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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    The Hague, The Netherlands
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    15

    Default Death Valley: Racetrack Playa and a 2wd

    I posted another more general thread about my trip already, but I have more specific question that hasn't really been covered on the forum as far as I know (I did a search), so for future reference I'm creating a new thread. Feel free to merge it with my other thread if this is against forum policy or anything.

    We (my girlfriend and I) are driving from LA to Lone Pine, CA where we'll be spending the night on our way to Death Valley. The next day we will be sleeping at Furnace Creek Ranch. This will be in August. Our plan is to leave Lone Pine really early in the morning and get to Racetrack Playa from the north and after walking around and enjoying the scenery heading to Furnace Creek Ranch. I realize that driving to Racetrack Playa from the South would be faster, but from what I understand the roads leading there from the south are a lot rougher. And this is basically what my question is about. We are renting a car for the whole period of our stay in the US (1 month) and since we have a limited budget we have opted for regular midsize car (a Pontiac G6 or similar) with 2wd. Is is possible to get to Racetrack Playa from the north with a 2wd car? Of course we'd take all necessary precautions such as taking an abundance of water, spare tire, flat tire kit, food, etc. And I know we should always check road conditions before we leave, but assuming all things to be as good as possible, do you think we could do it? By the way, I'm an experienced driver, having driven on numerous dirt roads while I spent some months in Australia. A search on the internet has only given my conflicting views, so I don't really know what to think.

  2. Default That's an iffy...

    Check out the backroads map for Death Valley National Park from the NPS at this link

    I hate to say it.. that's an "If.." question. The challenge is that it's going to August, and the roads heading into the Racetrack Playa are offically listed as "high clearance" roads.

    The offical definition of this road (it's on the map) reads:... "Maintained or unmaintained gravel roads where a high-clearance 2WD vehicle (SUV or truck-type vehicle, with at least 15 inch tires, good tire tread, and 8+ inches of ground clearance) is able to travel safely. Expect washboard, ruts, or high center. May be rocky with areas of soft gravel or sand that makes travel unsafe for sedans or RVs".

    I'm not that familiar with the type of car you have to say it could or couldn't do this trip... but I don't think it has the high clearance they recommend.

    Secondly, it's the weather in Death Valley in August. It can be frightenly hot in Death Valley in August -- like 130 F. Expect 120F, in the shade. If you get stuck then you can be in serious trouble in an amazingly short amount of time. At those temperatures you can't stay in the car (the insides become an oven), the metal can get too hot to handle with bare hands, you can't do serious physical work for things like digging the car our of loose sand, and you'll need at least a gallon of water per person, per day just resting..

    Quite frankly, if I was going to tackle this, I'd tackle it starting the road near dawn, and plan to be out of the area and back on the paved road by no later than 10 or 11 am. And I'd go in convey, particular with a sedan -- which doesn't appear to be an option in your case.

    That's an "iffy...." plan...

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    The Hague, The Netherlands
    Posts
    15

    Default

    Thanks for informative response. I really think it can be done, but in these types of areas it's probably best not to take chances. Especially when the conditions are so harsh in August. Alas, I'll probably do it sometime in the next 10 years when I have enough money to rent a 4x4 and visit in spring or autumn. I'm still looking forward to Death Valley though.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    10,060

    Default I really love that road -- but it will void your rental agreement

    Quote Originally Posted by Joeri View Post
    Our plan is to leave Lone Pine really early in the morning and get to Racetrack Playa from the north
    Here is a field report I wrote about the Playa road -- I have done it a couple of times both as a day trip from Las Vegas and as an overnight. Let me see if I can state this strong enough: DO NOT TAKE A 2-WD, LOW CLEARANCE CAR on that north approach road. Experienced or not, you will break an axle or worse on that road. On the southern approach (which is how 99% of the visitors who travel to the Racetrack Playa get there) the road is rocky, has numerous washouts, incredibly bad washboard, despite the fact that they grade it nearly every year, and I have personally assisted with repairs to a number of vehicles whose drivers should not have been there. If you go, be sure to drop air pressure to 15 to 20 psi to save your tires -- but be very aware that you will be violating the terms of your rental agreement and if you break down out there -- you will be paying a serious penalty to the rental agency

    All that said, the last time I drove out there, I took a rental jeep (shh!!!!) and lowered the tire pressure and drove at my usual pace (which has never been slow off-highway)

    Mark
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 05-06-2008 at 10:33 PM. Reason: added an image

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    The Hague, The Netherlands
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    15

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Editor View Post
    DO NOT TAKE A 2-WD, LOW CLEARANCE CAR on that north approach road.
    Okay, now you've really convinced me not to go there. But I've got to admit that I feel a little sad about not going to Racetrack Playa. In fact, it was your article that first made me aware of the existence of it. Unless of course I manage to change our schedule and rent a huge high clearance 4x4 in Las Vegas for a day-trip out there.

    Would you happen to know a place that provides such beasts? With which you can legally go on dirt roads?

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    10,060

    Default High Clearance is not Required

    Quote Originally Posted by Joeri View Post
    Unless of course I manage to change our schedule and rent a huge high clearance 4x4 in Las Vegas for a day-trip out there.
    Stock pickups take the main road in every day, I have seen Fiats and other front-wheel drive sedans out there too. That northern road has some real sandy stretches and I am positive you would get stuck.. and I can tell you that trying to dig out with the ground temperatures at 130 degrees (F) is no fun. But you could probably make it in a passenger car from the main approach at Ubehebe Crater. Just be warned -- the rental agency is not going to be amused when you break the steering linkage about 30 miles from the nearest paved highway....
    Would you happen to know a place that provides such beasts? With which you can legally go on dirt roads?
    Every rental agency on the west coast rents jeeps and other 4x4 vehicles but none of them are allowed to exit paved roads....

    Mark

  7. #7

    Default Tours?

    Are there no tours out there? I'd love to get out and have a look myself (we had an SUV last time we visited -- I know we should have gone then!) I've looked online but can't find any tours listed. Do you know of any?

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Location
    The Netherlands
    Posts
    219

    Default No

    Definitely don't take any car to the Racetrack as long it's not your own. Biggest problem are the tires. You'll need special ones suited to very rough dirtroad driving. The last 5 miles to the actual Racetrack can take 45 minutes one way and nobody actually has seen the rocks move. If you got stuck or have a breakdown you'll be facing extremely high towcosts and your cell phone is not working. If you want a gorgeous drive in Death Valley take the one way (from Beatty /Rhyolite) drive through Titus Canyon. High clearance is needed and it's also not allowed with any rentalcar. Keep in mind this drive also it not for the faint hearted. You don't need a 4x4 for the drive to Titus Canyon . Always ask for roadconditions at the visitorcenter and buy a AAA map for Death Valley (availlable at several places in Death Valley. If you would hire a SUV make sure it has an on board On-Star system driving remote roads.
    Groeten van Yeehaw

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    The Hague, The Netherlands
    Posts
    15

    Default

    Thanks for the responses guys. I don't think we'll attempt it this time around.

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