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Backpacker Magazine – December 2001

Death Valley Warmed Over

Time spent in California's Death Valley can be a life-enhancing experience.

by: Jordan Rane

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Expedition Planner: Death Valley National Park, CA

DRIVE TIME: Death Valley is in eastern California, about 5 hours (280 miles) northeast of Los Angeles and 2 hours (125 miles) west of Las Vegas.

THE WAY: From Las Vegas, take US 95 north for 90 miles to Lathrop Wells, and head south on NV 373/CA 127 for 25 miles to the park junction at CA 190. In southern California, take US 15 north to Baker and drive north on CA 127. Proceed 80 miles to CA 190 and head west to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. Continue 24 miles on CA 190 to the Stovepipe Wells ranger station and the 12-mile access road to the Marble Canyon trailhead (four-wheel-drive required for access road).

TRAILS: The park's few maintained trails are mostly designed for short dayhikes. Longer treks, like the Cottonwood-Marble Canyon Loop, combine cross-country hiking with unmarked use trails and four-wheel-drive roads. If you aren't confident about your navigational skills, do an out-and-back hike up Cottonwood Canyon (where water is available).

DAYHIKE: For the best 1-day adventure, hike up Marble Canyon's narrow ravine and turn around at Deadhorse Canyon (10 miles round-trip). Bring your own drinking water.

ELEVATION: Badwater Basin is the lowest point in the park (and Western Hemisphere) at 282 feet below sea level. Telescope Peak's 11,049-foot summit is the high point.

CAN'T MISS: Stargazing in an empty Marble Canyon amphitheater.

CROWD CONTROL: Most visitors don't stray far from the park roads, leaving miles of expansive desert backcountry empty.

GUIDES: The Explorer's Guide to Death Valley, by T. Scott Bryan (University Press of Colorado, 720-406-8849; www.backpacker.com/bookstore; $22.50). USGS topos East of Sand Flat, Cottonwood Canyon, and Harris Hill.

WALK SOFTLY: The desert is vulnerable and the trails are few. Reduce impact by avoiding fragile soil crusts, vegetation, and animal burrows. Consider traveling only in small groups.

CONTACT: Death Valley National Park, (760) 786-2331; www.nps.gov/deva.


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