2007/03 - Death Valley

Death Valley March 2007

The trip started out rocky for us as I was still repairing / building my 4runner the evening we were scheduled to depart. Originally scheduled to leave at 8pm for a midnight arrival we ended up departing at 1130pm. Though many of the repairs were last minute, I have been working on the 4runner for the last 3 week/weekends that I was not about to miss this trip. The late start definitely took a toll on me as the arrival at 3:30am was not pleasant. Not surprisingly our spots were taken at Panamint Springs Resort (tent site) so we scrambled to find an available spot. Luckily I found Ken's and Scott's 4runner next to an available spot so Sunny, Yoko and I decided to call it home for the night. Thank god for those Lightforce lights to change the night to daylight as without those I am certain the drive would have been more difficult. It didn't help that Sunny kept me on my toes by turning off his headlights a few times to keep me in check! (Crazy guy)

So after a rocky start, we had our quick gathering / meet and greet as we had a few new members joining our annual Death Valley trip. This trip was not a Toyota event rather an import event. Dean,Tim and Sunny both represented their Nissan's while the rest of us were pimping our Toyota's smile

As always our itinerary is never reliable as we ended up changing it up right off the bat. Since the majority of the group never been to the Darwin falls we decided that we would all do a quick hike in the morning before the oven was set to high. This was going to be a challenge for me as I was still recovering from my broken ankle (Nov 06) but nonetheless this was not going to stop me. I've done this short hike before so I knew what I was going up against. Packed with my basic first aid, water in my backpack I prepped myself with a pair of new trekking poles to help me get to the final destination. As always the kids had a blast playing in the water at the falls. Surprisingly we found a few frogs/toads (I'm guessing it's frogs but you get the pic) so they were enjoying nature at it's best. While some of us relaxed at the base of the falls, the other half of the group comprising of Audrey, Dean, Julie, Ken, Scott and Tim rock climbed to the top of the falls to check out the massive 50-100 foot water fall above the base of our small 10 foot fall.

Once back to our vehicles we took a quick break to hydrate ourselves and get the kids ready for the adventure to continue. We headed to Ballarat to check out what's left of the town and had the opportunity to hang out with the old fart that lived there. He offered to give us a tour of his town but a quick survey showed that there wasn't much to see so we decided to make the stop a short one and continued on towards Goler Wash. The trail to Goler Wash from Ballarat was rather uneventful except for an old man riding his motorcycle. I gotta say I almost killed him considering he was a small speck on the road compared to my 4runner. Luckily I was able to catch him as I rounded a corner to show down and alert the rest of the members of the oncoming traffic. I feel for him as I'm sure between all of us he probably was swearing because of the severe dust that we left behind.

Approximately 5 minutes into the canyon on Goler Wash I heard a call of distress from one of our members. Not knowing who it was since I was leading the pack I stopped at one of the divides to keep the trail open for cross traffic and walked back to the down truck.  Dean driving his awesome Pathfinder had an alternator take a dump. We weren't sure if it was the alternator so we began with a series of tests to see if it was indeed the alternator or the cabling or even the fuses. After those series of test we all came to a realization that we were no longer in a favorable position. This proved to be a big dilemma. Since we were early on in the canyon we had a few options: somehow drive the Pathfinder back down and figure out a way to get a replacement alternator in the nearest city (Ridgecrest) or somehow continue on and figure out a way to repair the alternator later on in town on Sunday or Monday. After some debate we all decided that we will figure out a way to keep Dean and Tim with us for the length of the trip and figure out a way to get him out. Since I had a dual battery configuration I offered to swap out batteries and keep him going for the duration of the trip.

Since Dean was operating off of the battery we decided that both Dean and myself would fly through the trails and meet them at the Manson ranch. Time was going against us we had to literally had to test the vehicle's limit on this rocky trail. I gotta say when we passed up the rest of the group we were flying by them as if we were running from death! I'm sure I had a small grin on my face as I had the pleasure of testing out my Total Chaos long travel kit smile I gotta say I was very impressed by Dean's driving skills as he was definitely pushing the limits of his vehicle on the trail. Once we arrived at the Manson ranch we decided to just charge the batteries instead of doing the swap as we were surprised that the tough drive to the Manson ranch did not really draw too much power from the battery.

We relaxed in the staging area by the ranch and listened to the chatter as the rest of the group attempted to find a way to the ranch. Once everyone arrived we all regrouped and checked out the site. The ranch was in great condition considering the remote location. Though it had plenty of rat poop it proved to be a great destination for those that are exploring it the first time.

After checking out the site Dean and I took off flying towards Geologists Cabin in Striped Butte Valley. I must say that the trail was definitely harder than the previous years as I seriously had some doubts as to whether the rest of the group would be able to continue on this path. My concerns were that one of our members was sporting a 2wd vehicle and the other was completely stock! Regardless Dean and I continued on according to our plans to get him to our final destination for the night. After flying through much of the difficult terrain we got to the first cabin (forget what the name was). Unfortunately the cabin was taken but a couple (a rather STRANGE couple). They were nice enough to inform us that the other cabins were already taken so Dean and I knew that we needed to find an alternative site. In the meantime we decided to swap batteries and once completed I hurried back to meet up with the rest of the group to assist them thru Goler Wash.

To my utter surprise the group made it past most of the difficult part and I intercepted them at the downward part of the trail. This part definitely required spotting so the timing proved to be perfect. A quick spot here and there for some of the members and we were back on the trail heading to Dean. After regrouping with Dean and Tim along with the weird couple we decided that camping at Geologist cabin with the TTORA guys (the weird couple gave us the intel) was going to be too difficult due to the limited space available so we opted to stay at Warm Springs mine. We dropped by to say hello at Geologist cabin but continued on to Warm Springs mine.

Upon arrival we all inspected the mini mine where we saw a bat last year and the pool where we found a new bat (maybe the same one but regardless it looked the same). sadly we think the bat was drowning as it was barely hanging on to dear life on the side of the pool. A few of us (not me sadly) decided to hike up to the actual warm springs that both Ken, Yoko and I found last year. To my surprise Yoko decided to scale up one of the cliffs (talk about scare me!) but had some great photo ops from up above. As the day winded down we all had dinner (potluck style) with too much food (again!!!!). Can't complain but I must say we had a pretty good array of fine grubbin!

Sunday morning, Audrey, Julie, Ken and Scott decided to get an early start by heading towards Badwater road. Since this was Julie's first time to Death Valley, they wanted to hit some of the tourist attractions. The rest of us slowly got up and also decided to do the same since Dean's truck was in no condition for another crazy trail. Exiting out of Warm Springs road we headed towards Badwater. We too hit the tourist attractions as we stopped off at the badwater and devil's golf course. Dean and Tim found the pool of watch which was AWESOME! the crystal formations inside the water was simply amazing.

On the way back to Furnace Creek we took a quick loop thru Artist's Loop to check out the various colors of the Death Valley ridge. I must say it was pretty amazing to see such unique colors in Death Valley. The loop was all paved so it wasn't an offroading adventure but it was definitely a sight to see as the drive was definitely scenic. If you've never done this loop it's definitely worth doing it once. As was headed towards Furnace Creek we passed by an accident scene. CHP was already there measuring the accident scene and marking up the road. We couldn't figure out who was at fault or what happened but it involved a motorcycle and a passenger car. Hopefully everyone was ok.

A quick lunch break at Furnace Creek, we all said our good byes for Mark, his son, Brian, his son and his father as they were heading back. In the meantime Dean took the liberty to call around and was able to locate an alternator at Paraumph, NV (sp?). Autozone said that they'd have the alternator by Monday afternoon so we decided that we'd cut out Monday itinerary in half and do the drive out to Nevada so we can get the replacement alternator. Once we were ready to move on we decided to head to our final destination for the day in Stovepipe Wells as both Dean and myself had rooms there. Yes rooms! I couldn't call this a vacation away from work without being able to actually say I stayed somewhere instead of saying yeah I camped my tail off for my vacation! smile

Since we called it a day early, we all decided to hit the pool there which turned out to be great! Jack (Chris' son) also joined us by running around and swimming (sort of). After relaxing in the pool we carpooled to Furnace Creek (thanks for driving Sunny!) to meet up with the rest of the gang. We met up with Audrey, Julie, Ken and Scott for dinner and after that we hit the Furnace Creek pool. The pool at FC is natural warm springs and I must say it was definitely something to do! Relaxed some more and then called it a night by watching Babel back at the Stovepipe hotel. I must note that this is probably the most I've ever relaxed on an offroading adventure trip!

Monday's tentative plan was to hit Aguereberry Point, Charcoal Kilns and Mahogany Flats. We met up with Brian (Photog) for the day as he and Chris were able to found each other on the road while we prepped for departure. The drive out to Aguereberry Point was not difficult. We got to the summit in no time and the view was simply amazing. From the peak we were able to see the entire Death Valley floor. I gotta say it was a pretty amazing sight. After exploring the nearby area we gathered up and headed down the mountain to meet the other half of the group at Charcoal Kilns.

Unfortunately on the way back down the mountain I encountered a flat. Not sure how but it was a good 1.5 - 2" gash on the footprint of my MT/R's. I honestly don't have a clue as to how I was able to puncture the tire on the footprint but I will caught it up to my dumb luck. Anyway, I locate a flat surface where we can work on my 4runner and I begin assessing the damage. On first inspection I determined that the tire repair kit would do the trick and get me back on the road but after a few attempts the darn hole was a bit too big. After failing miserably I conceded and decided to swap tires. Dean was nice enough to get his hi-lift and started to jack the passenger side while I attempted to loosen the wheel. After successfully removing the tire, we placed the tire under the 4runner as a precaution. As luck would have it this action would prove to be a lifesaver as the hi-lift lost it's footing and the 4runner came crashing down! Luckily nobody was hurt. We did get tossed by the crashing 4runner but we all survived. Assessing the damage we determined that the base of the hi-lift was very unstable causing the slippage. We surveyed the surrounding areas and collected large flat rocks to place under the hi-lift. The damage tire did prove to save our lives as without that tire I am certain I would have been pinned under the rear wheelwell along with Dean being stuck under the rear passenger door area. Chris came close to being decapitated by the rear bumper as it barely missed him by inches.

After digging under 4runner and building a solid foundation with the large rocks we gave it another shot in restoring the hi-lift back in it's original position. Due to my awesome rear travel we had to get creative by limiting the amount of travel as we knew that we were not going to be able to get the axle off the ground without some creative work. Chris' idea of strapping the axle to the frame to help mount the tire proved to be a great idea and we ran with it. After rigging the strap to hold the axle close to the frame, we raised the 4runner enough to get the 35's on the axle. We did have to dig a nice big hole to accommodate for the tire though. After a solid 2+ hours in the sun we were back on the road. Thanks guys! You guys are the best! I know there are lots of videos and photos on this.... don't think we need to show anyone wink Brian, sorry we killed the day and we couldn't hang out more frown I'm really sorry!

Since the tire repair took a lot longer we ended up missing meeting the other group at Charcoal Kilns. Still determined to check out the kilns we continued on. Surprisingly we met up with the other group as we were headed to the kilns. Pulled over and chatted for a few minutes to discuss the awesome events! Since we were pressed for time, we continued on to check out the kilns. The other half continued on to Aguereberry Point. The kilns were pretty cool. One thing to note: go inside one of those and step in the middle and just start talking.... The acoustics in the room is simply amazing right at the dead center. You'll be very surprised at how well it amplifies. Anyway we relaxed and charged up Dean's battery and decided to head back to town to begin the repair process. Since we knew that Dean was able to acquire a new alternator in Paraumph, NV we headed back to Furnace Creek.

Once back at camp, Dean pulled out his alternator and we began discussion on who will do the honors to take him to Nevada and pick up the replacement alternator. Since Ken was having issues with his MAF sensor he offered to take Dean and they quickly headed out before dark. The rest of us stayed in the camp site and ate dinner. During this time Chris and Jack decided to head back so we all wished them well and thanked them for attending this event. Soon after Ken, Dean and Tim returned with the replacement alternator and they quickly went to work. Approximately a hour later we heard the roar of Dean's muffler and we all knew that he was back in action! woo hoo! They quickly returned back to camp and we all called it a night except for Yoko and myself. We decided that we would head back a day early to recoup from the adventurous Death Valley trip.

As crazy as I can be we only got past Stovepipe Wells where we decided to just camp as my body did tell me otherwise as the drive home would have been very dangerous. We both agreed and found a free camp site on the way back and decided to call it a night.

Tuesday morning we began our day early and headed home. Along the way home we came up to Skidoo and we decided to take a slight detour. Knowing that I already had one flat, I decided to drive safely to the Skidoo sight. Looking at the map I thought the site would not be far but I was definitely wrong. Getting the site took a good 15-20 minutes. Once at the site/city there were really no visible signs of a booming city. I don't remember what the story was on this mining town but I'm sure Yoko still remembers it. We drove around and inspected some mines from the outside and decided to call it a day and head home. Next time, if everyone is interested in this mining town, it will be a great place to drive around as there were many mines that we drove by. Most of them were all locked and caged but nonetheless great photo ops!

Though this trip was plagued with unexpecting breakdown the trip was still a memorable one. Thanks to everyone that was able to attend this event and make it a memorable trip for Yoko and myself. Thank you to those that were able to help me out in my desperate times (again!!!) We'll be back and this time we'll conquer it with no breakdowns!

Random Photos in Ballarat....

Darwin falls...

an awww moment!

Manson Ranch - Boy they've upgraded! check out the new furniture!

Anyone want some home cooked meal courtesy of the ranch? (heck no!)

What's this? A Nissan... hold on a sec I thought this event was a Toyota event? Nah can't say no to friends right? I mean I tried my best to steer him in the right direction but o well... wink

Yeah it's the desert... we've got these cool plantations that really poke you if you're mean to them!

Fore! ok if I had to hit out of that hell hole I'd be (insert all of the darn words you can think up of cuz that won't be the last of it) deals smile (Devil's Golfcourse)

Artist's Loop... ooo ahhh... yeah def worth doing it once!


Random... don't ask I was bored...

Aguereberry Point...

Another awww moment!

Charcoal Kilns...


Additional photos here... Click me!
Click on "Death Valley" -> "2007-03-XX" (4 folders).