Acura ILX + TL Drive to Death Valley National Park, California
Odometer (ILX): 89,689
Odometer (Legend): 530,150
Trip Distance: 901 Miles
“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.
“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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Enjoy this video and the rest of these pictures from our trip!
Peter at the wheel of the ILX; Sofyan in the backseat
Backseat vantage point: something I’m not used to seeing!
Sunset over the Hoover Dam bypass bridge at the AZ/NV state line
View from our hotel in Las Vegas: Excalibur
Catching the water show at Bellagio
Saturday morning: A destination in mind
Ruins in an abandoned Nevada town
Next stop: Furnace Creek
Thanks to Jason for some awesome “rolling shots” of the ILX
We made it
Sign reads: CAUTION! EXTREME HEAT DANGER
Elevation: Sea level as we made our way toward Furnace Creek
How’s $5.59/gallon for Premium sound?
A brisk 115 degrees Fahrenheit at the National Park Visitor Center
Although, the ILX only showed 113 degrees at the time
Shot of the ILX in the TL sideview mirror
Warning at Badwater Basin. “Walking after 10 a.m. not recommended.”
Checking out the sights, 282 feet below sea level.
Pit stop along the “20 Mule Team Canyon” trail.
Hitchhiking due to broken down Acuras. Not.
GMC Canyon Diesel prototype that was out for hot-weather testing near Stovepipe
Crossing back into Nevada from California for the night
Sunday morning’s return drive to Phoenix: Gigantic cow
And the world’s largest firecracker!
Thanks for coming along!