What's Death Valley Like?

I have an opportunity to go to Death Valley California with a friend this September. It will be late November, all expenses paid by him.

I am pretty much a city dude, but the idea sounds interesting. Still the thought of being miles and miles form no where and in the desert sound a bit offputting.

I mean what if I break my leg? How far is it to help? He said he has cabins and late November isn’t as hot as you’d think.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to manage anyway as I’m going to be unemployed soon, but if it’s all expense paid, and I’m not working anyway, I thought I’d at least ask if anyone here has been there and what to expect.

My basic fear if that’s the right word, is something like breaking a leg or needing medical help or getting lost. Would a cell phone work?

Anything you want to tell me would be appreciated.


Don’t go hiking without checking with the rangers first.
Cell phones probably will not work. Check your provider’s coverage map.

The desert is a wonderful place in November.

(bolding mine)
:confused: So just when are you going?
The weather in September will be much different than late November.

Death Valley is lovely. I went in February so the temperatures are actually pretty similar to what you’ll experience in November.

Daytime averages around 70-80 but it’s cooler at night. You’ll definitely need a sweater.

Also the temperature varies dramatically depending on the altitude. Although one of the attractions of Death Valley is that there are sections 185’ below sea level you can also end up several thousand feet above sea level.

There are emergency services inside the park and cell service in the main town area but no where else.

Could you look for my keys? I lost a set of apartment keys there in 1987 while lying on the salt under the “lowest point in the US” sign for a picture. I was staying at my cousin’s place. She wasn’t happy…

Be sure to visit Barker Ranch. It’s in the National park. That’s where the Manson group lived and were captured.


“Going to Death Valley” can mean a lot of things, from primitive camping to staying at the Furnace Creek Inn. If you have the proper frame of mind, it is your chance to see an one of the world’s most amazing desert landscapes. If you’re afraid of wide open spaces or a little freaked out in a place where your cellphone might not work, DV ain’t the place for you.

It is remote but the main roads and trails are well-traveled; you need to be well prepared if you choose to go off-road or hike up some random canyon. I wouldn’t count on any kind of emergency aid response for many hours. My advice: Go! If you pay attention and don’t goof around you can probably avoid breaking a leg.

He said they would be staying in a “cabin” which probably puts him in the Ranch at Furnace Creek. Which IIRC are pretty standard hotel style rooms more than cabins per se. At least I’m not aware of any other cabins in or near the park.

If you are staying in or near the resort, you should be able to just do resort style stuff; they’ve got a golf course, tennis courts, pool and the like. You could also do the traditional western stuff like horseback riding and such. So no reason to get yourself killed in the desert unless you really want to. I imagine at and near the resort basic medical care would be very available. But there isn’t a real hospital nearby. The closest IIRC is in Lone Pine, so 50 miles minimum away from emergency care. And a lot further if you really go off the beaten path. If you break a leg trying to climb Dry Mountain it could be many hours before you get help. If you break a leg falling off a horse in Furnace Creek, you would probably have a medical tech at your side in minutes.

I would expect a cell would work on or near the paved roads. Stay near the more tourist accessible areas and you’ll be fine. But unless you have more than just you and your buddy, I wouldn’t go too far off the beaten path. There are some surprisingly treacherous drives and hikes. There are a number of roads with signage like “Experienced four wheel drivers only.”

But I don’t want to scare you. Be careful and talk to the rangers and you should be fine. I’ve camped in areas that I was a 2-3 hour drive from any medical care. With a friend and common sense precautions you shouldn’t have any problems. And DV is well worth seeing. Who knows you may start a life long love of the desert.

[quote=“AndyLee, post:1, topic:591768”]

I mean what if I break my leg? How far is it to help? He said he has cabins and late November isn’t as hot as you’d think.

I was there in December a few years back and it was actually quite chilly. Partly this was because it was so windy. I had a great time there and I hope I’ll get to go back again.

Death Valley is awesome. It’s…umm…very dry. My friends and I hiked up a canyon and as we got closer to the main road on our way down we could suddenly feel our skin drinking in moisture like we were walking into a greenhouse. It was just this little irrigation ditch maybe a foot wide but we were so dessicated (it was March - wasn’t even that hot) we could feel the tiny bit of moisture in the air from just that little trickle. One of the more spectacular sights we had was being high on one side of the valley looking across at snow-tipped Telescope peak on the other side. It’s just incredibly vast. An amazing place.

Well, it can be, and it usually is, but I’ve been there when there was enough water to paddle a kayak around. The mountains on either side can funnel a lot of water down on wet years.

I usually try for a desert trip most springs during wildflower season, but I wouldn’t hesitate to go in the fall.

Don’t rely on your GPS to navigate roads. Many (most?) of them have very out-dated maps and visitors have gotten stranded for days. Officials have been working with map database companies to remove the old roads.

Oh, I envy you - I’d love a trip to Death Valley.

Anyhow, it’s both desert and wilderness. That means:

  1. Take ANY caution from rangers, signs, etc. very seriously, even if you don’t see the situation as really hazardous. Likewise if one of those local authorities recommend you take a certain type of clothing or gear with you do it. Deserts can get chilly, even very/dangerously cold at night, so if you’re told “take a jacket” do so - carry it if it’s too hot to wear it, but keep it with you. Just in case.

  2. Always, always have water with you. And not just a dinky little bottle - it isn’t just the heat the draws the moisture out of you, it’s also how dry the air is. It surprising how much water you really need in an environment like that. If it’s recommended you take X gallons on a short hike or walk or even a drive take* at least* that much.

  3. Stay on roads and trails. No exceptions. People have died only a short way from roads and trails in areas like that.

  4. If you go for a hike or walk let someone back at the “base” know where you’re going and when you expect to get back. When out on that walk, stick to the plan. That way, if you DO break a leg they’ll have some idea where you are and when to start looking.

  5. Bring a camera.

  6. Have fun.

Furnance Creek area is the section that now has cell service. It’s pretty limited and it was new in Feb so don’t count on it but the one guy traveling with us whose wife didn’t come was able to talk to her each night.

Broomstick makes an excellent point. No matter what you’re doing pay attention to any warnings provided by the rangers and take way more water than you think you could ever need.

If you’re planning to hike and you’re a little out of shape, start preparing now by walking with a backpack and a couple litres of water. If you’re just planning to drive around to some of the AMAZING scenery keep a small cooler in your vehicle with cold drinks.

We spent a week there and still didn’t see all I wanted to but on my must see recommendations:

Badwater - lowest point in North America

Scotty’s Castle - which was never owned by anyone named Scotty :slight_smile:

Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes

Mosaic Canyon

And if someone suggest you go to Darwin Falls - make sure you are in a 4wd and that you are wearing hiking boots. The road is poor and the trail to the falls switches back and forth across the stream. You really want something waterproof and sturdy on your feet. Was worth the hike though. Finding the access road is tough too, it wasn’t well marked.

Dante’s View is worth a trip if you like spectacular views.


PBS woman says many stations are airing Life in Death Valley on Nature this week. Check local listings. :slight_smile:

+Don’t handle wildlife you may encounter. Deserts are beautiful, wonderful places. Listen to the advice up-thread and you’ll be fine. Definitely go.