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Enjoy your summer trip to DV

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for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
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Enjoy your summer trip to DV

This post is based on my old one that was closed when it became inactive. Rather than continually linking to it, I’m starting a new thread.

It’s not quite spring, but Death Valley is warming up and people from places with more moderate climates are asking about summer travel there. Here are a few basics.

Yes, it does get toasty. May-to-September daytime temperatures in the 120’s F range/48-52ºC are not rare. In July and August, they are typical. It often stays above 100ºF/38ºC at night. The relative humidity is very low, 10% or less, unless thunderstorms are coming. Health risks include dehydration, severe sunburn, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. But thousands of people enjoy Death Valley in the summer and live to tell about it. Please be one of them.

STAY HEALTHY

• Carry AND DRINK lots of water, about a gallon a day per person. DON’T SKIMP. In this weather, we constantly lose moisture from evaporation. It goes out when we perspire, eliminate, talk, and just breathe, two quarts or more a day even at rest. A couple of signs that dehydration has already started: you feel thirsty, you’re getting a headache, you are urinating much less than normal, your P is unusually dark. Drink spring, well, or other untreated water only in a dire emergency, and filter it if possible. Even filtering it from one container to another through your bandanna a few times is better than not at all. Hopefully you’ll be prepared enough never to need to do this.

• Fruit juice and carbonated, caffeinated, or alcoholic drinks are not a substitute for water.

• Even if your appetite is lower, some food is needed to maintain body electrolytes. These are minerals like sodium, potassium, and calcium that act on the same principle as battery electrolytes: they carry electrical impulses that keep our nervous system operating. The salty sweat that we taste on our faces or that stings our eyes is precious electrolytes being lost, and large water intake dilutes the remaining minerals. Over time, this can cause drowsiness, headaches, loss of muscle control, even heart problems. Food with salt or beverages with added electrolytes help restore the balance.

• Wear a hat with a brim to shield your head and neck. If you want, add a “cool collar,” a fabric band or scarf containing crystals that absorb water to form a cooling gel. Used as a bandanna or headband, it can cool your carotid arteries or jugular veins by several degrees, cooling the blood supply between your heart and brain. These might be sold at the visitor center and resorts. A wet bandanna does the same thing but dries quickly; cool collars work for a couple days on one soaking.

• Loose clothing of light-colored natural fabric is most comfortable, and woven is cooler than knit. Many desert experts suggest long sleeves and pants, but wear what’s comfortable for you. Use a sunscreen of your choice for your skin type. Wear sunglasses. Wear some kind of footwear. I prefer shoes or boots for hiking because sandals don’t give the ankle support I need, or protect from bumps, scrapes, or loose gravel and sand getting in.

• High fever with headache, dry, hot, flushed skin, disorientation, lapses of consciousness, and/or diminishing perspiration are symptoms of HEATSTROKE. The body has lost its temperature-regulating ability and is cooking, the way a roast continues to cook for awhile after coming out of the oven. This is a dire life-threatening condition, not to be mistaken for heat exhaustion. Anyone with these symptoms must be gotten into shade, cooled rapidly, and given immediate medical treatment. Untreated, victims go into a coma and die.

STAY SAFE

• Keep tabs on the weather, especially thunderstorm forecasts. This might sound like welcome relief, but in fact, DV is so dry that rain in the mountains often evaporates high in the atmosphere, never reaching the Valley floor. You’ll see gray “streamer” clouds in the distance and feel the humidity. If you think 120º under a clear sky and blazing sun is hot, wait until it’s clouding up and 120º with 37% humidity. The big risk is flashfloods. DV’s many alluvial fans (fan-shaped formations at canyon mouths) are the product of repeated deposits of ton upon ton of rocks, sand, plant material, etc., washed down and swept through canyon narrows with enormous force. Never hike or camp in canyons or washes if storms are coming. We cannot outrun a flashflood. If you’re trapped and buried, your next of kin may never know what happened to you.

• Don’t approach, feed, or handle animals. In midday heat, you’re unlikely to see snakes because they can’t regulate their body temp so they stay under cover. But don’t put hands or any body part where you can’t see. Don’t try to befriend coyotes, kit foxes, ravens, or any other creatures. Federal law prohibits interfering with wildlife, including feeding. Any animal may become defensive and attack, or harass people for food, and animals that become pests may need to be destroyed.

• Drive carefully. The biggest cause of visitor deaths is traffic accidents--not collisions, but one-car wrecks. Traffic is usually light, a temptation to speed. Dips and curves can sneak up on you. Combined with inclines (esp. Daylight Pass, Mud Canyon, Beatty Cut-off, Emigrant Canyon, and Townes Pass), they can send vehicles out of control.

TAKE CARE OF YOUR CAR

• Plan each day with enough gas to cover your travel plans and any unexpected side trips. Stations are at Furnace Creek, Stove Pipe Wells, and Panamint Springs in the park; Beatty, Pahrump, Lathrop Wells, Shoshone, Trona, and Lone Pine outside. Pahrump and Beatty are typically the cheapest, Panamint Springs the highest.

• Don’t overuse your brakes. On long descents, use brakes and transmission together to slow down. Many Americans who have driven only automatic transmission are not used to downshifting, but you need to do this. “Riding” brakes excessively will eventually overheat them and perhaps make them fail.

• Most modern cars will not overheat. But if this worries you, consider carrying a couple gallons of radiator water. On some roads, you’ll see signs before a long upgrade advising to turn off a/c to prevent overheating. This may not be necessary, but do it if the engine does overheat. Tanks of water are located around the park where vehicles are likely to overheat; this is not for drinking. Remember to let a hot radiator cool off before opening.

AND KEEP IN MIND

• Road conditions can vary with weather or construction. Check with the Park Service to avoid problem spots, delays, or disappointment at finding something closed. Call 760-786-3200 or go to the park website: nps.gov/deva/…road-conditions.htm

• There is no cell phone coverage. Pay phones are at resorts, visitor centers, and a few major road junctions. Other than that, the way you get help is to drive, walk, or send someone. If you see someone who may be in distress, broken down, or lost, check on them; it can be a matter of life or death. I have done this to discover it was just someone taking a break or enjoying the sun, but no one has ever gotten upset or failed to thank me for checking. Death Valley is a wilderness where nature comes to meet us, not a Girl Scout or Father-Son Webelos wienie roast. That's part of its appeal. So use a few common-sense measures, stay well, and have a wonderful time enjoying one of the Earth's greatest treasures.

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Pahrump
Pahrump
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Lone Pine
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1. Re: Enjoy your summer trip to DV

Thanks for your post, we usually go out to Borrego Springs for the meteor shower in August.... where it's nearly as hot, but more populated. Due to light pollution, I'm considering DV.

Where would you suggest that we stay?

I want a pool, A/C, a clean decent room w/ a walk-in shower... as I'm handicapped.

For meteors, we usually eat dinner, go to sleep @ 9PM, awake at midnight & then drive out to a dark area to view the sky.

Where do you suggest?

Also, are there mosquitoes at night in August?

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2. Re: Enjoy your summer trip to DV

I have never been here,but Frisco Roadrunner may have.On Aug 6-8 2010,Great Basin Natl Park is holding their first annual Astronomy Festival.Its about 250 miles north east of Vegas.But I see you want a pool and hotel,I dont know if that exists anywhere near there.

I just happened to stumble on to this while I was looking for other Astronomy Festival dates in the national parks,and saw it fit your time frame.By the way,Bryce Canyon NP has some of the clearest skies in the country for stargazing,and has several hotels nearby.Depends on how far you want to drive.Joshua Tree NP and DVNP are several hours closer,since your profile says you are from SoCal.

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3. Re: Enjoy your summer trip to DV

Where to stay in Death Valley? The major resort complexes are Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek. In summer, Furnace Creek Inn is closed but the Ranch is open. They are both modern places that can accommodate just about any need, so you might want to call and ask about rooms that meet your specific needs.

760-786-2345 for Furnace Creek

760-786-2387 for Stovepipe Wells

or go to the website for Xanterra, the company the operates both.

http://www.xanterra.com/destinations-25.html/

Furnace Creek is a bigger, busier, more populated resort, so you'll have more light pollution as well as more activity. Stovepipe Wells is small and rustic, with subdued lighting. Among the places for stargazing, you can go to the Sand Dunes, or up a ways into Mosaic Canyon, or drive a few miles west toward the Emigrant-Wildrose area where there isn't any civilization at all. Those are just a few suggestions. I don't think there is a bad sky view in Death Valley--although if you go to Dante's View at night, you'll see a dull glow in the sky to the SE. This is not the Aurora Australis gone astray, but the lights of Las Vegas, about 80 air miles away.

I have not been to Great Basin specifically for meteors, but it has some of the darkest night skies in the West since it is far from anywhere. The nearest big cities are Salt Lake (about 170 straight-line miles) and Las Vegas (close to 200). The nearest community, Baker NV, is very small. It has a couple of small lodgings choices in town and one several miles away on Hwy 50, literally on the state line. None of these have pools, but there is one resort nearby that does, Hidden Canyon. I have not been there, only looked at their website and local advertising during my visits, so I can't give any personal recommendation. It may be associated with a religious group, but I have no details.

Here is a website for businesses in the

area of Great Basin.

http://www.greatbasinpark.com/

Another place for dark skies--in fact, it's one of the local Chamber's selling points--is Tonopah NV. It's about 170 crow-flight miles from the nearest pollution factory, Las Vegas, and most everything in between is Nellis AFB, so the population density is extremely low. Tonopah is around 6,000' in elevation, making it comfortable most of the summer. There are beautiful forests nearby, and Belmont, one of the absolute best ghost towns I've ever seen anywhere, is about 50 miles away north of Hwy 6. Tonopah is about the biggest town on Hwy 95 between I-80 and Las Vegas, so it has all visitor services.

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Mosaic Canyon
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Uden, The...
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4. Re: Enjoy your summer trip to DV

Good hint for Belmont. Thx

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5. Re: Enjoy your summer trip to DV

I just got back from a three day weekend there.

The weather's fantastic! Unfortunately there were some high altitude wisps of clouds that were sufficient to block out much of the stars at night.

Staying at the Amargosa Hotel is a hoot if you have a good sense of humor.

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6. Re: Enjoy your summer trip to DV

My comments, in addition to Frisco's excellent post:

1. Fast driving is the number one cause of tire blowouts when driving.off of pavement. When on a gravel road- GO SLOW. A flat tire in an isolated area of Death Valley can be near-catastrophic

2. Do not rely on a map. Talk to the rangers and understand the road conditions and the amount of traffic you will encounter, and if it is appropriate for your vehicle.

3. Do not visit isolated parts of the park without discussing it with the rangers. If you go, take everything Frisco recommends, and more. Know what the road conditions are and which roads will be trouble for your vehicle. Best of all, go with another vehicle.

4. If you go to isolated areas, know how to make signals, fires, or other means of distress calls THAT DO NOT RELY ON CELL PHONES. As mentioned, cell phones do not have coverage in most of the park.

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7. Re: Enjoy your summer trip to DV

bumpitty bump

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8. Re: Enjoy your summer trip to DV

Great post by Frisco. Make sure you carry enough water just in case the car gets stuck. Enough means to me 5 gallons in reserve per person. NOT a case of small bottles. Buy a bunch of gallon jugs full and leave them in the back seat. It is a very inexpensive insurance policy.

Make sure you have a spare tire, it is accessable, and you know how to chage it.

Carry matches for a sgnal fire. Set anything on fire you need to, including the tires and the spare.

Frisco does mention to walk out to get help. This should be done at night if you are stuck in the hot months. But it should only be done if you have a map and know where you are, and how far it is to a road where it is likely someone will come by,

Otherwise I believe it is better to try keeping a signal fire going, or if you are on a travelled road, stay by the car. Most rescue books will tell you to stay by the car. This works if you have told someone where you are going, and you will be missed, and you have enough water to survive until rescued. Frisco has walked out herself, but you need to assess the situation you are in very calmly, and then try and make the best choice for survival.

ZB

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9. Re: Enjoy your summer trip to DV

Also found this: http://www.tortolita.com/survival.html

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10. Re: Enjoy your summer trip to DV

Excellent post Tet. Thanks! I have read several good books on desert survival. This really summarizes them all very well. Of course, as Frisco says, forget using cell phones in Death Valley. They only work on the top of certain mountains or in very special spots. As Frisco also says, the most important thing is to be prepared and do not panic, and of course, have access to WATER and something to replace electrolytes. Powder gator aid works great for this by the way.

ZB

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