Is this a crazy idea: Death Valley in June?

Discussion in 'Travel' started by ken_lo, May 12, 2009.

  1. Some of you may have noticed a while back I did post an inquiry about Yosemite, which was my original plan after my US business trip in early June. But now I am more constrained on time, and subsequently I have now decided to stay close near Las Vegas where I am attending a show. Death Valley is my natural choice, and I would like to get some feedbacks from fellow forum participants.
    My plans are as follows. I will leave Las Vegas early afternoon around 3pm on the first day, drive over and settle in at a closeby hotel/motel near Death Valley. And then I will spend two full days shooting photographs, and probably drive back to the Las Vegas airport and check in late at a hotel on the third day, and then fly out in the morning of the fourth day. While this will be my first time visiting Death Valley, I understand early June is not exactly the most popular season as temperature can easily get over 120. But any suggestions on helping me to plan this will be greatly appreciated. I do, however, have some specific questions which would serve as a good starting point for discussion. Thanks in advance for everyone's feedbacks.
    1. Since I will be coming in from the east, which hotel should I stay at for the two nights? I realize not a lot of nearby hotels will be open at this part of the year, so this might get a little tricky here.
    2. Should I consider relocating to a different hotel on the second night as shooting both sunrise and sunset shots are on the top of my priority list? And if so, what other hotels at what locations would you suggest?
    3. For the two days, I will have in total two dawns and two dusks. Which locations should I focus on at these four magic hours? The only things that I am really interested in shooting are the racetrack and the sand dunes.
    4. And where else should I plan on going the rest of the two days in between early morning and late afternoon?
    I understand two days is not a lot, but this is unfortunately all I can afford on this trip. Also, I am not planning to rent a AWD if at all possible because of cost, and I would also like to keep hiking to a minimum due to the high temperature during the day. While my constraints will make this a very limited photoshooting experience, I would still like to get the most out of it. I did order a few books on Amazon, and as soon as I have gathered some useful inputs from here, I will indulge myself into preparing for this trip by reading as much material as I can find.
    Thanks, and wish me luck...
  2. Don't go to Death Valley in June. If you're that constrained for time, and starting from Las Vegas, go to Zion National Park, which is only about twenty or thirty miles farther away. Zion is beautiful in complicated ways. BTW, you should still carry water when you hike away from your car, but you're less likely to die if you don't. Best of all, Zion is in the opposite direction from Death Valley.
  3. Death Valley will be brutally hot around that time. Carry water, wear appropriate (desert) clothing, make sure you and your car are in top shape, and if possible, go when it's cooler.
    If you enter: Death Valley +June into the search box, you will find reams of earlier information provided by PN users on this exact topic.
    Or you can click here:
    Good luck, and be careful.
  4. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Go to Utah. Somewhat cooler, and much more interesting. Look for books on ghost towns of the Western US. There are plenty of fascinating places not in the books because there are handfuls of people living in them. Watch out for dogs, they often "guard" the towns. There are just incredible sights there if you start driving into the wilderness.
  5. I used to spend a lot of time in Ridgecrest, CA, which bill itself as "the Gateway to Death Valley". It's hotter than hell's hinges in June. I've never been to Zion, but it sounds like good advice to me. Can't be as hot, anyway.
  6. Well, if Zion is the better choice for this part of the year, then any advice based on the four questions I had posted above?
    I guess Death Valley was my first choice given its fame and overwhelming popularity, but since I will be on my own I can be flexible and go to Zion instead. While I'll be doing some more research on Zion before I decide, can anyone identify a few famous spots for sunrise/sunset shots?
  7. I've been to Death Valley in August, and as everyone else has said, it's mighty hot; I'd need a really good reason to do it again. June is probably worse. One problem you won't have is crowds.
    If you do go, the best way to catch sunrise shots is to stay in DV; accommodations are pricey but you're looking at fairly long drives if you stay in Beatty or Pahrump. It might make sense to spend one night in Furnace Creek to catch a sunrise at Zabriskie Point or Badwater and the second night in Stovepipe Wells to catch sunrise on the Mesquite dunes.
    I'd seriously consider the suggestions to visit Utah. I'm not sure it's more interesting (though it's every bit as interesting), but it's definitely cooler. In addition to Zion, an interesting location is Cedar Breaks National Monument , which usually just opens in June (call to make sure). At 10,000 feet, conditions will be a lot more pleasant than in DV.
  8. According to the national park service, as early as May, Death Valley is already too hot for most people, but there are still visitors who tour the park by car. I visited Death Valley for the first time last winter and it really was a memorable trip. Below are snapshots of sand dunes and the Zabriskie Point. You have a tough decision to make...

  9. As Jeff suggested, go to Utah. You can probably go to Zion AND Bryce during those three days. It can go like that:
    1rst Day: Drive from LV to Zion, check-in in the afternoon in a motel near the intrance of the park. Visit of the park until the evening; back to motel.
    2nd Day: Visit Zion; do the hike up to the narrows, and a little inside these Narrows. In the afternoon, ride to Bryce and chek in motel (Ruby's at the entrance of the park). First tour in Bryce.
    3rd Day: Morning visit to Bryce. In the afternoon back to Vegas.
    I visited parks in Utah and Ariz. last summer, starting from Las Vegas, so I am pretty sure of the possible timing.
  10. I live in Las Vegas, and I strongly endorse everyone's suggestions to go somewhere else. A few years ago, my wife got a notion to find out just how hot it gets in DV, so we drove one July day. It was an educational experience - we learned why we'll never do that again.
    Zion is a terrific choice. Hiking the Narrows is a one-of-a-kind experience - you can check with local outfitters (and research online, of course) to see how much of the Narrows you want to hike. Angel's Landing is a supreme location for early and late day shooting, but read up on it to see if you think you are up to it. The Cedar Breaks suggestion is excellent, too - it's closer to Zion than Bryce Canyon with the same hoodoos and colors, just on a smaller scale.
    If you go to Zion, do some reading about Kolob Canyon, which is in the northwest part of the park and accessed thru a different entrance. Very good for sunsets.
    Zion is an easy drive from Las Vegas. You drive northeast out of Vegas on I-15 and get off on the north side of St. George, UT following the signs for Zion. Good road 100% of the way. Lots of lodging in Springdale, more in Hurricane (although mostly older and not as good as Springdale, but cheaper), and lots available in St George, but that is probably farther away than you want to be from Zion Canyon. St George might be a choice to spend night #2 if you plan to go to Cedar Breaks or Kolob Canyon on day 3 (both are farther north on I-15.
    I also have to say I recommend Bryce - it's a personal favorite. It's really unique, but it also allows you to see everything you'll ever see without hiking into the hoodoos in a single day. Last fall I went up to Zion on a Friday and spent the afternoon shooting in the canyon (and disappointed that the color hadn't reached peak yet). Saturday morning I went up thru the tunnel to the high country on the eastern side of the park and found lots of color. Before noon I headed on to Bryce and shot the late afternoon and sunset there. Look to shoot perpendicular to the sun - the low sun angle at that time of day illuminates some of the hoodoos in such a way that they fairly glow - you expect them to turn transparent any second. That evening after dinner at Ruby's, I drove back to Springdale and spent Sunday in Zion before heading home.
    Have fun, wherever you choose to go.
  11. Thanks everyone for the great feedbacks. I guess Zion and Bryce will be the better choice.
    One quick question, for hotels/motels around the parks, do I really need to make advance bookings, or can I just show up and get decent rates? I suppose I can't finalize my accommodation plans until I get there and see what photo opportunities there are at different locations. It would be so much easier if I don't need to make hotel reservations prior to my departure. I really don't need anything fancy, and as long as they are clean and tidy I will be fine.
  12. June could be a tough time to forage for a room - schools are out and the parks can get busy. With the economy down like it is, you might find rooms available, but it's a risk.
    Springdale should be the most expensive - it's immediately outside the entrance to Zion Canyon and I doubt you'd find much for less than $150 US a night and most will be more. Rooms will be cheaper over in Hurricane, a 20 mile drive from the park if I remember correctly. I've stayed there - the Rodeway Inn isn't bad and probably around $50-60 US. I suggest you skip the Travelodge. I think you'd have better luck foraging for a room there than in Springdale. St George might offer more opportunites, but at a greater distance from the park, and this whole thing could turn into something that might monopolize your time.
    With the economy still weak, I expect that you will be able to find a room, although not necessarily the cheapest. The bigger questions in my mind would be how far from the parks you might have to go and how much of your time will hunting for a room take.
  13. Hotel/motel rates in Springdale will be pricey. Also, The Narrows is currently closed due to high water and runoff speed. No guarantee it will be open by June. Hotel rates in St. George are much less than Springdale, particulaly if you book some of the local 'mom and pop' hotels on St. George Blvd vs the name brand chains. Some of the current rates are about $30 night for a clean room with free wifi. The downside is the 45 minute drive from St. George to Springdale.
  14. I'd bring a tent. Zion + Bryce are wonderful places to camp. Cheaper than a hotel. And you can have a fire and watch the stars.
  15. I would also suggest heading for Utah, or maybe some of the smaller towns and areas along US 93 (the Great Basin Highway).
    If you do decide to go to Death Valley be sure to bring a pair of gloves. Metal surfaces heat up real fast out there.
  16. Thanks again for all the inputs. I'll look into my options and decide in the next couple of days!
  17. Hey Ken, Arie makes a good suggestion, excpet you don't really need a tent. I've slept on the ground or on top of a bag all over the Sierras. Falling asleep with the wind gently whispering through the tops of tall pines, under a globe of millions of stars will refresh you like no hotel.
  18. Skip Death Valley for 2 reasons: 1) Hot 2) Very big park and you'll spend a lot of time traveling to good photo locations. I second, err, 14th Utah. Check out Valley of Fire State Park on the way to Zion. It's absolutely awesome at Sunrise/Sunset. Some of the best shots are right from the main road which allows you to zip in from Vegas, snap a few, and get to Zion for a late check-in. Most people that go to Zion tend to hit Bryce also but I''m hesistant to recommend it because of your short time frame. Red Rock Canyon on the West Side of Las Vegas is a good early morning location, but perhaps more in the winter due to the angle of the sun and park access. Don't forget some Las Vegas Strip shots pre-dawn/dusk.
  19. It's not a crazy idea at all. Don't listen to these milquetoasts :) . If you really want to experience the desert, what better time of year to go than when it is 115 degrees every day? It will make your pictures that much more memorable. Most of the sites people shoot at Death Valley are fairly close to the road and don't require long hikes. Though, if long hikes are your thing, there is ample opportunity for that in Death Valley.
  20. Andrew, that is among the worst advice that I've ever seen. Death Valley is aptly named, and not worth putting your life at risk to photograph. Before you ask, yes, I do live in the desert, so I know what I'm talking about.
  21. I think Carl overstates the dangers just a bit ... Thousands of people visit Death Valley in the summer and most live to tell about it. But sanity must prevail; a ranger told me of an Englishman who decided to hike from Stovepipe Wells to Furnace Creek in the middle of the day in July, wearing sandals, shorts, no hat, and equipped only with a can of malt liquor ... he'd figured that it would take an hour or so. He apparently realized he'd miscalculated after an hour or so, and barely made it to the road to flag down a car to take him to meet the rest of his group in Furnace Creek. I didn't ask whether the fellow had his mad dog with him ...
    Assuming you have better sense, I agree with Andrew that most of the common photo spots are near the roads, so you shouldn't need to do much hiking. The Mesquite Dunes are an exception; you really need to go in a mile or so, but it's generally a sunrise shot, so it would probably be manageable. Even in the summer, it's surprisingly pleasant at higher elevations (e.g., Dante's View and Augereberry Point), though the latter would not be on my list if I only had a couple of days. Most of the attractions for a first and limited-time visitor are in the valley floor, but again, you can see them without hiking very far.
    As I mentioned, I've done Death Valley in the summer (at the behest of an Englishman ...); it was certainly an interesting experience, but I enjoy visiting much more in the winter or spring when I'm not constantly thinking how darn hot it is. But perhaps I'm a milquetoast ...
    Were I in your situation, I'd go to Utah, as most of us have suggested. Bryce Canyon and Cedar Breaks are at fairly high elevations, so they should be pleasant as well as spectacular. It's not so much a question of survival as simply having a far more enjoyable experience.
  22. The majority of people that suffer the consequences of Death Valley do so simply because they're uninformed. Just like that Englishman that you mentioned, those most likely to be uninformed are foreigners, who are not familiar with this type of environment, or it's dangers. When one talks to these people who have had bad experiences there, if they survive it, they invariable say that they had no idea how severe Death Valley can be.
    Moreover, no matter how safe one is, there is no doubt that the heat will drain any pleasure that might otherwise be enjoyed. As I said, I live in the desert, and only fools tempt fate by venturing out into it during the hot months. We haven't even got to June yet, and today it will be 105 here. Not many years ago we had a June high temp of 122, it was so hot that they had to shut down the airport because of the air density altitude factor. June is a terrible time to plan a trip to Death Valley, especially when you have the alternatives of Bryce and Zion. Calling someone a milquetoast if they don't throw caution to the winds is just plain stupid.
  23. It's just not fun out in that kind of heat. Can you drive around in a car with the a/c on all day and dash to hot little photo ops, jump back in the car and drive on? Sure.
    But I think you'll find from the time spent in Vegas that being out and about in the heat with limited shelter just isn't pleasant. It can be dangerous. There's more protection from the sun in the higher country options, trees, some water, etc., Even in the high country is likely to be warm if not hot. You'll need to be aware of heat ssues there as well. But DV will be miserable.
  24. Thanks for all the valuable inputs. DV is now off my option list and it will be Bryce and Zion if I do decide to spend the two extra days for photography.
  25. I never said it would be fun. I said it would be an experience. And that it would. I think most anyone would have a better summer trip in Utah than Death Valley. But if you like to experience extremes of nature, Death Valley in summer is hard to beat. It's hotter than a goat's ass, as they say. I have been there 4-5 times in the summer over the last 20 years and never had any problems, except trouble sleeping at night because it was so dang hot. I have no beef with Utah. Southern Utah is one of the prettiest places I have ever seen. I keep trying to convince my wife to move to Hanksville but no luck.
  26. Bryce is beautiful and there are a number of interesting state parks to explore in the area. I've heard great things about Arches but I haven't been there myself. Zion is the most boring and dull national park I've ever visited.
    You can go to Death Valley in the summer, but remember that you're taking your life in your hands if you venture too far from your car of if your car breaks down. Here are a few tips.
    (1) Carry a MINIMUM of one gallon of water PER PERSON PER DAY. You may need even more.
    (2) Gas stations are few and far between, and they CLOSE EARLY. In fact, if they say they close at 6 PM, the operator is probably locking up at 5:50, and he is NOT going to pump gas for you no matter what you say. They're kind of funny that way.
    (3) Don't walk more than five minutes from your car during the heat of the day and CARRY LIQUIDS WITH YOU ALWAYS, NO EXCEPTIONS. You'll dehydrate in a VERY short time.
    (4) Let people know where you're going and have them call the ranger stations of the California Highway Patrol if you don't return a call to them at a scheduled time.
    (5) Never drive "off road" even if your vehicle has 4-wheel drive. You'll get stuck or lost or both.
    (6) Never drive through water on a roadway. It's probably a flash flood.
    (7) Heed all warnings posted (or given orally) at ranger stations.
    (8) Never approach, reach toward, or try to handle snake. If bitten, get to a hospital without delay. Only a hospital can treat a snakebite successfully.
    (9) Guard from over-exposure to the sun at all times. Carry some material that can be used as a temporary shelter if your vehicle stops working. Don't sit in your car if the sun is beating down on it.
    (10) Beware of falling nighttime temperatures.

Share This Page