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Hidden Death Valley

Off-road Route

California, USA

Traverse into the untrodden bowels of Death Valley on this off-road route through a remote part of the National Park. Feel the desert expanse like never before, whilst also escaping the crowds.

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Desert Vistas, Canyons, Mountains

84 mi / 135 km

Required

Harry Reid Int (LAS)

Mixed (Grade B)

Fall, Winter

Take the Exhilarating Back Road Through Death Valley

If you want to see Death Valley off the beaten track then this 4 - 5 hour drive will provide the perfect fix. It can be completed as a continuation from the main route after Dante's View.

From the starting point the road leads south into Greenwater Valley. This picturesque region is adorned with recent basalt lava flows, creating a gentle and distinct topography. With its elevation surpassing 3,000 feet, the ecology of this region differs significantly from that of Death Valley.

It is also here that you'll find the elusive but threatened desert tortoise, whose habitat loss elsewhere has put their existence in jeopardy. Don't forget to stick to the established roads to protect these unique creatures.

The area here derived its name from the vanished town of Greenwater, established in 1906 with a population of over 1,000. Despite substantial investments as a premier copper mining town, the town's fortunes dwindled quickly as it turned out there was hardly any copper after all. By December 1907 - just one year later, Greenwater had become a ghost town.

You'll soon be just eight miles out of Shoshone. If you need a break or a nights rest then this is the perfect place to do it. You're now one third of the way along the route and there's not much west of here as you venture back into the vastness of the Death Valley.

Ascending Salsberry Pass you'll be rewarded with magnificent views of the geologically intricate southern tip of the National Park. Afterward, the route turns north along the basin floor and you'll come across the remnants of Ashford Mill, constructed in 1914 to process gold ore sourced from the nearby mountains.

To the west, the commanding presence of Shoreline Butte bears witness to Death Valley's past as a lake during the Ice Age. Here you can see where waves of that ancient lake etched horizontal terraces along the northeastern slope of the butte. 150,000 years ago Shoreline Butte stood as an island and you would have been underwater here on the bottom!

Here you have the choice to continue on paved road skirting the mountains all the way back to Badwater or follow the route out into the basin by making a left onto West Side Road. You'll be below sea level for the rest of the trip, passing the serene Panamint Mountains. Bennett's Well is not far off, a site where two families nearly met their demise in 1850, as they waited a month for supplies and knowledge of a route over the mountains.

Three miles further north lies the historical site of the Eagle Borax Works. In the 1880s, 53 hopeful individuals scraped borax from the valley floor, dreaming of a prosperous future. The Borax Works owner Isidore Daunet had found the location only by chance during a fateful expedition across the Valley. Both his friends died from exhaustion and he only survived by eating an animal that had joined them.

He'd survived death and begun the borax mining operation right here where he discovered it. However, the entire process was highly inefficient. They mined over 130 tons of the stuff yet it simply wasn't viable. His wife filed for divorce, swindled him of $11,000 and then Isidore shot himself. A truly tragic ending to this ambitious mining operation.

Less than a mile north lie the graves of Shorty Harris and Jim Dayton. Shorty, a colorful character of Death Valley, desired to be laid to rest beside his beloved friend in the valley they cherished. On his grave it reads, "Here lies Shorty Harris, a single-blanket jackass prospector". What a way to be remembered!

The route continues across the vast salt pans, as you reconnect with the paved Badwater Road. If you havn't already, here you can head south to experience the captivating and colorful Artist's Palette. A perfect way to end this awe-inspiring trip through Death Valley's backcountry.

Before starting the drive stay at the Amargosa Opera House - a rustic spanish hotel and theatre dating back to 1920's. It's 30 miles east of the park. Before the drives half way point, make a short detour to Shoshone and Tecopa Hot Springs for a wide variety of accommodation. After that it's camping only as you head into some more remote areas of the park. All visitors must purchase an entrance pass at one of the many machines in the park or online at the National Park Service. Backcountry/Wilderness permits are required for some locations. For more information see the National Park Service website. The temperature can soar during the day and plummet at night. Be prepared with the right equipment, food, water and ideally a backup vehicle. Things are safer when traveling in a group!

Got a tip for this route? Send us yours!

This drive is mainly on dirt roads (Grade B), however there's paved road in the middle of the trip and the option of traveling by dirt roads (this route) or paved after the half way point.

Be prepared that weather events may make the road impassable. The NPS urges people to drive only on existing roads and not to create new paths.

The area is home to the threatened desert tortoise, drive with caution. Especially during wet weather when the tortoise are attracted to puddles.

View current alerts and warnings from the National Park Service.

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