The time to make the decision is at the top
Tangled on the edge of the rocky cliff on a road barely carved out of the hillside. Below is the vast expanse of the Saline Valley with snow-capped mountains hanging from the sky. The valley is home to the misty hot springs we aspire to reach…. until now. Now we just want to live through the next few moments. Our van pitched precariously at the edge of the primitive road.
The wind blows, and the van rocks side to side. The front tire on the passenger side is perched atop a protruding rock throwing the weight of the van in the wrong direction. Dirt and jagged rock peel off the cliff and tumble down, chink chink, chink in fading staccato. For once, we aren’t teetering towards death on my side of the van. Not that makes me feel any better considering what will happen if. I don’t want to think that far into the future. I reach for the door handle. Maybe I can save myself.
David turns the front wheels to the right, toward the inside of the road. More rock chinks down the cliff. Great vibrations of fear shake through our dog. She knows because I know that we are in danger.
The wind pitches the van sideways. The wheel turns, and the right tire slides inward off the large rock. The outside wheel gains purchase on the firm part of the road as the roadside sloughs again.
We move inward, hugging the inside of the steep descent. The van groans as we inch our way down towards more large rocks, more prominent than the last. If we can just kiss the upcoming cliff, maybe we can skirt between certain death and cosmetic damage to the exterior of our adventure van. I’d rather have stories etched into the silver metal than the alternative, a sad obit in the Death Valley newspaper. “Tourist makes the deadly decision to exit the park the hard way.”
Somehow that adventurous vision of taking the backroad over the mountains to get to the hot springs in the isolated valley doesn’t seem so important now.
We lurch and pitch our way down the mountain until we finally skid to stop at an intersection between two dirt roads on the valley floor. We made it. I open the door, and the dog leaps over my lap onto terra firma and shakes off the tension we’ve all been feeling.
We’ve made it, but…. how will we get back?
I guess we’ll find out after we soak in the hot springs under the dark sky filled with bright constellations of stars and the milky way.
The above story is fiction drawn from our many experiences pushing our van to the limits in the backcountry. We've teetered on a few edges.
After some local intel from some serious off-roaders and some recon, we decided that we'd save this road for another day with the right vehicle. Our van is great for off-road, but it has its limits because of its height and length. We love adventure and try to go into it with the right information and the right mindset. We'd rather be Ed Veisters than Chris McCandless.
However, farther down the road, we had a major mechanical that left us stranded at the northern outpost ranger station in Death Valley. Unbeknownst to us, our mechanic forgot to put a few parts back when he replaced the rear axle. Luckily David caught it, and a volunteer ranger helped us get a tow truck.
So while we were stranded, at least we were still alive. Had we taken that Lippincott road, our brakes would have failed, and we probably would have sailed off the cliff to meet the valley below.
Instead, we waited four and a half hours for a tow truck from Las Vegas. He hooked up our van just as the sun was setting through stormy skies. We sat next to the driver in a cramped tow truck with the dog looking out from the passenger seat in the suspended van as we drove the lonely roadway to Las Vegas.
We spent the night in our van at the Mercedes Sprinter Van Shop next to a busy roadway. Quite a contrast to our quiet isolation in Death Valley.
Making the best of the situation
The sunset tow
Mica looking out from the passenger seat of the elevated van