After all that blinking, ringing and nervous hustle and bustle, our senses are longing for a little more peace again. We find them in Death Valley. Here is the name program. Apart from a few other human souls we don't find any signs of life.
We take our time and explore large parts of the largest national park in the Lower 48 of the USA. Hottest - Driest - Lowest is the motto here. Due to geographical conditions the hottest temperature on earth was measured here (56,7°C), Death Valley with an average rainfall of 27mm per year is also one of the driest areas on our planet and also the lowest point in North America (86m below sea level).
GREENWATER VALLEY - BADWATER ROAD
On the 190 we drive from the east into the park and look at the "Zabriskie Point" the first time into a landscape completely changed again. A badland-like chain of hills in the most different brown tones stretches before us. The Death Valley pleases us right away and will remain one of our favorite national parks until the end of our trip to the USA.
From "Dantes View" we see the famous Badwater Basin for the first time and have a breathtaking view over the whole valley. We drive on through the Greenwater Valley, which seems rather unspectacular and then come from the south to the aforementioned Basin. Although the temperatures at this time of year were very pleasant, we get to feel what Death Valley is famous for at the lowest point. The sun burns and the thermometer rises sensitively high in shortest time. Nevertheless, we take the way to the salt lake about 1km away under our feet. We walk around on white hexagonal crackling salt crystals and see the air flickering in the distance. We take a few funny photos in front of the unique scenery and then we are quite exhausted on our way back. Shortly before the parking lot I sweat out my last water reserves. Now I also know where the salt deposits really come from. Fortunately it is now only a stone's throw to the car where the saving water is waiting for me.
Like me, the namesakes of this place ... did not have the same problems ... except that they were not on the way with an expedition vehicle including 40 litres of fresh water. For this reason they tried to drink the water that sometimes forms on the salty underground and had to find out that it was inedible - Bad Water.
Via the Artists Drive - we feel as if we are driving through a 3D painting - we arrive at the Visitor Center in Furnace Creek and choose a nice spot along the Echo Canyon Road for the night. In Death Valley National Park it is allowed to stay outside official campgrounds as long as you stay at least one mile away from the main road.
TITUS CANYON ROAD
The next morning we drive first to Beatty (NV), which is located outside the national park, to refuel. We don't want to pay the prices for diesel (5.04 USD / gallon) within the park borders, although we don't want to pay "every FÜFI umdräie". To get back to Death Valley we take the Titus Canyon Road.
If you have enough ground clearance, this is a relatively easy off-road route. Once more we drive through an incredible scenery, where colours change from golden yellow to dark brown and from light pink to copper red. At the end of the route there is a narrow path that is bordered by two high rock faces on the left and right. A kind of huge slot canyon, where just such a car can pass through. This last stretch is probably the reason why the track is only one-way. After a short detour to the "Ubehebe Crater" we think about taking the road to the "Racetrack Playa". But because a ranger in the Visitor Center warned us urgently not to drive on this track with only one spare tire, we decide against it. Along the "Racetrack Road" there is, according to the ranger, a lot of sharp and pointed obsidian rock, which originates from an earlier volcanic eruption. Flat tyres are practically the order of the day. But we will regret our decision not to take the road. But more about that later ...
We end this day in the Panamint Valley with a beautiful sunset and a pizza from the Omnia oven.
SALINE VALLEY - LIPPINCOTT PASS - HIDDEN VALLEY - HUNTER MOUNTAIN
Our third day in Death Valley National Park starts early, because we have some plans. Since we decided the day before against the Racetrack Road, the "Racetrack", to which this road would lead on the fastest way, but still want to see, another solution has to be found to get there.
In fact, on the map of our park brochure we find a thin white dotted line leading from the Saline Valley to our desired destination, Racetrack Playa. "Road conditions require experienced 4-wheel drivers" is written next to it in red letters. Although the initial uncertainty, whether the route could be too difficult for us, we decide to drive the Lippincott Pass. Turning back is possible at any time, we think ...
The day begins wonderfully. Just after leaving the national park area in western direction we turn off the main road 190 into a corrugated iron road. This road leads us into the Saline Valley, from where the 4x4 route starts. We bump through the desert and clear morning light past a few Joshua Trees, have a fantastic view of the Panamint Valley from the South Pass and are soon at the turnoff to the Lippincott Pass.
The start starts without any problems. Apart from us there is no other human soul here. If we wouldn't hear the rattling of our engine, we would be surrounded by dead silence. After a few kilometres the first ascent begins and we can already see that the wide flat path is getting narrower and narrower and more and more boulders are distributed on the roadway, which has to be avoided or overcome.
We come to a point with - for our taste - borderline inclination. We get out and analyse the situation. I don't know how to drive something like this! And that's not all. Let's suppose we manage the weird piece, then the next challenge is waiting for us. We have to cross a scree with huge boulders. The whole thing is more like a riverbed than a road, a road is no longer really recognizable. Our ingenious plan to turn back, if we are not sure about a place, unfortunately works at this moment now very little! The road is much too narrow and next to me it goes down 20 meters into the valley. The only possibilities are: 1) In reverse everything back - which is also not very sexy due to limited visibility and lack of manoeuvrability or 2) the escape to the front!
We look at each other wordlessly and know: We have to go through that now. Everything else would be much more dangerous ...
... at this moment another couple with a Jeep Wrangler comes from behind. They stop, a few words are exchanged and finally we see them loosely driving up the piece in front of us. Today we are still happy about this encounter. The guy could take away our doubts in the short conversation and finally we are convinced after the live example that we will also come up the pass with Baloo.
Just briefly improve the sugar balance with a bar and then it starts:
I stand outside and try to give Mathias instructions as good as I can - he drives off ... and then my breath stops for the first time when I see how the tyres lose grip in the inclined spot and the whole vehicle slides slightly towards the abyss ... luckily it quickly becomes flat again so that we survive the first tricky spot undamaged.
But then comes the really blatant part. Mathias drives off on it, I try to interpret him to drive over the big stone in front of him, but he doesn't see it properly and lands a tire width beside it. Nothing works for a short time. One front wheel hangs in the air, the front and rear axles are crossed in opposite directions and the right rear wheel turns when accelerating. I fear the worst. Did we just break down our car?
Mathias keeps stepping on the gas pedal ... and suddenly ... as if by magic ... he has grip again and moves forward. Phu, that was by far the most nerve-racking experience ever! My adrenaline-soaked body now has enough energy to run up the whole pass and to look at and analyse every upcoming spot as closely as possible. Mathias follows with Baloo in low range and walking pace. The rest of the pass was just a formality!
At the top the feelings of relief, pride, exhaustion and satisfaction mix in us and we first need a break. An even bigger stone falls from our hearts as we read that there is no mountain service of the National Park Service on the route just driven. Whether we would have driven the Lippincott in the knowledge of this fact is more than unlikely.
After a well-deserved lunch we finally head for Racetrack Playa. This is a huge dried up plain, on which stones - partly of considerable size - move in an ominous way. There are only traces that they change their position, but no one has ever seen an actual movement. At least the movement of the stones remained a mystery until 2014, when a scientific explanation could only be provided four years ago. Until then, there were countless theories about the "wandering rocks". Finally, GPS and time-lapse images were used to prove that very thin layers of ice were responsible for the movements. When these ice layers melt, very low wind speeds are sufficient to propel the stones forward. Some of them covered distances of up to 224 metres at speeds of up to 5 metres per minute.
After the fascinating sight of this Racetrack Playa covered with stones we set off on our way back. Over the Teakettle Junction we drive into the Hidden Valley and finally over the Hunter Mountain Road back to the South Pass and can enjoy the wonderful view of the Panamint Valley again shortly before sunset.
As we move into our sleeping place, the day has long since turned into night. We sit outside for a moment and end the long day with a beer after work. The full moon shines so brightly today that we can see the outlines of our figures in the moon shadow. And this time we are not alone either. Loud coyote howling betrays other people present. As we look into the starry sky and search for the Milky Way, suddenly another light illuminates the sky tent. A huge tail is visible through the whole black and gives us a perfect finish in Death Valley National Park.
Wish is wish!
Our tips for Death Valley National Park:
- Fill up outside the park (e.g. in Beatty), because in the park the gallon of diesel costs more than 5 USD.
- At most attractions there are so-called "ranger talks", where you can learn a lot of interesting things about the respective place and the park. Detailed information can be found at the Visitor Center in Furnace Creek.
- In winter the climate is very pleasant, in summer a trip without AC would have been unimaginable for us, as often temperatures above 50°C are measured
- In Death Valley it is allowed to camp wild in some places, if you are a mile away from the road. You can find out where exactly it is allowed at the Visitor Center in Furnace Creek.
- Information about road conditions of offroad tracks in the hinterland can be found in this Facebook group.