HUGELY SUCCESSFUL OVERLANDING TRIP INTO THE VALLEY OF DEATH
ModernJeepers in Death Valley
The mountains are full of mines; ghosts haunt the canyons; silver and gold abound; campfires are full of stories; and the desert beckons the traveler to see more – and more. Death Valley is a unique and incredible landscape of what Mother Nature has to offer the desert lover. Named by a 1849 “49er” emigrant as she was leaving and turned to say: “Goodbye, valley of death.” A couple dozen ModernJeepers discovered more of Death Valley on the ModernJeeper Adventures overlanding trip, Feb. 24-27, 2019.
Thanks to Brent Stanley, ModernJeeper, for this composite video.
Combining 60 years of Death Valley experience, Tom Severin and Del Albright guided/narrated the trip from start to finish, and all the participants were not only informed, but entertained the entire time, for four days and three nights overlanding. Tom is known for his researched based facts and Del is well, shall we say, known for his story-telling and a bit of embellishment.
It all started with a check in evening and kick-off breakfast at the Dow Villa Motel in Lone Pine, CA. After a driver’s meeting and some introductions, we hit the trail for the historic town of Darwin, CA, and the famous Darwin Wash.
Darwin got its name from prospectors in the 1860’s looking for the Lost Gunsight Mine (another story). A post office opened in 1875 and remains open today. About 40 folks live there and the movie “Tremors” had some scenes filmed in Darwin. Silver and lead deposits found in the wash and nearby mountains launched the settling of Darwin combined with a man-made toll road that opened in 1926, connecting and opening Death Valley from the west.
Darwin Wash is a sandy, rock-lined canyon that was easy driving as it we followed the old toll road that served travelers from Darwin to Panamint Springs (where we camped) in the 1920’s. About half way down the wash is an off-shoot canyon with an old ghost town mining camp called China Garden Springs where we found goldfish still in the pond. Apparently Chinese cooks brought the fish to the mining camp and planted them.
A mining camp with a cook was a fortunate thing for the miners; usually hard tack, beans, and jerky with some bacon and coffee thrown in if they were really lucky. Only about 8% of the gold rush population was female, so men learned to cook for themselves.
At China Garden, gold was found in the area and the remains of an old mill and several buildings can be explored.
Afternoon found us at Panamint Springs Resort, a great place to camp if you’re not roughing it. Gas, store, supplies, cabins and RV/Tent spaces along with yurt rentals. We set up in the tent area and a few of us did some poking around near Lookout City and Stone Canyon. Dinner that night was a marvelous single-campfire BBQ with side dishes to share.
Our mission was to see the “sailing rocks” or “moving rocks” of the Racetrack Playa, but first we had to climb the Lippincott Mine road after miles of Saline Valley Road through the Joshua trees.
Lippincott road was used by the mine of the same name as a haul road back in the late 1870’s as a wagon road; but now it’s a 4×4 road with a nice climb to it long shelf road expanses that are fun, to say the least. Some in our group called it “steep, rocky and barely jeep-width” but we all made it just fine!
One ancient Joshua tree was aged at 1000 years old, but most only make it 150 years. Mormon emigrants named the Joshua because the tree’s unique shape reminded them of the Biblical story of Joshua reaching his hands up to the sky in prayer. The native Timbisha Shoshone gathered Joshua tree buds to add to their pinyon pine nuts and other bean pods for sustenance. In Joshua Tree National Park they have species reaching 32 feet tall, but the ones in Death Valley are usually smaller. Our group enjoyed traveling through the forest of Joshua’s as it’s just plain an unusual sight.
The Racetrack amazed us! Rocks leaving tracks in the playa. Some say aliens have something to do with this. Others say ice and wind are the cause. (The Park Service goes with the science of winter time ice forming around the rocks then being shoved around by tremendous gale force winds while encased in the ice, leaving tracks in the mud).
This dry lake bed is nearly perfectly flat with only 1.5 inches difference between the ends nearly 3 miles apart. Our group walked out nearly a mile to see the best samples of sailing or moving rocks. The mud forms cracks and patterns that some nick-name “corn flakes.”
Camp this night was going to be Mesquite Springs but it was closed due to being flooded out. So, Stovepipe Wells was our choice.
We gathered up in the tent area with our roof-toppers parked right alongside our sites. We found out the next day that if you sleep in or on your vehicle, you are an RV an must park/camp in the RV area. Oh well; next time we will try to avoid Stovepipe.
Titus Canyon was on our list, but it too was closed due to flash floods and damage. So, we climbed up to Chloride Cliffs with a short stop at Monarch Canyon. Discovered in 1905, the mining of Monarch Canyon produced well for about a year then fizzled, like so many places in Death Valley. In fact, it’s fair to say: More money goes in to the ground than comes out. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake actually took the financial backing out of the Monarch Mine efforts, and she fizzled, even with a one-stamp mill in the canyon to this day.
After Monarch, we bounced our way up the Chloride Cliff road we enjoyed views of Mt. Whitney in the Sierra Nevada Mountains off to our west. Chloride City was called the City of Gold, and the Rim of Hell (read more here), with two boom and bust cycles in its past — 1878 and 1905. One journal claims Chloride City was discovered by a single-blanket, one-jackass prospector who killed a rattlesnake with his pick-ax. He struck a rock in the process and discovered it was silver! Turned out to be silver chloride, but the area was more rich in lead chloride.
A raucous boom town of the old west, it was full of Welsh and Irish miners who brought the “cousin jack” to the area — a dug out with three earthen sides and one man-made front and roof. As we explained to our Adventuring ModernJeepers, every emigrant who landed in the mining camps of America had a “cousin” back home who was a hard worker if only the mine would pay for them to come to the USA. In that way, many miners brought over their family members as well.
Then we toured the wonderful old ghost town of Rhyolite in the Bullfrog Mining District outside Beatty, NV. The name “bullfrog” was given by Frank Shorty Harris (buried in the Park) who found the original greenish rock with golden warts — which looked like a bullfrog. Shorty was well known for walking into a local salon, putting a large (un-cashable) nugget on the bar saying, “Drinks on me.” He would convince the bar-tender that he would return with smaller bills or gold dust once he “cashed” in his big nugget. Yea, right. He never returned and drank for free for quite a while before he was figured out.
Camp that night was Texas Springs back down by Furnace Creek. The wind gave us some excitement while setting up camp, but the campfire that night was worth it.
Echo Canyon and Hole in the Wall Canyon are very close to Furnace Creek and easy to tour in a half day. Echo Canyon has the Inyo Mine which is an easy and enjoyable tour of tons of relics, mills, buildings, mixing vats, conveyor belts, machinery and more. Part way up Echo is the Eye of the Needle (see video below). 10 miles long Echo Canyon is a fun drive with the upper drainage areas separated by abrupt canyon narrows carved into sedimentary rock. The road is very passable by a stock SUV.
Eye of the Needle is a natural arch. Note: arches are formed by erosion and wind/weather and aging, while bridges are formed with water involved. Our group resolved to do the tourista thing and get a pic with “someone” in the arch.
Our trip ended with a great lunch ceremony where awards (gift certificates) were presented to the farthest traveler; the best camp hosts; and the best setup rig for overlanding.
Laura and Matt Waschkowski for Farthest Traveled; Matson Breakey in the middle as Host; Brent Stanley for Best Overlanding Set-up; and Eileen and Gordon Crowl for Best Camp Hosts!
DAY 1: Darwin Wash
- 5 hrs 23 min
- 2 hrs 58 min
- 22.6 mph
- 10.1 mph
- 2,778 ft
- 4,608 ft(Descent)
DAY 2: Saline Valley and Lippincott Road with Racetrack
- 8 hrs 28 min
- 2 hrs 58 min
- 23.1 mph
- 15.0 mph
- 8,098 ft
- 10,019 ft (Descent)
Day 3: Monarch Canyon, Chloride Cliffs and Rhyolite
- 8 hrs 45 min
- 3 hrs 58 min
- 18.9 mph
- 10.3 mph
- 7,857 ft
- 7,983 ft (Descent)
Day 4: Echo Canyon and Hole in the Wall Canyon
- 5 hrs 13 min
- 3 hrs 11 min
- 14.6 mph
- 5.7 mph
- 5,274 ft
- 3,294 ft (Descent)
Stay tuned for next year’s follow up ModernJeeper Adventure in Death Valley 2020.
Enjoy a few more pics:
MORE PICS: In our Facebook Album.