Eye On The Bay: Desert Roadtrippers Pt.1 – 8/22/11

Desert Roadtrippers, Part One



For the past several years, the “Eye on the Bay” crew has been plotting and pleading to make a trip to the southern California desert.  Think about it, our staff spends more than 300 days a year focusing our sights and passions on the greater San Francisco Bay Area, so it’s no surprise that we get a little urge to break geographic boundaries and show our faithful viewers the “other reaches of the state.”

So why the desert?  Let’s just say there’s about eight staffers that each wanted to take on some portion of a 200 mile swath of the southeastern corner of the California.  One wanted to show off spring wildflower blooms in Death Valley, one person wanted to explore the wasted remains of the Salton Sea, while Palm Springs, which has become a weekend getaway hotspot for Bay Area residents, was on someone else’s radar.  Then, others had cravings to visit a trailer park named ‘Hicksville’, an old dusty Hollywood movie set called ‘Pioneertown’ and something referred to as the ‘Integratron’ in Landers, CA.

Our solution?  Wrap it all up into a 1,500 mile roundtrip, five-part series.  Add three local television hosts with completely different interests, throw them into a tightly packed convertible and leave the rest to the road-trip gods.



Our journey took us over the Sierras and south on Highway 395 – yes, we could have done the I-5 route, but the Sierras are just too scenic!  While we were under the crunch to get to Death Valley, there are plenty of worthy stops along 395!  Mono Lake and the bubbling hot springs south of Mammoth Lakes are two spots that are a must visit.  You alson should check out the cuisine at the Whoa Nellie Deli, housed inside the Tioga Gas Mart in Lee Vining, CA.


While it’s not the most desirably named of all the National Parks, if you’ve never visited Death Valley, you’re in for a special time.  It’s a mix of geologic wonder, stunning scenics and there’s roadtrips within roadtrips to make, once you’re inside her web.  The best way to read up on the sites we featured (Artists Palette, Badwater Basin, Devil’s Golf Course, Devil’s Racetrack, Teakettle Junction, Scotty’s Castle), visit these websites:




We drove forever to get just about anywhere, after all, Death Valley National Park is about the size of five greater San Francisco Bay Areas.  So, when we arrived at the Furnace Creek Inn, we had no trouble calling this gem, a true desert oasis!

The Furnace Creek Resort consists of two properties, the well-appointed Inn at Furnace Creek and the more affordable Ranch at Furnace Creek.  The Inn boasts beautiful rooms, a fantastic hot springs pool (which we definitely utilized) and delicious southwestern/pacific-rim cuisine. Note, the Inn is only opened from mid-October to mid-May.

The Ranch at Furnace Creek was originally a working ranch, and is now a year-round getaway, with more than 220 rooms.   The Ranch offers golf, a steakhouse, saloon (try the Badwater Ale) and jeep and bike rentals, for those seeking adventures in the desert.  Visitors should also stop into the Borax History Museum located on site.


More from Liam Mayclem
  • Henry Tunis, Los Altos

    You should visit Saline Valley Warm Springs located in the northwest corner of Death Valley National Park. It is about 30 miles on dirt roads from the nearest pavement. Any car can make it there, even motor homes can get there. Ask at any ranger station or sporting goods store for specific directions. It is an oasis of a couple of acres of green lawn and trees in the middle of nowhere. There is barren desert in all directions. There are two concrete hot tubs there. This place is always quiet and peaceful. Between May and September there are seldom as many as ten people there. More in winter months. Summer temperatures are about 110 degrees, but it is a dry heat. When you step out of the hot tub, you are dry in about 15 seconds. Did I mention that it’s quiet and peaceful there? There is no cell phone communication there. The ideal stay is at least three days. Bring a companion and good book or two as well as an air mattress and sleeping bag. You will need an ice chest with food and drinks and every available space filled with ice. You will not be disappointed if you go there.
    Please let me know if one of you goes there.

    P.S. Did I mention how quiet and peaceful it is there?

  • Ko Blix

    If you visit the Racetrack Playa, please respect the rocks and the tracks and the whole area. It is magical and even spiritual. Don’t move the rocks! Don’t walk on the playa when wet or damp! Don’t show off how fast your special vehicle can travel over extreme washboard gravel road! Slow down. And may the Rocks be with you.

  • G Dan Mitchell

    I’m a photographer who frequently shoots in Death Valley and elsewhere throughout California, so I enjoyed seeing your visit to one of my favorite places.

    Thanks for including the caveats about visiting the Racetrack playa, especially about the driving the Racetrack road. I’ve been out there many times to do photography, and I know that road pretty well. (I actually recognized a number of the individual rocks in your program!) Some folks who are not familiar with this sort of driving take it way too fast – I’ve seen them sitting by the side with (sometimes multiple) flat tires and some spin out.

    The NPS advice about high clearance vehicles is correct, despite the precedent of a few people driving there in urban vehicles. This is 27 miles one way of the worst washboard road that most people will ever experience – and then it is 27 miles back again. Most drivers will take about two hours each way.

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