Best way through Death Valley?--and other questions
OK, I am looking to go from Sacramento across Nevada on Hwy 50, south on Hwy 93, east through Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon, then back through Vegas, Death Valley and Yosemite on the way home. My questions are these:
1. What's the best way to go through Death Valley? The scenic dots on the map are telling me to take CA 190 the whole way, through Death Valley Junction and Furnace Creek, but I was thinking about taking CA 178 from the south. If it makes any difference, I will probably be driving an ordinary four-door car as opposed to an all-terrain vehicle or something.
2. Is UT 9 through Zion National Park the only vehicular access through Zion? MS Streets and Trips had me believing there was a north entrance but it seems that the road across the southern part is the only one.
3. Is Pipe Spring National Monument worth skipping Zion for? Should I be frightened going through Colorado City, AZ? (Those who've read "Under the Banner of Heaven" will understand that last).
4. Is the North Rim of the Grand Canyon worth the long detour from Jacob Lake? I will have six days of driving time to accomplish this trip.
The answers to some of your questions depend on when your trip is.
1. Right now, SR-178 is the best choice when approaching <a href = "http://www.nps.gov/deva/">Death Valley<a/>. SR-190 is closed between Death Valley Junction and Furnace Creek (in other words, across the eastern end of the Park). It will not reopen for several months yet (expected to reopen in March or April). SR-190 is open from Furnace Creek westward to Emigrant Pass and still serves as the gateway to US-395 and the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
2. Yes, SR-9 is the only way into Zion except for those who walk.
3. <a href = "http://www.nps.gov/pisp/">Pipe Spring<a/> is worth a look, but if you must choose between Zion or Pipe Spring, it would be Zion for me. Pipe Spring is a smaller affair, although very interesting if you are a person who likes western history or the history of the Mormon community in Utah and Arizona. <a href = "http://www.meganedwards.com/Vegasland/Zion-National-Park.htm">Zion is simply magnificent<a/> and not to be missed. There is nothing to fear in Colorado City. Folks there do not trust outsiders and you will likely not be received with much warmth (in my experience). But neither will you be mistreated.
4. Is the <a href = "http://www.roadtripamerica.com/drives/Grand-Canyon-Bryce-Canyon-Cedar-Breaks.htm">North Rim<a/> worth the detour? Are you joking? The views are different; it is higher by about 1000 feet, and even more isolated than the South Rim. Compared to the numbers of those who visit the South Rim, relatively few see the North side. The drive down SR-67 alone is worth the trip; it is one of the most beautiful settings in Arizona, virtually alpine in nature. That said, it is closed until sometime in May -- it will be snowbound until then (south of Jacob Lake).
If you REALLY want to see something special, as you drive toward Lee's Ferry and Marble Canyon from Jacob Lake, the Vermillion Cliffs will rise to your left. There is a road (graded) that runs toward the Cliffs on the southwest end -- it is about 10-15 miles east of Jacob Lake and is numbered FR-1065. Drive down that road past the west end of the cliffs and find yourself a place to search the skies overhead. Take binoculars. The Peregine Fund, along with several other partners, is reintroducing the California Condor to the skies above the Cliffs and the Grand Canyon.
Twenty years ago, there were only a handful left anywhere. These were taken into protective custody, bred in captivity, and they are slowly being released to their traditional ranges, in places where it is thought they can be successful. Up close and personal, these birds are no beauties -- but in flight, well, they are magnificent. They are among the largest land birds in the world, with an almost ten foot wingspan. You can recognize them from below because they have white feathers on the leading edges of their wings (where the other common buzzard-type bird (the Turkey Vulture) has white on the BACK of its wings, black in the front. Other than the white blaze on their wings, they are mostly all black otherwise, except the top of the mature bird's head is red. If you are lucky enough to spot one, you'll be one of very few! There are somewhere between 30 and 50 of these birds flying in Arizona today.
1. My trip will be the first week of September--Labor Day week. I assume both routes will be open? Which would you recommend?
2. Noted. Must have been a glitch in the program I ran.
3. I'll go to Zion, I guess, although I do have a morbid curiosity to see Colorado City. Must admit that town is cunningly placed; there's really no way to go there unless you really, really want to.
4. No, I wasn't joking, as I have six days to cover 1900 miles with other activities planned (the Loneliest Road, Cathedral Gorge in Nevada, the aforementioned Zion and Death Valley visits, and a drive through Yosemite over Tioga Pass, with a possible detour to Bodie Ghost Town. So a detour of 86 miles round trip is not something to be considered lightly.
I doubt I'll have time enough to wait for a California condor to appear, although that would be very cool. But I'll probably do the North Rim.
Not withstanding the scholarship of Jon Krakauer's book about Colorado City -- the place is not all the different at first glance from a bunch of small towns in the area. I doubt it would really be that interesting...
As far as approach routes into Death Valley -- both are interesting. My favorite would have to be Rt-190, but the route through Shoshone is cool too.
There is actually a good chance that you will see a soaring Condor from the north rim of the Grand...
Condors vacationing at...
Most of the condors are wintering in the Vermillion Cliffs area -- but there are some youngsters in caves high in the rock walls of the Grand Canyon, so Moms and Dads are flying back and forth to them with food. It seems strange to me that the parents would leave them like that, but that's what the Rangers said! Also, I did see two of them wheeling and soaring above Phantom Ranch about 3 weeks ago (my first sighting!) -- so they are visible there too as Mark said. However, the naturalists and Rangers at GC said the west end of Vermillion Cliffs was the best place to see them at this time of year.
Wow, you actually saw them?
I would have loved to see those guys -- what huge wingspans they have.
One of these days, I am going to attend the <a href = "http://www.roadtripamerica.com/links/Autumn.htm">Turkey Vulture festival<a/> near Lake Isabella as well. They are magical to watch in flight!
I would not have known what they were, except the evening before hiking down my cousin and I attended a presentation by a park ranger/naturalist who is involved in the reintroduction program and the attendant "watching" required. The key to ID from the ground is the white blaze on the front area of their underwings. When they are high, you don't really have a sense of how big they are, but they do have a fairly distinctive shape. I also saw pronghorn on that weekend (by Chino Valley, AZ), two large antlered elk, and a bighorn ram(in the Canyon). That's only the second Bighorn I've ever seen (free) -- and both have been in Grand Canyon.
I had about figured on going through Zion anyway; I was just wondering if Pipe Spring would make the route through Colorado City more worth it.
Anyway, here is my route: Hwy 50 from the Sacramento area across Nevada. Then 93 South to Pioche and Cathedral Gorge state park, then by secondary roads to Enterprise, UT and the Mountain Meadows Massacre site. Then through Zion, then to Jacob Lake and from there to the North Rim and back. Then through Marble Canyon over the Colorado and then south and west to the South Rim. Next I'll catch I-40 and then 93 (again!) over Hoover Dam to Vegas. Then, as I said upthread, through Pahrump and Shoshone to the southern entrance to Death Valley. 190 out of Death Valley to 395, which I will take north. I will head to Bodie Ghost Town, then turn back to take the road over Tioga Pass through Yosemite. Then Hwy 49 and connecting roads back home. Streets and Trips tells me it's 1932 miles. I have six days.
Quite a route
That will be quite the road trip. One caveat -- even if you allowed 12 days, you could only just barely scratch the surface of things to check out on that route and if your time is really limited to six days, you might want to build a "free" day in there somewhere so you can go "off-route" as the spirit moves you.
Now, some commentary about the route itself. It would be a shame to be that close to <a href = "http://www.roadtripamerica.com/places/vccem.htm">Virginia City<a/> and not stop by for a look. There are some very fun bars and characters who hang-out in the town once the last tourist bus leaves at 4:30 pm.
You are going to drive to Ely and not go see <a href = "http://www.roadtripamerica.com/links/Travels-with-Thurman.htm">Great Basin National Park<a/> -- say it 'aint so!
I hope those "sccondary roads" over to Enterprise are limited to SR-56? Those other dirt roads are for experienced off-highway drivers...
I have driven all of the roads, more than a few times, and there are a few geographic and topographical realities that Street and Trips can not factor in. I really doubt you can cover all of that distance in the six allotted days unless you are planning to be on the road (driving) more than nine hours per day and some of those days are going to be pushing twelve...
On the other hand, this route really constitutes a <a href = "http://www.roadtripamerica.com/RoadTripReport/May2004.htm">challenge trip<a/> and maybe it is possible?
No matter what, enjoy the adventure!
Hate to mention it but
There is another possible stop that may be in line with your interests. You will be driving right past Lee's Ferry, AZ. It seems it would fit in with some of your other interests, particularly Mountain Meadows and Pipe Springs. There are a couple of abandoned buildings at the ferry site, and Emma Lee's Lonely Dell Ranch is still there, along with her orchard. A lot of Mormon history is concentrated at this place. (Emma ran the ferry while her husband was on the run because of his role at Mountain Meadows, at the ONLY crossing of the Colorado for hundreds of miles). She pretty much did this alone, with the help of her children, I think.