Acura ILX + TL Drive to Death Valley National Park, California

Odometer (ILX):  89,689

89689

Odometer (Legend):  530,150

530150

Trip Distance:  901 Miles

dv_map

“This could be scary,” Sofyan mumbled as we rolled our suitcases up the front walkway to Longstreet Inn & Casino in Amargosa Valley, Nevada. The hotel, visible for miles on Highway 373 in the barren desert, had loomed like an oasis on the horizon while we approached it (photo below). The sound of country music and horribly off-key karaoke filled the air while I and my 3 traveling colleagues checked into our rooms for the night’s stay. We were weary from a full day of adventure in Death Valley National Park, one of the country’s most oft-overlooked and yet most scenic landscapes. And the evening’s agenda was just what we needed to unwind: A dip in the pool, a home-cooked meal topped off by apple pie, and the clearest nighttime sky I’ve seen in a long time – with stars so visible it was as if we’d pulled them closer to earth.

arrival_longstreet

“Death Valley” sounds like such an enticing place to visit in the middle of the summer, doesn’t it?

On July 10, 1913, a record 134 °F (56.7 °C) was measured at the Weather Bureau’s observation station at Greenland Ranch (now the site for the Furnace Creek Inn), the highest temperature ever recorded in the world.  Daily summer temperatures of 120 °F (49 °C) or greater are common, as well as below freezing nightly temperatures in the winter. July is the hottest month, with an average high of 115 °F (46 °C) and an average low of 88 °F (31C (reference).

The area was named a national monument in 1933 and became a national park in 1994.  It receives nearly a million visitors annually.  Death Valley got its name from prospectors who passed through the area in 1849 when the California gold rush took place, though reportedly only one death took place.  My first and only experience with the area was in August 2011 in the Legend coupe when I paid a visit to a close friend and automotive spy photographer Brenda Priddy who spends her summers there.

ilx_driving

Joining me for this trip were a few friends.  Sofyan, host of the 2theRedline YouTube auto review channel, had flown in from Washington, D.C. for the occasion, and my local friend Peter also came along.

Our day started out in Las Vegas, a city that never sleeps. Glassy-eyed and a bit tired from a night out on the town, we made our way to Johnny Rockets for delicious Belgian waffles with strawberries & whipped cream. That sugar rush was enough to bring me to my senses. Jason Pawela from Driven for Drives arrived and we set out with his 2010 Acura TL and my 2013 Acura ILX in search of some adventures. Highway 160 – “Blue Diamond” took us westward toward Pahrump, Nevada. A slow-moving 65 mph limit felt like it should have been 85 mph: The arrow-straight highway made its way through the desert and Sofyan, who’s visiting from Washington, D.C., commented on the landscape. “So what IS a tumbleweed?” he asked. Oh, you city folks!

last_gas

A little beyond Pahrump, we took a left on Highway 190 toward Death Valley National Park. A few brave travelers – most from other countries, it seemed – joined us at the entrance sign for pictures. Our first stop was at Furnace Creek. It’s a place with $5.56 premium Chevron gas and a breeze that feels like a blow dryer in your face. We were able to find a saloon/restaurant – “49er” — serving up lunch so we were grateful for the opportunity to refill our bellies. All four of us ordered the exact same meal: Turkey club w/o red onion. It hit the spot. A stop at the national park visitor center was in order, so we could pay our $20/car entry fee and legalize our visit. A sign inside the gift shop announced: Heat-Related Deaths Since April 2014: 2. That’s a sobering thought.

group_at_death_valley_entrance

Peter, Sofyan, Tyson, Jason

Jason and I swapped car keys and headed out toward Badwater Basin, some 17 miles away. Badwater is the lowest elevation point in North America, at 282 feet below sea level. I enjoyed seat-time in the 305-horsepower TL with its 3.7 liter V6. Torque for days! The sound system and level of refinement were clearly superior to the ILX, but I did briefly miss the more nimble feel of my smaller sedan. Regading Badwater: Legend has it that a traveler once got to this point and was severely dehydrated. He could not even get his horse to drink from the shallow pool because the water was so salty. Thus the place was named “bad water” and it stuck. Receiving fewer than 2 inches of rain per year, Badwater is one of the driest places in the world. We hiked out a little and Jason filled a Ziploc bag with sand, then we gratefully sought refuge from the oven inside our nicely air conditioned Acura sedans.

peter_tyson_at_badwater

Just 85 miles from Badwater stands the tallest mountain in the contiguous 48 U.S. states, called Mount Whitney (14,505 feet).  You may recall a trip from last summer when Jason and I drove the highest elevation paved road in North America:  Mount Evans in Colorado, at 14,265 feet.   I would have loved to visit Mount Whitney if time permitted.

We wanted to make sure and take home some Death Valley dust on our cars, and I knew just the place to find it. “20 Mule Team Road,” just a few miles from Furnace Creek, is an amazing one-lane, one-way dirt track that winds for 2.7 miles along some terrain that looks like another planet. Jason and I weren’t afraid of doing a little off-roading. In fact, after our first lap of Mule Team, we switched drivers. Sofyan drove the ILX and Peter drove the TL – and we did it all over again. Kicking up dust in style.

20_mule

The last place I wanted to check out was Stovepipe Wells, a small settlement about 23 miles north of Furnace Creek. It’s nestled in between expansive sand dunes. As we approached, it was evident that the wind activity was high because of the wisps of sand sweeping across the roadway. Because of Death Valley’s notoriety as one of the hottest climates in the world, it is an optimal place for automakers to test out the durability of prototype / pre-production vehicles. Sure enough, as Sofyan pulled my ILX into the parking lot at Stovepipe Wells, we spotted 3 white 2016 model year GMC Canyon Diesels out for evaluation. I picked up 2 Gatorades for $3 – best purchase of the day by far. I was parched.

We made our way out of the park on Highway 127 just as the sun dipped down in the western sky. We got a few photos at the California/Nevada state line and then made our entrance into the Longstreet for the night. A great day with great friends.

nevada_entry

Enjoy this video and the rest of these pictures from our trip!

Peter at the wheel of the ILX; Sofyan in the backseat

in_car

Backseat vantage point:  something I’m not used to seeing!

driving

Sunset over the Hoover Dam bypass bridge at the AZ/NV state line

sunset

View from our hotel in Las Vegas:  Excalibur

view

Catching the water show at Bellagio

tyson_sofyah

Saturday morning:  A destination in mind

dv

Ruins in an abandoned Nevada town

tl_ilx_garage

Next stop:  Furnace Creek

furnace_creek_sign

Thanks to Jason for some awesome “rolling shots” of the ILX

ilx_going_to_pahrump

We made it

tyson_jason_dv_entrance

Sign reads:  CAUTION!  EXTREME HEAT DANGER

heat_dange

Elevation:  Sea level as we made our way toward Furnace Creek

junction_death_valley

How’s $5.59/gallon for Premium sound?

gas_prices

Lunch spot

general_store

A brisk 115 degrees Fahrenheit at the National Park Visitor Center

115_degrees

Although, the ILX only showed 113 degrees at the time

113

Shot of the ILX in the TL sideview mirror

ilx_in_mirror

Warning at Badwater Basin.  “Walking after 10 a.m. not recommended.”

stop_sign

Checking out the sights, 282 feet below sea level.

badwater_group

ilx_back

Pit stop along the “20 Mule Team Canyon” trail.

mule

Hitchhiking due to broken down Acuras.  Not.

acuras_broken_down

Stovepipe Wells

stovepipe_wells

GMC Canyon Diesel prototype that was out for hot-weather testing near Stovepipe

gmc_prototype

Crossing back into Nevada from California for the night

california_welcome

Sunday morning’s return drive to Phoenix:  Gigantic cow

cow

And the world’s largest firecracker!

firecracker

Thanks for coming along!

9 Responses to “Acura ILX + TL Drive to Death Valley National Park, California”

  1. So did you get any flack from the guys testing the Canyons?

    • Haha, aside from some crusty looks when we approached with our phones and cameras, they didn’t really act like they cared too much. All of the trucks were idling in the parking lot. There was also a panel van accompanying them – probably a “support vehicle” of sorts. Saw some other new cars out and about too. New Jeep Renegade. A few of the new Mustangs (which I don’t think are even on sale yet). DV is always full of cars out for testing.

  2. Great blog, Tyson. It was a nice 84 degrees here in North Carolina yesterday, I couldn’t imagine 134, or 115 even! Here in NC, Fayetteville on August 21 of 1983, is when our hottest, of only 110 degrees was recorded.

    The broken down Acura’s gave me a laugh. I would hate to be stranded out there. Good think you guys didn’t jinx yourselves!

    Good pictures as always!

    • Hey, 110 is still hot! August 1983 – you weren’t even close to being born yet! I was almost 2 🙂 Yeah, we figured Death Valley was a good place to stage a “broken down Acuras” pic. Thanks for reading!

  3. Intriguing place. The “below sea level” triggered a question: Did the ILX run better there than, say, up in Montana or northern Utah where the elevation is higher? I know I would run better there, too…. until dehydration and heat got the best of me. Like I told Todd, I have actually heard that the soles of shoes MELT on the pavement when the Badwater Marathon is run. Check into that for me. 🙂

  4. So get this! I just checked online for the Badwater Ultramarathon, and it started TODAY. Is that coincidence? I think not. Check for my name in the results next year.

    • 135 miles? Are you insane? That’s just craziness. I’ll have to stay tuned for the results of the event. As for the sea level question, I didn’t notice any real performance differences with regard to how the car ran below sea level. We had the a/c cranked the whole time so I know that puts a “load” on the engine and hinders performance.

  5. Tyson, great write-up and I think you put in the perfect pix to get the feel of our adventure. Great company with Peter and Sofyan. Your action footage of 20 Mule Team Road came out great. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip was driving that…twice! I’ll be working on getting mine up here in the next few days. I’m already thinking of our next drive too. Haha. Thanks again for another memorable drive!

    • Always a good time! I forgot to blog about “choosing to be straw free.” Always a lot of good memories when we hit the open road. I’m tempted to go back to Longstreet for cookies.

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