Finally, some details for the 2021 Death Valley Overlander!
First off, I’m glad to see there is some interest in this trip. I put together a similar event in 2015, a 250-mile three-day mountain bike pack trip over four mountain ranges starting and ending in Beatty, NV. That was a blast..I expect this trip will be an adventure as well.
What to expect:
We will plan on hitting some of the high and low points of Death Valley. This trip is about 420 miles, 65% dirt/35% asphalt. There are two places in the Valley for gasoline. Stovepipe Wells (~$3.75 a gallon) and Furnace Creek (~$4.00 a gallon); two places outside the Valley for gasoline: Beatty, NV (~$2.50 a gallon) and Panamint Springs, CA (~$3.90 a gallon). As gasoline options are very limited, start out on a full tank and carry extra gallons if you can. Water locations are equally limited to the aforementioned locations, make sure your water containers are full before heading out. I cannot stress this enough. Make SURE you are starting out each day with FULL water containers.
Day One: Friday, March 05.
We will leave Beatty, NV at 7:00 am sharp on Friday morning, March 5, 2021. From Beatty, we will head west on NV-374 first to the old ghost town of Rhyolite, NV. The town began in early 1905 as one of several mining camps that sprang up after a prospecting discovery in the surrounding hills. During an ensuing gold rush, thousands of gold-seekers, developers, miners and service providers flocked to the Bullfrog Mining District. Many settled in Rhyolite, which lay in a sheltered desert basin near the region's biggest producer, the Montgomery Shoshone Mine.
Industrialist Charles M. Schwab bought the Montgomery Shoshone Mine in 1906 and invested heavily in infrastructure, including piped water, electric lines and railroad transportation, that served the town as well as the mine.
By 1907, Rhyolite had electric lights, water mains, telephones, newspapers, a hospital, a school, a post office, an opera house, and a stock exchange. Published estimates of the town's peak population vary widely, but scholarly sources generally place it in a range between 3,500 and 5,000 in 1907–08. Local sources state that the population was as high as 10,000 (pers. comm. 1996).
Rhyolite declined almost as rapidly as it rose. After the richest ore was exhausted, production fell. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the financial panic of 1907 made it more difficult to raise development capital. In 1908, investors in the Montgomery Shoshone Mine, concerned that it was overvalued, ordered an independent study. When the study's findings proved unfavorable, the company's stock value crashed, further restricting funding. By the end of 1910, the mine was operating at a loss, and it closed in 1911. By this time, many out-of-work miners had moved elsewhere, and Rhyolite's population dropped well below 1,000. By 1920, it was close to zero.
After 1920, Rhyolite and its ruins became a tourist attraction and a setting for motion pictures. Most of its buildings crumbled, were salvaged for building materials, or were moved to nearby Beatty or other towns, although the railway depot and a house made chiefly of empty bottles were repaired and preserved.
From 1988 to 1998, three companies (Barrick-Kinross-Newmont) operated a profitable open-pit mine at the base of Ladd Mountain, about 1 mile (1.6 km) south of Rhyolite. The “Bullfrog Mine” ultimately produced over 6 million ounces of gold. The tailings impoundment from the recent mining can be seen to the left from the turnoff to Rhyolite.
The Goldwell Open Air Museum, an eccentric collection of sculptures to explore. It lies on private property just south of the ghost town on the outskirts of Rhyolite, and is on property overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.
From Rhyolite, we will then continue west on NV-374 to the Titus Canyon turnoff. From here we will steadily and then steeply climb to the summit of Red Pass (elev. 5250’). We’ll drop into the old ghost town of Leadfield, CA (elev. 4058’), and do a little more exploring.
After Leadfield, we drop into into Titus Canyon proper. Titus Canyon cuts through the heart of the Grapevine Mountains. It is named after the ill-fated prospector, Edgar Morris Titus who died of exhaustion and thirst in this area while prospecting for gold and silver (a stark lesson to bring plenty of water). In 1905, a supposed workable ore area was discovered and Leadfield, CA was quickly established. Unfortunately the demise of the mine was as quick as it was established, lasting less than a year. Today you can see remains of old mine shafts, adits and buildings (Lori Palmer (2020), “Death Valley-Titus Canyon Road,” at https://theadventureportal.com/
From here we will descend down about 3500’ through Titus Canyon to its exit from the Grapevine Mountains, about 500’ above sea level. The descent down the alluvial fan to the highway will drop us to sea level.
From here we will head south on Death Valley Road to Furnace Creek to top off gas tanks and water (if need be). It’s also the last place to stock up on spirits and souvenirs for the next two days. We will then head south to Golden Canyon, Artist Drive, Devil’s Golf Course and Badwater Basin, lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at -282 feet (yes, below sea level). We will find a place to camp for Night One.
Day Two: Saturday, March 06.
We will break camp and leave at 7:00 am sharp. We will backtrack N through Furnace Creek (top off gasoline again if necessary). We continue N, passing Titus Canyon, and stopping at Ubehebe Crater, a mystery until relatively recently. Impact craters from a large meteorite? Or peculiar volcanic craters?
In 2012, new evidence suggested that the crater may be as young as 800 years old. People would have been inhabiting the region at the time of its formation. The crater was formed when magma migrated close to the surface and the heat of the magma caused groundwater to flash into steam; the resulting eruptions threw large quantities of pulverized old rock and new magma across the stony alluvial fan draped across the valley floor. The magma rose through a fault that lies along the western base of Tin Mountain. Movement on this fault was responsible for uplift of the entire Cottonwood Mountains range (Wikipedia, Ubehebe Crater).
Geologists call the resulting large steam explosions hydrovolcanic or phreatic eruption and the pits created are known as maars. Ubehebe was the last and largest in a series of similar eruptions in the immediate area (its eruption exceeded the tensile strength of the bedrock by 10 times). Earlier eruptions created a group of much shallower maars to the south and another to the west (Wikipedia, Ubebe Crater).
From Ubehebe Crater, we will head S on the Racetrack Road. Along the way, we will pass “Teakettle Junction,” the sign decorated with tea kettles from around the world. The National Park removes the tea kettles about monthly and consider leaving a tea kettle an act of graffiti; use your own judgment in adding your own tea kettle. We will pass by Teakettle Junction the following day.
Our destination on Day Two is the Racetrack Playa. Hopefully there are no tire ruts on the playa (you can’t fix stupid). We’ll walk out onto the playa and check out the boulders that have left mysterious tracks in the playa’s surface. Aliens? Earthquakes? Wind?
Depending on time, we will either be camping at the Lipponcott Mine site just S of the Racetrack, or head back to Teakettle Junction and hang a right, heading towards Hunter Mountain and making camp at Ulida Flat.
Day Three: Sunday, March 07.
Break camp at 7 am. We will continue heading S towards Hunter Mountain. This route will depend on weather conditions—too much snow and we may double back. I don’t anticipate that this will be the case. We will drive up and over Hunter Mountain, and pop out onto paved CA-190. We will pass through Panamint Springs, where we can top off gasoline and water. We will continue heading east on CA-190, stopping at Father Crowley Overlook to take in the views of Panamint Valley. We will then continue our descent into Panamint Valley. Once across the valley, we will turn S onto Emigrant Canyon Road. We will hit the old mining site and ghost town of Skidoo, and make camp here.
Day 4: Monday, March 08.
Break camp and leave at 7 am. We have a couple options. Option One, continue S on Emigrant Canyon Road, and drive up to Mahogany Flat, from where we can hike to the summit of Telescope Peak (conditions permitting, highest point in Death Valley), or we can backtrack our way back to CA-190, and continue E. We will stop in Stovepipe Wells for gasoline and water. We will have Option Two here, hitting Mosaic Canyon for a short hike up the canyon and then walk out onto the dunes. Finally, head back to Beatty for the night.
Day 5: Tuesday, March 09.
Head home to Phoenix.
Take I-17 N to SR-74 W.
SR-74 W to US-60 W (right turn).
US-60 W to US-93 N (bear right at traffic circle just past McDonalds and bridge)
US-93 N to I-40 W.
I-40 W to US-95 N.
US-95 N becomes I-11 just past Hoover Dam.
I-11 to I-515 in Henderson, follow signs to the 515.
I-515 to US-95 N in Las Vegas (follow sign to Tonopah).
US-95 N to Stop Sign in Beatty, NV. Exchange Club is on your left.
We have been staying at the Exchange Club since 1996. It gets its name from serving as the local Stock Exchange in the early 1900’s. Rooms are nothing fancy but nice enough, and the price ($60-$80 a night) is about the lowest you’ll find in Beatty.