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From Las Vegas to LA via Death Valley

Madrid, Spain
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From Las Vegas to LA via Death Valley

We are a small group of 5 people who will be driving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles in December. We really want to go via Death Valley to see the scenery, although we realize it will be a very long day! I read that we should count on 2 hours driving between Las Vegas and Death Valley and 5 hours between Death Valley and LA, so in theory that should give us at least a few hours to cross Death Valley and stop for some short walks and photos. Is this feasible? It's so difficult to calculate driving time vs. distances in a place you don't know... We realize that it's not ideal, but we've got a short time in the US only, and considering the price of the tickets we probably won't get another opportunity to go anytime soon!

Any advice on a realistic but scenic itinerary would be much appreciated. We'll stick to the paved roads as we don't want any trouble with our rental car.

Thanks a lot in advance!

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1. Re: From Las Vegas to LA via Death Valley

Hey Louise_CD - saw your inquiry about helicopter flights to the Grand Canyon in the Las Vegas forum. I will let some of the more knowledgeable folks help you with your Death Valley questions, but I strongly, STRONGLY encourage you to consider spending the night in one or both places (DV and GC) if at all possible.

I know you are visiting from far away and have limited time, but it is exactly *because* you "won't get another opportunity to go anytime soon" that I think you should invest the time to see the scenery (which is magnificent). It would be a shame to travel all that way and then settle for less than the full scenic experience. An overnight stay will give you more time to explore the sights and view them at night or in the early morning. You will not regret it!

-JimG

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2. Re: From Las Vegas to LA via Death Valley

Hi Jim,

Thanks a lot for the reply! I'd love to be able to spend a night in each place, but unfortunately our hands are a bit tied since we've got the flights and hotels booked... We're going to Las Vegas for a company-paid conference and then managed to get the flight home a week later from San Francisco (flights were a special offer with very few possibilities). So we're trying to cram everything we can into that week in an attempt to combine the preferences and opinions of 5 people... Not easy! We know it will be exhausting and not the full experience, but unfortunately we can't do everything. I'd probably prioritize the national parks higher if these were my private holidays, but it seems the main priority of the group is LA and San Francisco. I know, I know - I'll never complain about Americans trying to see Europe on a 2-week trip again!

Would it be completely impossible to do this without stopping for the night? It's either that or miss it completely, I'm afraid! We'd rather do it half-way than not at all...

Thanks again!

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San Francisco
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3. Re: From Las Vegas to LA via Death Valley

People plan "drive through" visits to Yosemite as well. Part of me cringes, but part of me recognizes that this may be all the time they have available during this visit. Hopefully folks realize that they aren't getting the real experience with a quick visit and they can see enough to want to return.

Here's what I'd suggest (note ~ I haven't done it, but it seems like it can offer you a teeny taste of the beauty & drama that is Death Valley):

Enter via Pahrump, Bell Vista/Stateline Road, and Hwy 190. Stop at Zabriskie Point. Continue on to Furnace Creek. Go to the temporary visitor center, if that suits your group. Drive south to Artists Drive and do the loop. (If you can leave LV really early, spend an extra 30-45 minutes driving down to Badwater and walking out on the salt flats. But I don't think you'll have time.) Back to Furnace Creek area, and continue north. Turn toward Stovepipe Wells. Stop at the Sand Dunes. Walk out a bit. Check out the views. Continue on past Stovepipe Wells and turn at Mosaic Canyon. This is a dirt/gravel road, but it's fine for a regular car. Park and walk 15 or 20 minutes into the canyon. The rocks are fabulous. Back to the car and continue on out of the Park on Hwy 190. Check out the views behind you as you ascend the Panamints.

Turn south on Hwy 395 and head toward Los Angeles.

I didn't allow any time to eat. I always suggest bringing a picnic when trying to maximize time on a busy day. Also, there aren't many dining choices in the Park. Can you convince your group to bring a meal with them? Will your hotel pack box lunches, or can you get food the night before from a grocery store? You'll appreciate the extra time when you're in Death Valley!

Driving map: http://tinyurl.com/DV-Route-for-LouiseCD

Routes from LV to/from DV: nps.gov/deva/…20Vegas.pdf

Death Valley map: nps.gov/deva/…DEVAmap1a.pdf

"Temporary Visitor Center

The Furnace Creek Visitor Center will close for renovations on Nov. 15, 2010. A temporary visitor center will open near the Furnace Creek Ranch with a information desk, fee station, and bookstore." www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/hours.htm

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4. Re: From Las Vegas to LA via Death Valley

The direct drive from Las Vegas to Los Angeles (depending on where you want to go in LA) already is 5 hours. You are leaving Las Vegas in rush hour and days are very short in december. The DV detour takes at least 3 extra hours without stops and you will be arriving in Los Angeles in the dark. You simple won't have time to visit places in DV and drive in the daylight hours to LA. Reservations can be cancelled. Lone Pine at the foot of Mount Whitney is an old fashioned "all American" town and Dow Villa hotel is great to spend the night. The next morning you can drive at leisurely pace to LA and will have time to already do some exploring there same day.

Tet

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5. Re: From Las Vegas to LA via Death Valley

It’s really, really unfortunate that you have only one day to get from Las Vegas to Los Angeles including Death Valley. This will be a very superficial look at a few of the major sights, and you will not have much of a desert experience. The subtleties of colors, shapes, opportunities to see wildlife, or just hear animals and birds, will escape you.

As mentioned, the days will be very short. The longest daylight period (sunrise to sunset) in the month of December is 11 hours, 53 minutes; the shortest, 11 hours, 42 minutes. Here is a website to figure sunrise and sunset times for your specific days.

aa.usno.navy.mil/cgi-bin/aa_rstablew2.pl

At each end of the sun’s day is a period called civil twilight, which is defined by how far below the horizon the sun is. It’s a fancy name for about a half hour before sunrise and after sunset when the human eye can discern objects but not really see well. For practical purposes, it’s mostly good for travel time, maybe OK for art photography but not scenic photos or really enjoying the landscapes. You’ll need to get a very early start from Las Vegas, and make the most of this civil twilight time.

I would add to PNWF’s list, Dante’s View. Yes, it’s 23 km off the main road, but it is a must-see, especially if you may never come to California again. It’s about 200-210 km from central Las Vegas, so try to time it to be there around sunrise. It’s a 360° panorama that includes the length of Death Valley, the salt flats and surrounding mountain ranges. When you return to Hwy 190, Zabriskie Point will be on the way.

Badwater is also a must-see. It is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere (you looked down on it from Dante’s View) and is a vast expanse of salt (borates, sodium chloride, Epsom salts, etc.) All the main natural wonders on the Bsdwater corridor (Devil’s Golf Course, Badwater, Artist’s Drive, Golden Canyon) are in the first 27 km of this road from Furnace Creek. Artist’s Drive is also worth seeing; you drive through a scenic canyon to a hillside where the rocks have been “painted” rainbow colors by mineral oxides.

From there, I concur with PNWF’s suggestions. One way to cut off maybe a half hour on your way into Los Angeles: don’t take Hwy 190 all the way to 136 and Lone Pine (unless you are taking Tet’s suggestion to stay over there), Instead, take 190 to Panamint Valley Road (west of Stovepipe Wells; signed for Trona). Turn left (south), go through Trona and Ridgecrest, and turn south on Hwy 14. It will go through Lancaster and Palmdale. If your L.A. destination is around the San Fernando Valley or the coast (Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, even Hollywood), this will keep you out of the major urban congested traffic the longest. If you take 395, you will end up in the eastern part of the metro area and be stuck in the urban traffic for about 100 km before getting to places nearer the coast.

Including Death Valley, your one-day proposed trip will be close to 700 km, not counting any other possible sightseeing detours I haven’t mentioned. We are giving you these one-day trip suggestions because this may be your only visit to California, and we want you to see Death Valley. We wish you could see Yosemite, the Monterey coast, and other beautiful parts of our state. California is a little smaller than Spain and has about the same population. It’s bigger than Japan, Germany, or Finland. The drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco is a little longer than the drive from Madrid to Lisbon. If there is any way at all you can stay over a night, you would have a much more enjoyable, leisurely trip.

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Madrid, Spain
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6. Re: From Las Vegas to LA via Death Valley

Thanks a million to all of you for the detailed and very helpful suggestions. I'll share with the group and this'll really help us to be realistic about our route and make the most of it within our very narrow time constraints!

I know it's far from ideal to rush around doing things halfway like that, but this trip came up as a surprise opportunity so we'll be happy for anything we can see in the time we're there. We'll probably end up wanting to go back and see it properly one day (it's not impossible, just probably won't be until the Spanish economy recovers!), but at least the bit we'll see will be better than nothing.

By the way, we will spend a night between LA and SF so at least we get to see the coast a bit better. We were originally planning to go directly from LV to LA, but it's hard not to get distracted by all the interesting places in the area... Doing 700km in a day would not be unusual in Spain (especially when you live in Madrid and want to go to the coast) but I know that the actual driving time can vary a lot for the same distance. Anyway, we hope to get a slight taste of the area at least!

Madrid, Spain
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7. Re: From Las Vegas to LA via Death Valley

Hi all, this is quite old by now, but thought I'd share my feedback in case it might be useful for others. Our plans didn't go quite like expected, but we're still glad we took the detour! Our last night in Vegas was my colleague's birthday and well, let's just say it wasn't possible for him to get up as early as I'd have liked the next morning! Then the car rental company kept us waiting for an hour, and in the end it was midday by the time we left Vegas. Yes, midday! And no, we hadn't bought anything for a quick lunch on the go. Oops! To make a long story short, the only places we got to see properly were Zabriskie's Point and Badwater, but the whole route was definitely worth it for us (at least the part we did in daylight) and even though we're aware that we haven't really seen Death Valley but only had a quick glimpse of it, that glimpse was a lot better than nothing. I'd love to return one day and focus my stay on the national parks... Death Valley deserves another visit for sure. We didn't arrive in LA terribly late, by the way, and the driving was no problem as such, although I have a feeling that we missed out on some stunning landscapes by leaving Death Valley after dark.

Thanks to all of you for the useful advice, it really helped us squeeze the most out of our super short visit!

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8. Re: From Las Vegas to LA via Death Valley

Thanks for the feed back. I'm sure you'll be back one day.....

9. Re: From Las Vegas to LA via Death Valley

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