Death Valley National Park
By John Krist
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AccessDeath Valley National Park is crisscrossed by a network of roads, a legacy both of the old mining days and the early tourist boom of the 1930s. Although many are paved and relatively safe to travel, others are in fairly awful condition and should be used with caution. In any event, travel in this vast and sparsely developed park should be undertaken only in vehicles in good condition, and only with proper preparation. Check conditions with rangers before venturing onto unpaved roads, especially if there has recently been a storm.
Above all, take your time. Speed punishes your vehicle, especially during hot weather, and can cause serious damage on the washboarded and rockstrewn gravel roads.
Primary access to the perk from the south is viaHighway 127 from Interstate 15 at the town of Baker, where gasoline, supplies and lodging are available. On the west, Highway 178 leads from Highways 14 and 395 through Ridgecrest and the Panamint Valley to the park boundary; Highway 190 offers a more direct route from Highway 395 at Olancha. From the east, Highway 374 leads into the park from the Nevada town of Beatty, on Highway 95.
Excellent maps of the area are available from the Automobile Club of Southern California and the Bureau of Land Management, which publishes a series of Desert Access Guides to the California Desert. Of these, the Amargosa, Eureka-Saline, Panamint, Ridgecrest and Dumont-Clark Mountain guides are most useful for those who plan backcountry driving in the Death Valley area.
The boundaries of the park were greatly expanded in 1994 by passage of the California Desert Protection Act, and there will no doubt be many administrative changes in coming years as the Park Service adapts to its new responsibilities. As of 1995, entrance stations were located at Furnace Creek and Grapevine, near Scotty's Castle; the entrance fee is $s per car and $2 per person for those arriving on foot, bicycle or motorcycle, or by bus. The fee is good for seven days. Motorists driving through the park on Highway 190 are not charged a fee.
Annual passes to Death Valley National Park are $15. Golden Age passes are available for a one-time fee of $10 to U.S. citizens 62 and over, and give holders unl imited lifetime admission to al I national parks. A Golden Eagle pass costs $25, and gives the holder unlimited admission to all units of the national park system for 12 months.
Visitor CentersVisitor centers are located at Beatty, Scotty's Castle and Furnace Creek, the latter serving as the central visitor complex and park headquarters. All stock books, maps and other materials, and offer interpretive displays and information about park activities. During the primary visitor season of November through April, naturalists and rangers conduct orientation programs and evening talks. The visitor centers are open year round, seven days a week from A.M. to 4 P. M.
CampgroundsDeath Valley National Park contains nine public campgrounds with more than 1,500 campsites. With the exception of the big and popular campground at Furnace Creek, all are available on a first-come, first-served basis. All campsites at Furnace Creek, and group camps at Texas Spring, may be reserved between November and April through the MISTIX reservation system. For information see"Phone numbers and addresses" at the end of this chapter.
In general, lower-elevation campgrounds are best in autumn and winter, when snow sometimes blankets the high-elevation campgrounds and may force their closure anytime after late October. Those mountain campgrounds are the only suitable places to camp in summer, however, when temperatures in the valley routinely climb well above 1 000F. Some of the campgrounds lack water, and some prohibit open fires; where fires are permitted they must always be confined to the fire rings provided. Gathering wood is prohibited everywhere in the park. If you plan to have a campfire, you must bring your own firewood or purchase it at one of the stores in the park.
The following campgrounds, listed in alphabetical order, are operated by the park service in Death Valley:
Emigrant: On Highway 190, 9 miles west of Stovepipe Wells Village. Elevation 2100 feet. 10 sites. Open from November to April. No fee. Stays limited to 30 days. Water and flush toilets provided. No fires allowed.
Furnace Creek: On Highway 190, just north of the Furnace Creek Visitor Center complex. Elevation 196 feet below sea level. 135 sites. Open yearround. Fee $8 a night. Stays limited to 14 days. Trailer, motorhome and tentsonly sites available. Water, tables, fireplaces, flush and pit toilets, dump stations provided. Privately operated pay showers, laundry and swimming pool available nearby at Furnace Creek Ranch.
Mahogany Flat: At the end of Wildrose Canyon Road, 9 miles east of Wildrose Campground. Elevation 8200 feet. 10 sites. Open March-November. No fee. Stays limited to 30 days. Tables, fireplaces and pit toilets provided. No water is available. Road is rough and impassable to trailers and motorhomes. Four-wheel drive may be necessary.
Mesquite Spring: Off Death Valley Road, 4 miles south of Scotty's Castle. Elevation 1800 feet. 35 sites. Open year round. Fee $5 a night. Stays limited to 30 days. Sites available for motorhomes, and tents. Group sites also available. Water, tables, fireplaces, flush toilets, dump station provided.
Stovepipe Wells: On Highway 190 at Stovepipe Wells Village. Elevation sea level. 200 sites. Open November-April. Fee $4 a night. Stays limited to 30 days. Trailer, motorhome and tents-only sites available. No fires. Water, tables, flush toilets and dump stations provided. Pay showers available nearby at Stovepipe Wells motel.
.Sunset: On Highway 190, 1 mile south of the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. Elevation 190 feet below sea level. 1,000 sites. Open November-April. Fee $4 a night. Stays limited to 30 days. Primarily geared to motorhomes. No fires. Water, tables, flush and pit toilets, dump station provided. Pay showers, laundry and swimming pool available at Furnace Creek Ranch.
Texas Springs: On Highway 190, 1.5 miles south of Furnace Creek Visitor Center. Elevation sea level. 93 sites. Open November-April. Fee $5 a night for individual sites, $40 for group sites. Stays limited to 30 days. Motorhome, trailer, tent-only and group sites available. Use of generators prohibited. Water, tables, fireplaces, flush and pit toilets, dump station provided. Pay showers, laundry and swimming pool available at Furnace Creek Ranch.
Thorndike: On Wildrose Canyon Road, 8 miles east of Wildrose Campground. Elevation 7500 feet. 8 sites. Open March-November. No fee. Stays limited to 30 days. Road impassable to trailers and motorhomes; four-wheel drive may be required. Tables, fireplaces and pit toilets provided. No water.
Wildrose: On Wildrose Canyon Road, just east of junction with Emigrant Canyon Road. Elevation 4100 feet. 30 sites. Open year round. No fee. Stays limited to 30 days. Motorhome and tents-only sites available. Tables, fireplaces, pit toilets provided. No water in winter.
Food, Gas and LodgingStores offering a modest selection of food and other supplies are located at Furnace Creek Ranch and Stovepipe Wells. Restaurants, coffee shops or snack bars are at Stovepipe Wells, Scotty's Castle, Furnace Creek Ranch and Furnace Creek Inn, although the latter is closed May 10 to Oct. 21.
It's a wise idea to keep your fuel tank as full as possible while driving the long distances in Death Valley National Park; filling stations inside the park are at Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells and Scotty's Castle. Towing and repair services are available from the Furnace Creek Garage.
A private concessionaire operates hotels and inns, offering lodging at Furnace Creek Ranch, Stovepipe Wells Village and Furnace Creek Inn.
Phone Numbers and AddressesFor general park information, call Death Valley National Park Headquarters at (619) 786-2331. The line is staffed from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M. Monday through Friday; a recording greets callers after hours. A TTY line for the hearingimpaired is at (619) 786-2471 and operates from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. daily. Address mailed inquiries to Death Valley National Park, Death Valley, CA 92328.
Information about tours of Scotty's Castle is available at (619) 786-2392.
Phones are also at the ranger stations at Stovepipe Wells, (619) 786-2342; Grapevine, (619) 786-2313; and Beatty, (702) 553-2200.
To reserve any site at the Furnace Creek Campground or a group site at Texas Springs Campground between November and April, use the MISTIX reservation system by dialing 1-800-365-CAMP. Reservations may be made up to eight weeks in advance at Furnace Creek, and up to 12 weeks in advance at Texas Springs.
For auto repair and towing services from the Furnace Creek Garage, call (619) 786-2345.
Accommodations in the park are operated by Fred Harvey Inc. Reservations atFurnace Creek Inn and Ranch may be made by calling (619) 786-2345. Stovepipe Wells Village is at (619) 786-2387.
Responsibility for public lands surrounding Death Valley National Park belongs to the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM operates a fine California Desert Information Center at 831 Barstow Road, Barstow, CA92311; (619) 255-8760. The BLM's Ridgecrest District administers the area adjacent to most of Death Valley. It may be reached at 300 S. Richmond Road,Ridgecrest, CA 93555; (619)384-5400.
Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 30 Mar 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication