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Driving at night in DV

vancouver BC
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181 posts
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Driving at night in DV

Hi,

I'm planning an overnight stay at SPW (I hope) Dec 21-22. I fly into Vegas from Canada) and should be on the road by about 5-5.30 pm, proceeding directly to SPW with only a short grocery stop.

From what I gather most of the drive will be in darkness. Is that a problem? I'm an experienced driver, but not desert driving at night. I've read stories of deer or elk jumping up on the highway, giant porcipines, etc.

Any advice about desert driving at night in the winter will be appreciated.

Oh, and a big thanks to everyone who contributes here. I read the "suggested day trips" posts and they were a huge help to planning my time. Looking forward to my visit.

USA
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1. Re: Driving at night in DV

>I've read stories of deer or elk jumping up on the highway, giant porcipines, etc. <

The lores of the desert!

Have you heard about the gila monsters?

Also my dear husband and friends have been enjoying telling me the story of "The Hills Have Eyes". Yikes!

Just kidding.

Tucson, Arizona
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for Dusseldorf
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2. Re: Driving at night in DV

Absolutely no problem. The roads are pretty straight except for the climb out of Vegas. You will not encounter any wild animals except for the potential DUI crazy.

ZB

Vancouver...
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3. Re: Driving at night in DV

Animals? Not so much. However, you will encounter about a gazillion stars if you take the time to stop and look up. You might also see strange things in the night sky.

San Francisco
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for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
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4. Re: Driving at night in DV

From Las Vegas to Stovepipe Wells is a bit over 2 hours. You would have to pick the shortest day of the year for this trip, wouldn't you? (Sigh!) Sunset time is 4:30 p.m. that day. Most of the trip will be in darkness, and what I think is the most unfortunate thing is that you'll miss so much of the beautiful natural landscape.

If you had another day, I'd suggest sacking out somewhere near Las Vegas (even Pahrump, which is an ugly place good only for groceries or gas), and going into the park in the morning to see Dante's View and everything else in daylight.

You'll get to Stovepipe Wells somewhere between 7:30 and 8:00 p.m. (will vary of course). As you know, the restaurant and saloon are closed. An alternative, since it's going to be night and you won't see much scenery, is to stop at Furnace Creek on the way for dinner. The park visitor center will be closed by then, but the resort restaurants, saloon, and store should be open to at least 9:00.

What do you plan to see and do in the park? Are you returning to Las Vegas or going elsewhere afterward? If you're headed to Yosemite or points west, you'll have to backtrack all the mileage you drove the evening before to see the major natural wonders on the east side, from Dante's View to Badwater and Golden Canyon, and back to the Sand Dunes and Mosaic Canyon--which is why I felt that entering the park in the morning would be better.

There are no giant porcupines in Death Valley. Some cacti might be mistaken for giant porcupines, but there aren't that many cacti in DV. Those are more typical of the Sonoran desert regions of Arizona and northern Mexico. But here is one that does grow a lot around DV, the beavertail.

eugenecarsey.com/camp/needlemountain/cactus0…

Some varieties of echinocactus can also be found in DV. They're often called barrel cacti because of the round or cylindrical shape. The one in the picture is obviously a small potted plant, but you can find big round ones that very well could resemble a giant porcupine.

cactus-art.biz/schede/ECHINOCACTUS/Echinocac…

Finally, there are tumbleweeds. These are not legit plants, but parts of plants that have dried up, separated from the plant, and blow and roll around in the wind. They're an iconic image of the West and a staple in Western movies, suggesting dryness, desolation, abandonment, or foreboding. The Russian thistle is a common tumbleweed, and sometimes has a brilliant orange color. But the pretty color belies the predatory nature of any tumbleweed; it erodes the soil as it rolls, causing water loss, absorbs water even though it's dead, entangles and strangles other plants. Tumbleweeds come in all sizes; in high winds in the San Joaquin Valley, I see tumbleweeds as big as stoves rolling around on the road. And yes, they might look to some people like monter porcupines.

Deer and elk ARE a concern on mountain highways like 395. Not so much in Death Valley, where there aren't that many big mammals because the land can't support them. On 395 from Lone Pine north, especially around Mammoth, motorists are advised to be alert at night because these animals do come onto the road. A collision with a deer can be fatal--and not only to the deer. The biggest mammal you're very likely to see in the lower elevations of DV is the coyote.

Washington State
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for Yosemite National Park
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5. Re: Driving at night in DV

Love the descriptions of the tumbleweeds. As children growing up in the San Joaquin Valley, we made a monstrously tall "snowman" out of tumbleweeds one winter, complete with a scarf & hat. Cheap fun.

canayen ~ Deer are crepuscular, so you're right that you'll need to be careful driving at dawn & dusk.

Tucson, Arizona
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6. Re: Driving at night in DV

Frisco, I have seen porcupine in DVNP! However, I would not call them giant but porcupine none the less. Quite amazed me.

ZB

USA
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7. Re: Driving at night in DV

Hi again,

I hope you do not hold it against me for the previous #1 most improper response. You surely cannot know my mischievous streak. I just came back from DVNP and here is hopefully a better more helpful answer.

Driving from/to LAS to Death Valley:

When you arrive at airport you need to get on a Rental Car Center shuttle bus. All rental services are in one off site place. Any car you take will do fine for the short trip you make. GPS? Very helpful to get out of Las Vegas and back, but not needed for rest of drive. If you have one to bring , great, or just print out mapquest direction, etc..There is always a momentary confusion of how to get to the highway from airport. We took I-15 to Hwy 160 out and back to LAS. The exit going back to airport is Exit 34. At stoplight off ramp is Las Vegas Blvd and if you need to fill up gas tank this is a good time to turn right before heading to rental return. Within a block are several gas stations.

The drive to Death Valley:

Just outside of Las Vegas are some nice sceneries (Red Rock Canyon and Spring Mountain) which will be too dark to see then. The road is slightly curvy through here but not a problem. Road lines are well marked and plenty of reflecting posts along the highway. Parhump is a real city and has plenty of accommodations and grocery shops if you want to stop for the night. If you want to press on closer to the National park then Death Valley Junction is with in next 3/4 hr. Here, the Amargosa Hotel and Opera House is a possible overnight stop. Parhump = nothing fancy typical chain hotels; Amargosa Hotel = basic basic in a deserty shabby chic way. From here you can get up early and drive to Dantes View or Zabriskie Point for sunrise next day. Those 2 are so very worthy of a stop. And then the rest of the park is yours to explore.

As Frisco hinted, a drive to STW that first night would be a tough one in term of time and not much gained in sightseeing. Why not rest and get up early? Driving at night in the park is easy though. You just have to slow down at the curves now and then. Flip on/off far lights as needed. We saw a coyote at side of road one night and he moved away quickly from us. No large animals, no large tumbleweeds flying around. We did see tumbleweeds at sand dunes.

The Ribbon Candy Highway:

The roads in the park undulate and hug the sides of the mountain ranges. The gentle ups and downs made me feel like I was traveling on a ribbon candy. My son said it made him feel like bobbing up and down in a boat. There are signs of DIP along the road. We got in the habit of shouting out "Nacho Dip coming!" No, they are not roller coasters.

And finally just pay attention to that gas gauge. More on that later.

I wish you a safe and fantastic journey,

MP

vancouver BC
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8. Re: Driving at night in DV

A big thanks for all the advice. After reading and ruminating more, I decided to tweak my trip and spend two nights in DV. Better to "do" less and enjoy what you do more -- and just take time to "be". Also, I arrive earlier in the day so I should be able to make most of the trip from Vegas to SPW in daylight. I'm booked in for 2 nights at SPW.

I'm looking forward to having a little more relaxed visit -- take more time to explore and take photos. Then I'm off to the Grand Canyon and an overnight hike down on Christmas Eve / Christmas Day.

So I'll be enjoying two of the most beautiful national parks this holiday season, and I'm looking forward to it.

question -- is the restaurant or whatever they have at Furnace Creek Resort pricey? I get the impression that with the demise of the SPW restaurant that there is a dearth of reasonably priced places to eat in DV.

cheers

USA
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9. Re: Driving at night in DV

AWESOME! I am so happy you can stay another night. You won't regret it.

Furnace Creek Inn is a posh hotel up a hill, very separate from Furnace Creek Ranch, which is lower down and on the other side of the road. Room and food prices at the Inn are as lofty as its location. I would go to the 49ers Cafe in the Furnace Creek Ranch complex. You can get a decent, hearty meal there for 15-20 dollars. We had fried chicken meal for about 14 USD with bread, 4 pieces chicken, mashed potatoes, and cole slaw. Salad and Texas chili were also very good. The breakfasts are decent. There is a bar next door with TVs, free popcorn, and you can order food too. Then next to it is Wrangler Restaurant, a bit more up scale but we thought service slow and food only OK. Prices are double that of the Cafe.

We bought a cheap styrofoam cooler at Walmart and put drinks and sandwiches in for lunch on the go. Great tip from someone here! The prices for most stuff in the park are about 2-3X that of Walmart. Better selections at Walmart and the like.

Any other questions just ask. My husband hiked down Grand Canyon and that was one of few memorable trips in one's lifetime according to him. He ate at the place down there but tented overnite. My son was too small then so he and I just hiked the rim. Perhaps we will go back soon.

MP

10. Re: Driving at night in DV

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