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Author Topic: Death Valley, CA Help  (Read 13642 times)
dwdallam
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« on: November 29, 2007, 02:57:50 AM »
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I'm planning a trip to Death Valley, CA on January 1st of 2008. I've read all of the literature from the gov websites and tons of information about where to shoot and stay. However, it is a daunting task to get things all lined up perfectly. I can possibly stay 5-6 days and 4-5 nights.

I was planning to travel to locations during mid day, then shoot morning and sunset on each end. If daylight permits, I'll fill that in shooting other non sunlight critical areas mid afternoon, such as inside the mine at Aguereberry point, ghost towns, and night shots are also on the table.

I'm not really interested in the tourist stops, such as Scotty's Castle, but more the photographic areas. I'll be driving around 800 miles to get there and I don't want to elave empty handed because I got distracted.

Any help planning this trip will be appreciated. I can travel almost anywhere. I'll be in a 2007 Toyota Tacoma 4WD with a shell and I can sleep comfortably  in the rear. I would like to stay in a hotel most of the time, however. But I do want to spend one night camping out.

I'll be coming in from the west on 178 and leaving the same direction.

Thanks.
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B-Ark
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« Reply #1 on: November 29, 2007, 07:52:40 AM »
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Just a few general comments. Death Valley NP is a large place. If you're mainly staying in hotels, you'll be doing a LOT of driving before sunrise and after sunset.

There's a lot of old mining roads - explore these to the limits of both your and your vehicle's abilities. Pick up a good map at the visitor center.

Be prepared to do a lot of walking. I've had days where I've walked 15 miles just exploring - that's the best way to really discover the area.

At higher elevations, it will get COLD - be prepared.
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jdemott
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« Reply #2 on: November 29, 2007, 11:13:53 AM »
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Here are a few random thoughts that may be helpful.

I've always stayed at Stovepipe Wells, although there is a wider range of accommodation choices at Furnace Creek.  It seems like most photography groups stay at Stovepipe.

Your vehicle sounds like a good choice for Death Valley.  Presumably you are experienced in 4WD techniques and know enough to take plenty of water and warm clothing.  The unpaved roads in the park range from decently maintained gravel, to extreme washboard, to deep sand, to really horrible.  In some of the canyons, you can't go much faster than a crawl, so plan your time accordingly.  I find it best to chat with one of the rangers on the day of arrival to learn about current road conditions.  Don't neglect the importance of good tires and one or more good spares.  Much of the rock on the roads is very sharp and can really tear up tires.  I had a tire torn up quite badly last year near Eureka Dunes.

The drive through Titus Canyon isn't difficult, although a few spots require a high clearance vehicle.  Titus Canyon affords a wide variety of scenery and lots of places to get out and walk.  I like exploring some of the more remote mining camps in the other canyons, but bear in mind that it takes a while to reach them.  The hike to Darwin Falls is easy and offers lots of interesting possibilities for close up photos of vegetation and rocks.  Darwin Falls itself is more of curiosity than an especially scenic waterfall.

Both Eureka Dunes and the Racetrack are long drives from the main part of the park and so might be logical places for an overnight stay.

Don't neglect the popular locations like Mesquite Dunes, Zabriskie Point, Badwater, etc.  The park won't be crowded in early January and the locations near the paved roads are much more accessible when you are driving in the dark.
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John DeMott
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« Reply #3 on: November 29, 2007, 12:00:47 PM »
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There are useful details in this thread on the TPN site.

Over and above that, your intent to do most of your travel and location scouting midday matches my own in DV.  Be sure to allow plenty of time for movement, plus be aware of the reduced speed limit in many areas and preponderance of Park Ranger radar.  Due to the long hours of driving early and late, I find it also useful to snag a substantial nap each midday, in order to be able to depart early each day.  Gas is only available within the park at Stovepipe and Furnace, and it is considerably more expensive than outside the park.

Restaurant hours are such that your morning and evening shooting will leave you eating from the ice chest you have (hopefully) thought to put in your vehicle.  You can buy food at the stores in Stovepipe and Furnace, but the selection is going to be pretty spartan and narrow.  A grocery stop is usually in order if you venture outside the park for gas.

We've also found it very worthwhile to walk away from the vehicle stops at most destinations, both photographically and for pure enjoyment.  Good hiking boots, a suitable photo daypack, water bottles, headlamps, trekking poles and extra layers of clothing including gloves (DV can get cold early and late in January, especially at higher elevations) should be added to your list of daily gear.

And yes, there will be fewer people around in January.  That's a blessing, but also a curse if things go awry.  Cell phone coverage wasn't all that great last time I was in the park, so depending on the details of how remote you want to get, it might be worth borrowing a sat phone for emergency use only.
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Peter McLennan
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« Reply #4 on: November 29, 2007, 11:20:14 PM »
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I'll second the recommendation for overnighting at Eureka Dunes.  I spent Christmas Eve there once and was the only person for a thousand miles, or so it seemed.  Great location.  Excellent dunes and a nice playa.

Take a good book.  It gets dark early.
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Mike Boden
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« Reply #5 on: November 30, 2007, 02:19:03 AM »
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I just spent four days in Death Valley over Thanksgiving weekend. This was my first time there, and I logged almost 1100 miles to/from Los Angeles and throughout the park. In these days, I saw Stovepipe Dunes, Eureka Dunes, the Racetrack, Mesquite Flats, Badwater, Artist's Palette, Zabrinski Point, and Titus Canyon. However, I didn't photograph in Titus Canyon nor Artist's Palette. But, I hit the Racetrack at Sunset, Eureka at Sunset, Mesquite Flats at sunset, Stovepipe Dunes one sunrise and Zabrinski Point for two sunrises.

As for camping, I slept in the bed of my truck in the backcountry to keep the cost down.

As for food, I brought my own groceries from home, which gave me a lot of freedom. However, I did eat a breakfast in Furnace Creek one day.

Keep in mind that gas is expensive in the valley, but you don't have many options.

As for maps, I picked one up from AAA that was actually more detailed than the map provided by the rangers.

If you have a GPS unit that will tell you the azimuth of the sun, then bring that as well. Otherwise, go online and get this data and bring a printout with you. Along with this, bring a compass. All of this will help you during your scouts so that you don't waste any valuable time. That's what happened to me at Zabrinski. I had mistakenly left my compass at home and didn't know where the sun was going to rise. So, on the my first morning there, I was in the completely wrong location. This was corrected the next day and rewarded with a couple great shots.

Another important item to bring is a headlamp.

As for cameras, I shot predominately with a Toyo 810M. I shot 11 frames of 8x10 and 29 frames of 4x5 on the same camera using a 4x5 reducing back. I also brought my 1DS-MKII, which I predominately used for scouting and the occasional keeper shot.

One last piece of advice...watch out for sand. It has a way of getting into everything!!!!

Well, that's it for now. Have fun!!!!
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dwdallam
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« Reply #6 on: November 30, 2007, 04:00:56 AM »
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Indeed. I knew the community would come through. Thanks for all those who responded. If anyone else has any additional info, please post it.
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camilla
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« Reply #7 on: November 30, 2007, 01:54:33 PM »
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Hi
I recommend very vey highly Steve Kossack's DVD of Death Valley Photography. I has been a priceless asset to many a photographer and a workshop with Steve is always absolutely the best!

www.f-8andbethere.com

enjoy!
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Chris_T
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« Reply #8 on: December 01, 2007, 08:37:36 AM »
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The following report was from an 2000 Usenet post (still remember those?). Since the long link is broken up here, I cut and pasted the report below. Get those books if you can find them. Pay particular attention to the footprints in the dunes and the ghost town.

Good luck and good shooting.


From DejaNews Archive:

Here's a report of a Death Valley National Park trip taken during the
'97 Thanksgiving week. Thanks to those who provided pointers. Hope it
can beuseful to future visitors.


Reference material:
- "Adventuring in the California Deserts" by Lynne Foster: Excellent
coverage of the Park and surrounding area, sprinkled with photo hints.
- "California Desert Byways" by Tony Huegel: Description of unpaved
roads.
- Sunrise and sunset sheet from DVNP: Popular locations listed as
silhouette or oblique points.


Summary: Spent three full days in the Park, camped at the Texas Springs
campground in Furnace Creek. Temperature 70s to 40s, skies partial
cloudy to full sun. Description limited to locations within an hour's
drive from the campground, in a regular vehicle.


Sand Dunes near Stovepipe Wells: The big dunes were very photogenic, IF
not marred by footprints. Hiked for miles looking for dunes sans
footprints, but came up empty. Resorted to shooting from a distance.
From Stovepipe Wells, a short drive up Mosaic Canyon Road yielded good
views. But the sunlight hitting the dunes directly from the west was
flat. A better vista point is from Grotto Canyon Road: a short but rough
climbing dirt road that is not well marked (across from the big dunes
viewing area, off 190). Along this road at varying elevations, different
perspectives of the dunes with distant mountain ranges in the background
can be captured. Side lighting was good for both sunrise and sunset.
Most shots were taken with 100mm to 300mm range lenses. A warming filter
would help cut down the blue cast from the morning light. Watch out for
the telephone poles. According to another photog, the big dunes were
pristine during his previous visit. Probably swept clean by winds. So
YMMV. A park ranger suggested the Eureka dunes, which were a couple of
hours away, and more off the beaten path.


Golden Canyon: The last trail marker was reached after a mile hike into
the narrow canyon. There the trail forked to the left and right, and the
Red Cathedral and the Manly Beacon rose in front of you. Look for small
trails ascending the canyon walls. Took one on the right that was short
but quite steep. From the top of the bluff, the view was unobstructed by
the canyon walls. The challenge was getting everything into one frame
(hint: need your widest angle). The setting sun hit the mountains
straight on, casting few shadows. Then the Photo Gods smiled: a couple
of hikers appeared on a distant ridge, providing a much needed scaling
detail. Unless a silhouette effect is desired, this is a sunset
location.


Zabriskie Point: Scouted the location one evening before a sunrise
shoot. From the viewing area, waited an hour for the setting sun to peek
through the low clouds. Rewarded with golden mountain ranges and
colorful high clouds to the east. After sundown, towards the west, Manly
Beacon was a silhouette in the afterglow skies. Shooting sunrise here
was quite tricky. As the sun climbed, different features in the
landscape got lit up at different times. Had to make quick composition
decisions to switch between isolated lit up areas and panoramic views.


Twenty Mule Canyon: Winding dirt road offering many views of rock
formations and mountain peaks.
Artists' Palette: Colorful rock formations, facing west.
Badwater: Small  pool of water with mountain reflections.
Dante' View: Panoramic views in all directions.
Death Valley Junction: In the middle of the desert, a funky hotel with
wall murals and an active opera house.
Coyote (surprise): At the big sand dunes viewing area, a coyote circled
each stopping vehicle for handouts and would get within five feet of
people. A ranger said it would probably be shot for fear of it
eventually biting someone.


Other Pointers:
- A high clearance vehicle would be most desirable for exploring the off
the beaten path unpaved roads.
- At this time of the year, the sun can disappear behind the high
mountains by 4:00 p.m.
- The abundant spectacular views can create a photo op overload. It is
easy toend up with me-too kind of shots, or become jaded. Need to slow
down.


On route side trips:
- Bristlecone Pine Forest: The road to the Schulman Grove was still
open. Upon arrival, the setting sun hid behind the low clouds, and the
howling wind shortened the visit.
- Mount Whitney: From Lone Pine, took a pre-dawn ten minute drive up the
Whitney-Portal Road to the Movie Flat Road (where numerous westerns were
filmed). Mount Whitney's peaks glowed in the morning rays. Looped back
to Lone Pine on Lubkin Canyon Road. Still some foliage color left. This
area is loaded with photo ops, and deserves a return visit.
- Keeler: A speckle of a desert town 20 miles from Lone Pine on 190.
Creative front yard decorations.
- Cerro Gordo Ghost Town: Reached by a torturous eight mile dirt road
starting from across Keeler. A white knuckles drive: narrow, s-t-e-e-p
hairpin turns, and many sections single lane. Spectacular panoramic
views along the way. Not much of a ghost town at the end of the road,
compared to Bodie. But definitely more atmospheric, with not a, eh,
ghost around.


This report got much longer than intended. Until the next trip...



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Indeed. I knew the community would come through. Thanks for all those who responded. If anyone else has any additional info, please post it.
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dwdallam
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« Reply #9 on: December 07, 2007, 02:17:29 AM »
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As for maps, I picked one up from AAA that was actually more detailed than the map provided by the rangers.

[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=157186\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

I had my sister in law pick up all the information AAA had for DV, and it consisted of a map of "Southern Nevada, Death valley, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon National parks."

It's a horribly detail-less map. What map were you talking about? I'll have her double check. This map is almost worthless because it is zoomed so far out as to not have labels for such things as Eureka Dunes. Although, it does have the labels for more popular spots, like Furnace Creek.
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dwdallam
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« Reply #10 on: December 07, 2007, 02:23:14 AM »
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So what is the fastest way to get to Eureka Dunes from CA 178? I'll be coming up that HWY after picking up my friend in Bakersfield. I've had a look at some maps, but so far, it looks like anything other than 395 is a crap shoot as far as road speed goes. If that's the case, it looks like I'll be having to backtrack some miles before hitting 395.

We're planning on leaving early in teh morning from Bakersfield. I'm wondering is it would be better to stay in a closer location near the entrance, and trying to get some late afternoon / sunset shots there. then heading north to Eureka Dunes.  I'm just afraid I'll run out of light and miss two opportunities, Eureka Dunes and the lower park areas, so to a long drive and short daytimes.
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Paul Sumi
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« Reply #11 on: December 07, 2007, 10:58:28 AM »
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I had my sister in law pick up all the information AAA had for DV, and it consisted of a map of "Southern Nevada, Death valley, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon National parks."

It's a horribly detail-less map. What map were you talking about? I'll have her double check. This map is almost worthless because it is zoomed so far out as to not have labels for such things as Eureka Dunes. Although, it does have the labels for more popular spots, like Furnace Creek.
[{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Not sure where you are in Northern California, but you might want to visit your local REI store to check out their map and guidebook selection.

[a href=\"http://www.rei.com/FindStores?state=CA&radius=900]http://www.rei.com/FindStores?state=CA&radius=900[/url]

Also, check out National Geographic's hiking and trail maps.  I used their Death Valley map this past April for general planning and information.  The scale is 1:165,000, so if you need fine detail, this is not the map.  REI may carry these as well.

http://shop.nationalgeographic.com/product/413/382/320.html

Paul
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Mike Boden
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« Reply #12 on: December 07, 2007, 12:23:09 PM »
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What map were you talking about?

It's called "Death Valley National Park Guide Map". It has an ISBN of 1-56413-649-3. If you go to this webpage, it's the fourth one down.

I hope this helps and that you're able to find it.
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Mike Boden
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« Reply #13 on: December 07, 2007, 12:35:24 PM »
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So what is the fastest way to get to Eureka Dunes from CA 178?

I'm not exactly sure if this is the 'fastest' way to get there, but once inside the park, I took Death Valley Road from Ubehebe Crater and Scotty's Castle. You end up traveling North on a rather decent gravel road for about twenty miles. Then you hit a really winding precarious section through the mountains for another 12 miles or so to the West. After that, you travel South on South Eureka Road for about 12 miles, which is another good gravel road.

It looks like another way to get there would be from Big Pine. Looking at a map shows that you would take Death Valley Road off of HWY 168 and then turn South on South Eureka Road. But with this said, my gut tells me that this might not be the fasted way to go.
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jdemott
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« Reply #14 on: December 07, 2007, 01:27:45 PM »
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So what is the fastest way to get to Eureka Dunes from CA 178? I'll be coming up that HWY after picking up my friend in Bakersfield. I've had a look at some maps, but so far, it looks like anything other than 395 is a crap shoot as far as road speed goes. If that's the case, it looks like I'll be having to backtrack some miles before hitting 395.

Well, if you're taking 178 east from Bakersfield, you'll get right to 395 before you get anywhere near the park so I don't see where there is any backtracking.  From 395/178 near Inyokern, it is definitely faster to go north on 395 to Big Pine and then cut over to Eureka Dunes.  (If you're referring to 178 somewhere else, like in the south end of the park then the best route might be different.)  If you're going to be at Eureka Dunes at the end of the day, use extreme caution if you are thinking about driving from there into the park in the dark--the mountianous section just east of the dunes is very twisty with some washboard around unprotected curves.
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John DeMott
dwdallam
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« Reply #15 on: December 07, 2007, 07:30:13 PM »
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Well, there is a place just north of the 395/178 junction called Saline Flats. There is a offroad/4WD road heading east into the Eureka Dunes area. I did some googling on it and found a 4WD club's website on it. I guess they have something to do with taking care of the road and are also naturalists. It sounds like an interesting drive, and one not often taken by most visitors. I guess it was several sites, but tehse two I rember:
http://parkerlab.bio.uci.edu/nonscientific...ureka_dunes.htm
http://www.stanwhite.com/salinevalley.html

The second one talks about the road from Saline Valley to Eureka Dunes 4WD road.

What do you all think about that road instead of the road from Scotty's Castle, which In take to be the traditional route?

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Well, if you're taking 178 east from Bakersfield, you'll get right to 395 before you get anywhere near the park so I don't see where there is any backtracking.  From 395/178 near Inyokern, it is definitely faster to go north on 395 to Big Pine and then cut over to Eureka Dunes.  (If you're referring to 178 somewhere else, like in the south end of the park then the best route might be different.)  If you're going to be at Eureka Dunes at the end of the day, use extreme caution if you are thinking about driving from there into the park in the dark--the mountianous section just east of the dunes is very twisty with some washboard around unprotected curves.
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Mike Boden
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« Reply #16 on: December 07, 2007, 07:48:19 PM »
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What do you all think about that road instead of the road from Scotty's Castle, which In take to be the traditional route?

I can't say so myself, except that the road from Scotty's Castle has some beautiful vistas. Futhermore, the winding road through the mountains is pretty cool. Whatever you decide to do, getting off the highway and in the back country offers quite an enjoyable experience.
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Hank
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« Reply #17 on: December 07, 2007, 07:54:54 PM »
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The trip from Scotty's is really conditional.  If the NPS road grader has been through in the last six months, it might not be bad.  But last time I did it, the washboarding was about the worst I've seen on any road anywhere in the country.  Heck, I even got up to 15mph for 100 yards or so.  And I drive a full sized truck with optimum suspension and load distribution.
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dwdallam
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« Reply #18 on: December 07, 2007, 09:31:15 PM »
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One plus for the Scotty's road if that it takes me past all the other more popular areas also, when coming in from the Pannamint area.

I'm thinking about spending the night in Pannamint. Is that  good idea for lodging, or is there a better choice?

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The trip from Scotty's is really conditional.  If the NPS road grader has been through in the last six months, it might not be bad.  But last time I did it, the washboarding was about the worst I've seen on any road anywhere in the country.  Heck, I even got up to 15mph for 100 yards or so.  And I drive a full sized truck with optimum suspension and load distribution.
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jdemott
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« Reply #19 on: December 08, 2007, 01:15:12 PM »
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Well, there is a place just north of the 395/178 junction called Saline Flats. There is a offroad/4WD road heading east into the Eureka Dunes area. I did some googling on it and found a 4WD club's website on it. I guess they have something to do with taking care of the road and are also naturalists. It sounds like an interesting drive, and one not often taken by most visitors. I guess it was several sites, but tehse two I rember:
http://parkerlab.bio.uci.edu/nonscientific...ureka_dunes.htm
http://www.stanwhite.com/salinevalley.html

The second one talks about the road from Saline Valley to Eureka Dunes 4WD road.

What do you all think about that road instead of the road from Scotty's Castle, which In take to be the traditional route?

It sounds like you really need to take a look at this map:
http://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/uplo...y%20Roads-2.pdf

Highway 178 and 395 intersect well south of the Eureka Dunes area.  Highway 168 and 395 intersect by Big Pine which is where you can take the quickest route to Eureka Dunes.  From that road you can also reach the north end of the Saline Valley Road.  From the campground along the Saline Valley Road there is a 4WD road to Eureka Dunes which should not be attempted unless you have very rugged equipment (short wheelbase, high clearance vehicle with a winch and multiple spare tires) and the know-how to use it (plus lots of time).  

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One plus for the Scotty's road if that it takes me past all the other more popular areas also, when coming in from the Pannamint area.

I'm thinking about spending the night in Pannamint. Is that good idea for lodging, or is there a better choice?

If you want to stay overnight and then drive up to Eureka Dunes via Scotty's Castle and Crankshaft Junction, then I recommend you go another 45 minutes past Panamint Springs and stay at Stovepipe Wells.  That way you can easily see the dunes at sunrise since they are just 5 minutes from Stovepipe.  From Stovepipe to Eureka is about 2 hours (as I recall) if the road has been graded--longer if the washboard is bad.
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John DeMott
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