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Posted by DV Fan
on April 01, 2002 at 11:19:58:
People disagree a lot whether the few most difficult DV roads are really so demanding that you need specially equipped 4x4 vehicle or just a stock SUV.
I was thinking about a little experiment and to make it a bit more challenging, I’ve decided to go with 2WD only.
It was clear that a high clearance vehicle is a must (I didn’t want to use my rig to avoid temptation to switch to 4WD once it gets difficult). My girlfriend kindly offered her Mitsubishi Montero Sport 2WD SUV. The car is still the same as on the day when it came out of factory back in 1997.
We had only three days time, so it was hard to choose where to go. Finally, we decided to go North-West DV.
On March 28, 2002 we started our trip in LA. Stopped in Trona to re-fuel, joined 190 and turned right toward Saline valley (The first difficult route planned was Dedeckera. It was clear we couldn’t make it from Eureka.). After Saline Valley Dunes again the right turn which is marked with a huge tire. The plan was to camp somewhere around hot springs, but it was crowded like Venice Beach during peak season. So we continued to drive toward Dedeckera. Here and there we had to drive through deep loose gravel and the wheels start to spin on several occasions. With use of hand brake we simulated rear locker. Mitsubishi Montero has a switch, which blocks the first gear and force the car to start in 2nd gear. That has helped a lot too. There wasn’t a problem with a ground clearance (not yet, as we’ll see later).
Right before you reach the top, road turns east, its pretty steep and covered with big rocks. With 4WD you can slowly climb over but with 2WD there’s a problem. Whenever there was need to climb over a boulder the wheels start to spin and the only way to come over is a lot of momentum. This, on other hand, can make you punch your tires (we were on street rubber, Michelin 265/70/R16)) and maybe break your vehicle. It requires quick hand on steering wheel and even quicker foot on gas and brake pedal (try using left foot to brake). For the first time we had a problem with the ground clearance. Here and there we touched the second and lowest cross member of the frame. Not a big deal thou.
Finally we reached the top, the road became smoother and we were really amused with wild burros staring at us.
We found a short, really steep part, which I had to do in both directions. Not a problem for 4WD. With 2WD you need some speed to reach the top (some 30 mph).
It became dark, cold and windy (we didn’t want to camp here either) so we decided to take a risk and drive down through canyon in the dark. When canyon turned west we could enjoy the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. I was listening so much about a staircase and was already disappointed, because I haven’t seen it yet and I start to wonder if it exist at all. And yes it does. I almost drove over the first stair (the sky was already pitch black), but sudden scream of death (girlfriend’s) brought me back instantly.
Through all the stairs, we touched the bottom of the vehicle only once and that was a spare tire, which hangs under the back of the car.
After we reached the Eureka Valley, I was worried about a possible sand pits, but road was really in good condition.
Finally we hit the camp on the north side of the Dunes. The moon came out and lit the valley. I was watching rabbits and desert rats playing in the sand, until monotone snoring of few other campers made me sleepy too…
First thing in the morning, the brave Montero went through quick inspection. Surprisingly, there was only one little cut on the sidewall of the front right tire. Not deep enough to be worried about.
We needed fuel, so we hit the road, passed the Hanging Rock Canyon, Crater Site (mine) and turned toward Southeast at the Crankshaft Junction. From here on we were traveling at the nearly highway speed (over 50 mph).
After a Scotty’s Castle tour and refueling we headed toward Hunter Mountain.
The road (all the way from Ubehebe Crater, Tea Kettle Junction, Lost Burro Gap, Hidden Valley and Hunter Mountain) has been recently graded and could be easily traveled even with a sedan. Finally we had time to concentrate on wonderful landscape.
I was a bit surprised because there were no campers on Hunter Mountain. It’s a perfect place for camping. The best spot is at Hunter Mountain Spring. (I couldn’t find a spring, but there is a stream running, with enough water to soak your feet in and still dilute the sweat so much, that wasn’t dangerous to animal life down the stream).
Another challenge for our 2WD rig. After a peaceful night we returned to Tea Kettle Junction, took a left turn, made a short stop at the Racetrack and entered the Lippencotts Road. All the washouts were filled with stones and easy to pass. The biggest worries were few sections with sharp rocks and I was kind of concerned about our street tires. If you punch the tire here, you’ve got the problem. But you could continue with the flat to the wider spot and change the wheel there. All in all, the Lippencotts Road is in good condition and passable both ways (until next storm).
Of course, this was the experiment and I suggest, not to try the same (2WD vehicle) unless you’re experienced driver (I did Rubicon and Moab trails several times) and you know all the risks involved.
If you’re a proud owner of 4x4, please go ahead. Use the common sense and travel in the group. If things go nasty, don’t be ashamed to turn back. Death Valley will wait for your next try. Have a nice trip…
In near future I’ll try Goler Wash and Echo Canyon. Of course 2WD only. Report will follow…