How to drive (and survive) Death Valley

So you've looked up the route, you've rented a hire car with a big enough engine to sustain the heat, hills and hand luggage (you hope) and you're heading out on the road. For us, A to B was Las Vegas to Lee Vining; a small village on the outskirts of Yosemite National Park with a total of 3 shops, 1 gas stations and 1 motel. After the 10 hour car journey in 40 degree heat, it felt like we'd arrived at the Four Seasons. 

Having driven the 343 mile journey, here are some DO and DON'Ts of driving through Death Valley: 

DO consider the practicality of the vehicle you're driving or hiring. Make sure you know how many miles to the gallon your vehicles does and research fuel stops so you are never caught short. We were paranoid about this and even did an $8 fill up to ensure we had a full tank. There is a long period of no gas stations and the winding roads of DVNP will guzzle it up. 

DO cruise control. It's unnatural to have your foot at a right angle for at least 9 hours and it will get uncomfortable. Even for the passenger. 

DON'T fork out for sat-nav if your hire company offers it. There's one route through so its not easy to get lost - but always do your research first the old fashioned way...that'd be with a map guys.

DO carry some cash on you for the rest stops. There really aren't many but stepping into Stovepipe Wells (air conditioned) General Store will make you want to buy up the entire refrigerated beverage section. In our experience, card machines along the way were a little temperamental (if there at all). 

DO take your bank card though for the Death Valley National Park entrance fee of $20 payable only via card at Ryan Junction. 

DO stock up on water and energy drinks (it is an endurance test after all) but DON'T have all your drinks loose in the car - they will heat up to undrinkable temperates. Warm Coke really is like drinking syrup and not at all pleasant! You could be economic here and take some teabags to drop into your water bottles halfway through the journey. Certainly the August temperatures we endured would have meant we could have enjoyed a cup of tea by then (a theory my parents swear by though I've never quite understood drinking hot drinks when you're hot. I'm an ice and a slice kinda girl!)

DO buy a iPhone plug-in fan. Saw these retrospectively and wished I'd had this with me at the time. Especially when you see the sign saying "Turn off AC for next 20 miles to save engine from over-heating". I had a pink paper fan left over from our wedding which I'm super glad I had tucked into my hand luggage. 

DON'T miss the little detour via Dante's View. Take the first left at Ryan's Junction where you pay your entrance fee and it's about 20 minutes up the (winding) road. The view at the top is breath-taking. 

DO get your Spotify playlist loaded up with absolute belters and ensure you have it downloaded onto your iPhone or iPad so you can access it without wifi (otherwise that would be a rooky!). We had a 'Classics' playlist with the likes of Oasis and Bon Jovi and a 'Chillout' playlist with Plan B and Rudimental.

DON'T leave your hat in the restroom like a certain person I know did. As I was saying there's only one road in and outta that place so I'm just thankful he realised only 10 minutes down the road (and he was driving) otherwise it'd have been 'so long Hat!'

DO pack your sunglasses. An absolute essential not only for the practical sunshine aspect but also to act as a heat shield to your eyes. We both felt our eyes actually drying out from the intense heat and luckily had some rehydrating eye drops to help comfort. DO pick some up and be especially cautious if you're a contact lens wearer. 

DON'T consider a vehicle without a spare tyre. Sounds obvious but there's the odd pot hole to watch out for and we saw a fair few cars on the hard shoulder. 

DON'T leave without snacks...and then maybe also consider what state they'll be in once heated up by the boiling temperatures. We found that our Vegas pick'n'mix from It's Sugar was durable (thank you gelatine) and double-stuffed Oreos make for double the mess but taste even more delicious warmed up (they also solidify back when the temperature drops). Melted Oreos are yum-my!

Despite the heat, DON'T be afraid to stop if you're feeling tired - it's a long old journey with not much stimulating scenery. The clue is in the name; nothing grows there so it's basically barren desert land. 

Oh and DO consider your travel companion. It's going to be a long and somewhat uncomfortable ride so try and be with someone you like, can sing your heart out with and entertain each other along the way! We found laughter helps.

1 comment

  1. I've read 3 of your America posts now (thanks for the recommendation of the West Coast!) and I love them! This makes me want to go to America even more now and your posts are so informative! Honestly things I'd never think to look up! Also looks like you had an amazing time :) Thanks for sharing :)

    Tania x
    teabee | UK Lifestyle, Beauty & Travel Blog


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