Death Valley

Death Valley Trip March 25-28, 2016Fremont -Trona Pinnacles-Ballarat-Goler Wash-Mengel Pass-Badwater-Stovepipe Wells-Panamint Springs-Saline Valley-Warm Springs-Steele Pass-Eureka Dunes-Big Pine-Fremont RT via Trona Pinnacles:

Participants • Detlef and Ursula Mews: • Dave (Detlef’s friend) • Jeff Bloxham (Greg’s friend) • Andy Mendonca (Greg’s friend) • Serg Kronrod (Greg’s friend) • Greg Youree: • Vidas and Jessie Mickevicius:

We met Detlef and Ursula in Pleasanton on Friday (March 25) at 8am, had coffee and breakfast in Starbucks and hit the road before 9am. We stopped for lunch and delicious peach/rhubarb (or cherry) pies at Murray Family Farms ( Refilled gas in Ridgecrest and arrived to our first night camping at Trona Pinnacles ( before 5pm. We just selected our campsite when Greg, Jeff and Andy arrived. After dark Dave arrived; Detlef had to pick him up at the entrance. We shared stories by the campfire.

March 26 we left as planned at 8am, topped off gas in Trona and headed to Ballarat. At Ballarat we aired down, fixed recurring GPS problems and turned north on Wingate Rd. toward Goler Wash. Along the way we passed by C.R. Briggs mine – in 1990s one of 5 top producers of gold in California. Goler Wash was much easier than the last time I drove there: dry waterfalls were covered with gravel and did not require even 4WD. Our first stop was Barker Ranch, where Charles Manson and his gang were hiding and ultimately captured. The main building of Baker Ranch burned in 2009 – only foundations remain.

After short stop we headed to Mengel Pass. Ascent presented no problems. We made a photo stop on the pass (Carl Mengel’s ashes are buried on the pass named after him) and drove down into Butte Valley. Going down was more challenging – there were some tight rocky spots, but everyone made it with no problems. We ate our lunch by the Geologist Cabin nicely overlooking the landmark Striped Butte. After lunch we drove east through the valley on Warm Springs Rd. We made another stop at Warm Springs Talc Mine Camp. This site has well preserved buildings and even a swimming pool.

We decided to take unpaved West Side Rd. instead of highway going to Furnace Creek. Going 50+mph made us fly over washboard. We refueled in Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells. Camping was planned in Stovepipe Wells or nearby. Although campsites in Stovepipe Wells were available, we conferred and decided to camp at the entrance of Marble and Cottonwood Canyons, about 10 miles from Stovepipe Wells. This short sandy washboard trail was littered with recently broken cars: damaged tires, punctured oil or tranny pan, overheated etc. People underestimate the challenge of driving even on mild off-road with [rental] low suspension car with street tires. In the place we decided to camp there were no fire rings, and campfires were prohibited, so we were sitting by Greg’s portable grill. Everybody was tired but happy with the first day on the trail.

Next morning (March 27) we drove back to Stovepipe Wells and turned west on hwy 190. Past Panamint Springs we turned to Saline Valley Rd., aired down, split into two groups (fast and slow) and after a while descended into Saline Valley. We passed the turnouts to Hidden Valley/Hunter Mountain and Lippincott Mine Rd. and arrived to Saline Valley Hot Springs in early afternoon:;

Our two groups reconnected in hot pool at the Palm Spring (middle of three hot springs). After good relaxation and lunch we hit the Steele Pass Rd. This road goes in the wash before ascending to Steele Pass. This winter’s heavy rains changed the location of the drivable route – I was continuously warned by my navigation program that I strayed away from the pre-set route. The entire route was relatively easy driving which Greg made in 2WD. Dedeckera dry waterfalls just before the descent to Eureka Valley presented only moderate challenge but plenty of photo opportunities.

We drove down into Eureka Valley with spectacular views of Eureka Dunes in front of us. Technically our trip was over. We made over 300 miles, most of them off pavement. We had two options: to camp at the dunes or drive to motel at Big Pine. Camping was attractive because Serg had big steaks for dinner, but the wind was strong and would blow sand into our tents. So those of us who camped in tents (Dave, Ursula and Detlef, Jessie and Vidas) decided to go to Big Pine.

On the remaining 10 mile unpaved road we drove wide spread to avoid dust. Jessie and I were on the pavement airing up while waiting on Dave and Detlef. My compressor was on, and I decided to start the engine to help battery. Suddenly dash lights started flashing and engine shut off. The battery went cold dead – there was not enough power even to use CB or HAM radios. I tried to reach Detlef on FRS, but to no avail. Half an hour passed, and Dave and Detlef did not show up. I assumed that something must had happened, but I had no radio connection to them. Then the truck drove by, and we stopped it for jump starting my Jeep. While a driver was positioning his truck, Dave and Detlef arrived. Dave lost his tire on sharp rock, and they replaced it. Now we thanked the driver of the truck and let him go. Dave gave me a jump start, but my Jeep was not holding idle and was shutting off. Detlef detected that the idle cable was loose. He suggested to tension it with some wire or other available stuff, so we manually tensioned the idle cable with a tie. This turned “Check Gauges” light on, but thanks to Detlef, I was able to continue my trip.

It was 8:15pm when we arrived to Big Pine and checked in Bristlecone Pine Motel. All restaurants were already closed on Easter Sunday. We had to microwave remaining camping food in our rooms. My battery did not recover even after hours of driving. I needed a replacement and then take care of the idle problem. Next morning, I got a jump start from Dave – thanks Dave for waking up early!, said farewell to Dave, Ursula and Detlef, and we headed early to Bishop. In NAPA Parts I got replacement Yellow Top, installed it – “Check Gages” light went off, and continued on NB US-395. We got into rain/snow storm couple of times but CA-88 was still open. We were hit by a serious snow storm on the way down to Central Valley, but arrived home without problem. Everybody else going to the bay Area got through CA-88 in the snow storm.

The idle problem fixed itself. Apparently ECU requires battery power to control idle. I am still puzzled how my battery went from full to stone dead in a second. Problems with this battery happened the second time (last time few years ago), so I replaced it. It served me 6 years. My OEM Jeep battery served me 9 years. I used ViewRanger for navigation for the first time. I pre-loaded area maps and created routs on my iPad. However, GPS did not work properly and I had to borrow from Andy (looks like permanently ;-) external Bluetooth-enabled GPS by Dual. This setup worked perfectly. I was happy with ViewRanger, but next time I will preload USGS maps instead of Topo maps with Trails. USGS maps have more details. Should iPad internal GPS work offline without access to network?

The trip was fun. Weather in Death Valley was perfect. No one had serious damage and everybody made home safely. We met new friends. Hopefully some of them will show up at ED4 meeting. Thanks to all participants who joined on a very short notice.

Below is the link to all pictures that Jessie and I took on this trip: