We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.
We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Advice for a newbie

Saint Louis...
3 posts
Save Topic
Advice for a newbie

Hi All,

I've long had a facination with Death Valley and it's time to do something about it.

I appreciate everyone's advice.

What I am looking to accomplish is to completely get off the grid for a week at a time. My long term plan would be to build a 4x4 and ship it out somewhere close and after my time out ship it back.

The vehicle part is not a problem, I have my own shop and can build whatever I need

But, I know nada about Death Valley save for what one can read - I lack practical, first hand knowledge.

My plan in the making is to head out, rent a Jeep, provision up, and head out for a week to start my education. What I'm trying to achive is total disconnect... Once I know a bit more about what I'm doing I can start on kitting out my own purpose built vehicle.

I really appreciate any input.

Thanks a lot.

San Francisco
Destination Expert
for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
Level Contributor
14,026 posts
45 reviews
Save Reply
1. Re: Advice for a newbie

Question 1: What season are you planning to come? That makes a huge difference. The summer climate in Death Valley is nothing like the climate in the Midwest or along the Mississippi Valley. While many of us regulars have no problem with it and may even thrive on it, it is not to be trifled with. If you plan to come in winter, there can be snow and ice at higher elevations and some backcountry can be inaccessible.

Question 2: What kind of backcountry experience do you have? Many people think of “backcountry” as forests or mountains, and we do have those. But much of our backcountry is also arid and you’d want to either bring all your water and carry or cache it, or depend on natural water sources. Those are not always consistent because of the weather, and I would never suggest a newcomer who has never been in Death Valley rely on them.

It sounds like you plan to make an initial trip with a rental vehicle to get the lay of the land and then build your own 4wd vehicle. You can rent a Jeep or other 4wd in Las Vegas, or there is an outfit at Furnace Creek Inn in the park (Farabee’s) that rents them. However, they rent only by the day, not the week, with (IIRC) a 175-mile per day limit.

Just curious, why do you plan to build your own? Are you looking to spend lots of time in Death Valley and want to be sure you have everything you need? The truth is, most factory-built 4wd vehicles with good clearance can go to most places off the beaten track and there is no need for a custom-built vehicle just for Death Valley. Some areas require 4wd because of the kind of surface they have but not high clearance, while others require high clearance but not necessarily 4wd. If you have something like a Pathfinder or 4Runner, it will be fine. Some backcountry areas have narrower roads with tighter turns, where a really wide vehicle or long wheelbase might be harder to maneuver.

My suggestion for any first trip, especially if you have not done a lot of research or reading yet, is to focus on places to see along the main roads and some of the secondary roads. You might be surprised at how much time you can spend enjoying the sights along Hwy 190, Badwater Road, West Side, Daylight Pass, Mud Canyon, Castle Road, and Emigrant-Wildrose, without ever needing 4wd. You’ll get an appreciation for the geology, plant life, and climate, and for some of the results of the natural processes at work in Death Valley. You’ll need that understanding of the natural processes to get along successfully in the backcountry. You won’t need to concentrate so much on the logistical aspects, backcountry safety, and such just yet. After you’ve gotten somewhat familiar with the park (and no one gets it all in one or two visits), if you’re still in love with it, you can think about a more ambitious trip.

Here is a thread about out-of-the-way places. Read the thread that Danny referenced in post #5, about a family that came to extraordinary grief on their first ever visit to Death Valley. Do not attempt any long backcountry excursions without checking on current weather and road conditions, discussing your plans with rangers, and notifying the park and one or two other responsible parties of your itinerary.

Encinitas...
Destination Expert
for Zion National Park, Joshua Tree National Park
Level Contributor
16,998 posts
14 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: Advice for a newbie

I would look into renting a Jeep with Farabees for a first time trip.At least those have lift kits and off road tires, unlike anything you could rent out of the airport in Vegas. Farabees encourages you to explore with their vehicles, whereas a normal rental company frowns on using vehicles on dirt roads.

I would also recommend that you look into tagging along with a local Jeep club that is located nearby (Vegas, Ridgecrest, or wherever)that may be doing a weekend trip to DV. Since it sounds like you have never been to the desert before, it would be helpful to have some company along in case you get into a bind. You could then learn more of what it takes to explore the far reaches of the desert.

San Francisco
Destination Expert
for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
Level Contributor
14,026 posts
45 reviews
Save Reply
3. Re: Advice for a newbie

Sorry, I forgot to include the link in my earlier post.

tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g143021-i2027-k578…

Saint Louis...
3 posts
Save Reply
4. Re: Advice for a newbie

Many, many thanks for the info.

As for when, I'm thinking this winter

As for the vehicle part, I'm experienced in off road. (Though not in the dessert) My hobby is building cars and trucks and when I mention doing my own vehicle, it is as much for my own enjoyment as anything. I've been thinking of an older 4 runner. Something I could tear down, rebuild, and customize for use as transportation and home away from home in the dessert.

I would pack out provisions and water of course. And I'm in the GPS business so I would be loaded up with GPS, sat phone and the like, just in case.

For sure I would take the first trip or two with some kind of rental, and would be pretty conservative. I have no real need to challenge the dessert with no experience, which would be some kind of avoidable mistake as far as I can see. My concern about a jeep I would rent from one of the mainline rental fleets is the tires. And I would definitely need more than one day. So...

All the input and advice is really appreciated.

So Cal
Level Contributor
7,963 posts
69 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: Advice for a newbie

Nardulli, this applies to the southwest in general, not just DV in particular: do not rely solely on GPS mapping out here. I don't know why (if you're in the business, perhaps you could give some insight), but when it comes to this area, GPS tends to send people down the most awfully inappropriate routes - sometimes fatally inappropriate. Snowed-in forestry roads in the winter, bogged-down dirt roads in the monsoon, unmaintained dirt tracks that stopped going through decades ago.

So by all means take your GPS along, but also get some good solid old-fashioned paper maps (AAA's are great), and make sure to check your plans with a ranger.

San Francisco
Destination Expert
for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
Level Contributor
14,026 posts
45 reviews
Save Reply
6. Re: Advice for a newbie

The family in the story we talked about in that thread (Death by Exposure) had GPS and cell phones. So did the folks featured in the September Reader's Digest story. Their mistake was depending on those devices. As Jenazz said, many people have ended up lost, injured, sick, even dead because their electronic wonders made them too complacent. Some have also been ill prepared (inadequate water, trying to use street tires in the backcountry. etc.)

AAA maps are adequate for most visitors for gettiing around. The CSAA "Death Valley National Park Guide Map" has all the major highways and secondary roads, many backcountry roads, and all the main landmarks. For most backcountry explorers, unless you'll do extensive hiking or backpacking, the Death Valley hiker's topo map from the National Geographic Trails Illustrated series is fine. It's printed on a durable water-resistant plastic sheet and includes visitor services and places of interest. The next step up is the USGS 7.5-minute topos, and almost no one really needs that. I have an old 15-minute set for most of the park, and it's as much as I'll probably ever need even working as a park volunteer.

There is another map series on durable plastic by Tom Harrison, but those don't have the info on visitor services. Get the National Geographic one if possible.

San Francisco
Destination Expert
for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
Level Contributor
14,026 posts
45 reviews
Save Reply
7. Re: Advice for a newbie

Some agencies that rent 4wd stipulate in the contract that you won't drive off pavement, which kinda defeats the purpose of renting such a vehicle. But most of those have regular street tires. In fact, there are some places in the backcountry where we can get away with that if we’re careful (most of the DV regulars here have done it). What the contract means, in practical terms, is that if you do drive off pavement and anything bad happens, any cost or liability belongs to you.

Farabee’s started out in Moab, Utah. They are a long-time supplier to people wanting to experience the backcountry who have to fly in, or don’t own specialty vehicles. Their Jeeps are outfitted for the backcountry, including the tires. They also include maps and ideas about places to go, and even a cooler with ice.

Since they don't rent by the week, you might think about renting one for a day, going out and seeing and doing all you can in that day, and filing it all for future reference. Places like Titus Canyon, the Racetrack and Eureka Dunes, or Warm Springs Canyon are good trips for your first visit. I would still suggest doing some general exploring around the park first, to get a feel for the topography and the overall environment. After your first rental, it can’t hurt to ask them if they ever rent for longer periods.

Saint Louis...
3 posts
Save Reply
8. Re: Advice for a newbie

A word about GPS and maps....

GPS is accurate enough for anything we are likely to do. DOD has greater accuracy, but as I don't plan on launching Any missiles, the ~ 5 meters accuracy is good enough. As for routing, there are two factors in the main, and those are the quality of the routing math and the quality of the data from which the maps are rendered. For DV or any place like it, I would not rely on The routing, but simply use the system as a very accurate map. I can see the roads, track and terrain, I can see my position and heading, and from there it's no different than any map. I would load Nat geo topos and Mobil parks maps and some others, including usgs. Just taking your basic Garmin out would not be great. The navteq maps they use have mich of DV in the data, but it is sketchy and wont help you much for turn by turn once you are off the grid. A Garmin outdoor model with good topos with another map source, would get you by nicely.

9. Re: Advice for a newbie

-:- Message from TripAdvisor staff -:-

This topic has been closed to new posts due to inactivity. We hope you'll join the conversation by posting to an open topic or starting a new one.

To review the TripAdvisor Forums Posting Guidelines, please follow this link: http://www.tripadvisor.com/pages/forums_posting_guidelines.html

We remove posts that do not follow our posting guidelines, and we reserve the right to remove any post for any reason.

Removed on: 15 December 2013, 05:19