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Vegas to Death Valley & Highway 395 on Thanksgiving Trip

Houston, Texas
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Vegas to Death Valley & Highway 395 on Thanksgiving Trip

Fellow Traveler,

I am posting this in Death Valley & Las Vegas forum. Please help me planning the best itinerary for this trip.

Here is my trip information-

Context:

I need some advice on my thanksgiving trip in and around Vegas. 4 of us friends are landing in Vegas on Thursday morning. I will be the one making solo trips around. My friends are going to stay in Vegas and enjoy. I have been to Vegas earlier.

Traveler information:

28, guy, Indian, working in IT, staying in US since 2011, this will be first solo road trip

Past Travel History:

San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York, Austin, Dallas, Miami, Phoenix, Atlanta, Smokeys, Yosemite, Key West, PCH, Napa calley, Grand Canyon, Santa Fe, Lousiana,Philly

Flight info:

Landing Vegas from Houston Thursday morning 8:15.

Leaving Vegas for Houston Monday morning 1:30.

Likes:

Road trips, driving, building Gaming PC

Budget:

Should be reasonable for solo travel. No fancy stays.

Now, places I have considered visiting (Adjustable) on this trip:

1. Death Valley NP - Dante's View, Zabriskie Point, Badwater Basin, Devil's golf course, Artist's Drive, San Dunes, Ubehebe Crater

2. Along highway 395 - Lone Pine ,Mount Whitney (Portal road drive), Alabama Hills Convict Lake, Mono Lake, Manzaner, Bodie

3. ET Highway

4. Zion NP

Not able to decide between:

1. Should I make this loop? LV - DVNP - Lone Pine - Bishop - Tonopah - Rachel - LV

I can start from Vegas around 9AM on Thursday and cover Death Valley during day time and reach Lone Pine by night. Then, continue along 395 on Friday morning, reach Tonopah by night for stay. Then, cruise along ET highway to Vegas on Saturday covering Valley of fire state park. Then on Sunday, do a day trip to Zion NP.

Or,

Should i make short trips from Vegas?

Thursday : LV - DVNP - LV

Friday : LV - ET Highway - Valley of Fire park - LV

Saturday : LV - Zion NP - LV

Sunday - In Vegas

Other things to consider:

- No snow driving experience.

- Will I encounter snow around that time?

- What should I carry as solo traveler ?

- Should I visit ghost town alone ? (if going there)

- Main aim is to drive on scenic routes. Some photo ops.

How would you plan out if you had to do this solo trip?

Open to all suggestions. Will be glad to hear your replies. Thanks!!

Henderson, Nevada
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1. Re: Vegas to Death Valley & Highway 395 on Thanksgiving Trip

All options are possible as long as the weather cooperates... If the weather is an issue you should know and be able to cancel. This winter looks like it will be either a drought or very late, with little rain in the offering. Ice is probably a bigger issue than snow, but much of this landscape is dry so seeps, leading to Ice are less likely.

Even with some snow your Las Vegas loops would work... just keep checking weather reports. The loop from Bishop to Tonapah on Hwy 6 over Boundry Peak (Montgomery Pass) would worry me if you don't know snow, but you might think about using Highway 95 through Goldfield to get to Tonapah as an option. Goldfield was the largest city in Nevada about 1909... it has about 250 full time residents now.

This area is generally uninhabited desert. Keep the gas tank full. Have water. Have warm clothing. You will find wonderful stark scenery...

Randy

San Francisco
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2. Re: Vegas to Death Valley & Highway 395 on Thanksgiving Trip

There is a lot to cover in your question, so I will start by answering parts of it, and then come back later. And other people will join in and offer their ideas.

From Las Vegas to Lone Pine, going through Death Valley with some sightseeing, will be from about 450 to 500 km, depending on what you do. It is doable, but will be a long day if you want to spend any time at some of the places in the park, or do any hiking. I always like to suggest people stay at least one night in the park to have the best experience, but at this moment, you may not have much choice because the park lodgings are typically sold out well in advance for Thanksgiving week. There are campgrounds, if you’re OK with camping or with sleeping in the car if you won’t have camping equipment.

Hwy 395 from Lone Pine northward is very scenic. It has not been a heavy winter so far, but by Thanksgiving, there might be snow anywhere along 395. It is never wise to drive without chains or 4wd anywhere in the Eastern Sierra Nevada in winter, and you need to know how to use them before the need arises. (There is a thread somewhere around here about chains, maybe on the Yosemite forum. I'll look for it later).

In dry weather, you can drive to Whitney Portal, the base camp for the climb. In winter, you will be limited if parts of the road are snowed in. The Alabama Hills are on the way, and should be accessible most of the time. As you go up the Whitney Portal Road, it’s about 3 km from the traffic signal in Lone Pine; look for a turnoff to the right called Movie (or Movie Flats) Road. If you like American movies, you may some of the landscapes. Lone Pine also has a movie museum, an attractive downtown area, and of course Manzanar just north of town which you are interested in.

Whatever distance you end up going on Thursday, keep in mind that many restaurants and shops will be closed for Thanksgiving Day. You can get basic necessities; gas stations tend to stay open, and the resorts in Death Valley will have their restaurants and stores open. Lone Pine has McDonald’s and Carl’s Jr., and the gas stations sell “food” that you can put in their microwaves. But much of the retail activity, including real food, will slow down after about noon.

The trip from Lone Pine to Tonopah is less than 300 km, but as Randy said, there are very few services for most of the way. Hwy 6 is usually a priority for maintenance, because it is a main Federal road. But it’s just very, very isolated. Even in summer, I’ve rarely seen more than a few vehicles on it on a given day. Once you leave Bishop, it is pretty much open country for nearly 200 km until Tonopah, unless the little gas station and café that used to be at Benton Junction are open. There used to be a hotel casino on Hwy 6 just inside the Nevada boundary, but it closed years ago and is now just a handful of derelict buildings with a history of derelict trespassers (known in America as squatters) staying in it.

From Tonopah to Rachel is another long, isolated stretch with no services. The map shows a place called Wam Springs where you turn off, but it is not a town. It is the remains of a mineral springs resort that used to be there, including a gas station and café, but it's deserted now. The whole route has very little “civilization.” I almost never pass a chance to buy gas while driving in rural Nevada because the settlements are so far apart, and even though I know the territory well, the store that I remember from two years ago may no longer be open and it might be a long way to the next one. This leg of the trip will be 500 km, and you want to include Valley of Fire. This is a beautiful park that deserves several hours, especially if you decide not to go to Zion.

I want to address this question:

“Should i make short trips from Vegas?...Thursday : LV - DVNP – LV…Friday : LV - ET Highway - Valley of Fire park – LV…Saturday : LV - Zion NP – LV”

You can do Death Valley in a day trip from Las Vegas. It is not ideal, but it’s feasible. Check the Top Questions corner for a thread about this subject. Red Rock Canyon is on the way, but IMO, I would not take time away from DV for it if you plan to go to Valley of Fire or Zion, because either of those places will give you a better experience with the Southwest “red rock” landscapes. Valley of Fire is on the way to Zion. Don't shuttle back and forth from Las Vegas. Do them both on one trip and stay overnight somewhere (again, at this late date, it might be challenging to find vacancies; St. George UT and Mesquite NV have tons of hotels and motels and are probably your best prospects).

One other question intrigued me, the one about visiting ghost towns alone. The term “ghost town” doesn’t mean it is haunted, or threatening or dangerous. (Some of them may be, but that isn’t included in the definition of a ghost town). It means they were once inhabited and are now abandoned, or have very few residents. Usually they were settled for a specific reason, and when that reason was gone, the people went away. For instance, most CA, NV, UT, and AZ ghost towns were mining settlements, and when the ore was gone or became too difficult or costly to mine, the people left—Rhyolite and Bodie, for instance. If it was an agricultural community and the water source dried up or became unreliable, the people left—Allensworth, California is one example. If a town was built along a railroad or highway to cater to travelers, and was later bypassed by a newer route, that town lost its livelihood and the people left—this happened to many places along Route 66. Bodie is a state historic park and the remains of the town are preserved for the public to enjoy. As long as the road is open (it’s high in the mountains and gets snowed in), it’s a great place to go and experience the history of Western mining.

Houston, Texas
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3. Re: Vegas to Death Valley & Highway 395 on Thanksgiving Trip

@RandyHees - Thanks for valuable suggestion. Your dry weather comment solidifies my confidence to not abandon plans to travel north of Lone Pine. Now my main dilemma is - whether it's worth driving Tonopah to Rachel to LV just to tick ET highway checklist off. Is the drive as scenic as compared to 395? The alternate option through Goldfield looks promising.

@Frisco_Roadrunner - Your elobarate reply helps in more than one ways.

Sleeping in car might be taxing for me, so staying DV for the night might not be an option for me.

I will be taking a rental from Vegas, so if I go for full size sedan category I might be out of 4WD options. Taking SUV might get costly for me.

I am looking forward to Alabama Hills and Whitney Portal road. Read reports on Alabama Hills & movies shot there. Place looks amazing.

Thanks for the closure tip on Thanksgiving day. I had completely missed that. Now I remember Miami trip when I was wondering why all shops were closed that day last year!

ANother question will be if I am driving Tonopah to Vegas, is the territory friendly with outsiders?

Think I need to do some more research on Zion & Bryce itinerary. Agree making short trips might not be very good idea as I can use the return times to Vegas to cover some place else.

And infor on ghost towns is useful. Might just drive by one of these to get a feel.I don't think in India i can see any ghost towns!

Encinitas...
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for Zion National Park, Joshua Tree National Park
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4. Re: Vegas to Death Valley & Highway 395 on Thanksgiving Trip

You will have no issues with being from another country or being an outsider. You will probably only see a handful of people anyway (except when you pass thru Tonopah)as its pretty remote.

Between Tonopah and Vegas the route is pretty uninhabited except for the old mining town of Goldfield and the small town of Beatty.

Like I mentioned on your Vegas thread, try checking out the Mizpah in Tonopah.

Edited: 15 November 2013, 20:32
Henderson, Nevada
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5. Re: Vegas to Death Valley & Highway 395 on Thanksgiving Trip

I really like the desert, and desert scenery... and no, in my opinion, the trip north through Tonopah to Agua Caliente to take the ET Highway south isn't worth it... unless you are somewhat crazy (I am but don't expect that from others) There are other things out there, unrelated to the ET Hwy... mining history, western history, the desert lobster... (woops, that is elsewhere, in Mina) but you need the time to explore. Someone mentioned the Mitzpha in Tonapah... highly recommended...

Instead, drive up the ET Highway from the south to visit Rachel... the bar, the mailbox, then head back south... Revel in the wacky... Go to the Valley of Fire...

Being a terrestrial alien should not be an issue... It is the west and we are pretty accommodating face to face... A lot of the places you will see are abandond... In some ways the desert is sad... the land of lost dreams... which makes visiting it better if you can embrace the idea...

Randy

Houston, Texas
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6. Re: Vegas to Death Valley & Highway 395 on Thanksgiving Trip

@Randy, @dez40 - Good to hear encouraging tips.

So I did some planning over weekend & I have modified my itinerary based on your suggestions. See if that will work out for me? On this trip haven't planned much hiking. On few spots 0.5 to 1 mile hiking is fine, but not on all spots. Since, I will be traveling alone, might not spend much time at one place.

Here's the route map:

http://goo.gl/3di1tB

Thursday - Going to Red Rock scenic drive in morning, have lunch in Vegas, Then, head to VoF. Return to Vegas by evening.

Friday- Start around 6am for Death Valley. Cover the spots mentioned in route & reach Lone Pine by say 7-8 pm.

Saturday - Cover Manzanar, Mt Whitney portal, Alabama Hills, June Lake or Convict lake. Suggest some more place ? Lunch @ Bishop. Then drive to Tonopah. Spend the night in Tonopah.

Sunday - Drive from Tonopah to Rachel on 375. Then head back to Vegas.

Does it look doable ?

Also, question I had was

- is it safe to drive from Tonopah to Rachel & Vegas? What precautions I should take on this route as its pretty much desolate on map.

- Not able to decide Saturday itinerary. Please help.

- Another option is should I backtrack Lone Pine to Las Vegas via Death valley on Saturday covering additional places like Scotty's Castle, Ubehebe, going Vegas through Badwater Road? Thanks for all the responses guys!

Las Vegas, Nevada
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7. Re: Vegas to Death Valley & Highway 395 on Thanksgiving Trip

Weather won't be a real issue since you aren't crossing the passes. The ghost town is safe alone. ET highway. Occasional abductions. But after a short probing session most are released.

Houston, Texas
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8. Re: Vegas to Death Valley & Highway 395 on Thanksgiving Trip

lol.. thanks for abduction tips.. hope its friendly like Close Encounters

Houston, Texas
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9. Re: Vegas to Death Valley & Highway 395 on Thanksgiving Trip

I went ahead and did the booking for Lone Pine & Tonopah.. Was seeing bit of snow forecast for Tonopah next week which worries me.. although i have free cancellationtill last day so will watch out..

Houston, Texas
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10. Re: Vegas to Death Valley & Highway 395 on Thanksgiving Trip

Ok I modified my route a bit:

http://goo.gl/7gyr2l

Do you think I missed any must see places given my schedule?

Would you suggest cancelling my Best Western reservation & book in Mizpah instead. I could have booked in Mizpah earlier but I could not get the link or may be was just looking via trip booking sites!. Both Best Western & Mizpah is coming around 110 for me..

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