2012 Death Valley Expedition

Traveling in the remote regions of Death Valley


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Death Valley from Dante's View

Death Valley from Dante's View with the 11,000' Panamint Range in the background.

All photos copyright, Bill Caid 2012. All rights reserved.

The Trip

Late in 2010, Kathleen and I purchased a lightly-used Mercedes 1017A military cargo truck and converted it to an expedition camper.  The chronicle of the build-out of the truck and camper can be seen on 1017A Camper Construction Page. This rig, now named "Thor",  has supplanted our 1300L Unimog/Alaskan Camper combination and is now our only expedition vehicle.  We have taken Thor on a number of extended trips in the west and our plan was to return to the Death Valley region before it got too hot to be bearable.  This is not the first outing for Thor; we have done a number of small outings in San Diego county, and points south including a week in Baja.  The Baja Expedition is detailed on Baja Trip 2011  and demonstrated that the concept was viable and that the platform was sufficiently stable to execute a long trip  To be sure, the Baja trip showed that there was some effort required to address some issues, a front bash plate protecting the radiator in particular, but most of the items were nits.  We addressed the nits and have been using Thor as our default camping platform.

The western U.S. is one of our favorite areas, Mexico notwithstanding, and Death Valley is one of the more scenic areas in the desert regions.  We have visited this area before with our Unimog (see Death Valley 2008) and had a great time and saw some wonderful sights. But, unlike previous trips, this trip would be with a group of fellow unimoggers.  The expedition was expected to take a full week and would take us to some of the remote areas in the Death Valley National Park.

As an added perq (as if one were needed...) we had a buddy that invited us skiing for a week at Mammoth Mountain, so we will piggy-back skiing in the high Sierra as a welcome juxtaposition to the heat of Death Valley at the conclusion of the trip.  Finally, as an added twist, the whole area is expecting a rather large, late-season storm that is lowering snow levels down to 2500'.  Since much of the park is higher than that elevation, it should be interesting.  The storm is forecast to bring heavy rains to the higher elevations as well.  Heavy rains in the Panamint Range could wash out some of the trails we intend to travel and turn the lower areas into muck bogs.

Regional Map

A copy of the National Park Service map for the Death Valley area can be seen by clicking here.  Our plan is to enter the park from the south from Shoshone along SR178.  From there, we will leave the pavement and head west along Butte Valley road.  This path will take us to the striped butte valley and then over the crest of the Panamint Range and down Goler Wash (near where the Manson Family holed up after their killing spree).  We will then go north along the Panamints to Ballarat, Wildrose, Charcoal Kilns and then cross the Panamints via Emigrant Pass.  Once we are in Death Valley proper, we will get supplies and see the standard tourist sights and stay in the Furnace Creek area.  From Furnace, we will head north to Scotty's Castle and then into the back country again at Ubehebe Crater.  From the crater, we would head south toward Hunter Mountain and from there to Saline Valley.

Trip Details

The link table below contains links to the photos and dialog for each of the days of the expedition.

Links to Daily Adventures
Part Dates Adventure Locations
San Diego to Tecopa Hot Springs
Tecopa Hot Springs to Butte Valley
Mengel Pass
Mengel Pass to Stovepipe Wells
Dante's View and Zabriskie Point
Badwater Basin and Titus Canyon
Scotty's Castle
Ubehebe Crater, Racetrack and Hunter Mountain
Hunter Mountain and Saline Valley



The group had a good time in Death Valley, but the weather could have been better.  For sure, the time of year that we went is subject to highly variable conditions and that was indeed what we got.  The trip started with rain and snow, went to hot and dry and then wind and snow again.  If you travel to this area, check the weather forecast before going.  And, understand the elevation of your proposed route.  In this region, the weather conditions are strongly dependent on elevation.  Also, be advised that fuel is frightfully expensive in the back country areas.  We intentionally diverted over to Beatty, NV for fuel and it was $3.99 a gallon as opposed to well over $5 in the park.  Finally, you should go fully self contained on supplies.  Food is available, but selections are limited and also pricey.


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Copyright Bill Caid 2012