Death Valley - March 2018 Fullsize Trucks

Wanted to recap a trip that a good friend (Josh) and my family (Me, my wife Sasha, and daughter Autumn) took to Death Valley from Oregon at the end of March 2018. Overall we spent 6 nights in Death Valley. Josh drives a 2016 F350 on a Carli Suspension and I have the Raptor with Gieser Bro springs in the front and Icon RXT leafs in the rear. I think I'll recap each day in an individual thread, so it may get a little long to read for some, but I will try and keep it as brief as possible for each day, enjoy!

Day 1:

We merged up with HWY 395 in Northern California after taking HWY 39 out of Oregon. This was an amazing drive, however this early in the season we were concerned with snow. Earlier in the morning there were chain requirements (including 4x4 w/ traction tires) around Bridgeport, CA, but by the time we reached Reno and rechecked the conditions, everything was fine. We passed through Bridgeport, CA which has an amazing old court house along with some outstanding views of the east side of the Sierras. We made a quick stop at the Mono Lake overlook to get out and stretch and let the little one play in the snow.

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After arriving in Bishop we found a gas station to fill up, one of many stops we made at the pump on this trip. We continued on to Mountain Rambler Brewery in Bishop for a few beverages and a snack before heading into Death Valley. As we made our turn just north of Big Pine we stopped at a little kiosk advertising the bristlecone pines just up the road. There was also a giant sequoia that had been planted here marking the first vehicle trip through the Westgaard Pass. Always strange and interesting how we stumble across these markers for the first vehicle passages through these locations.

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We continued down the road getting our first taste of dirt on our way into Eureka Dunes. A fun blast past 70mph on the gravel felt fantastic. We could see the dunes off in the distance and at first really didn’t appreciate how big they really are. As we approached the “developed” dry camp area, we could tell it was full with a handful of vehicles, so we opted to head on down the road a couple of miles to find our own slice of heaven. We pitched camp and I got quick to work making dinner. Finally we were able to settle, it was a breezy, cool night, but we sat down around the propane fire pit looking at the stars and realizing that we were finally in Death Valley.

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To be continued...
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Day 2:

We had a little leisurely start to the morning, all of us trying to find our routines in camp. We got packed up and had planned to hike a little on the dune, however I had a toe injury that I was not very keen on getting all sandy, so we just opted to head up the trail. We pulled off to air down the tires and got one last look at the dunes in the distance. Six F15’s jetted across the sky and into the valley ahead as we were finishing up. We had heard a lot of stories of jets making passes through the Saline Valley and this was just our first taste of it.

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On up the road we came to our first big obstacles, the steps. In YouTube videos these look much less impressive. I’m sure for you Jeep guys they are just like little mall speed bumps, but for us two full size rigs they were slightly intimidating. Sasha got into the Raptor for the first one and I spotted here through it without much issue and Josh followed in the Super Duty. I had Josh go up the second one first and some hikers got to watch as I guided him up it, scrapping and bending the running board slightly. The hikers congratulated us on making it up it and were shocked to hear that something wider (ie. the Raptor) was going to go up it. Without much delay we moved onto the 3rd step and again, hit some running boards with the Super Duty but managed it.

It was then the Raptors turn to come up the rest of the steps. It was very tight width wise, however Sasha drove it great, but my spotting skills probably need some work. We did scratch up the rear fender flare slightly and dinged up both rear wheels on some loose rocks, but that was the full extent of the damage. After completing the obstacle, we stopped for some lunch in the shade of the canyon before continuing through Steele Pass.

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As we continued down the road we passed a Pinzgauer and another group mainly filled with Jeeps, however there was one lone stock F150 hauling a bunch of firewood with them. We didn’t bother to ask if it was a rental or what their plans were with it for the steps, we just let our imagination run wild and childishly chatted on the radios about the different scenarios that would unfold as it went down them. We descended down Steele Pass through the rocks and suffered for about 15 miles until the Upper Saline Valley Warm Springs.

The upper springs is a natural spring surrounded by a fence to keep the burros out. There were no vehicles parked around the springs, but we could hear a couple of ladies chatting. We approached the pool and said hello. I always feel a little awkward about approaching people that I know are naked. We left them be and went back to the trucks and sat on the tailgates having a beverage and just relaxing after a long stretch of rough road. Eventually the ladies came out and started hiking back towards the main warm springs area about 2 miles away in some very interesting clothing or lack thereof. Josh took advantage of the empty pools and went in along with Autumn for a nice little 30 minute soak.

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It was getting late in the day and we still had quite a few miles to put on the trucks. We went through the two main warm springs camps dropping a few supplies off that were requested on the forum page to Lee who stays out there full time and runs the place. The springs are very nice and looked very clean. If that were my gig, I probably would have put down camp right there for the night and enjoyed the soak, but that isn’t our thing. It was a little busy and Sasha and I aren’t really into the clothing optional part.
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Down the road we went testing out the suspensions of the trucks again. We had some fun times doing some high speed blasts down Saline Valley Rd. being mindful of the other traffic and adventure bikes on the road. We eventually decided on a camp near a rock pile and a hill hoping to get out of the wind for the evening. Unfortunately we couldn’t really avoid the wind and called it an early night with the temps dropping well into the 30’s the next morning.

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To be continued...
Day 3:

A little quicker pack up in the cold the next morning got us into the trucks for the trip down into the main section of Death Valley. A few more high speed blasts on the roads going out and a stop at the Death Valley sign were pretty much the highlights of the morning. We passed through Panamint Springs just looking at it through the windows of the truck (not much there) and continued down the road. We stopped and filled the water jugs at a roadside stop (recommended) just before Stovepipe Wells and had some lunch meeting another couple from the Portland area, odd how that happens a lot. Another fill up in Stovepipe Wells and we were moving again to get down to the Furnace Creek visitor center to pay our entry fees.

Day 3 - Death Valley Sign.jpg

It was quite a bit later in the day than I had anticipated, so we made a quick jump down to Badwater Basin to snap a few pics at the lowest point in the US. Badwater was interesting but with the dogs in the vehicles and temps in the mid 70’s we didn’t want to spend much time there. We could have hiked all the way out, but felt it wasn’t worth the time commitment this time. A quick stop at the Devils Golf Course was very cool and interesting. We then went through Artists Drive which was nice, I would compare it to the Painted Hills here in Oregon. One tip, I would forgo the main hike that it seems like everyone goes on and head on up to Artists Pallet. Take your time to go through the canyons there. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t know this and again opted just to take a couple quick shots of the scenery and move on. The final item for the day was 20 Mule Team canyon. A short little one way drive through some interesting landscape. I could have spent more time exploring here as I thought it was pretty neat, however the sun was about an hour from going down and we had to find camp. I regret not spending more time on the valley floor, better planning for next time.

Day 3 - Badwater Basin.jpg Day 3 - Devils Golf Course.jpg Day 3 - Artists Pallet.jpg Day 3 - 20 mule team.jpg

I knew there was camping available up Echo Canyon and that was where we were going to start day 4 anyway, so up we went. All camps have to be 1 mile from the main road so we progressed up the hill and we were surprised to see so many people camped right there, hell there was even a Class A motorhome that made it up there. We progressed on up to about the 3 mile mark, just before entering the canyon and decided to camp there for the night. Camp had a fantastic view of the valley below and we enjoyed sunset with a nice warm meal.

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To be continued...
Day 4:

After suffering through 60+ mph gusts throughout the night we all woke up a little beat down. We packed up and headed up into the canyon to go see Inyo Mine. The sun was out and the wind had died down ask we walked around the mine which was very cool. It was a much needed stop that morning just to get the blood flowing again. As we continued up the road we knew it was labeled as “short wheelbase only”, but we didn’t exactly know why.
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Eventually we found out when we came up to the waterfall. This is a set of two steps that are very steep on some large loose rock. Although these steps are wider than the steps on Steele Pass, they present their own challenges. I started to spot Josh up the first step and we ran into issues almost right away. His hitch was dragging fairly substantially and we were worried about getting the truck stuck on it. Good sense finally prevailed, with no winches, 3 days left, and 900 miles from home, we backed out. Sometimes it just isn’t worth it, we'll tackle it next time.

Day 4 - Josh waterfall.jpg

This decision worked out well though, as none of us had had a shower in 3.5 days. We headed back down to Furnace Creek and bought some access to the resorts pool and showers for $5 a piece. The little one got to go swimming, along with us big kids, and we all were clean once again. Unfortunately for us it was again getting late in the day.

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I had spotted a camp spot while mapping on Google Earth for the trip on the access road to Chloride City so we decided to try for that for the night. The winds were picking back up again and there were wind warnings in the valley so we wanted something with some shelter. We found the road and rounded the last bend with the excitement of getting camp setup only to find 2 Subaru’s already in the secluded spot. Can't win them all I guess. At this time we knew we were in a bit of a bind. We opted to continue up the road towards Chloride City, knowing full well that we were just going to continue to climb in elevation. None of us were looking forward to another night in near freezing temps. We pushed the trucks as quick as we could through the terrain and found another road to try. Again we went up another spur road hoping to find camp and ended up against another mine. We opted against camping there and trying our luck with our suspensions and lights to find a more suitable area to camp.

Josh took off down the road and I followed suit, both on a mission to get somewhere to stay that night and quickly as the sun sat behind us. We pushed hard past the entrance to Chloride City and headed for the Nevada border. As we came up on the park boundary / Nevada border a group of campers were perched on a berm overlooking the valley below. We slowed slightly as to not cover them in dust, but as we passed we realized they were already in their tents escaping the cold. We continued to push the pace trying to find anywhere suitable to camp. A few miles further up the road we noticed a side road and I took the opportunity to drive up the road about 100ft where we found a nice flat area that someone had obviously camped in before. That would work as camp for the night. Not a whole lot of pictures from that night as we were all wore out and cold.

To be continued...
Day 5:

We awoke fairly early the next morning to bright sunshine, but freezing temps. We attempted a very quick pack up as the winds picked up to about 20. This pushed all of us to our limits as we just tried to stay warm and not get frustrated with each other. Finally we were set and moving in the trucks again down the gravel road. Josh had mentioned while packing that he thought a burro had visited camp that night just after we went to bed. As we sped down the road Sasha let out a loud exclamation of “BURROS” while I was at about 60mph. An abrupt braking maneuver took place and we watched as a couple of burros ran away from the side of the road. I’m sure those were the ones that visited camp the previous night. In the distance we could see another 3 watching all of the commotion.

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We continued to press down the road very quickly, enjoying both of the trucks suspensions. There were a few “moments” as I know I approached a few washes a little too quickly with one having me in full lock up sliding towards it. Nothing like a good high speed run in the Nevada desert to get the blood flowing in the morning. Back on pavement again we headed towards Beatty, NV. If you think you are going to restock food supplies in Beatty, think again unless you are a ramin noodle or canned soup type of person (nothing wrong with that if you are). We grabbed a carton of eggs and some cleaning supplies from the Family Dollar (only store in town) and filled up on gas at the Arco and made tracks. That is actually really simplifying what took place in Beatty, but that is for another story, let’s just leave it at, don’t count on Beatty for a resupply.

Just down the road we visited Ryolite ghost town. This is a large ghost town that has quite a few structures or skeletons of structures still standing. Neat place to walk around for a bit. After that quick stop we soon found ourselves on the dirt roads again heading into Titus Canyon. The first 10-15 miles are nothing real special, some nice views, and some shelf type roads that are reasonably smooth. Eventually we came into Leadfield. This was a small mining town that only lasted for about 6 months and really kind of tells the history of a lot of places in Death Valley. We headed further into the actual canyon and found ourselves a nice little spot for lunch. Finally we were warm again and there wasn’t any wind!

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After Titus we made our way back to the paved roads and headed for camp that night at Mesquite Springs Campground near Scotty’s Castle. We took the opportunity of an early end to the day to sit back, relax, and probably have a few more beverages that we should have; but can you blame us after the last couple days….didn’t think so. A nice warm evening with just a slight breeze got us recharged for the next day.

Day 5 - Sunset.jpg

To be continued...
Day 6 (LAST DAY):

Moving out of camp feeling refreshed we moved up the road to Ubehebe Crater. We took the opportunity to hike up one side while the temperatures were still cool enough for the dogs to be in the vehicles. If you have ever had dogs in National Parks, you understand what a pain it is not being able to take them on the hikes with you. But, we planned around it and made it work.

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After finishing up at Ubehebe we made our way to Racetrack Road which would lead us all the way to Racetrack Playa where the moving rocks are. Everyone states how bad this road is as far as washboard, roughness etc. I will admit, it is definitely rough. At 0-10 mph it isn’t bad, but honestly who is driving that slow to go 28 miles. At 15-30 you feel like a loan ice cube in a blender that won’t blend, IT IS ROUGH. Josh and I both upped the pace to try and get up on top of the washboard and at about 40mph it smooths. This is a big risk out there though as it doesn’t take much to get a little too far off the main tracks and into some sharp rocks, however we took this risk.

Moving ahead quickly we found ourselves at Teakettle Junction in just 35 minutes. We took the opportunity to spend some time at Teakettle Junction reading a lot of the teapots and noticing a few from Portland and Oregon again, small world. On the road again we arrived at the middle playa and did a little exploring. There really aren’t any rocks in the middle, most are at the very southern end of the playa. We did pass a CRV earlier that was having TPMS warnings and offered assistance at the parking lot, however after checking their pressures it looks like everything was fine.

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We moved down to the southern end of the playa and found the moving rocks. After spending some time walking around enjoying them we headed back to the parking lot to find it full of Oregon plates, 5 vehicles in total including our two. You can’t make this up honestly, 900+ miles from home, 30+ miles out on a very rough dirt road, and every vehicle there is from your home state.

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We were anticipating this to be our last day in the park, but we still weren’t sure what we were going to do yet. So we proceeded down the road and briefly contemplated camping at the start of Lippincott Pass, however it was early still so we pressed on. Lippincott was pretty amazing. It was steep, rough, and fun in just the right sense. It isn’t really the type of road you need a spotter on, but it keeps you on your toes. About two thirds of the way down it gets rough. I had gotten out to take a couple photos of the trucks and looked over at my front wheel and saw an oil spot. I just about freaked. After a few minutes of verifying that the fluid was not mine, I looked further down the road and I could see a trail. At some time someone hit a rock and probably took out their front diff or something.

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We continued down the road and got to the intersection of Saline Valley and Lippincott for the second time this trip. We paused there taking some time to have a beverage and figure out our next move. We decided we would turn around back to a campsite we had passed about 2 miles up the road. We made camp about 4, made some guacamole, Josh brought margarita supplies and we sat back under the awning enjoying the rest of the day, or so we thought.

Day 6 - Sunset.jpg

Just after sunset we were watching the hill where you can see Lippincott Road come down. Sasha noticed a few flashes of light and told us she thought she saw a vehicle. About 10 minutes later, another few blasts. Sasha told us that time that she thought that was SOS. I grabbed my flashlight and flashed back, yep, another hit of SOS. With the roof top tents already deployed Josh and I grabbed our flashlights, the med kit, and radios and started heading up the road on foot to see what was going on. As we headed up the road, we could see a figure running towards us. This would be Sam. Him and his girlfriend Aubrey had their Jeep battery die up on Lippincott and opted to walk down (about 4 miles) for help. This was a good call as where the Jeep was located was very rocky, steep, and would have put them at risk if they bump started it.

Luckily we had stayed to camp, but I’m sure they would have been fine if not, this just made it easier. They were well supplied, knowledgeable and really self-rescued themselves. We invited them into camp, they pitched their tent and we all enjoyed some beers around the propane fire that night. What could have ended up badly, turned out to be a good evening and we gained a few new friends.

I took Sam and Aubrey back up the pass the next morning to recover the Jeep with the NOCO GB70 jump pack, it worked brilliantly. Both of us headed back down the road to our previous night’s camp where we finished packing. Just as we were finishing a couple of F18’s came into the valley, both lower than I’ve ever seen jets fly. At one point one of the jets was low enough to cause some dust to come off of the valley floor if that gives you an idea. They made another pass where one pilot put on a little bit of a show doing a barrel roll about a mile south of camp.

After that little show we headed towards the highway about 30 miles away. About 10 miles down the road we were in another canyon chatting on the radio when Sasha was able just to blurt out, “Look at……..” and that is when I heard the roar of the jet engine right above us. I got back on the radio with Josh and told him I think they are mistaking us for Tacoma’s and practicing bombing runs. We got a little laugh and my heart rate came back down. We aired up just before the highway and again had to jump start the jeep with the NOCO as just hooking up his air compressor killed it. Josh and I both run CO2, so we filled the tires and hit the road. Again we were treated to a nice little air show from a single F15 and a plane that looks a lot like a C130 however only with 2 props not 4. If you know what the designation of that plane is, let me know, I believe it is a Navy reconnaissance plane or something like that. Seems to be a tad shorter than a C130 aslo. Sam and Aubrey followed us into Lone Pine where they graciously filled our fuel tanks. We exchanged contact information and hit the road.

Moving back north on 395 to Bishop where we had kept hearing recommendations about Schatt’s Bakery, so we stopped there for a nice lunch. If you haven’t been to this place, they have some amazing bread, make huge sandwiches, and create some tasty pastries too. We grabbed a loaf of their bacon and cheese bread along with some pull aparts for another morning.

That pretty much concluded our Death Valley trip. 6 nights, 2200+ miles, 300 ish miles on dirt, a couple of new friends, and a ton of memories. It was a lot of work, especially for a vacation, but worth every minute. Would I do it differently next time…yep, but that is part of the adventure and learning. We are still fairly new to this as a group (Josh, Sasha, Autumn, and I) but we’ve been friends for a long time and enjoy camping with each other so this is just an extension of that. Hope you enjoyed the recap.
We were just a day behind you then. I wish we would have gotten the air shows you guys did. We only saw the one F-18 down low.