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Winter Backcountry Camping Spots

Discuss 4x4'ing, Hiking, Backpacking, Camping
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TacoLand
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Winter Backcountry Camping Spots

Post by TacoLand » Wed Dec 03, 2014 12:53 pm

I'm looking at heading back to Death Valley in early January and would like to scout out some better backcountry camping spots for that time of the year.

In the spring and fall I like staying different spots like as high up in Cottonwood Canyon as possible. Last January I found it less impressive though with everything being dead and the canyon itself being largely unremarkable. I also camped out near the Hidden Dunes, which I love most times of the year, but last January my water bottle in the tent iced over it was so cold due to elevation and a cold snap.

I was thinking of spending a night or two up Johnson Canyon Road where it enters the actual canyon. It's a piece of the Panamints I enjoy and I figure, or at least I'm hoping, that it'll be decently warm overnight a month from now.

Can anyone think of any spots that they might recommend that wouldn't be too high of elevation or cold as all get out? I'm also looking for some isolation and don't want to be staring at any of the main roads through the park.

Thanks for any advice!

kwalsh
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Post by kwalsh » Wed Dec 03, 2014 1:18 pm

So elevation makes a big deal in how cold it gets at night in the winter, so valley bottoms at lower elevations like Panamint or Saline Valley are your best bets I suspect. Give Racetrack and Hidden Valley the skip. And Eureka as well, about 3000 ft and further north it seems to get very cold there.

Canyons and canyon mouths usually not a good spot in the winter since you get less sun exposure in the day time and you get cold air drainage during the night. Probably warmer if you camp in the middle of the valley or at least well down the fan or bajada from a canyon.

I'd recommend the very southern reaches of the park. Ibex/Saratoga area is below 1000 ft. Spur roads headed south into the mud hills just a bit west of the Saratoga Spring turn off go to some nice spots with wild shelter from the hills. Real nice spot with some treats for the desert explorer back there. Here is a sunrise view from back in there:

Image

If you want to get more remote follow Owl Hole Spring road out past the turn off for Ft. Irwin. You can get daily truck traffic up to Ft Irwin sometimes depending on what is going on out there on their range. But past that turn off it is very rarely traveled though you are getting up above 2000ft by a bit.

Have fun!

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hwstock
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Post by hwstock » Thu Dec 04, 2014 10:23 am

Johnson Canyon Road wss washed out last year at lower elevations (<2200'). Perhaps the NPS has an update, but I don't think that is a maintained road.

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TacoLand
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Post by TacoLand » Thu Dec 04, 2014 12:51 pm

kwalsh: Thanks for the thoughts & info -- really helpful. I've only made it that far south once before to checkout Saratoga Spring after an aborted attempt to find Sand Canyon in the Owlshead Mountains (couldn't figure out where to park off the Harry Wade Road!).

Looking at my maps now, going out past Owl Hole Springs to the ridge just southwest of Lost Lake might work perfect. I just did some preliminary searching online and ran across Steve H's & the DzrtGrls info on Sagenite Canyon. Very interesting and I'll have to look into this more.

One question, I'm having trouble figuring out the mud hills just west of the Saratoga Spring turn off you mentioned. Are you referencing the very final turnoff to the Spring that's about 1 mile from where they are, or the turnoff from Harry Wade Road? Just trying to get that figured out.

That aside, thanks again for all the info. Also really dig your photos!

hwstock: I've got a moderately trail-ready 4Runner that I was able to get about 6 miles up Johnson Canyon Road near the end of January 2014. I could have made it further back but found the ride to be on the annoying side -- lots of bumps, nothing technical. I ended up hiking all the way up to Hungry Bill's the next day and the road seemed decent enough for maybe another 2-3 miles if I remember correctly, before getting extremely washed out as you said.

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TacoLand
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Post by TacoLand » Thu Dec 04, 2014 12:53 pm

Now that it looks like I'll be focusing on the southernmost bit of DV, I should refine my original question to something along the lines of ...

I'll be spending 3 or 4 nights around the area just south of the Owishead Mountains. Any recommendations for the area? I'm looking forward to Steve H's writeup on the Wingate Wash & Canyons, but day hikes and loops back to a basecamp to check out Lost Lake and Owl Lake might make more sense.

Thanks everyone!

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Post by kwalsh » Thu Dec 04, 2014 2:25 pm

TacoLand wrote: One question, I'm having trouble figuring out the mud hills just west of the Saratoga Spring turn off you mentioned. Are you referencing the very final turnoff to the Spring that's about 1 mile from where they are, or the turnoff from Harry Wade Road? Just trying to get that figured out.
Turn off I'm thinking off to the hills is at:

35.651275, -116.416653

Dump that into Google maps and switch to satellite mode and you'll see a dirt road running SW to some hills. At the base of the hills it turns SE and cuts through said hills via some washes. Been a few years since I've been there - no idea what that road and some of the washes might look like if they got hit with storms! Anyway, if you "drive" that road with Google and look carefully you might see something worth driving to...

As to the rest of the Owl Heads I've only been in there once with a single overnight to stay! It is an area that demands more exploring as SH and DG make clear from their explorations. There were a fair number of nice spots to camp along the road depending on whether you liked open desert or sheltered canyon.

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hwstock
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Post by hwstock » Thu Dec 04, 2014 2:52 pm

Perhaps Johnson Canyon is fine... But, I got a note March 2, 2014 from a friend -- who drives a forerunner-- that she stopped on the way in and hiked because of bad washouts. In 2009, I was able to take my Subaru Outback (7.3" clearance to start, less after I added skid plates) past the car wreck at about 7.5 miles (in the morning I realized that I could have driven another 2-3 miles, but I hiked from that point). Her pictures showed her walking before and past the car wreck.

She used to drive a jeep, so maybe that was the real issue; but about that time, the NPS warned that Johnson Canyon had washouts. But I remember I got dire warnings in 2009, and the road was nowhere as bad as presented, just slow and bumpy. It could be the NPS gave her similar dire warnings, and I misinterpreted her pictures.

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Post by DVWanderer » Thu Dec 04, 2014 3:52 pm

I was in the southern reaches a month ago, just outside the park....Silurian Hills...the entire desert is EXTREMELY washed out all over the place. It took us a little over 2 hours to 4x4 6 miles on what used to be a decent road. Sometimes coming up on 10' deep by 50+' washes and having to backtrack. Got 2 flats. I'm hoping that giving it a couple years to get driven back over will help out with routes. All dirt roads in that area are goners for a while. :cry:

But then that same weekend about 20 miles north, it looked like there was zero rain damage whatsoever. It's worth a looksee I suppose!

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TacoLand
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Post by TacoLand » Thu Dec 04, 2014 5:02 pm

kwalsh: Thanks for the coordinates! That little "range" is off the edge of the Nat. Geo. DV map so I missed it at first glance. Funny thing is, when I was out in that area, I was looking down that road and considering heading out yonder. Guess I'll have to finally check it out.

hwstock: Always a good chance a storm rolled through the area in late January, or February, and made an already bad road even worse. To the car wreck was definitely doable for me, but I stopped driving before then. Always hard to guess what's doable simply by what someone drives. My 4Runner has good enough tires, lift, and suspension to handle Dedeckera Canyon ... but the driver (see: me) isn't skilled or brave enough to run it solo at this point in time.

DVWanderer: Thanks for sharing your recent experiences down int hat region. Sounds like bad news and – as usual – who knows what I'll end up running into out there. I only roll with one spare and two shoes, so I suppose I'll be taking my time and report back here as to what I find.

Of course my trip is still a month off and I remember two years ago having to cancel a trip down to DV due to bad weather. Might have even been snow!

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Post by Gowergulch42 » Thu Dec 04, 2014 10:26 pm

If you want something a bit more centrally located or less hell-and-gone than the Owlsheads there's always Tucki or Argenta Mines in the Northern Panamints. Never seen another person at either of those sites with plenty of camping available, or even one of the side roads in Butte Valley or South Park.

Edit: Argenta is a day-use only area.
Check out my reports and informative ramblings at http://dvexplore.blogspot.com

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Post by TacoLand » Fri Dec 05, 2014 1:23 pm

Thanks for the reply, Gowergulch42. I'm a little worried that getting up in the Panamints might be cold in January. I've never explored that area due to concerns it'd be too close to "civilization" to want to backcountry camp in the area.

I also like the idea of the Owlhead range because it looks like I can setup a good basecamp and do some day hikes in the area. Having to break down and set up a new camp each day when the days are so short in winter is kind of a drag.

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Post by hwstock » Fri Dec 05, 2014 1:43 pm

more on Tucki -- if you head on the Emigrant Canyon Rd (left just south of Emigrant Ranger Station), in about 1.5 miles you see a left turn across a wash. That road heads north about a mile, then turns east into a canyon that eventually heads to the old ?Tucki? Mine. The first place you get out of sight in the canyon is only about 2400', and while just 1 mile from the ranger station as the crow flies, you might as well be far away. You can travel as far up that canyon as you vehicle will take you. The nastiest road is near the beginning, where you have to go over 2 drops-- get out and look before you leap.

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TacoLand
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Post by TacoLand » Fri Dec 05, 2014 2:22 pm

Thanks for the more detailed info on Tucki. I've marked it on my maps for future exploration -- maybe even this trip. In that rough area I really like Cottonwood Canyon, but haven't had much luck finding anything else that offers decent solitude.

The other place I tried to explore in that area was Lemoigne Canyon about two winters ago. Sure, it was before I modified my 4Runner, but even now I wouldn't want to attempt that again. Ugh.

I hope Cottonwood is in good shape for your upcoming explorations. Tell us what you find if you get the chance -- I might just end up there again!

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Post by Gowergulch42 » Sat Dec 06, 2014 5:37 pm

The first mile of Lemoigne is trashed. It got destroyed in the storms last year, There are a few steps and it's kinda hairy. We always camp up there though and the rest of the road after going through the first washed is smooth sailing. hwstock accurately described the road to the Tucki mine, and I've been there several times myself. Both are very quiet and peaceful.
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Watch the weather!

Post by matmiss » Sun Dec 07, 2014 1:08 am

Last winter was very dry and cold. So far the December storms this year have been very wet, but it's due to snow down to 4000 ft. Fri 12/12... and more coming - so be very careful where you go!
Might want to consider camping at Emigrant - the valley bottom is very COLD cuz cold air sinks, Emigrant is above the inversion layer and out of a flood zone.

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