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Death Valley (Jan 2018)

Death Valley: Intro and Day 1 - A Day of Driving

Winters in the Pacific Northwest, (but perhaps especially this one) are tough to swallow when you like to get outdoors to explore and experience new adventures. The weather gets cool and wet, and it often takes a multi-state trip south to escape the gray.

No different from a weather perspective, this year is different for @mrs.turbodb and I from a availability perspective. And, because of that, when we heard that Ben (@m3bassman) and Zane (@Speedytech7) headed to Death Valley for New Years, we were immediately jealous. We'd been wanting to head that way for a while - especially having read and seen trip reports from @DVexile and @Crom, so we decided pretty quickly that even though it'd be a long drive - we were crazy enough to try it.

We had 128 hours - a little over 5 days - that we could be gone; more than that and we'd have to make significant arrangements for @mini.turbodb - something we didn't want to do.

With a little less than two weeks to plan, we took our time laying out our itinerary. Roughly, we thought we could:

  • Drive to Death Valley in a day and a half, entering the park through Beatty, NV.
  • Spend two and a half days exploring the park and nearby surroundings.
  • Spend our last day and a half driving back home.

With two and a half days, we wanted to hit as much as we could. Ben was nice enough to share their general route, and we used that as a general blueprint, adding a few side trips to points we thought could be interesting. In the end, our route was packed, but doable (we hoped).

Day 1 - A Day of Driving
January 17, 2018.

We'd gotten everything ready to go the day before - meals pre-cooked, truck completely packed - including the fridge (plugged into the 120v in the garage) - so that as soon as we dropped off @mini.turbodb at school, we could head south.

By 7:45am, we were on the road.

We'd chosen the fastest route south according to Google Maps - I-5 to US-26 and US-20 in Oregon, and then US-95 from Burns to Beatty, NV. And we made good time, stopping for lunch in Madras, OR in the early afternoon.

Unfortunately, as we continued south on US-26, we stopped for gas and to confirm directions in Prineville - and were steered eastward on US-26 and OR-380 toward Paulina (as a shortcut to Burns) rather than south on US-26 to US-20.

That "shortcut" ended up adding 2½ hours, with a couple of re-routes in order to avoid the same FS roads that had carried us through the Malheur National Forest on our Oregon Backcountry Discovery Route trip just a few months prior - good roads, but completely snowed in over the passes this time of year.

Lesson learned: just stick with the Google directions.

Despite the re-route, the scenery and company were enjoyable, and as the sun set we pulled over to capture what we hoped would be the first real sunset we'd seen in several weeks (having been socked in with rain at home).

And then we continued on - late into the night - our target Fallon, NV. Gas stops were our only break - neither of us hungry after a big lunch. At 11:45pm - exactly 17 hours after we'd left - we pulled into Fallon, looking for a place to unfold the tent and grab some shut-eye before continuing on.

At the south end of town, the Fairgrounds seemed like as good a place as any. We had the entire place to ourselves, and had the tent setup in no time. It was cold, and as we climbed under the covers to get warm we hoped that the night would be dry - with a plan to leave at 6:00am the next morning; we weren't going to have time to dry off the tent.

We were asleep by midnight.


The Whole Story


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  1. Tom
    Tom November 20, 2019

    Thanks for the detailed post! I plan on doing a similar trip over Christmas this year. If you have any further recommendations or planning docs you can send me I'd greatly appreciate it!

    • turbodb
      turbodb November 20, 2019

      Glad you enjoyed the post! There are several other Death Valley posts/trips - so you should check those out too, for sure.

      Death Valley Trips

      You can find the first post of each of the trips on this page...and don't forget to keep reading the rest of the posts in each story. Lots of great stuff to discover in the desert!

      • Tom
        Tom November 20, 2019

        Yep! I've been browsing through them, working on making the optimal route. Thanks for taking the time to post all this great info.

        • turbodb
          turbodb November 20, 2019

          Awesome. The one thing I will say is that distances are misleading at Death Valley. Even things that seem close together, generally aren't - time wise :).

          My trips there have always felt rushed. For me, that's just the way it is, since it's such a long drive to get there, and I can really only afford ~5 days away from home. But, if you can allocated 2-2.5x as long at each place than I've allotted in the trip reports, I think you would have a much more relaxed trip!

          Or, if you are doing multiple trips, focus a trip on a single part of the park. It's the moving between destinations (like from Death Valley to Saline Valley, or Panamint Valley to Butte Valley) that really racks up the hours.

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