Death Valley Dirt Roads . . .

Firstly, if you missed any of these previous posts, you can check them out here:
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This post is dedicated to my step Dad Steve, since I know he's a Jeep fan.  In the early 1970's when I was a kid he had an old black Jeep named Dirty Frank.  And if memory serves, the doors were removed.
 
I remember being told to put my right foot up against door jam to keep from getting tossed out while we were bombing around the woods of Massachusetts.  It definitely made a lasting impression.
 
Steve, I know you've told me what year and model that Jeep was, but perhaps you can leave a comment below with the details.  It was a pretty old.  And the name was perfect :)
 
Much later when I was visiting from LA, he and Mom had purchased a yellow CJ5 (or was it a CJ7?) with a black soft top. I don't recall what year this was, sometime in the late 1980's I think.  I borrowed it to visit some friends, and remember "accidentally" ripping a burn-out while exiting the driveway.  I swear it was the stick shift, which I hadn't driven in years. At least that's my story anyway.
 
So recently I joined my buddy Russ during a 4 1/2 day back country off-road tour of Death Valley National Park in mid April.  This was an organized tour that would zig zag the group (a convoy of about 10 off road vehicles) across the park.  We drove Russ's Jeep Wrangler Sport which was loaded to the hilt with camp gear, off road safety gear, extra gas, food, beer and wine. Whoot!
 
The group was a mix of camping buddies, couples and families. All vehicles were Toyota or Jeep.  2 Toyota 4Runners, a vintage LandCruiser & a Tundra pickup. The rest were Jeeps.

All had full 4 wheel drive systems with low range and considerable ground clearance - which really is the only way to navigate some of this territory.
 
We both knew the schedule would be aggressive. Lots of daily mileage and not too much relaxing or exploring at each camp.

No matter. The idea is to see some highlights so you can come back with your own group to visit your favorite spots. 
 
We split the driving and Russ may have been a little nervous letting someone else at the helm of his cherished Wrangler Sport while descending the incredibly rugged and steep Lippincott Mine road (among others) - but he never let on. 

I thought I navigated the rough stuff pretty well. After all, we're both graduates of the same off-road training class  ( http://www.4x4training.com/offroad.html ) .
 
I'd say we averaged about 75 miles of gravel / washboard / rocky / technical / sandy or steep miles each day.  Lots of stops for photo's and history lessons.
 
Even at that rate, we really only scratched the surface of this place.  This National Park is a whopping 3000 square miles and so amazing. (In comparison, the state of Rhode Island is 1214 square miles.) I will be going back for sure.
 
Thankfully the temps were mostly cool. The entire time, a cold front with rain was ebbing and flowing over head. Lots' of beautiful puffy clouds, rainbows and sun rays.

 

Our home away from home for the long haul.  Me and Russ behind the wheel of his 2001 Jeep Wrangler Sport.

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This little Wrangler is mighty capable off road.  I noticed a difference from my 2002 4Runner with respect to front end suspension and low RPM engine torque.

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Gary & family have a 1996 Land Cruiser.  He got it after it had been outfitted with a 4 cylinder diesel engine from an old bread truck.  When he's behind you, it sounds like you're being chased by the UPS guy. He is usually smiling, so I got an off moment here.

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Springtime in the desert!

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A typical scene when the road cuts through a canyon leading from one valley to the next.

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Barker Ranch is in Death Valley N.P.  It has a ton of history. Nestled in a small bowl shaped canyon with a nice water source it has been around since 1940.  However Charles Mason discovered it abandoned in the 1960's and used it as his hideout. Not much to see, since the wood structure burned down in 2009. All about Barker Ranch here.


Once you get used to the roads being long, straight and boring, you hit a rocky technical section.  Our leader Tim directs Joe in the Tundra around some large rocks. This type of vehicle has many challenges in rougher terrain.  Long wheelbase is a disadvantage as is the vehicle width.  However, our experienced leaders Tim and Mike have endless strategies to get you through (mostly) unscathed.

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To keep the Tundra's door from being gouged, Tim's had us use a tow strap around an impeding rock to pull it off course slightly. Often times off-roading is a game of inches.

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Death Valley N.P. is made up of many valleys.  Above is spectacular Butte Valley.  Geologist cabin in foreground, the Striped Butte in the background.

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Yes, that's our road back there.

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A few miles of paved road connects us to our camp for the night. Mustard plant in bloom for miles.

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Rain in the desert. It's a different kind of rain experience.

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Russ rustles up some grub at our first nights camp. We took turns cooking the dinners.

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It rained all night but stopped just as we got up the next morning.

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Packed up & ready to roll.

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During a lunch break, one of the group discovered a problem with the Land Cruiser's wheel. (If you leave a comment to remind me, I'll fill you in on the details...)  The advantage of a group outing is there are usually extra tools and spare parts to make a repair.  This enabled Gary to drive to town to get a permanent fix.  He and his family met up with the group later that night at camp.

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We're headed out of the park and into a small town in Nevada to gas up, ice up, beer up.

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Stopped for a quick break at Red Pass.

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The Wrangler's engine torque at low RPM's was impressive.  You don't have to use much gas to get up some of these steep humps. 

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Three cheers for wild burros!  They are everywhere in the park.

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Campsite on the second night.  Mesquite campground.  Evidence of flooding was everywhere.

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Ubehebe Crater, created from a volcanic blast. You can hike down in there, but we didn't have the time on this trip.

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A Death Valley tradition: Leave a message on a tea kettle . . . . .

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 . . . . and hang it at Tea Kettle Junction.  Yeah, it's in the middle of NOWHERE :)

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The "Racetrack".  Where big rocks mysteriously leave tracks after sliding across the lake bed after a heavy rain.

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Down, down, down Lippincott Mine road. Not for the faint of heart. Steep, narrow & rugged. A non issue for Russ's Jeep.

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Circle the wagons, it's time for lunch.  Overlooking Saline Valley.

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One of the most unique and popular destinations in Death Valley: Saline Valley Hot Springs. Since the 1930's, it's slowly been built up by volunteers long before it was included into the National Park. There are several hot pools to soak, hot showers, shade, clean toilets and camping.  We did all these things.

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A view from one of the pools.

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Around the hot springs camp, wild burros abound. No feeding! But a gentle petting is usually ok.

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Next day we headed for another valley: Eureka Valley and it's 700ft high sand dunes.

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A typical scene when we're all stopped. Snacks, vehicle check, chit chat.


So let's hear about your experience visiting Death Valley! I'm sure some of you have been. Did you ever get adventurous and get off the pavement? Leave a comment below. (The comment password is:  life is good  )

 

Comments (3) -

Lyz O'Keefe
Lyz O'Keefe 4/22/2016 12:38:00 PM

Whoa!  Looks like a fantastic trip and you saw a lot of the park.  It's really a beautiful place.  We had a old Willys truck in Hawaii and it literally climbed up mountains and across lava by itself.  It was the best vehicle.

Steve Burne
Steve Burne 4/23/2016 5:35:05 AM

I am honored by your dedication and impressed by your memories.  "Dirty Frank" was a 1955 CJ-5 and was born to be doorless, fearless and (to be frank) dirty.  When the gas tank rotted out I borrowed the axillary tank from my antique race car and ran without any gauge, which lead to several side-bar situations.  Getting caught in a swamp up to the hood and the cost of getting hauled out was the beginning of my re-assessment of the sport, but I have no regrets.  Your mother's acceptance to going on a "date" in D. F. made me realize that "this was the girl for me."
In 1987 I bought the CJ-7 that you remember.  It was beige with a tan top,  This spent much of its life with the top down and the doors off, but most of its time was on pre-determined roadways.  This was followed by a Cherokee Laredo, which was the last of the Jeep brand for our driveways... but I still get an extra heartbeat or two when I see a tricked-out Jeep on the road.
I enjoyed the account and pictures of your trip very much.

Doug

Wow Steve, you really helped Dirty Frank live up to it's name!  I forgot about the Cherokee!  

I would say the Cherokee line was ahead of it's time back then - pushing out the mini van and station wagon as the most common family cars and ushering in the era of the SUV.    

Glad Mom passed the "Dirty Frank" test - hope you didn't take her through too many muddy roads that first date Smile  

Anyway, the Death Valley reminded me of those times, and wanted to share my thoughts.  Be well!

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