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Back from the Desert. Tidings from Death Valley Pt. 1

Discussion in 'MT- 406 Cruisers' started by catfishwboots, Sep 20, 2017.

  1. catfishwboots

    catfishwboots

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    Wow,

    When I left Montana in August it was hot and smokey. I guess 3 weeks was an appropriate amount of time to be gone.

    At any rate we just made it back to civilization, and I have to say, civilization is overrated.
    The desert is a quiet place, full of mystery, discovery, and wonder. One thing I really love about traveling overland style is it can afford you time to really experience a place. I like wheeling, don't get me wrong, but I really value experiencing these landscapes outside the cab as well. The desert gets under your skin (in a good way). It's one of those situations where you get home and you can't get it out of your head-the places you saw and the places you want to go. Keeps me up at night sometimes. Death Valley is one of these places. The Park it'self is over 2 million acres, but even outside the park are really weird and strange places to visit and sights to behold. Death Valley is a place where thousands of years of Native history, mining history, volcanoes, dunes, mountains, and desert hippy rat art converge into a bizarre scene from a Hunter S Thompson novel.

    Elevation: I've never been so aware of elevation in my life-not even during my mountaineering career. The lower you go the hotter it gets. Death Valley is home to the lowest point in the western hemisphere-Badwater is aright around 285 ft BELOW sea level. This is the hottest place I have ever experienced. You definitely feel the extra weight of the atmosphere above you and the temperatures were around 135°. My phone and GPS protested and both shut off. My GPS wouldn't turn back on until I stuck it in the fridge for a couple of hours. I had to hike about a mile in that weather and felt like I was about to die, literally. That same day we drove up to about 8000ft where the weather was much nicer at 76°. We then hiked 7 miles up to Telescope Peak-the highest point in the park at 11058ft.

    The first 5 days of the trip were kind of a blur as we were participating in a Rally/Scavenger Hunt/GPS way point collecting hunt. Every day we had 10-12 GPS way-points we had to collect and 4-5 items we would have to show up at the Checkpoint with. The Way-points were often very far apart, were always way down a dirt road or trail, and often required hiking in such a harsh environment. In 5 days we saw a lot of amazing things. Mining ruins, geological features, petroglyphs, strange hippy art, and even stranger individuals. The items we had to collect were usually some kind of fruit: bananas, apples, limes, Tacate Beer, always 5 gallons of water, receipts from the local joints and dives, etc.
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    The old bank in Rhyolite, NV
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    We even saw Charles Manson's old Dodge Power Wagon. Told ya this place was weird
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    Charcoal Kilns
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    This rally was very team oriented (Navigator/Driver/Peakbagger etc.) Every night was spent making dinner and poring over pats and GPS planning the next day's route. Some roads were closed (sometimes other teams would make the road appear to be closed), so you always had to plan out your route and gas stops etc. All told the 5 days had us driving about 1200 miles. The GPS coordinates were so far apart some days you couldn't possibly collect them all and arrive at the checkpoint before the DQ cutoff.
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    Last edited: Sep 20, 2017
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  2. catfishwboots

    catfishwboots

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    All told we had 5 teams and we all finished the 5 day challenge without disqualifying ourselves. Winner takes all! Our team, Ellen and I came in second!
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    We saw some amazing things, but the best was yet to come. We said our goodbyes to most of the other teams and our three rigs re-supplied and set out into the Death Valley backcountry.

    We spent that evening by Racetrack Playa. The rocks on this playa slowly move across the mud and leave tracks behind them. This is the only known place on earth this phenomenon is known to happen.
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    We had a night full of thunder storms, wind and very little sleep. My secret weapon was a muscle relaxer and ear plugs. Slept like a dead baby.

    The next morning we headed over Lippincott Pass into Saline Valley (also part of Death Valley National Park) This trail was in pretty good shape, however there was some wash out and trail got super narrow and had the truck pitched toward the steep side. m If you weren't on the right line you would tumble over and barrel roll to your death hundreds of feet below. My butt was puckered on more than one occasion descending into Saline Valley.
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    Once in Saline Valley the trail becomes a huge wash with big rocks and the going is slow for the most part. Off in the distance you see a big white patch and as you near you realize it is an old dried up salt lake (hence the name Saline Valley) There are these strange wooden towers moldering into the salt and sand. Almost 200 years ago they once carried salt on a tram up and over the Inyo Mountains to a rail on the other side.

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    From there missed our turn a couple of times to "Bat Rock Road". It's another wash-not always apparent where you need to drive, but we finally came across our confirmation were were on the right path. "We can't say here, This is bat country"

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    A couple of miles more and we are at Palm Springs. Not THE Palm Springs. Behold, an oasis!
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  3. catfishwboots

    catfishwboots

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    There are actually 3 sets of springs out here. The lower springs are the most developed and are home to a full time camp host. Lizard Lee has Saline Valley to himself and he has for over 30 years. He is elusive, but he keeps the sprinklers watering the grass, and keep the bat mirrors polished. We were here in the off season so we had the place to ourselves. Usually a destination for old naked hippies and Burners, our only company were ravens, bats (lots of bats), coyotes, rattle snakes, and burros.

    We camped here for two days and enjoyed the water, shade and each other's company. Day 4 would be the crux of the journey. We were headed up Steel Pass and were hit by a pretty good rain storm. We were pretty wary as the area is prone to flash floods, however we were able to relax a bit as we gained some higher ground.
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    Towards the top of the pass we hunted around and were able to locate the famed and mythical Marble Bath. More strange and magical treasures in the middle of nowhere.
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    On our way back down into Death Valley we went through Dedeckera Canyon. It was an awesome canyon with the most technical driving we would experience during the trip. I don't have any photos from this section because I was consumed by keeping my tailpipe intact (planning on sawzalling it off soon). You should definitely watch some of the youtube videos on this canyon though. It's pretty rad.

    The Steel Pass behind us we were eager to get to camp 4 which was at the base of Eureka Dunes. These are the highest dunes in California -reaching over 700 ft above the valley floor. There is a grass that lives on these dunes and nowhere else on the planet.
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    If I remember this camp was around 3000 ft, but it was still hot and well into the triple digits. At this point we were pretty acclimated to the heat and the shade was quite pleasant.
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    That evening we were confronted with the most epic thunderstorm I have ever seen. We were literally surrounded by lightening for the better part of 3 hours. It was incredible to be the only humans around in this desolate place, at the base of these huge dunes, drinking cocktails, with all this electrical activity going on. We got a little rain and a good amount of wind, but all the lightening was miles off.

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    The next day we rolled out, aired up, and said our goodbyes. We were all headed in different directions and briefly celebrated another successful desert pirate raid. This is my desert family and I miss them. I miss the desert, its wonders and surprises. I learned some lessons, made some mistakes, and will be better prepared next time. Looking back I think the reason I love the desert so much is you can't stay too long. Your truck is your lifeline and when you run out of supplies, you have to go get more, or you die. It reminds me of Icarus in a way-flying too close, for too long, to something so big and amazing. I could easily let it consume me.
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2017
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  4. 80 Sack

    80 Sack

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    What an awesome adventure!! Thanks for sharing. Makes me excited to finish my overland facelift to Rescue Puppy and hit the road!!
     
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  5. Wompom

    Wompom

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    Sweet write up Aaron! Jealous of the second half you guys went on. Never thought I would enjoy the desert so much. The rest of your trip looks super rad. Had a blast with you guys during the rally!
     
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  6. NyNomad

    NyNomad

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    awesome trip!! makes me miss living in California!
     
  7. catfishwboots

    catfishwboots

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    I really liked the rally, but the pace of the rest of the trip was more enjoyable for sure. DV is full of so many amazing natural wonders.
     
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  8. catfishwboots

    catfishwboots

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    California definitely has some amazing places to explore. I really want to check out the Sierras, Especially the Alabama Hills! And I definitely want to get back to Yosemite.
     
  9. Saul Abel

    Saul Abel

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    Wow! Awesome adventure! Thanks for sharing this experience. Well written too!
     
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  10. Saul Abel

    Saul Abel

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    Solid HST ref
     
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  11. 45Kevin

    45Kevin

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    Great story and pics.

    Who organized the scavenger hunt?

    I have week booked for DV in February with the wife in our van.
    I've been to the Saline Springs and up over Steele Pass to the dunes and past the Race Track down Lippincott trail.
    I'll go back to the springs for sure and will be planning a bunch of other places to see as well.

    I was in a stock Suburban the last time. Our van is AWD with a 3" lift and I'll have 31ish" tires on it. I'm not sure I want to tackle Lippincott or Steele Pass with it though.
     
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  12. catfishwboots

    catfishwboots

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    You bet! And thanks!
     
  13. catfishwboots

    catfishwboots

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    The Scavenger hunt was organized by a good friend of mine. He put everything on for a pretty close group of friends.

    You could probably get through Lippincott just fine. Steel Pass might be a different story though. You could still get out there via the North and South pass for sure.