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Death Valley in December, camping tips.

Sunnyvale...
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Death Valley in December, camping tips.

Hi forum,

I am planning a 2 day trip to Death Valley in December. I will be driving from San Diego on a Friday afternoon and plan to spend 2 full days (Saturday and Sunday) in the valley and drive back to San Diego on Monday.

Can you advise me if 2 days are enough? I am not a big hiker. I am a photographer and I am planning my trip there for Photo ops.

This is the list I had in mind for two full days of photo ops:

Zabriskie Point

• Dante's View

• Badwater

• Furnace Creek

• Artist's Palette

• Rhyolite Ghost Town

• Salt Creek Oasis

• Giant Sand Dunes

Is that list realistic in 2 days?

Also, I am planning to reserve a tent site at Furnace Creek campground. Will it be too cold at night? What kind of tent do you suggest? I have a tent but I know it is not suitable for winters.

Thanks!

Camp Sherman, Oregon
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1. Re: Death Valley in December, camping tips.

motiver,

Yes, two days will be fine for what you want to do. With the Giant Sand Dunes, are you talking about the very tall Eureka Dunes in the north or the normal Mesquite Dunes? Eureka Dunes really are an all day trip to be combined with other areas up north(Ubehebe Crater, great photos from the bottom) but are amazing.

I like Dante's View and then Zabriskie Point at very early sunrise as the sun is at your back and luminates the hills and mountains to the west. Also Salt Creek after that too.

Devils Golfcourse and Badwater mid day, with Artist's Palete and Golden Canyon afternoon for colors.

Mesquite Dunes either sunrise or sunset, both a fine. And you might want to hike into Titius Canyon mid day from the west entrance parking lot. Also Mosiac Canyon mid day is best for lighting.

Camping will be fine. It could get down into the thirties at night but you will be fine. Just bundle up and get a fire going early and late.

Washington State
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2. Re: Death Valley in December, camping tips.

Wear warm dry clothes (sweatpants, sweatshirt), dry clean socks, and a warm hat. Don't wear those clothes outside the tent. If your sleeping bag isn't very warm, bring extra blankets or quilts for under and over you. You can layer yourself as much as you need.

San Francisco
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for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
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3. Re: Death Valley in December, camping tips.

It seldom gets much below freezing in the Furnace Creek area. The historic record low is 15ºF, but this is uncommon. Winter night temps are closer to the 30-45º range. Still, it sometimes feels colder than it is because the humidity is low and nights are often crystal-clear.

One way to be warmer is to use an insulating pad under your sleeping bag. You don’t need a bulky air mattress. There are lighter, thinner self-inflating pads or neoprene or other synthetic foam pads that provide decent insulation. The self-inflating ones often seem to need a boost, but usually a few breaths is all it takes.

It may seem counter-intuitive to stay warmer by sleeping suspended in mid-air, but a cot can help. Air is good insulation, and it’s warmer a few inches above the ground. Because the ground is colder, even with extra clothing and insulation, the heat transfer between your body temp and the ground temp can cause faster chilling then being a few inches higher on a cot, especially with an insulating pad. Cots are a PITB to pack and set up, and they may seem to take up space, but the space underneath can be used for extra storage: slippers or sandals, flashlight, TP, reading matter, or whatever—but NEVER food or opened toiletries.

Do not keep food or other aromatic stuff in the tent. Death Valley doesn’t have bears, but small animals like food too. Our food storage rules are much less strict than Yosemite’s, but they require a secure, animal-resistant container. That can be inside a closed vehicle or, in camp, a latched hard-sided cooler. When advising not to wear your sleeping clothes outside the tent, PNWF may have been thinking the same thing I am. Clothing worn while cooking or eating will have food and smoke odors. You don’t want to get cozy in your tent in the hickory-smoked sweatshirt that you BBQ’ed in and spilled mustard and ranch dressing on, and have a coyote mistake you for supper. :^O

Edited: 27 September 2013, 02:59
Sunnyvale...
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4. Re: Death Valley in December, camping tips.

Thanks all. Great tips. I will look for an insulating pad. Or maybe reserve one of the tent cabins that have cots.

San Francisco
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5. Re: Death Valley in December, camping tips.

** "Or maybe reserve one of the tent cabins that have cots." **

The only place this is available is Panamint Springs, the small rustic resort on the western edge of the park. It's a nice location with a beautiful setting, pleasant atmosphere, and a restaurant with good food. It makes an ideal enroute overnight stay on the front or back end of a trip to Death Valley, or if you want to focus on seeing the sights on the west side of the park, but it isn't that convenient as a base for several days of exploring DV. It's about 30 miles from Stovepipe Wells and the Sand Dunes; ~60 from either Rhyolite or Furnace Creek; 75 from Badwater; 80 from Dante's View.

If you have camping equipment, I'd suggest keeping your plans for FC campground because it is so central. Don't decide on a cot just because I mentioned it--TBH, I can't remember when I last used one. If you don't own one, you can probably rent one from REI outdoor suppliers. And if you don't want to do that, just follow everyone's suggestions here for a warm sleeping bag and pad and plenty of extra clothes.

Tucson, Arizona
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6. Re: Death Valley in December, camping tips.

Agree very much on the cot. Ideas of Frissy. They are bulky, but are worth it in cold weather. Sleeping bag rated below zero. Good thermarest. Good wool hat.

ZB

Fortaleza, CE
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7. Re: Death Valley in December, camping tips.

I've been in DV and environs during the winter a few times. One year I slept in my car near Rhyolite and woke up to ice on the windows. Even if above freezing, it can be darn cold at night, and wind can bring the wind-chill factor way down. We went to Dante's View for sunrise one late December and were very, very cold standing outside to take pictures. It was windy. There were people in a VW bus, apparently camped, at the parking lot (I don't believe that's legal, but it was during the mid-90s government shutdown and there were few rangers around; in fact the road to Dante's View was technically closed).

Edited: 28 September 2013, 21:04
San Francisco
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8. Re: Death Valley in December, camping tips.

** "One year I slept in my car near Rhyolite and woke up to ice on the windows." **

That reminds me of a few of my own experiences, ha ha. One time, I stopped at the rest area on Hwy 395 south of Lee Vining (I think it's called Crestview) for a break. I think I had driven down in the wee hours and it was early morning. It’s a pretty and restful spot, surrounded by trees. I cracked open a couple of windows, wrapped up and snoozed for an hour or two, and of course the windows were frosted when I woke up. But the frost was on the INSIDE; condensation from my breath had collected on the glass and frozen.

Another time (November, IIRC), I tried to sleep in the vehicle at Marietta, Nevada, which is the site of Teel's Marsh. That's the desert marsh (i.e. saline lakebed) where F.M. Smith, one of the pioneers in Death Valley borax, actually got started in borax prospecting. In my mid-range sleeping bag & all my clothes, I was chilled to the bone.

I gave up after awhile and went to Coaldale, which had a cafe, gas station, and the decrepit remains of a motel. It was run by a Greek-American guy named George and some of his family, whom I had gotten to know in my travels over the years (he often talked about owning a Rolls Royce that had belonged to Queen Elizabeth but was like new because she didn’t like it, and I never knew if that was true). He gave me a room that was substandard but at least warm. It turned out to be an employee's, and the owner sent him to a room with a heater that wasn’t working. I didn't want to put the employee out, but he insisted (no doubt because his boss told him to), so I gave him a generous tip in the morning. The owner gave me linens to make the bed myself. The room was tiny, and the wall gas heater overheated it and kept making noises that alarmed me, so I turned it off and used the portable electric heater that was also there. The shower wall had holes and the pipes were visible. The door locks didn't work; the inside had a sliding bolt and a chain latch, and if I went out and wanted to lock up, there was a padlock.

That was among my memorable desert experiences, and I've had many, including a couple of life-threatening ones. Coaldale was finally abandoned and continued to fall apart, not necessarily in that order. It burned years ago. Like Stovepipe Wells in the 1980s, it did not have direct phone service. It was a "toll station." You had to dial O and ask the operator for "Coaldale [or Stovepipe Wells] Toll Station #1," and if you knew the "mark and route," it sped up your connection. Does anyone else remember that era? Hard to imagine today, when places like Stovepipe that seemed so remote just 25 years ago now have wi-fi.

Washington State
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9. Re: Death Valley in December, camping tips.

Here is a closed cell foam pad that would be okay for your use: big5sportinggoods.com/product/sleeping/47824… Here are similar ones from Coleman: coleman.com/Products/9060/sleeping-pads

I need something thicker now, but that's what I used in my youth.

Sunnyvale...
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10. Re: Death Valley in December, camping tips.

Thanks for your experiences. Wow.