Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (
-   United States (
-   -   [Request for feedback]: Death valley over thanksgiving (

rahulm Nov 27th, 2019 04:55 AM

[Request for feedback]: Death valley over thanksgiving
Hi Everyone:
We're planning to visit death valley for 2 days over the thanksgiving break (which starts today!). Apologies for the late posting on this.

About us:
  • Family of three: My daughter (9), wife and myself (both in our early 40's).
  • Driving from SF bay area and back.
  • Vegetarians (no eggs for my wife).
  • Love photography and new experiences.
  • We have a large car (Honda Pilot) but its a 2WD.
Currently planned itinerary is as follows
  • November 27: Drive from SF to Bakersfield. Spend the night in Bakersfield.
  • November 28:
    • Breakfast in Bakersfield and leave in the morning at 8:30 AM or 9 AM. (Pack lunch)
    • Drive to Charcoal Kilns and stop by the Garlock ghost town on the way.
    • Charcoal Kilns in the afternoon
    • Drive to Oasis and check in to hotel.
    • Evening: Artists drive.
  • November 29:
    • Early morning: Drive to Dante's view and take some pictures
    • Visit Zabriske point n the way back.
    • Morning/Mid-morning: Devils golf course
    • Afternoon to evening: Mustard canyon, Devils cornfield, Salt flats and Mesquite sand dunes
    • Night: Photography (hoping to shoot the milky way)
  • November 30:
    • Check out of hotel
    • Potential: Racetrack playa and Uhebebe crater (skip?)
    • Potential: Horseback ride in the AM.
    • Drive to bakersfield
    • Overnight in Bakersfield
  • December 1:
    • Drive back to SF
    • Stop by Bravo farms in Kettleman city on the way.
I'd love some feedback on
  • The overall itinerary and plan. Is it too aggressive?
  • Are there places we're missing that are a must-see?
  • For the places we're visiting, are there good hikes or must-do things?
  • We wanted to go to Uhebebe crater and racetrack playa, but the more I research, I've learned the drive is hard.
  • We were thinking of doing a horseback ride on Saturday morning, if the racetrack playa plan is scrapped. Thoughts on this? What else can we do on Saturday before driving back to Bakersfield?
  • I know food options are limited so we'll make do with whatever is available. Any suggestions are most welcome.
Thank you!
(apologies for posting this so late, I just got back from a long business trip so finally planning all of this).

janisj Nov 27th, 2019 08:57 AM

I'd forget the whole thing - sorry :( there are winter storm warnings for the entire region Wed - Friday morning. Heavy snow above 2500 feet and 50-60 mph winds in the valley itself.

Jean Nov 27th, 2019 09:05 AM

It's Thanksgiving weekend! Worst travel weekend of the year...

Have you checked the weather forecast and highway conditions? The drive to DV and back to SF will be a beast, and parts of DV are under a winter storm warning through Friday afternoon. It will likely be too cloudy to see the Milky Way.

Be very alert to flash flood warnings.

MmePerdu Nov 27th, 2019 09:14 AM

You'll be lucky to get where you want to go let alone be able to do what you want to do. This may be a good reminder to check forecasts in advance in future as this storm & the next one beginning Saturday, have been anticipated for a while now.

socaltraveler Nov 27th, 2019 09:39 AM

Nope, for weather reasons alone. Please check the National Weather Service, and the highway driving conditions for I5. This is not predicted to be a safe driving weekend.

Food options should be the least of your concerns.

MichelleY Nov 27th, 2019 09:54 AM

Weather and traffic are terrible. It took my DH 5 hours to drive from Healdsburg to Sacramento yesterday afternoon. Usually a 3 hour drive.

Jean Nov 27th, 2019 01:56 PM

I'm guessing the OP departed SF before the first reply. It will be interesting to see if we hear back from them.

mlgb Nov 27th, 2019 03:11 PM

In the odd chance that they check in, it is forecast to rain in Death Valley Friday. So maybe delay your outbound trip by a day and check the website for DV for alerts. Things may be closed by Saturday.

jamie99 Nov 27th, 2019 05:19 PM

5pm news here in LA was showing it snowing through the Grapevine

Barbara Nov 28th, 2019 11:15 AM

I hope you stay safe.

This huge, cold, windy, snowy/rainy/sleety storm did not spring up out of nowhere. We have been warned about it for a week.

tomfuller Nov 30th, 2019 11:58 AM

Originally Posted by jamie99 (Post 17022438)
5pm news here in LA was showing it snowing through the Grapevine

We went over the grapevine Wed about 3 PM. 42* in Gorman. No problems. The way from Bakersfield to DV is over the Tehatchappi Pass to Barstow and Baker.
I'll be hoping for a trip report soon.

mlgb Nov 30th, 2019 12:21 PM

From the Death Valley Park site updated on 11/28/19

Dantes View Road: CLOSED at gate just beyond junction with Greenwater Valley due to snow. It will reopen when snow melts.

Wildrose Area: Lower Wildrose Road, Upper Wildrose Road, and Emmigrant Canyon Road are CLOSED due to snow. Lower Wildrose Road and Emigrant Canyon Road will reopen when the snow melts. Upper Wildrose Road (from just above Charcoal Kilns to Mahogany Flat Campground) will likely be closed all winter due to snow.

Expect snow and ice on any road above 3,000 feet. Expect the possibility of flood conditions on any park road. Don't drive through running water. Conditions are changing quickly. Stay safe.

Apparently there were a lot of snowmen in the Antelope Valley

rahulm Dec 10th, 2019 09:40 PM

Hey Everyone: Apologies for the delay. So, we did not make it to Death Valley, but some of that is our own doing. Here's what happened:
  • We drove to Bakersfield on the first day and spent the night there.
  • On the morning (Thanksgiving day) that we were supposed to go to Death Valley, I had charted a 3.5 hour route that would not take us through the snowy areas. However, there was an accident and thus the only route we could take was via Lake Isabella.
  • And... it started snowing. A bit at first, then full on snow. We had chains and so we put them on the car. We made a pact with the person in front of us that we'll stay together as much as possible through the snow and exchanged numbers and all.
  • There were a LOT of cars. We saw a lot of people brave it and try to go without chains which seemed insane. These people later turned back.
  • It took us about 2 hours to get through about 10 miles.
  • After we got off the area where we needed chains, I tried to remove the chains from the tires but the metal was stuck. I flagged a passing truck and the gentleman yanked the chains free by using pliers.
  • This meant that if we needed chains further as we got towards death valley we would be out of luck.
  • We drove to Ridgecrest and stopped by a gas station to fill up gas and evaluate whether we should continue to death valley without functioning chains. Given that it was Thanksgiving day, all the stores in town were closed so we could not buy new chains.
  • I called the person who was in front of us (he had gone much farther by now) and he said you would need chains. He had a Nissan Sentra 2WD and was doing fine with chains.
  • Given that info, we decided to spend the night in Ridgecrest. We checked into a Springhill suites and it turned out that there were a lot of people who had checked into the hotel that day and were in the same situation as us.
  • For Thanksgiving we had dinner in our room (Indian food: Mattar paneer with bread and some Indian snacks).
  • All in all, the three of us were happy, cozy and a bit tired. We slept early and slept well.
  • The next morning I spoke to the various folks who had checked into the hotel because of the snow and most of them were headed to death valley. The storm was over, the snow was melting. Why not!
  • We decided to instead head back towards SF and do death valley another time.
  • To salvage the vacation we instead drove to San Luis Obispo and since my daughter is studying the California missions in school these days, we went to Mission San Miguel and Mission SLO. Learned a lot of California history that we did not know.
  • We love that part of California so SLO was an absolutely great respite.
  • On Saturday night we drove back home and rested on Sunday.
Whilst we were unable to do death valley the way we wanted, it was still a fun few days that were spent together. Death valley will have to wait for another day.

sf7307 Dec 11th, 2019 06:52 AM

You have a great attitude! Glad you salvaged the trip, even if it didn't really include Death Valley.

rahulm Dec 11th, 2019 01:13 PM

Thank you sf7307 . I'll probably do a trip report on the missions! Also learned that I should get better (more durable chains) :)

socaltraveler Dec 11th, 2019 01:16 PM

Thank you for reporting back. I am glad your family vacation was not ruined by bad weather, or worse. You made a good decision IMHO. And the missions are very cool.

sf7307 Dec 11th, 2019 01:25 PM

Originally Posted by rahulm (Post 17028744)
Thank you sf7307 . I'll probably do a trip report on the missions! Also learned that I should get better (more durable chains) :)

As an a aside, when my son was in 4th grade, we were driving back to San Francisco from Palm Springs and stopped at Mission San Antonio de Padua. We walked in the front door and there was a table set up with a sign advertising "Fourth Grade MIssion Report Materials" - we just bought the whole darn packet for $10 -- made doing the project a whole lot easier!

MichelleY Dec 12th, 2019 09:00 AM

Glad your trip worked out. Can’t go wrong with the SLO area.

tom_mn Dec 12th, 2019 06:24 PM

Iíve never used it but there is unpaved access to Death Valley from the south (kind of off I-15) that is low in elevation and doesnít require crossing a mountain range.

Edit: I guess itís paved now, max elevation is 1300í which I assume is outside normal snowfalls.


mlgb Dec 15th, 2019 04:36 PM

What an adventure! When I visited DV from the south I have spent the night in Ridgecrest. I think there are lots of motels due to being near China Lake. You could then drive via Trona but not sure how that route is after the big quake.

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 07:42 AM.