You will need to leave the Bay Area early Monday in order to get to Death Valley by Monday evening.
Death Valley in the spring!
I've traditionally lead this hike for New Years, but this year we'll do spring trip as well. Spring in Death Valley is generally the most popular time, due to potential for wildflowers, and temperatures that are warming up but not yet stifling. Like most Death Valley trips, there is no predicting what the weather will be (well, you can be fairly certain about it if you go during July), so we may or may not be able to see blankets of wildflowers.
Please read this description completely before you RSVP.
You can see reviews/photos from 2009 or 2010 or 2011, 2012 and 2013. This trip has a few short hikes each day, but also plenty of driving each day to get to our destinations (Death Valley is a big place).
Important: Meet on our first hiking day, Tuesday, at our campsites in Texas Spring, at 8:00 AM. If you are staying at Furnace Creek, we'll have a sign at the entrance to Texas Spring identifying our campsites, but likely they will be in the upper, far left side, in the campsites[masked] range.
Here's the tentative plan:
Monday, April 21: Drive to Death Valley. The drive from the Bay Area is[masked] miles, and can take 8-12 hours, depending on your speed and number of stops you take. Carpools are recommended. People can either camp (Texas Spring) or stay in a hotel (Furnace Creek Ranch), or in there are less expensive hotels in Beaty, Nevada (about an hour away).
Tues April 22: Morning, leaving about 8:00: We'll brave the dues in the morning when temperatures will be lower and the sun may be at lower angles. Sand dunes, Devils Cornfield, Historic Stovepipe wells (hike into dunes, others sites are car accessible). Lunch on the road (bring food, or you can pick up food at Stovepipe Wells). Afternoon: Mosaic Canyon (easy hiking, but some "butt-scooting" along slippery rocks). I've done this every trip, and it's not to be missed.
Wed April 23: Again, hoping for an early start around 8:00. Nevares Springs (5.3 miles, 1,630 feet elevation gain, "moderate") and/or Nevaras Peak (9.0 miles, 3,650 feet elevation gain, "difficult") hike. This will be an exploratory hike; I haven't done it before, but it looks like a good hike. We'll first hike to the springs, which are a short detour off the trail. Then, after visiting the springs (which flow at 330 gallons per minute), we'll head back to the trail and those who have had enough can walk back down the wash to the cars (for a total of about 5.3 miles). Those doing the 5.3 mile hike will be on their own on the way down. The more adventurous of us will continue up to Nevaras Peak (another 2,000 feet of climbing and a total of 9 miles)
Thurs April 24: Not sure yet, I hope to confirm this by mid-February. Possibilities include Morning: Historic dune at Beatty Junction (brief car stop), followed by drive to Ubehebe Crater, short hike in that area. Lunch on the road. Afternoon: Scottie's Castle (ticketed) Tour, short hike in the area. Morning: Artists Canyon, Ventifact Ridge, Badwater. Lunch on the road. Afternoon: Open. Perhaps a hike up Willow Canyon to see the waterfalls (or maybe a hike down the canyon from the top. Evening: Group dinner at Furnace Creek Ranch restaurant for those who desire.
Fri April 25: Drive home. Some cars may want to stop at the Trona Pinaccle Tufa towers, just off the main road.
At nights, most of us will be staying in the Furnace Creek area, which has both camping and motel rooms at the Furnace Creek Ranch (Furnace Creek Inn is just down the street for those who want more luxury). Each morning we'll carpool to our hikes--we'll aim for a moderate hiking pace, but leave no one behind--this is a hiking group, so I'll assume everyone understands that this is not just car-touring. I'll be posting some files (camping, park map, etc.) below for people to look at, or you can visit the Death Valley National Park web site. Others
Map: Here's a Google map showing the camping/hotel area, as well as some hikes we may make: http://tinyurl.com/deathvalleygeologyhike
Hikes: Hikes are always tentative: Road conditions, number of 4WD's available, etc. may change our plans. We may decide on longer hikes, or multiple shorter hikes, driving between them (there are many 1-2 hour hikes in the park). If we have cars with "high clearance," we can get down a few roads that are a bit too bumpy for most cars; but we'll probably not go down 4-wheel drive roads (unless everyone has 4WD, and even then we'll likely avoid the really rough ones). Bring containers to carry plenty of water (the park recommends 1/2 gallon per half-day).
Camping: Camp sites hold up to 8 people and 2 cars--some are "pull through" others are "walk-in, tent only". Texas Spring has water, sinks, and flush toilets, but no showers. Furnace Creek Ranch offers shower and pool access for $5/day. Camping is first-come, first served (non-reservable), so we'll ask the first person to arrive to reserve two or three campsites (depending on number of RSVPs). If, for some reason, we get there too late and can't get a reservation, Furnace Creek Campground (right across the street, but not as nice as Texas Spring) has 135 sites and won't sell out, so we won't be left without a site. Bring a sturdy tent: One year in a daytime windstorm several tents got blown around.
Motel: If you want to stay in the Furnace Creek Ranch or the FC Inn (a pricier resort, also in the area), make your own reservations now Furnace Creek does sell out! If you want to share a room, leave a comment below stating your desires/preferences. Other alternative: Stovepipe Wells Village is a bit less expensive, and only about 30 miles from Furnace Creek area. Another much less expensive motel option is to stay in Beatty, Nevada. This is about 45 miles away (in 2009 a couple people stayed here), but the roads are mostly straight, but you do pass through a mountain pass. Google Maps estimates the drive at 1 hour 13 minutes, which I suspect is a bit longer than needed.
Food: We'll work out the details on food in early April, but plan on having at least your own lunches that you can take with you on hikes (we may coordinate breakfasts and dinners, for those who are interested-, but everyone is welcome to just bring their own). There is a restaurant at Furnace Creek for those inclined to dine in.
Weather: Can be chilly at nights; may have some rain but not likely too much. http://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/weather.htm The days can reach 90's, although likely to be in the 70's in the mornings and 80's in the afternoons. Be ready for a wide variety of weather, but not likely major rainstorms.
Cost: Each participant will be responsible for:
Their own transportation cost, or helping with gas if they carpool
Camping ($18/site/night) or motel (2 queen=$169/night). This year I'm adding about $5 to the registration fee to cover the campsites. If you aren't camping, I'll return your $5 on the first day.
Death Valley NP entrance fee ($20/car)
Their own food (some may be shared).
$30 contribution from each person for to help me with Meetup fees and a general "thank you" to me (total, not per day). You must pay to RSVP, and this is non-refundable--so only sign up when you know you can go. This trip doesn't "fill up."
If you are bringing more than two people, just RSVP for two (paying $60 total) and in your RSVP mention how many others you are bringing.
Cell phone reception: Is getting better, although most coverage maps I've seen show a big dead spot in Death Valley. In 2011 most of us could make calls/text messages from Texas Spring/Furnace Creek, but there are no guarantees how good it will be. Hopefully it's improving every year. Your best bet when trying to reach people in Death Valley is text messaging, since the party you are trying to reach may not have cell reception at the same time you do.
If you expect to be reachable during this trip, you must be able to text on your phone. It will be very difficult to make phone calls to each other. Do not leave voicemail messages for others--if you get a voicemail, hang up and send a text message.
I love Racetrack Playa, but we've done it three years in a row, and will likely skip it this year.If there is a sub-group that wishes to go there, it's an hour down washboard roads and you're welcome to take a car or two down there. If there has been rain on the Playa recently, you will not be allowed to walk on it (footprints take years to disappear).
Please don't RSVP until you know you can make it. The trip won't fill up, so you don't have to worry about beating others to get a space.
If you want to fly, you can fly to Las Vegas for a little over $200 round trip, then rent a car for $45-55/day. Las Vegas to Furnace Creek is about 120 miles, so you can drive for two hours instead of 9-12.
I may add other notes here as I think of them
Road conditions (Click the "Morning report" near the bottom. Some roads are closed now, but we'll want to check this before we leave just in case there are any washouts or other closures).
Hikes in Death Valley From Trails.com: Rhyolite, Nevada Rhyolite is an eerie-looking ghost town set in the barren desert of western Nevada. In 1904, gold was found in the nearby hills, and Rhyolite boomed and busted in 1910. This famously photographed ghost town is a National Historic Site and has been featured in many western films. Rhyolite makes a great day trip from either Las Vegas or Death Valley National Park, and visitors can tour several remains of the boom days, including the old train depot, bank, jail and the Bottle House, which was fully restored for Paramount Pictures' film "The Air Mail." Read more at Trails.com: Ghosts of Christmas Past: Ghost Towns to Visit this Winter | Trails.com.