Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

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Mill and car near Skidoo town site The night in the car wasn't too bad. I woke up a few times, gradually adding layers to protect myself against the cold (but not succeeding a hundred percent). As such sunrise was a welcome opportunity to just start the car, turn up the heating, and drive away.

My first target for today, I had decided, would be the Skidoo town site. Now, "town site" should have made me suspicious... this wasn't a ghost town - this was a place where a town had once been. As such, the place looked very bland and almost indistinguishable from the surrounding desert. Only after venturing further on rough dirt roads did I see some mine shafts and some remains, most notably an old burned out car and some wooden remains.

Now, Skidoo is located at a considerable elevation, it was still fairly early in the morning, and there were strong winds, so it was freezing cold. Really not what one would expect at Death Valley, one of the hottest places on earth in summer.

I still tried to venture further on one of the "roads", but failed at the steep grades. While the car still handled pretty well for a subcompact, in this case I would clearly have required four wheel drive and at places higher ground clearance.

I drove back to the paved road and headed further up Emigrant Canyon, only to take the next dirt road to the Eureka Mine... which seems to have been one of the larger mines. This also seems to be one of the only mines where it isn't explicitly forbidden to enter... they do warn about the dangers, but they also suggest people take a secondary light source... As such the mine could be entered... except it is closed in winter to help protect the bats that live (and probably breed) there.

Aguereberry Point sign with Death Valley in the background So I ventured along, and soon arrived at Agueberry Point. This is probably the most accessible valley viewpoint on the East side, but at an elevation of over 6000 feet was also very chilly.

Next were the Charcoal Kilns, nine man-built structures that served a purpose whose exact definition I have forgotten. At this point the road turned from "unpaved" into "unpaved, four-wheel drive suggested", but I felt confident enough in the car and my driving capabilities to proceed. So I went into first gear and virtually crawled up the very steep grades at a speed of only around 10 MPH...

The road ends at Mahogany Flat Campground, which must be a very pleasant place in summer, but at over 8000 feet, this was still very cold in March. Mahogany Flat is also the end of the road, and there's a seven (nine? I don't remember) trail up to the top of Telescope Peak. Which might be a nice hike sometime in the future. But not now.

So I drove back again, down the same steep and rough road, but after some time was once again able to use second, then third gear... But still, the paved part of the road was still pretty rough, and a large number of potholes actually made it more strenuous to drive than a lot of dirt roads.

The fuel gauge was indicating I wouldn't be able to reach all my destinations within Death Valley without refueling, and since prices at Furnace Creek were outrageous, I decided to head out of the park, to Trona to fuel up and get lunch. At $1.69 a gallon prices were still pretty high, but still half a dollar lower than at Furnace Creek.

I later discovered that fuel prices at Panamint Springs were somewhere inbetween these two, but the time savings would have outweighed that again... Sadly, these are decisions that have to be made without perfect knowledge of all possibilities, and therefore one has to live with the consequences... in this case, I wasted an hour just to get fuel a little bit cheaper...

Panamint Range, the western flank of Death Valley, taken from Wildrose Rd in Panamint Valley One interesting aspect though was the drive through Panamint Valley valley, which serves as test ground for the military. I was surprised to suddenly see some jet fighters (F-16? F-18? I don't have any idea) thundering over me in a really low distance.

Also on my way was the Ballarat ghost town, but once again this wasn't all that interesting. I guess Bodie got me spoiled last year, and I always expect to see something like it.

I was planning to access Hidden Valley, but after driving quite a few miles I arrived at the intersection and discovered that the road was closed. So I had to reconsider my plans, and opted to cross the valley West to East and visit another ghost town, Rhyolite. Which I had already heard of, and I guess even seen on TV once, but in reality the experience proved to be pretty dull. I guess with ideal weather, this might have been a more interesting experience, but with largely overcast skies, I wasn't too thrilled. On top of that, I had started getting a headache.

It was already getting pretty late in the day, so I decided to return to the Emigrant camp site via Titus Canyon. Once again, this was labelled as "four-wheel drive and high clearance suggested", but apart from having to drive certain sections in first gear, I didn't have any problems.

Ascending towards Red Pass, the highest part of the Titus Canyon Rd in Death Valley National Park The Titus canyon road starts with a pretty dull ascent via a normal dirt road, then gets steeper as it reaches Grapevine Mountains, turning into a winding and more demanding track a few miles before and after the pass. The mountains were really glowing as they were illuminated by sunset, but none of the photographs I took seem to live up to the vivid colors I still have in my head.

After the initial descent lies the Leadfield ghost town. Once again, this isn't a very interesting place at first sight, and the shadows of the surrounding mountains as well as the cold that was creeping in again didn't make me want to take a second look.

So I just proceeded to Titus canyon itself. Which consists of a few remarkable miles with the road winding down, with towering canyon walls on both sides, sometimes barely allowing one car to pass. Here, the road is sometimes a bit more treacherous, and heavier vehicles might get stuck if they stop at the wrong places.

I exited the canyon and drove back to Emigrant camp site just in time for sunset. It turns out that on both days, roughly an hour after sunset the campsite would be fully occupied.

Miles driven: 329mi (529km)

Campground Accommodation: Emigrant campground (Death Valley National Park): $0

(Written Sunday, March 17th 2002 12:00 at Gate C2 at the Amsterdam airport)