View Full Version : Death Valley

Terry Hull
26-Dec-2009, 08:27
I Will have ten days beginning Feb 2 to take my second trip through the valley & surroundings. This forum was very helpful last trip-two or three years ago- and I solicit your help again. I enjoyed photographing Darwin CA, Keeler, Goldfields, Rhyolite, Randsburg, and the Owens River Valley, in addition to the places within the park such as Badwater, Zabriskie, Artists Palette, etc. Unfortunately I will again be w/o 4 wheel drive, so I assume Yosemite and Bristlecone are not open to me. My question is what else I should visit, given my penchant for photographing ghost towns and natural scenery. Is there a large format film vendor in Vegas?

I fly into Las Vegas. Last time I went the "clockwise route", and wonder if it makes sense to go the opposite way this time? Is it too much to include Tonopah, if I also want to return to the Mohave? Are other ghost towns open to non 4 wheel drive cars? Panamint City, Ballarat?

Thanks in advance for your assistance.

Drew Wiley
26-Dec-2009, 10:15
That time of year I'd stay off unpaved roads unless they're well maintained. Snow can hit the desert, so always carry extra food, water, and a warm sleeping bag, no matter where you are headed. Don't forget the opposite side of Death Valley,
which you approach from a Road branching off near Stovepipe Wells, which heads up
toward the Charcoal kilns and Telegraph Peak. I think the overlook from that direction is just as impressive as Zabriskie, and there are some old mines and
paraphenalia. Road is dirt but suitable for passagener cars, though snow might make
it impossible to get all the wall uphill to the kilns.

26-Dec-2009, 12:11
Check out the Eureka Dunes in the northern part of the park. Huge sand dune!

Eric Woodbury
26-Dec-2009, 13:26
You don't need 4 wheel drive. It only gets you stuck further from the road. I've been to DV and the area every year since 1977 and never had a 4-wheel. I just do the same places and a few new places every year. You get to see it in different weather, different light, or with a new vision. You have a lot of good places on your list. If you'd like to visit the Twilight Zone, try Trona and the Trona Pinnacles. And south of Beatty on the east of the highway are an old concrete factory and a marble mine, Carrera. At Eureka dunes, go to the far west end. You may have to walk if the road is slick.

Richard Raymond
29-Dec-2009, 15:23
It should be a good time. You will be arriving during the "rainy season" If you are lucky you will catch small "lakes" in the valley that provide good reflection photos. Besides Bad Water there is a pan just north of Furnace Creek on the West side that will hold water for a couple of days after a rain.
If you head south to Trona and Ridgecrest you will find that Trona is almost a ghost town with the mining being cut way back. It does provide interesting photo ops. Be careful if you take the Wild Rose road just west of Stove Pipe Wells. The south end of this road is VERY rough. It can be driven with a regular car but take it very slow and pick your way. There is no problem with most of the main dirt roads. If you decide to drop down into Eureka Dunes from the north the road turns to dirt at the beginning of the valley. Be careful of wash outs as you cross the valley. Also if you decide to continue south after visiting Eureka Dunes the road has many washouts before getting to Ubehebe Crater.
The only shop in Las Vegas with 4x5 film is Casey's Camera on Tropicana. Small supply. Call them before you go to check to see what is in stock. They had Fuji Quickloads when I was in at the beginning of December. Sahara Camera has moved to a smaller location on the west side of the strip and no longer has large format film. They have downsized and focus on digital. They do have 120 film and machine process 120 but won't/can't do 220.

29-Dec-2009, 17:12
I wanted to mention one thing about the North Road leading to Eureka Dunes. Watch out for sand. A friend's car got stuck on the North Road last fall and it took him several hours to dig it out. Last time I checked, Miller's Towing in Lone Pine charges an arm and a leg to pull cars out of the backcountry, and insurance companies don't always cover remote area tows.

31-Dec-2009, 11:09
I spent last weekend in Death Valley with my 4x5. The Mesquite dunes are great at sunrise. Give yourself plenty of time to hike out and set up for a shot. The best colors at sunrise against the dunes lasted only about a minute, so you need to be ready. I also took a few good shots just before sunrise.
Here's where I ended up setting up: N36 37.137 W117 05.506.

Zabriskie Point photographed from a steep and somewhat difficult trail (especially in low light situations, such as before sunrise), which puts you in a higher position and you can get Telescope Peak in the image as well. N36 25.411 W116 48.829.

I briefly explored Mosaic Canyon, but I didn’t take the 4x5 because I was there in the early afternoon and I didn’t think the light was that good. Although it could be somewhat difficult, getting there before sunrise or staying for sunset might be pretty cool. Here’s the trailhead and parking area: N36 34.310 W117 08.655.


Drew Wiley
31-Dec-2009, 11:40
Mosaic Canyon is popular, so with 8x10 I went in fairly early AM, ahead of crowds.
Once you get back a ways, the canyon widens and people thin out. Death Valley has
some incredible back country spots, but I wouldn't advise anyone heading into such
places unless they are skilled in desert travel and have informed others of their plans. For the typical photographer, there are plenty of opportunities closer to the
road which involve less risk. This is a good time of year, because the wind and dust
aren't very active yet.

Terry Hull
31-Dec-2009, 13:03
Thanks for all the help. A couple of other questions. Is 395 usually open to Lee Vining and Bodie from the south? Route 6 between Bishop and Tonopah usually open? At the other end of my trip is Needles worth a visit? Essex, Cadiz? I like to shoot natural and commercial landscapes. ¡Feliz año nuevo para todos!

31-Dec-2009, 14:32
Unless they get a really bad snow storm which closes the highway, 395 will be open to Lee Vining. 6, from Bishop to Tonopah is paved and used by locals and is not usually closed for winter. The turnoff to Bodie south of Bridgeport, to the best of my knowledge, is usually inaccessible in winter, except to snow mobile or snowcat. There's a ranger at Bodie year round. I would recommend calling out there to see how much snow they have. If it's inaccessible and you still want to visit, another option would be to visit the Bodie forum and find out if anyone in that area could take you out there via snow mobile or snowcat. Or maybe you could rent a snow mobile. Bodie really is worth a visit and I'm sure it's quite beautiful in snow. Hope this helps!

Drew Wiley
31-Dec-2009, 16:50
Bodie is a restricted area and it's probably outright closed for winter. It's a state park. Hwy 395 north of Mammoth is equivocal, depending on the weather, but usually open all the way, which includes Lee Vining and Mono Lake. Seems like you're biting off an awfully big chunk of territory. Owens Valley if fairly close however; and off in the other direction are places like Goldfield in Nevada if you want old buildings. Hawthorne Lake is interesting, a big desert lake with some
military presence and a quiet town. Lots of potential places.

31-Dec-2009, 17:03
Actually Bodie isn't closed during the winter. Check out bodie.com for more info and park phone number.

I would call ahead to find out road conditions.

Enjoy your trip! It's always fun to look into your options and see what's available to explore this time of year. I really highly recommend Bodie if you can fit in a visit! You would likely have the park to yourself this time of year!

From bodie.com FAQ:

"Are there rangers in the park year-round? What are the park hours during the year?"
Rangers are in the park all year. The museum/bookstore is open from May to October. Below is the park schedule:

March 1st to the Friday before Memorial Day: 10:00am to 3:00pm OR AS POSTED
Saturday before Memorial Day to Mid-September: 8:00am to 6:00pm OR AS POSTED
Mid-September to Mid-October: 8:00am to 4:00pm OR AS POSTED
Mid-October to October 31st: 10:00am to 3:00pm OR AS POSTED
November 1st to the end of February: 10:00am to 3:00pm OR AS POSTED

Hours CAN change and are strictly enforced. During the winter, the park is open, but it usually does require some form of snow transportation (4 wheel-drives won't cut it). With the elevation above 8000 feet, the snow gets pretty deep.

Drew Wiley
31-Dec-2009, 17:22
Laura - due to deep budget cuts things aren't as usual at our state parks. Bodie has
a maintenance staff but the operating season might be affected. I would also like to
add the importance of being well equipped in high desert in the Winter. I have seen
even Hwy 395 closed due to snowfall, avalanches, rockslides, and truck turnovers,
and have enountered serious washouts due to flash floods and drifting sands in the
lower desert. Even on paved roads in parts of Nevada, gas, supplies, and accommodations can be far apart, and things can be pretty lonely. I wouldn't go anywhere without extra food, water, and a good sleeping bag. The desert can get
very cold at night, and getting stranded isn't difficult. Even the upper end of Death
Valley gets snowed in each year, and people who head back into places like Saline
Valley typically carry at least two weeks worth of supplies - because you can easily
be trapped that long; and don't expect a cell phone to be of any value!

31-Dec-2009, 18:14
Like I said, it always makes sense to call ahead! I've lived in the desert for over 9 years now, and spent a better part of 3 months camping in Death Valley and the Eastern Sierra, so I know that area pretty well. I think it would be fantastic to see Bodie in snow! And yes, being prepared is the only way to go! It's the only way I go!

Merg Ross
31-Dec-2009, 21:35
One of my most memorable trips to Bodie was in the winter. I was with another photographer and his wife, and we stayed the night at the campground. I am not sure that overnight camping is still allowed. We were in my Chevy Van, and awoke with the inside completely coverd with ice. It had been a very, very cold night.

At dawn we awakened to a winter wonderland and walked down to the Ranger's cabin. It was a school break in Bridgeport, so his seven year old daughter was with him. He, his daughter,my two friends and I were the only people in Bodie that day. The Ranger opened up all of the buildings for us, made us coffee, and we went to work with our cameras.

In my casual approach to such an effort, I realize now how poorly equiped we were for our survival. You have heard suggestions to be prepared for days and weeks on your own in this area. Take heed.

As Drew has suggested, check with current conditions in Bodie; he is correct about current staffing difficulties. The winter roads can also be a challenge.

Have a productive and safe journey.

Terry Hull
22-Jan-2010, 07:39
Anyone been to Death Valley in the last few days? Wondering if the rains have reached the eastern sierra soas to speed up flowering to mid feb?

Also wondering if I should include Ballarat & Trona on my Feb 2 trip.

Thanks again

eric black
22-Jan-2010, 08:14
I was in Bishop just last week but left before the rains etc.... moved in. I can tell you that the road to Bodie is closed as are all the other usual suspects and with the weather they were expecting I dont expect that situation to change any time soon. The roads to Mono Lake, although not maintained were passable as of last week to South Tufa and the other two normal access points closer to 395.

22-Jan-2010, 10:22
Apparently there was a bit of snow in Bishop! 395 closed on and off norrth of Bishop. Mammoth has had over 65" of snow in the past 72 hours. 3 feet in June Lake.

This should be an amazing desert wildflower year!

Michael Gordon
22-Jan-2010, 10:26
Current DVNP road conditions: everything that isn't paved is CLOSED (http://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/road-conditions.htm)!

Terry Hull
25-Jan-2010, 20:08
Sorry to keep posting, but I leave a week from tomorrow and wonder if I should change my route due to weather/access to DV. The last time I went was in early March, and I am realizing one month earlier makes a difference in weather.

Question: I like to shoot both commercial and natural landscapes, and as much as I like DV I am wondering if I hang out in the Needles and south and east and west (route 66) are there natural landscapes, etc other than Joshua Tree/Mojave that are of interest?

Thanks again.

Drew Wiley
26-Jan-2010, 11:50
The weather is batty right now. You'll have to keep up to date. Joshua Tree can be
nippy this time of year. It's a fair distance from Death Valley. A substitute for Death
Valley itself is Anza-Borrego State Park - low desert very nice in winter and with lots
of photo opportunities, but clear down by the Mexican border. The higher desert of Mojave itself can get windy and dusty. Owens Valley should have the roads open,
even if parts of Mono Basin get snowed in. I'd carry chains just in case. But I don't
think 395 ever stays closed for long. In the opposite direction entirely, it's not that
bad a drive from Death Valley back thru Vegas toward Valley of Fire, Muddy Mtns, and lower parts of the Colorado River.

Brian Ellis
26-Jan-2010, 12:29
You can get to the top of Bristlecone without 4 wheel drive. But make sure you have a good spare tire with you, the road is very rocky and prone to flattening tires. I was told by the lady in the Visitor's Center that I'd be o.k. with my relatively new tires as long as I stayed under 30 mph. I stayed well under 30 and still got a flat tire.

26-Jan-2010, 13:15
Bristlecone Forest at 10,000 ft elevation..... Gotta be closed for Winter.
Since you are traveling from Vegas, If DV is still having road closures, I'd do Valley of Fire, & Hoover Dam, Lake Powell, or maybe explore Route 66.

Drew Wiley
26-Jan-2010, 14:40
Brian - any decent passenger car can make it all the way to the end of the main road to the Patriarch Grove of bristlecones. Amateur astronomers even drive it with big
expensive portable telescopes because the air quality is so good up there. It's probably
the highest unpaved road in continental US, although there's a locked gate at 11000 ft. In winter it would make a very nice but long crosscountry ski route - very gradual, but well over 5000 feet in elevation rise to the upper grove, or almost 10,000 ft climb
to the summit. This is generally a June through October road.

Richard Raymond
27-Jan-2010, 07:46
I am going over to Death Valley this weekend to check out the fans to see how much rain has fallen there in hopes of good spring flower show. It is raining again today in Las Vegas. The most rain we have had here since the winter of 04-05. I will let you know what I find when I get back.
As for heading south to Needles and working that area: After Joshua Tree there is a quick trip east on the 40 that will get you to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. You could also work Sedona and that area. Plenty of snow and fine rock formations. Not sure about the commercial stuff. Kingman may have some commercial stuff but while I have stayed there it was mostly to overnight going somewhere else. The new bridge at Lake Mead is coming along and you may find that interesting. Also, if you are traveling from Las Vegas to Needles you might consider going down route 15 to the California border just south of Primm and taking the Joshua Tree Highway across to Searchlight and then down the 95. Very scenic drive and a couple of interesting structures.

Terry Hull
1-Feb-2010, 18:07
Richard et al,

Thanks again for your help. I have decided to go to Needles, route 66 to Barstow, up to Trona, Lone Pine, Beatty, and a night to see Marta Becker, if I can get a ticket to the Amargosa Opera house, then back to Vegas.

Jim Becia
6-Feb-2010, 16:59
I just returned from a trip out to Death Valley. I arrived there shortly after their second highest daily rainfall in history. Most non paved roads were closed due to flooding. However, they were opening them up as soon as repairs were made or flooding subsided. When I left (last Sunday) the road to Dante's was closed due to snow and ice, the road via Wild Rose was closed, the road to the race track was closed, the West side road was closed. Artist Pallette road opened just before I left. There were some interesting pools - the road west through to Panamint had water lapping the shoulders on both sides of the road. Made for some beautiful reflections. The road to the Panamint dunes was open with a few minor washouts but easily navigated by car.

The road to the Trona Pinnacles was closed also due to flooding. They didn't have any idea of how long it would be closed.

Areas in the southwest had some of the highest snow levels I've ever seen. The east side of Zion received somewhere in the vicinity of 3 to 4 feet over a 2 week period. Probably the prettiest snowfall I've seen there. The Escalante area was snow covered with about a foot of snow. I trudged through 3 to 4 feet of snow on Boulder Mountain (not the smartest move when carrying large format.)

Not sure what the conditions are now, but it certainly made for interesting shooting.

According to the Park Service, the rains in January most likely will not affect the bloom much. They stated that the rains needed for a good bloom need to be in November.

Hope this info helps. Might be a little late but I just returned home this morning. Jim

Terry Hull
11-Feb-2010, 10:23
Just finishing my trip, and want to again thanks the folks who helped me plan.

I had one unexpected highlight yesterday in DV Junction where I spent an hour with Marta Becket, the founder and frequently only performer at the Amargosa Valley Opera House. She is an amazingly sharp 85 year old lady, who unfortunately had a fall in late 2009 and is now in a wheel chair. Nonetheless she is going to perform again this Saturday, from a wheel chair for the first time since her accident.

I wanted to meet her after seeing the TV special on her life a few years ago. I am in awe of this woman!

11-Feb-2010, 11:09
Thats great Terry!
Did you get to shoot a portrait of her?

Terry Hull
11-Feb-2010, 17:43
DS-no portrait, as it would have been an intrusion due to her physical condition.