suggestions are welcomed.

Btw, would you recommend roughing it and sleeping in the car and get up early for the sunrise? Where would be a good spot for that?
posted by parttimeninja at 4:38 PM on July 23, 2007

I did this 20 years ago with a friend and a borrowed VW Bus. We packed an ice chest full of sandwiches and ice and beer and filled four sparklett's type bottles full of water. We'd been using the van for some light construction, so the tools came along, including a six foot ladder which came in handy when we stopped to get high along the way.

We didn't have an itinerary, but we drove up through Baker the back way and wound up arriving at a dry lake bed well past midnight. It was springtime and rain had recently fallen. The moon was bright and the lake was ghostly white and glowing. Occasionally one of us would crunch through the salt crust and squish into the desert mud below.

We walked there for a while before driving over to a dirt parking lot near the natural stone bridge. We woke up, sometime in midmorning, to the stares of grammas and granpas and grandkids. The van was pink, the doors were all flung wide open, a ladder and a pile of tools were heaped up outside the sliding door, and there were we, waking up in our skivvies, discovering we had soggy ham and cheese sandwiches and no coffee.

We spent the rest of the day tooling around. We may have driven up to Scotty's Castle, but we had an issue with gasoline and money, so we may not have made it all the way. We took the plastic fish that were hanging from the rear-view mirror and left them dangling from one of the "Sea Level" signs. We found some sand dunes. We pushed on west. We stopped for lunch and poured out some of our water just to screw with the ecosystem.

Then it was time to leave, so we drove over to Independence or Lone Pine for gas, and rolled all the way down 395 and back home in time to for a late coffee at the old Espresso Bar in Pasadena.

So yeah. Twenty-eight hours is plenty of time to trek from LA to Death Valley and back and have a memorable experience.
posted by notyou at 5:17 PM on July 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

I second the back way via Baker, spend the night in Shoshone . Hiway178 over the pass into the valley south of bad water continue to stovepipe wells for lunch drive up to Darwin hike to the falls then drive down the Pannamint valley to see the pinnacles. Ridge crest has a few good restaurants the 395 and 14 are nearby.
posted by hortense at 6:17 PM on July 23, 2007

If you can make your route pass Anza Borrego, it's nice there.

If surreal is your thing, drive up the east side of the Salton Sea (surreal abandoned landscapes) on your way up (past lots of industrial agriculture -- red peppers and dates) to Palm Springs (insanely over-watered desert suburbs with gates), then head east through Joshua Tree (the only normal part so far), and continue east on 62 out of Joshua Tree and rather than heading directly north up to Amboy, keep going for a bit (if I have my records straight, there are a whole row of crazy abandoned tiny houses out that way). That's sort of the back entrance, and then you can see the more normal route on your way out.
posted by salvia at 7:54 PM on July 23, 2007

Death Valley is definitely worth it, even in the summer, even if you only have a day. Just don't go nuts trying to see everything -- it's impossible in one day, maybe even in a week, just because the place is so huge.

As for sleeping in the car, I've done it before on the valley floor in the summer and it's hot even at night. If you opt for a campground in-park go for one of the higher-elevation ones in the Panamints. Wildrose and Emigrant will be easiest to get to with a rental. They're on the west side of the park, not too far from Aguereberry Point, which overlooks the Valley from 6000'+ and is a nice place to catch a sunrise. Also on the same side of the park are Mosaic Canyon, Eureka Mine, Stovepipe Wells Dunes -- all worth checking out.

Technically if you're not in a campground you have to backcountry camp at least 2 miles off a paved road. No idea how closely they enforce that though.

Be prepared for it to be really, really hot on the valley floor. Read all the stuff the NPS says about traveling in the desert, especially keeping water in the car and staying with it in case of a breakdown, and heed it. It's so dry you don't even realize you're sweating, and you can get dehydrated very quickly, so don't ever leave the car (even if you're just going "over that dune" or "up that canyon just a bit") without plenty of H20 in hand.

If you're lucky you'll see the car companies doing some major punishment testing. They do all sorts of crazy stuff like tow trailers full of water barrels up and down the passes in the heat over and over and over. If they're testing new models, they might even have them disguised.

Keep up with the NPS Morning Report before and during your visit for news on weather, road closings and special advisories.

If you do go to Scotty's Castle (which is very interesting but a bit out of the way so maybe not such a great idea if you've only got a day,) make sure you gas up first as their gas station is closed pending repairs.
posted by Opposite George at 9:32 PM on July 23, 2007

I have no Death Valley specific advice, but as a desert dweller, I will definitely recommend you bring plenty of water. Several gallons is not a bad idea. Also bring a blanket and something to prop it up with; while the car should be OK, there's always that little chance of a breakdown. If you can use the blanket and prop-stick to set up a sunshade, it will help quite a bit. Don't count on your cell phone to bail you out either, as you don't know that there will be reception when you need it.
posted by azpenguin at 12:29 AM on July 24, 2007

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