A Death Valley Overland Adventure: When the text came in from Todd Rogers at Four Points Adventures asking whether I’d like to join him on a guided astro photography trip though Death Valley, I didn’t have to think twice. With Covid dominating our lives this year, I’ve spent way too much time behind the desk and not enough time off-roading on the trails! The plan was to meet him and his guests at Big Pine, CA on Friday morning and spend the next 2 days exploring and shooting Death Valley. With a 5 hour drive to Big pine and a 10 am meet time, it made sense to leave the prior day and camp at Alabama Hills. The scenery in this area is spectacular and always a great place to capture the stars above the Sierra mountains.
After meeting Todd and the group, we set off via Big Pine Road to enter the park at the northern end. Heading up and over Joshua Flats we eventually left the pavement and headed out off-road on dirt to our first night’s camp at Eureka Dunes. The dunes have multiple primitive camp areas (with one pit toilet) and we scored a great spot with fantastic views of the valley and the dunes. The main purpose of this Vehicle Supported Adventure trip was to teach a beginners guide to night photography and Todds guests were eager to get started. With Adventure photography you never know what nature will provide and luckily we were rewarded with an incredible sunset and fairly clear and moonless dark skies.
The plan was to spend our 2nd night at the southern end of Racetrack Valley, just east of Lippencott Road Trailhead. It’s good to note that distances on the map are deceiving and never seem to do justice to the actual time it takes to get anywhere. Our day was no exception and we spent 4 hours in the saddle on the slow, very dusty and often grinding washboard roads. As always though, there’s lots to see in the Valley of Death.
The Ubehebe Crater is a large volcanic crater of the Ubehebe Craters volcanic field in the northern half of Death Valley and was our first stop. Although a tourist area, it’s worth pulling over and taking the shot. If you’re brave and have time, hike down to the bottom to get a real sense of the size of the crater.
After heading south away from the crater, we entered the infamous 29 mile washboard Racetrack Valley Road. Although not technical, it clearly states that high clearance 4×4 vehicles are recommended. This trail famously shakes rigs apart (we’ve lost hi-lifts and lights before!) and it was truly impressive to see mini vans and BMW’s attempting to win the Darwin Award of the day!
Eventually along this rough road you reach Teakettle Junction where you can either head east towards Lost Burro Mine and climb 7168 ft over Hunter Mountain, or continue south towards Racetrack Playa. The origin of the name of TeaKettle Junction is unknown, but it has become a tradition for backcountry travelers to attach teakettles with written messages. I’d been saving an old kettle for a couple of years, so it was fun to add our TAP version to the collection. Hopefully the rangers don’t remove them too quickly as ours is full of stickers and patches. Enjoy!
The Moving Rocks of the Racetrack Playa are an interesting phenomenon. Our group had a passionate discussion on the recent scientific explanation of this occurrence, compared to a belief it is because of aliens or maybe magic! I’ll let you make up your own mind on this one.
Note: Please do not walk on this Death Valley Playa after rains as footprints take forever to disappear. Also, there are instances where the magical rocks have been removed. Please leave them for everyone to enjoy!
Three days exploring the desert was certainly a needed break from my Covid Desk and thanks again to Todd at Four Points Adventures for inviting me along on the trip.
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