Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

< Previous | List | Next > Up Eureka Sand Dunes, into Racetrack Valley, then on to Stovepipe Wells and Beatty, NV

Sunrise on the Eureka Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park My first hiking destination for the day was visible right in front of me as I woke up: Eureka Sand Dunes, the highest dunes in Death Valley, and unhikeable in summer due to the heat. I skipped breakfast and ventured up before the break of dawn.

The hike up was strenuous, to say the least. Hiking in the sand is tiring, but over here it was coupled with strong elevation gains, going from around 2900 to 3600 feet in less than a mile. Still, I made it up to the top in time to watch the sun rise over the mountains, and was later joined by one of the campers. We talked for a while before he headed to the other peak of the sand dunes, marginally higher, and I headed back down, taking with me a number of nice pictures and impressions.

I wasn't looking forward to the 10 miles of rough washboard to bring me back to the main road (also still dirt and fairly washboard-y), but at daylight it all seemed much nicer. Perhaps this was due to the fact that I could actually go around 35mph and see any dangerous obstacles much sooner.

I stopped a few times on my way down South, but unfortunately DeLorme Street Atlas ate my notes for all of Death Valley, so I cannot be too specific.

What I hadn't considered the day before when estimating my fuel needs was that I would not just drive straight from Big Pine to one of the developed areas in Death Valley, but head both to the Eureka Sand Dunes and into Racetrack Valley. On top of that, I had stupidly let DeLorme Street Atlas suggest me a route that would lead me through the latter, and then down Saline Valley before reaching Panamint Springs. Of course a quick look at a park map (which I have stored as PDFs on the laptop), or just some mental rehashing of things I read on the Death Valley Talk message board, would have told me that the road down Saline Valley was not just 4x4 high clearance, but also unmaintained at that. But I'm cutting myself short.

Teakettle Junction in Death Valley: teakettles hanging on a road sign I hadn't realised all this when I made a right turn down Racetrack Valley road near Ubehebe Crater. Nor did I realise it while driving the many miles towards Teakettle Junction, and The Racetrack. I began to realise it after talking to what seemed to be a Death Valley veteran on a buggy near the Racetrack. But I only confirmed those suspicions when facing the sign that said "unmaintained road ahead" and looked at a gas tank less than 1/4 full.

With all that road and gas talk, the Racetrack might almost not get a mention. So did I see any moving rocks? Yes, I did. But I couldn't help but think that this was a hoax, and not a very elaborate one at that. Sure, there's even people tracking the movement of the stones via GPS, but the tracks that I saw looked more man-made than anything else. Perhaps I'm just overly cynical, but that was my impression while I was there.

"Last time I drove down Saline Valley, I had to build my own road. Then I was snowed in for four days in the ??? mountains". The man's advice was still ringing in my head as I turned around next to the warning sign, and headed back up Racetrack Road. It would be many miles back into civilisation, and I could just hope that the car had a generous reserve tank.

So I accelerated to around 40mph (all the time on dirt road), trying to drive as smoothly as possible, and using Neutral on every significant descent. And as I was speeding down North Hwy, much to my relief on paved roads and closer to civilisation again, AC-DC's "Highway To Hell" blaring through the speakers and an orange light on the dashboard coming on with about twenty or thirty miles to go until Stovepipe Wells, I actually felt good.

After fueling up the car, and getting lunch at Stovepipe Wells, I figured that I had had enough adventure for the day, and headed out of Death Valley, having decided to get a motel in Beatty, Nevada.

I still tried to access Chloride City, what I remembered to be a smaller ghost town east of the valley, but once again had to turn around because my car was not fit for the road. After about 1.5mi of scrambling over rocks at first gear, I encountered an unsurmountable obstacle. Once again, a more detailed look at a map could have helped, since there was a more accessible road coming in from outside the park... That should serve me as a(nother) lesson, I guess.

I checked in at a mid-priced motel in Beatty. I could have opted for a cheaper room at a nearby casino/motel, but just couldn't stand the atmosphere and line at the check-in. Sometimes, I just hate the thought of being surrounded by all these retired RV-driving couples, one disadvantage of travelling the Southwest outside the main tourist seasons...

Motel/Hotel Accommodation: ? (Beatty, NV): ?

Written on November 2nd 2002 at gate A-9 at San Francisco International around 2:45pm.