Jail Canyon is a worthy day trip as well as a place to camp. An old miner’s cabin lies at the end of the rough route near a ravine with some aging cottonwood trees. There are a couple of flat areas to camp nearby with a great view of the canyon below. The wind can howl up the canyon with strong gusts rocking our truck while sleeping overnight. Read more
A favorite “short cut” into Death Valley from the west side of the Panamint Range is to go across Goler Wash. Be sure to check road conditions before entering as one year we found so many rock falls it took the joy out of driving it.
From the rocky road into Goler we were able to gain access to the Barker Ranch, infamous for once being a hideout for the notorious Manson gang in 1969.
The serene beauty of the area where this ranch is located belies the heinous deeds of Charles Manson and his gang who used it to hide from the pursuit of lawmen after their murder of five people, including Sharon Tate and Abigail Folger. The Barker Ranch is where the group was apprehended by Inyo County Sheriffs. You can read the story as an insider law enforcement account in the book Desert Shadows. Ironically my hubby worked where Manson was incarcerated for a portion of serving his life sentence.
Part of the fun of planning your trip is getting out a good map and choosing where you want to explore. Guide books are very helpful with deciding where to drive and camp. Just be aware that back roads and campsites can change dramatically due to the harsh elements.
A favorite 4×4 road into Death Valley was impassable the last time we visited Goler Wash in 2015. A large rock slide had enveloped the road making progress so slow and rough it took the fun out of the journey – nearly an hour to travel 1 mile. We like the Goler route as it usually a “short cut” from the west side of the Panamints to visit the Barker Ranch, Stella’s Cabin, Stripped Butte and other scenic campsites. Otherwise it is a very long way around via the Park’s Highways. So, have a plan B for camping if the desert has changed the terrain from what your favorite guide book reads. Read more
The difference between an adventure or an ordeal is attitude.” – Bob Bitchin
Here is my short list of important tips to help make your trip more of a fun adventure than an unpleasant ordeal.
- Carry TWO spare tires. Expect to have a flat tire when exploring 4×4 roads in canyons with old mining equipment and debris. Having a 2nd spare insures that you can get out of the back country. There is no towing service nearby.
- There is NO cell phone service in most of Death Valley. Pay phones are available at Stove Pipe Wells and Furnace Creek. 2 way radios work well most places and help when you are separated to stay connected with each other.
- Don’t rely on Google maps or online maps that rely on cell or WiFi reception – bring a real life map. Our favorite maps are: Death Valley National Park Recreation Map by Tom Harrison and Death Valley National Park by National Geographic Trails Illustrated Maps.
- Weather – our favorite time to camp is from November through April. Be prepared for snow, high winds and temperature extremes. The beauty of camping in Death Valley is that if you are too hot, simply drive to a higher elevation – or too cold, drive to a lower elevation. Death Valley boasts to have the most difference in elevation in the U.S.; Telescope peak is at 11,049 and Bad Water is 282 ft. below sea level!