Safety Tips in Death Valley National Park

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Most Viewed Warnings and Dangers in Death Valley National Park

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    Snakes in Death Valley

    by blueskyjohn Updated Jul 9, 2014

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    There are many types of snakes in Death Valley. The only one of real concern in the Rattle Snake. I did not come across one on the last trip even though I went to very remote less traveled areas. I did come across this Gopher Snake which is commonly mistaken for a Rattle Snake. If you look close (not too close) at the tail you will see there is no rattle. Also, if you came across a Rattle Snake as close as I got to this Gopher Snake, the tell tale sound of that rattle would sound off.

    Gopher Snakes are not poisonous. Either way, stay away from all wildlife and let them be. Walk past and be on your way and they will go their way. No need to mess with them. Admire from afar.

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    Abandoned Mines!

    by blueskyjohn Updated Jul 9, 2014

    A park ranger told me there are over 10,000 abandoned mine shafts in Death Valley National Park. Only a small amount have been sealed off as seen in the photos. The grate has openings to allow bats to enter and exit. They make the caves there home.

    If you happened to find one without a grate, do not enter. There could be poisonous gas or there could be a possibility of a cave in. In my younger years I explored a few in California and found more mouse droppings than anything. It is not worth the adventure to explore.

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    Heat can Kill!

    by blueskyjohn Updated Jul 9, 2014

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    The heat in Death Valley is something to take seriously. People often do not hike with sufficient water and then find themselves is trouble. Always carry more than you think you need. The park service recommends 1 gallon per day but this could be more depending on the activity you are doing. From the national park service website:

    "Drink plenty of water: Drink at least one gallon (4 liters) of water per day to replace loss from sweat, more if you are active. Fluid and electrolyte levels must be balanced, so have salty foods or "sports drinks" too.

    Avoid hiking in the heat: Do not hike in the low elevations when temperatures are hot. The mountains are cooler in summer, but can have snow and ice in winter.

    Travel prepared to survive: Stay on paved roads in summer. If your car breaks down, stay with it until help comes. Carry extra drinking water in your car in case of emergency.

    Watch for signs of trouble: If you feel dizzy, nauseous, or a headache, get out of the sun immediately and drink water or sports drinks. Dampen clothing to lower body temperature. Be alert for symptoms in others"

    In addition to what the park service states, take the time to have enough water in you car. Also drink often, not only when you are thirsty.

    Sign at Stovepipe Wells General Store
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    Wild Burro's

    by Yaqui Updated Dec 31, 2010

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    I am a big fan of wild animals, but when they roam in unprotected areas in herds they become an immediate Danger to THEM and US. We saw lots of mini herds of Burro's. Many of them were grazing too near the road. At one point coming from Trona, too many tourist were stopped along the road which is fine, but the huge Danger was they had not pulled off properly or safely from the road that people drive 55 miles an hour and they were running all over it to get a photo of a burro. Good Grief!! I grew up the desert so it was not a new thing to us. So if you see them, get OFF the road safely. A photo is not worth your life.

    Death Valley Directions and Information

    Map with wonderful information

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    Warnings About the Area

    by Basaic Written Feb 17, 2010

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    It is always important to obey warnings signs and warnings provided by the rangers; but never more important than in an environment like Death Valley. A few of these warnings are as follows:

    Water/Dehydration: The temperatures in Death Valley National Park frequently exceed 120F. The humidity is also very low so it is easy to not notice how much you are sweating and dehydrate. There are also not many places to buy water so carry plenty with you and drink lots and lots of water.

    Road Conditions: A lot of the park is preserve areas so the roads are fairly primitive. If a road is recommended for high clearance or 4 wheel drive make sure your vehicle is appropriate for the road. If in doubt don’t go down the road. Cell Phone reception is spotty in the park and you do not want to get stranded in the middle of nowhere (and there is a lot of middle of nowhere here).

    Weather Conditions: Parts of the park, especially near the narrower canyons can have flash floods. As the name implies they occur without warning. Check the recent weather and what is forecasted for the time of your stay before venturing out especially if traveling on non-paved roads.

    Backcountry Activities: If you plan to do anything in the backcountry areas make sure you have a detailed topographical map and let someone know where you are going, what you plan to do, and when you plan to return. Stick with your plan so in the case of an emergency the rangers can find you. It is also not recommended to go it alone, take friends.

    Protected Area: The entire park is a protected area and it is illegal to collect, remove or disturb and rock, plant, animal or historic artifact.

    Wildlife: An area this harsh breeds tough animals too. Be aware of your surroundings and avoid the snakes, spiders, scorpions and other wildlife. Do not feed then that will just attract other wildlife and is not good for the animals.

    Warning Sign
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  • Yaqui's Profile Photo

    Flash Flooding on the Roads

    by Yaqui Written Dec 29, 2008

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    Many travelers may not realize that in the desert we are prone to flash flooding. It can happen in a matter of minutes when it rains really hard in the desert.

    Never ever cross a road that is filled with water because the road underneath may be gone and all you will get is MUD. If that happens you will mostly get stuck or sucked in and even worse may find yourself being swepted down stream in the flood of water. People lose their lives every year due to this danger.

    Many of the roads traveling into the park cross dry creek beds or follow a existing dry creek bed that can become flooded or if the road dips water can become stand water or pooled.

    So please do not take the road conditions lightly during hard rain, use common sense and please protect your family!

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    Danger - Look for Pedestrians

    by Yaqui Written Dec 29, 2008

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    Sometimes we all just forget! Traveling a long time in the car can make everyone forget the dangers of parking along the road. YET, pull off fully from the road so someone doesn't take your door off, or worse yet, your leg or arm. Keep the kids in check too, make sure they don't run into traffic, especially ones that are smaller than the height of the vehicle. I cannot stress enough about this!! Heck, I have seen adults act like...go ahead and hit me....I'll just sue you. Sounds really stupid....doesn't it? Sueing someone is not going to help if your dead or worse yet one of your precious ones. So, take your time. Pull off and look at traffic and then cross the road if you must.

    SAFETY FIRST!!

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  • oldtrailmaster's Profile Photo

    Fifteen Tips for returning safely ...

    by oldtrailmaster Updated Jun 25, 2008

    It’s easy to overlook the obvious when planning an extended outing. Whether it’s just a weekend with an overnight, or two weeks in the great outdoors, the natural world can become more than merely a beautiful place to take a vacation – severe weather events or unexpected breakdowns can place the unprepared traveler in a hazardous situation.

    Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, as the saying goes! Hence, I offer for your consideration today a few starting points on which you may build a comprehensive check-off list to hang on the garage wall. Then, each time you venture away from the safety of home sweet home, you will do so with confidence. This is not an all-inclusive list, but rather just the basics. Each of us must construct our own inventory of what to bring along, keeping in mind that if we become stranded and have to wait in the middle of nowhere for a few days, how do we want our emergency to play out? I’d rather be ready, so that my personal safety is fairly well assured … I assume you concur on this rather obvious point.

    BEV is my acronym for Backcountry Exploration Vehicle. Here are my tips to start you thinking:

    1) Prior to any backcountry trip, make sure that your BEV (backcountry exploration vehicle) has been thoroughly inspected by a competent mechanic, and anything that could render the vehicle inoperable has been satisfactorily repaired, including fan belts, radiator hoses, fuel filters, etcetera. This is definitely not the time to skimp or put it off until the next trip into the outback. You will not be close to any rescue personnel, and many roads out here may not be readily accessible by a large tow truck.

    2) Driving on dirt backroads is not wise with 4 ply rated passenger car tires, which is what usually comes standard on most factory four wheel drive vehicles. These tires are highly susceptible to puncture, and the Park Service reports many flat tires of tourists who have these tires. If you are serious about backroad travel, purchase 6 ply or greater LT tires for your rig, including one for the spare also! How do you know what you have? Read the tire sidewall: If it says something like P235 70R16, the “P” stands for passenger 4 ply. If it says something like LT235 70 R16, then you’re much better off. LT stands for light truck.

    3) Make sure that you have a full sized spare tire, not some little pint size “get by” spare. Check to see that the spare has good tread and is fully inflated. Ensure that you have every tool necessary to mount the spare, because it’s no good without the tools! And toss in a stout piece of wood upon which you can place the jack, just in case the road is soft or sandy. Carrying two spare tires is even better insurance of course, if you have the room for an extra – this is what the National Park Rangers recommend.

    4) Some type of communication device is essential to have onboard during your trip. I recommend a cellular telephone be included. Even though every cellular communications company shows the Death Valley region as devoid of any service on their maps, such is not the case based on my own experience over the years. I have had good service in a variety of locations, so don’t discount this option. Sure, there are plenty of places where you can’t get out, but at least you’ll be ready for those that are inline with a tower. Another good device would be those little walkie talkies that you can buy just about anywhere these days. They have unbelievable ranges if you are high on a mountain. Citizen Band radios are also something to consider. The more options you have, the better your chances.

    5) Always carry a large reserve of extra water! My advice is to have at least two gallons per person per day onboard, but more is better. What if you do break down and are stranded for an extra day? What’s in your rig is all you’ll have in that case. Water is essential for life functions. Without it, your judgment falters and you become dehydrated. Check the “dehydration” entry in the encyclopedia for a little background on what to expect in this situation – if that doesn’t convince you, nothing will.

    6) You should have enough food in your rig to keep each person well nourished for five days. You may be thinking that you can stop in at the convenience store that evening to pick up more, but again, being proactive in nature, what if you don’t make it back to that convenience store at Stovepipe Wells? Do you want to eat and drink well while awaiting help? About this time, I’m thinking that all this advice is likely sounding pretty foreboding, and I am not out to scare you off from a great drive to some fine ghost towns and geological wonders, but we must always be cautious and prepared.

    7) Even if you are staying in a motel at Furnace Creek, and only taking day trips on the backroads, still carry one sleeping bag for every occupant of your vehicle … just in case. It gets cold out here at night, and it would feel a whole lot better be snug in a bag than to be shivering in a light jacket on the seat. An emergency tent with rain tarp would be wise also.

    8) Speaking of which, carry emergency clothing to handle any type of weather. Freak weather does happen out here – I have seen it, and with it may come unexpected cold, sudden dampness, or severe heat. Be prepared for any scenario. Have hats, sunglasses, heavy jackets, boots, gloves, lightweight clothing, windbreakers, raincoats, and whatever else you can think of. Just keep a duffle bag in the back, loaded with this stuff.

    9) Stock your BEV with emergency life supplies, including a book on wilderness survival, complete first-aid kit, waterproof matches, mirror, whistle, small strobe light, hatchet, tarp, rope, nylon cord, bungee cords, knife, sun still, fish hooks and line, flashlight, fresh extra batteries, chemically activated hand and foot warmers, rain gear, sunscreen, venom extraction suction syringe, freeze dried emergency food, cold weather gloves, long underwear, cellular or satellite telephone, emergency GPS beacon, and anything else that will contribute to a safe return of all occupants in the event of an unforeseen event.

    10) But that’s not all – also throw in tools necessary to complete field repairs in the event of a breakdown, including vise grips, pliers, screwdrivers, Allen wrenches, star wrenches, wire cutters, electrician's tape, duct tape, shovel, complete wrench and socket set, spark plug wrench, tire repair kit, air pressure gauge, tire air compressor, silicone sealant, liquid wrench, WD-40, liquid steel, pry bar, bailing wire, radiator hose, hose repair kit, hose clamps, fan or serpentine belt, spare fuses, radiator stop-leak, battery jumper cables, engine oil, brake fluid, and anything else that will contribute to returning the vehicle to operable condition.

    11) What if everything works okay on the vehicle, but you get it stuck in a mud hole or some deep sand? Make sure your BEV has appropriate items for emergency extraction, including heavy-duty steel tow hooks or eyes mounted to the frame front and rear, strong tow strap, strong snatch-type strap, shovel, traction aids, heavy duty canvas gloves, and anything else that will contribute to getting the rig unstuck and back on the trail. A winch can be reassuring, but don't worry too much about it if you don't have one, as most roads in this backcountry are relatively tame. I’ve never needed one. If you have another vehicle along, one can extract the other. Stay clear of tow straps however, just in case one tears while under load!

    12) This tip is especially critical. Leave a planned itinerary with someone who will remain home, including the estimated time of your return, as a safety backup in the event of trouble. Give yourself a little leeway here (maybe into the next day even) so that your backup person doesn't have the state's search and rescue personnel combing the hills for you if we're only several hours late. You can also inform National Park Service Rangers of your plans, and while you’re doing that, ask about the road conditions of where you’re planning on heading.

    13) Make sure that you always have at least one detailed map of Death Valley in your BEV at all times. Two different maps are even better, and three would be preferred. About this time, you may be thinking that this is over stated, but here are some things to keep in mind. No single map shows every road. For every road shown on any map, there are many more that are not depicted. And each map will vary regarding which roads are shown. A locale like the Chloride City area, which is easy to access and fun to explore, is a labyrinth of roads, but most maps only show the main one. I have been in many circumstances where in doubt at a dirt road intersection, and two or more maps will provide me a clearer mental picture of the best route to take. My picks: Tom Harrison’s waterproof Death Valley map (waterproof plastic material, 3D topo background, easy to read, colorful, durable, detailed), the Automobile Club AAA map (well detailed, harder to read, smaller, not very durable), the National Park Service map (heavy gloss paper, color, 3D topo background, relatively durable).

    14) Always carry onboard a spare vehicle key in the event a wild burro eats your primary key set.

    15) You may want to have a fire extinguisher in the rig. If some weird electrical anomaly occurs under the hood and you don’t have one, then you best have a shovel to start heaping sand on the fire. If neither of those are an option, just sit a safe distance away as you watch your 35,000 investment go up in smoke as a costly smoke bomb to alert authorities you’re in trouble. You’ll definitely get noticed, albeit in a way that is not preferable.

    Make sure you have at least 6 ply tires! Know the road perils ahead of time! Have all necessary supplies with you! Keep a detailed map handy on dirt roads! Be careful on the rocks!
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  • SteveOSF's Profile Photo

    No Cell Phones

    by SteveOSF Written Aug 2, 2007

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    If you are addicted to cell phones, you will be disappointed here. There is virtually no service in Death Valley. That also means that you can not rely on the cell phone in the event of trouble, automotive or otherwise.

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    Gas

    by SteveOSF Written Jul 19, 2007

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    Gas is available at Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek. Signs were posted that read that gas was no longer available at Scotty's Castle (until further notice - and such notice did not seem forthcoming.)

    Brace yourself for expensive gas. I paid $4.14 a gallon at Furnace Creek in late April of 2007. There is not much you can do about the price because you will need to fill up. Do not risk running out of gas in this environment.

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    Wildlife

    by SteveOSF Written Jul 17, 2007

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    While we saw some wild life, including a coyote, the most destructive animal appeared to be this bird. At Scotty's Castle, he tried dismantling portions of this motor cycle. It seems he really wanted to get his beak on some leather...

    Demo Bird Biker Bird
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    Pets Not Welcome

    by SteveOSF Written Jul 17, 2007

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    As this is a National Park, it is pet unfriendly. According to the National Park Service, pets must always be on a leash or be confined. They may not be left unattended in the campgrounds (and most likely not hotel rooms either). Pets must remain on roads or in developed areas. Hiking trails are off limits (as is cross country walks). There may be a couple of good backcountry roads to walk on, but that would be still real restrictive. With the pounding desert sun, leaving them in a car could prove fatal. As the options are limited, it might be best not to bring you pets to Death Valley.

    But I wanna come too!
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    Dust and Wind

    by SteveOSF Written Jul 17, 2007

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    Near dusk, this distant sandstorm raged near the Dunes. We could easily see it from the road between Stovepipe Wells and the Scotty's Castle. Fortunately for us, we visited the Dunes earlier and were headed away. Getting caught in the dust and wind did not look like a lot of fun.

    Sandstorm
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  • gilescorey's Profile Photo

    Trona, California

    by gilescorey Written May 12, 2007

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    If traveling from Southern California/Los Angeles to Death Valley, the fastest route is via county roads that diverge just south of Red Rock Canyon, to Johannesburg, to 395, to Trona Rd., to 178. That's all fine and good.

    But, this road takes you through Trona.

    Now, Trona is a ghost town in the making; a small blister on the shores of a dry, mineral rich lake that is harvested in a fashion that leaves a noxious haze over a valley whose land is so unforgiving, grass cannot be grown. To say it's not pretty is an understatement. However, what a traveler will not know is that Trona has an incredibly high crime rate due to an epidemic of drug use and depression. Though there is a gas station and small store, here, I do not recommend stopping if it can be avoided. If you do stop, make sure your doors are locked, and keep your wits about you..

    Do not stop here at night.

    see ClarkRB's page for some pics.

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  • gilescorey's Profile Photo

    This one could hurt...

    by gilescorey Updated May 12, 2007

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    I nearly stumbled right into this little red city while walking back from the well trod Sand Dunes. Then, like a jackass, I got as close as possible for a pic.

    My skin was crawling for hours, but I escaped without a bite.

    You might not be so lucky. Keep your eyes open, not only for rattlesnakes, but for Fire Ants.

    (California Fire Ants sting and swarm leaving a sensation of "fire", thus the name. Effects can be felt for days, and sensitive individuals can die from the multiple bites)

    Fire Ants go up Your Pants
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Death Valley National Park Warnings and Dangers

Travel tips and advice posted by real travelers and Death Valley National Park locals.
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