Back to Death Valley (Apr 2018)


Well-known member
Having had an amazing time in Death Valley earlier in the year, I couldn't wait to get back. Of course, I had no idea what was in store on this completely solo trip!

A Struggle from the Start
April 11-12, 2018.

If our first trip to Death Valley taught us anything, it was that our adventures there were far from complete. The three days of exploration had just scratched the surface of the vast wilderness before us.

So, when I found out that @mrs.turbodb was headed out of town for a week, I was quick to make plans for a return trip. Going solo, my route did include a few of our favorite spots (Butte Valley and Goler Wash), but focused on several new areas as well - most outside of Death Valley proper (West Side Road, Charcoal Kilns, Saline Valley + Warm Springs, Steel Pass, and Eureka Dunes).

It was a lot to cover in such a short time, and I knew I'd be once again be left wanting more. But that was good in my book - so as departure time arrived I turned on APRS and headed out.

Headed south, I was keen to make good time. I'd gotten started 90 minutes later than our first trip, but I figured I could make that time up with a little speed and no detours (we'd had a 2-hour goof-up on the previous trip). And then, 30 minutes from home, this orange light meant that I had a decision to make...

Engine lights are never a welcome sight, but I figured it was better to get one close to home than in the middle of nowhere, so I set about diagnosing the issue. Of course, I kept heading south as well - time was of the essence.

I quickly determined the code to be P0171 (bank 1 too lean); unfortunately not an easy code debug and fix. Essentially, running lean means that there's either too much air or not enough fuel, so any of the following might be at fault:
  • Dirty air filter
  • Dirty or failed Mass Airflow Sensor (MAF)
  • Vacuum leak (introducing extra air)
  • Failing Air-to-Fuel Ratio (AFR) sensor
  • Dirty fuel injectors (restricting fuel flow)
  • Dirty fuel filter (restricting fuel flow)
  • Bad/weak fuel pump (restricting fuel flow)
So my approach was twofold: first, I stopped at Napa to purchase some MAF cleaner (since I've previously dealt with codes that were resolved by cleaning the MAF); second I asked the good folks on TacomaWorld three questions:
  1. What would they try to diagnose the situation?
  2. Was it serious enough to abort the trip?
  3. What was the worst that could happen if I drove 2500 miles with the error code.
After a couple questions about fuel trims (my Long Term Fuel Trims were in the 30%+ range), the general consensus was that P0171 is most commonly caused by a vacuum leak, so @Speedytech7 suggested spraying some starting fluid around in the engine bay - if the engine started to rev, I'd know the vacuum leak was near. @Blackdawg was emphatic that "******** no, you'll be fine to wait" with regard to aborting the trip, and that if I were to do more damage, it'd be to the catalytic converter and associated AFR/O2 sensors.

I pulled over an hour later for my first refueling, and whipped out the starting fluid, spraying it liberally in the engine compartment, hoping to hear the engine rev. Nothing. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I quickly pulled out the air box and MAF sensor (which was definitely dirty) and cleaned it thoroughly. @m3bassman suggested resetting the ECU (rather than just clearing the code) so I disconnected the battery for 15 minutes to do that as well.

30 minutes later, I was back on my way south. Hoping.

I made it into the fog of Oregon before the light came on again, 96 miles later. But, at this point I was committed. I knew it could cost me a new catalytic converter, but I chalked it up to part of the adventure.

As the fog turned to rain, I continued. Out of the Oregon rain and into the cold and dark of northern Nevada. Having picked up two sandwiches earlier in the day, my only stops were for fuel, and by midnight I was just outside of Austin, NV. @mrs.turbodb had been following my progress on APRS and suggested a nearby Forest Service road where I might find camp - so I headed that way and found a nice little spur where I setup the tent and promptly fell asleep, mentally exhausted.

- - -​

I was up early the next morning, not to capture the sunrise, but to get on the road - I still had a few hours to my last fuel stop in Beatty, NV and I wanted to have as much time as possible exploring Death Valley. As I passed through Austin and an early morning snow flurry, I marveled at the road ahead - the clouds were clearing and the sun was out.

I continued south until I hit Goldfield and the Enchanted Car Forest. I knew I had to stop to capture the vivid colors, and unlike the last trip, there was no concern about running out of fuel, so despite the 40-50mph wind gusts, I spent some time exploring. The art here changes regularly, so it's always worth a stop. I was also excited to see a new addition - painted, but not yet planted - with just the sort of cha-bling attitude that you'd expect out there.

From there it was a straight shot through Beatty for fuel and then into Death Valley. Worried about time (which I shouldn't have been), I opted not for Titus Canyon, but instead for Hwy 374 into the park. It had been newly resurfaced and the going was easy.

Then, as I came over Daylight Pass, I realized that the 40-50mph winds in Goldfield were at least that strong in Death Valley. And today, it was Dust Valley. I could just barely make out the Last Chance Range across the valley floor.

Not to be deterred, I headed south - hoping that the southerly wind would mean clearer skies where I was headed, and it wasn't long before I was airing down at West Side Road. Happy to be on dirt, I made my way through Devil's Golf Course (much cooler from West Side Road than from the main viewing area) and past several markers and mine sites. And I drove through fields of green scrub as the sky continued to clear of dust.

- - - - - Can't fit everything here - only so many photos per post. - - - - -

To read the entire story, and see all the pics, keep reading here:
Back to Death Valley (Apr 2018)


Well-known member
April 13, 2018.

Having hit the sack relatively early (a drawback of being solo and not chatting into the evening around a fire), I was well-rested as I awoke to catch the sun chasing the moon on the eastern horizon.

One of my favorite times of day, I climbed out of the tent and sent a mental message to the burros to shut the hell up. There were approximately 20 of them in the valley, and they'd been going at it all night. I found myself yearning for the last trip - where we'd not seen a single burro - clearly a blessing (though we viewed it as a bummer at the time).

Of course, the burros didn't stop, but either did the sun - and I took full advantage of the morning light coming into the valley, and eventually onto my camp.

As the sun rose, I packed up the tent and ate a quick breakfast - eager to get on my way, a full day ahead. The plan was to end up at the north end of Saline Valley, at the warm springs by the end of the day - but there was a lot to do before that, starting with a drive through Goler Wash - one of the highlights of the south end of the park in my opinion!

And then - as I pulled out, I saw a fast moving object in my side mirror. And then a crunch from the back driver tire as I rolled over our headlamp and nighttime shoe storage container. Man, I really can't catch a break this trip.

After picking up the pieces, I made my way out of the valley, and it wasn't long before I came to the "gatekeeper" obstacle between Goler Wash and Butte Valley.

While this section of trail is more technical than anything on Warm Springs Road, it's still not really that bad for a Tacoma and I made my way up with little fanfare, stopping for a photo-op at the top of Mengle's Pass.

From there, I continued into the wash, soaking in what was essentially a new experience since I'd never driven (or seen) the wash in the east-to-west direction. Perhaps because of this, there were also a couple places where I got off-track - fun, since it allowed me to explore even more new places in the canyon, until I eventually came to the only other semi-technical part of the trail. There's a bypass here, which seemed to be getting a lot more traffic recently, but I headed down the main trail to do a little flexy-flexy.

And then, I stumbled upon the highlight of my trip through the wash. Our last time through from the west, we'd completely missed the Lotus mine - I mean, we had no idea it was there and drove right by. From the east though, it was impossible to miss, and I spent a good half hour exploring the site, which is in remarkably good shape with a bunk house, main house, vehicles, and lots of mine fixtures in various states of disrepair.

Continuing towards the western mouth of Goler Wash, I couldn't help but stop at Newman's Cabin and the surrounding mine. Surrounded by lush cottonwoods (now covered in leaves - a dramatic change from January) it seems like such a great site. It's really too bad that it's not well maintained in the same way as the the Geologist Cabin in Butte Valley.

- - - - -

And with that, I'm at my photo limit for a post. To check out the rest - and there's a lot more.
Keep reading the rest of the story at Back to Death Valley - Day 3 - A True Oasis

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Well-known member
April 14, 15, 2018.

A couple hours after falling asleep just north of Saline Valley Warm Springs, I was awoken by what I initially thought was a gunshot in my dream. But, with the valley still echoing, I soon realized it was no dream.

Unsure what was going on, I looked back towards the springs, to see how others were reacting. I saw no real reaction, but then a few minutes later, I heard a "thump-thump-thump" and saw streaks of light heading into the moonless sky. And then, light and explosions.

Fireworks continued intermittently for the next 10-15 minutes. Ultimately, I chalked it up to more craziness at the springs - just another reason to seek out the more remote areas of the park. There was no further disturbance during the night, and the next morning brought that special light that spills into a valley.

I realized that this could be the perfect time to try out the springs - everyone else having been up late - I might catch a few minutes of solitude to enjoy the warmth. As it turned out, I wasn't alone (but it was much less croweded) and the springs were only luke-warm - around 99°F. So I only spent a few minutes in the water before deciding that my real calling for the day was ahead of me - Steel Pass and Eureka Dunes.

With that, I dried off and headed out, still soaking up the morning and surroundings, but glad to be on my way.

Shortly, I found myself at another set of springs - and realized that the evening before, I'd never made it to the upper warm springs! As I explored these much less developed springs, I realized that this was much more my speed - perhaps a place to visit in the future.

But today I continued on, the road much rougher and narrower now that the over-run springs were behind me. As I traversed the northern end of the valley, the road wound its way through various washes, past volcanic flows, and through literal fields of cactus as Steel Pass rose in the distance.

Eventually I reached the end of Saline Valley and the southern edge of the pass, where I hopped out to do a quick inspection of the truck - sensitive to the shaking and rattling that vibrated loose my d-ring earlier in the trip. I didn't expect tons of rattling in the pass, but I'd heard that it was relatively narrow and flexy in spots, and I wanted to be ready before I got to those spots.

I was glad I did, because there was one bolt in particular that I wanted to check - and it was loose. This was the rear passenger bolt on my mid-skid, and I'd noticed before starting out that it had slightly stripped it's hole - that looseness allowed it to work it's way out - something I'll need to take care of on my return. For the time being, I tightened it up and continued on my way.

As it turns out, the narrows at the southern end of the pass are short and the road is well graded. As they opened up a few hundred feet after they started, and as the terrain started down, I found myself wondering if I'd be traversing the narrows down-hill when travelling south-to-north (because from the research I'd done, I'd thought I'd be climbing them).

For the time being though, I enjoyed the mountain meadow - full of solitude, as well as interesting rock formations and roads that changed abruptly from white to orange.

As I continued, Steel Pass gave way to Dedeckera Canyon and the canyon walls narrowed - and at this point it was clear that I was definitely headed down through the narrow sections. "Easier or harder?" I wondered. The first of three narrow sections presented itself shortly, and I spent some time looking it over. With no spotter, I wanted to make sure that I took things slowly - both for safety, but also so I could get some pictures! hahahaha :D

...and that's all that will fit here. To see all the photos and read the rest of the story, check out the entire couple of days at
Back to Death Valley - Day 4, 5 - Steel Pass & Eureka Dunes
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