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Driving through California desert

Travel Forums North America Driving through California desert

1. Posted by evajakupce (Budding Member, 6 posts) 2 Mar '08 04:57

Hello!
My friend and I are planning a drive through the desert from Las Vegas to San Francisco. We'd like to go through the Mojave desert and Death Valley. This'll be the end part of our trip. On our way down we'll be driving by the coast so we thought a change in scenery would make our memories that bit richer.
Firstly, we've rented a car and we're not sure whether crossing into Nevada would be a wise move.
Secondly there aren't any major highways going that way, or any big towns we can find acomodation in. How safe is it to drive through the desert? Does anyone have recomendations for places to stay? We've got a tent with us so camping is a possibility...if it's safe enough.
Any advice would be really appreciated because this route doesn't seem so well documentated.
In the words of Elvis 'thank you, thank you very much' :)
T & E

2. Posted by Calcruzer (Moderator, 1863 posts) 2 Mar '08 20:29

Well, good news and bad news--the good news is that generally there is no problem in taking your car across a state line here in the US. A few years back somebody put that in a contract and then charged a gigantic extra fee by tracking people's cell phone chip and charging them if they even went two miles across the state line. The local courts have ruled that is illegal--and even threatened to put the company in jail that was tracking the cell phones.

The bad news is that most large rental companies in the US won't rent you cars unless you are at least 25 years old. I notice from your profile info that you are 23--so unless your girlfriend is 25, this could be a problem. Generally there are one or two companies that will rent to "under 25" year-olds, but they usually charge fairly high rental rates.

As far as where to drive and where to stay, it depends upon which time of the year you plan to take the trip. If you are travelling sometime after May 15th and before November 1st, then the mountain passes through Yosemite will be open and you should take that route. If you are travelling some other time, then you will have to either stay south or go way north to get around the Sierra Nevada mountain range to get from Las Vegas to San Francisco. Also, which direction you should go in that case depends upon whether you want to see Lake Tahoe (go north), or just get to San Francisco as quickly as possible (go south).

Give us some more info on your plans, and I or someone else on the website will help plan the best route for you and your friend to travel.

Enjoy

3. Posted by evajakupce (Budding Member, 6 posts) 8 Mar '08 10:50

Hi,
thanks for the reply. We realise we've been a bit vague. The dates we plan to drive that way are April 29th and 30th. So we've got two days to get from Las Vegas to San Francisco. We'd like to go through Death Valley...but then we're not sure. It was useful to know about the closed highway 120 through the Sierra Nevada. I'm not sure that'll be open when we go...so where else is a possibility? You mentioned the southern route...is that route 395?
As to what exactly we want to see, that's what we'd like you to advise us on? What is really worth seeing there...given we don't have that much time. Lake Tahoe is probably a bit too high up North. Maybe sequoia, Kings canyon national parks and the Yosemite park.
Also do you know about the accomodation there? How frequent are the stops and do we need to book beforehand?
Referring to our age we are 21 and 23, but we've already checked about the age restrictions for rent a car and it's all groovy.
looking forward to receiving replies
thanks
E & T

4. Posted by Mjsneddon (Budding Member, 7 posts) 8 Mar '08 11:02

My only comment: Death Valley National Park is AWESOME.

5. Posted by Calcruzer (Moderator, 1863 posts) 10 Mar '08 00:46

Okay, it's really late here, so I'm going to post just the information about going through Death Valley now--and I'll tell you more about the rest of the route through Yosemite to take later.

First, the weather. In late April, the average high temperature in Death Valley will be 95 degrees Farenheit (35 degrees Celsius) and the average lows will be around 67 degrees Farenheit (20 degrees Celsius). Because of how hot it is, they stop allowing people to pre-book campgrounds for anytime after April 15th--although whether you can campout depends upon how hot it is the day you arrive. The main things to visit are Furnace Creek (which is where the best campgrounds are--and where there is a very fancy resort with a golf course), if you have time go north to Scotty's Castle, but realize this will take about an extra hour or two in time--here's a link to some info on this place ( http://www.desertusa.com/mag98/june/papr/du_dvscotty.html ). then there is Zabriskie Point (there was a film by the same name filmed some years ago--which was named after this place). Here are some pictures of Death Valley, including Zabriskie Point (it takes awhile to load, but it is worth it):

http://www.deathvalley.com/dvgallery/index.html

The other things to see are Badwater, Artist's Point and lastly, the Panamint Springs area.

To get to these points, take State Highwary 160 out of Las Vegas, then when you get to Pahrump, Nevada, turn left on W. Bell Vista Road, which becomes Bob Ruud Memorial Highway, which becomes Ash Meadows Road.
Turn left on State Line Road and go until you get to Death Valley Junction--and get on Highway 190 west, which takes you into the Death Valley National Park.

At the end of this post, is an excellent map that shows where everything is--and the route to take through the park. In order, you will go to (1) Zabriskie Point, then (2) Furnace Creek, where you turn left on Highway 178 down to Badlands (lowest point in North America), then come on Hwy 178 back to Artist's Point road (a short one-way road) that comes back to the main road, then go north to Furnace Creek and get on Hwy 190 again (continue going west/northwest).

When you get to Scotts Castle Road, you will have to decide if you want to spend the extra 1 to 2 hours to go visit there (probably yes, since it's one of the highlights of Death Valley). Then comeback down to Stovepipe Wells Village, get gasoline, and continue west to Panamint Springs. Turn left on Panamint Springs Road, then right on Trona Wildrose Road and go south on Hwy 178 all the way to Hwy 14. Go south on Hwy 14 to the city of Mojave and get on Hwy 58 west towards Bakersfield.

Here's the map I mentioned above.

http://www.nps.gov/PWR/customcf/apps/maps/showmap.cfm?alphacode=deva&parkname=Death%20Valley%20National%20Park

Enjoy

6. Posted by Calcruzer (Moderator, 1863 posts) 10 Mar '08 22:56

Once you get to Bakersfield, depending upon the time, plan on either spending the night here or continuing north to Fresno (108 miles, 174 kilometres) farther on. Since time is limited (you only have one day of the two days left), I'm going to suggest you skip Sequoia National Park to go to Yosemite. (If you still want to see Redwoods, there are some just south of San Francisco (about 6 miles north of the city of Santa Cruz, or near Carmel on the Monterey Peninsula).

From Bakersfield, take State Highway 99 north to Fresno. From Fresno, take State Highway 41 north to Yosemite National Park.

Here's the government site about Yosemite, which includes telling you how to arrange camping there if you can get all the way there by nighttime from Las Vegas in one day. Most of the main things to see in Yosemite are all in the main valley: Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, and Half Dome. However, the other beautiful thing is Tuolumne Meadows--but I'm guessing that road may still be closed in April. The map is located here:
http://www.nps.gov/PWR/customcf/apps/maps/showmap.cfm?alphacode=yose&parkname=Yosemite%20National%20Park

The park rangers will let you know if the road out to Tuolumne is open.

From Yosemite, you go west on State Highway 120 to Interstate 205--and from there, to Interstate 580 west to San Francisco.

Enjoy

7. Posted by evajakupce (Budding Member, 6 posts) 17 Mar '08 03:23

Dear Calcruzer
Thank you for the detailed directions. It's seems like so much to fit into two days, but you seem quite experienced and I suppose most of the writing mentioned road names.
We're both VERY excited about the trip!

8. Posted by Calcruzer (Moderator, 1863 posts) 17 Mar '08 15:25

Well, about the only spots where you could possibly get lost are on the roads from Pahrump (from Hwy 160) over to Hwy 190 (at the Death Valley Junction).

So that you don't get lost, I've included two more maps:

http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=36.301015,-116.191492&spn=0.024037,0.03871&t=h&z=15

This shows that when you are on the Bob Rudd Memorial Highway going west, make sure you stay on it and go to the second turn left on Ash Meadows Road (not the first one which goes south, but rather the one marked in yellow that continues to the Northwest).

The second map is right at Death Valley Junction itself:

http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=36.303056,-116.414609&spn=0.012018,0.019355&t=h&z=16

This is just to show you that when you are on State Line Road and come into Death Valley Junction, you have to make a quick right turn on Hwy 127 and go about 1/4 of a mile before you turn left and get on Hwy 190 heading west into the Death Valley National Park.

P.S. Also make sure you fill up your gas tank at Las Vegas and "top it off" either at Death Valley Junction, Furnace Valley or at Stovepipe Wells.

Also, I suggest you stay in Bakersfield rather than try to go all the way to Fresno if you take the extra time to go to Scotty's Castle earlier that day.

Enjoy