Death Valley is a large area of dry land located east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. It is infamous for the great number of deaths (for its namesake) to occur in the valley. The valley is operated by the National Park Service as Death Valley National Park or DEVA for short.
The area (specifically Furnace Creek) is known to have set the Western Hemisphere's record of the hottest temperature of 134 Fahrenheit on July 3, 1913 (also second hottest in the world after 136 at Al 'Aziziyah also known as El Azizia in Libya). Coincidentally, the coldest temperature in the valley, of 15 degrees, was also set in 1913 just a few months earlier on January 13. These temperatures were recorded in Furnace Creek, the only weather station in the below sea level part of the valley.
Another feature of contrast here is the enormous difference in elevation between the valley bottom (-282 feet -- lowest in North America) and its top, Telescope Peak (11,048 feet). This change in elevation provides a spot year-round to relax in.
Biking in Death Valley is restricted to the many dirt roads in the area. Due to the fragile environment, bikers are deterred from all hiking trails in the park. However, this still leaves many opportunities for those with a pair of wheels.
The valley is surrounded by many, many towns and cities on nearly every side. To the west is Lone Pine. To the north is Tonopah. To the (distant) east is Las Vegas. Baker is to the south.
From Lone Pine
Begin by heading east on CA-136. Continue straight at the junction with CA-190. After climbing over then descending down the Darwin Hills (stop at the vista point if you have time!), and traversing the Panimant Valley, the road ascends the Panimant Mountains and over down into the valley. It passes by Stovepipe Wells at
it dips below sea level.
Tonopah is a mountain town at an elevation of 6,000 feet located in the Nevada desert.
Start off on southbound US95 to Beatty. From there, look for a sign directing Death Valley National Park. Follow that sign and turn right on NV-374 as it ascends over Daylight Pass and down into Death Valley.
From Las Vegas
Death Valley is remarkably close to Las Vegas when put into consideration of how remote and desolate it appears.
Start off by taking US95 northbound (actually, it's more of a westbound) to Beatty. Again, turn on NV-374 but this time, left. It should take you into the national park in a few miles.
Baker is a small community in the desert at about 900 feet. The town actually sits in an extension of Death Valley itself.
Start off north on CA-127. After passing by the tiny town of Shoshone, look for CA-178 (you can't miss it!). There, continue on west over Salsberry Pass and down into the valley.
Permits, Passes and RegulationsMost of Death Valley lies in a very fragile environment. Therefore, biking is limited to the many dirt roads in the park. These, however, are plenty enough for the casual biker.
A $20/week pass is required by the National Park Service for anyone parking within the park. These can be obtained in Furnace Creek near the center of the park.
No permits are required for biking anywhere. No camping permits, no backcountry permits, or anything else of the nature is required either.
Places to Go
Here are some notable areas in the park. They are listed in alphabetical order.
Cottonwood Canyon - This is a 17-mile long road that begins at Stovepipe Wells and climbs up the mountain across from Towne Pass. Road is 4WD once it enters the wash. A branch off the main canyon leads to Marble Canyon.
Echo Canyon - Up in the Grapevine Mountains, this is a rough 4-wheel drive track that grinds its way this relatively well-known canyon.
Hidden Valley - This valley is often filled with wildflowers in late-spring and can be accessed from the Racetrack Valley by taking the road at Teakettle Junction east towards Hunter Mountain.
Lippincott Mine Road - A rocky road connecting Racetrack Valley with Saline Valley and is the shortest way to the Racetrack from the south. It receives relatively few visitors compared to the road from the Grapevine area. Begins just north of the Racetrack Valley Campground.
Hole-in-the-Wall - This route is located off of CA-190 in the eastern portion of the park. Like Echo Canyon, this is a 4-wheel drive track that climbs up into a narrow canyon.
Saline Valley - A HUGE valley not unlike Death Valley itself located towards the western boundary of the park with the Inyo Mountains. A rough, occasionally maintained and occasionally washed-out road runs its length.
Titus Canyon - Titus Canyon is an excellent choice for those who are well prepared and experienced. Much of the ride is downhill with the exception of a tough uphill section just before Red Pass. The road passes by the ruins of Leadfield.
Wildrose Canyon - This dirt road runs up in between Wildrose Peak and Rogers Peak. Several campsites are available along the route. Biking and hiking are only ways to reach the top in winter when snow blocks access to road. Makes a good night ride (bring lights! It's dark!) when there are few vehicles.
And More! - Keep in mind that Death Valley has more roads than any other national park in the nation providing an impossible array of options beyond those listed here. Many 4WD roads in the park can be biked (with some exceptions like Surprise Canyon); enough for years of fun!
Please note that biking on hiking trails or going off-trail is outlawed in the park.
Rain is scarce in the valley. Winter is the rainy season for the region with the highest chance of Pacific moisture and precipitation. The snowline in January varies from 4000' to 8000' though is typically around 6500' in the the average year. Some dirt roads may be unbikeable either due to snow or mud.
Spring is a great time to visit if you like wildflowers. The park's website has information on the latest blooms. The peak generally occurs in April and varies based on the temperature and amount of rain received months prior.
A Few Warnings
Stay clear of canyons during storms as they are prone to flash floods. This includes when a thunderstorm is on the horizon and isn't moving away from you. Storms can be EXTREMELY fast in these places.
Also, watch out for the winds! Death Valley often experiences high intensity winds which blow around unobstructed in the desert. Ever wonder why there are sand dunes? They form because of the wind which piles up the sand in large quantities. The moving rocks on the Racetrack Playa also move because of the wind. If it can move 700 lb. boulders, it can definitely blow you over! Note that in the main valley, Saline Valley and Eureka Valley, when the wind blows, the sand flies so be aware of that too.
Remember that this is Death Valley. The main reasons people die here are all related to the heat and lack of water. Carry a good supply with you at all times, especially if you are outside doing something like biking.
Death Valley was first visited by non-natives in 1849 by gold-goers looking for a shortcut to get to the goldfields quicker. Twenty of the wagons split off into this group which eventually became one of the greatest tragedy of this period. One person died in the valley.
The group of 20 began off over Beaver Dam wash (in Beaver Dam State Park near modern day I-15) and slowly made their way across the southern Great Basin. The group split at Groom Lake (now made famous by the top secret air force base known as Area 51) due to a dispute for water which had become scarce. They ended up meeting again soon after in Death Valley.
After several more months, the group finally passed over Towne Pass severely reduced. In the end, the "shortcut group" ended up in the goldfields 24 months later than those who did not take the shortcut through the valley.
The valley's name came from this tragedy when one woman with the last of the parties made the famous remark, "Goodbye Death Valley."
LinksThese are some useful sites that you may want to visit first:
NPS: Death Valley - Official Death Valley National Park website by the National Park Service
SP: Death Valley - The Death Valley page on SummitPost by tarol.