Trip Report - NorthWestern DV

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Posted by Bodie the Dog on March 22, 2003 at 12:10:26:

I just got back from a 5 day loop in Northwest DV, with strong winds and chilly nights for most of the trip. The highest daytime temperature was in the low 80ís, but the wind cooled things a bit. We left last Sunday (3/16/03) after the storm, camping near Bishop the first night. Found some nice petroglyphs not publicized by the BLM, by just walking a random direction.

Monday, we gassed up in Big Pine before heading east over Death Valley Road. Summit was clear, just a bit of snow on the north slopes above the pass. North Pass road was signed "closed," as usual, but in talking to others later it's apparently just a little muddy. The Eureka Valley stretch of road was in excellent condition, 55mph just fine.

We made a quick detour through Crater, something I've always wanted to check out, and found: a crater. Nothing exciting there, unless you want some yellow rocks. The mud got a bit deep, too.

The road in northern Death Valley was mostly washboard, with an occasional small gully created by the recent storms. Small ditches, but hit one of them suckers at 55mph and you better hang on!

We saw no other cars from Big Pine to the pavement near Ubehebe Crater. Road from Ubehebe to Racetrack was the usual washboard, but didn't have any surprise wash-outs. There were about a dozen tea kettles at the junction. People have also been leaving short notes and foreign coins.

We saw a couple cars on this stretch. The Racetrack still had some puddles on it and 3 or 4 carloads of visitors. At least one was a low-slung 2wd sedan. The visitors were out on the playa, so hopefully that portion was dry.

Found a bag of dusty groceries at the Lippincott parking area. Nothing exciting, not even a bottle of booze! Anyone misplace a grocery bag containing Slim Fast and lentil soup?

Camped at the top of Lippincott, a good spot to watch the Saline Valley air show. We saw planes all weekend, singly and in pairs, at the rate of about one flyby every 2 hours. We even had some kind of attack helicopter circle us. Also, I'd never seen a jet hit afterburners at night.

We explored Lippincott Canyon, looking for some rumored petroglyphs, but didn't find them. We started near BM 3620.6, descended along the canyon bottom maybe a mile, then climbed up to the parallel ridge to return to our truck. I kept expecting to find some big, dramatic dry waterfalls, but the canyon just had a lot of little drops. No plunge pools or slots to speak of, but we didn't descend all the way.

In the evening, I climbed to the ridge just south of Ubehebe Peak. Good views, of course. Footing was pretty good, "cross-country" travel was easy thanks to all the mule/miner trails.

The descent of Lippincott still makes me giggle; I love that stretch where the passenger looks out over a 300' drop. "Hey, Tim, can you get out and get me a beer from the ice chest?" hehehe High clearance 2WD could make it down. Probably up, too, but there'd be some tire spinning with attendant risk of damage to the car and the road.

I only had to make one 3-point turn on the way down, and that was only because it's tough rounding some of those corners with a beer in your hand.

Found a film container at the bottom of the grade, but all it had in it was film, bummer. Anyone missing a roll of exposed film?

Then I found part of a stainless steel silverware set at the junction of Lippincott and Saline Valley Road. Anyone missing their silverware?

The road across Saline Valley was fine. Lots of pretty little flowers appearing in the salt flats between Saline Valley Road and the lower hot springs. No DV botanical experience, sorry, but there were dark purple ones, small yellow and white flowers, a pink flower with orange center, something like a yellow poppy, too many species to describe. Lots of buds on the various flora, so I suspect the bloom in this area will be better soon. Found a bungee cord on the road here.

The main springs area had maybe a dozen cars camped around it. Good company, with all of us avoiding discussion of politics and the war. It was too nice a day to screw things up talking about that stuff.

We spent a couple days in the upper springs area, finding all sorts of interesting things. Just pick a direction and go; you'll find something cool. Some of the canyons had standing water from the last storm, and new Spring growth is emerging. Wolfmanís Cabin is an entertaining heap of junk. As a bonus, its outhouse was stocked with new toilet paper.

We had the springs to ourselves until some free spirit showed up and parked not 100í away. Millions of acres of area to camp and you have to park so close that I can hear you belch? The Japanese flute he played did fit the surroundings well, but got a big old after a couple hours. I think he was raking the sand as a form of art/meditation, alternating that with Tai-chi. And when the war officially (?) began, he fired off some bottle rockets, and I strapped an American flag to my roof rack.

The Steel Pass corridor was in fine shape, assuming you have a decent 4x4. We saw a Suburban head out that way, but they returned a couple of hours later. Too big? We saw one other car on this route, a small SUV with petroglyphs painted on the side. Dedeckera Canyon was the easiest Iíve seen it.

About 5 different groups were camped around Eureka Dunes, all spaced well apart. We found some large puddles on the floor of Eureka Valley, one big enough to make us scout it. Theyíre no doubt all dry by now. The washboard from the Dunes to Death Valley Road is still, in my opinion, the worst 10 miles of washboard in the area. But a nice sandstorm at the mouth of Marble Canyon provided entertainment. That must be a strange area wind-wise, as Iíve driven by more than once and noticed things kicking up.

We hit pavement and made the 6 hour drive home. Total trip distance from Big Pine, looping through Racetrack, Saline, and Eureka Valleys, then back to Big Pine, was about 213 miles. Various side trips added another 12 miles or so.

I thought this was going to be my last trip to this area for a while, but damned if I didnít find so many interesting new things to explore, that now I have to return again. Iíd like to visit Utah, Idaho, some good slickrock areas, but I canít even get out of California. Some day....

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