Exploring the Panamint Valley
The rugged backcountry of the Panamint Valley provides an exceptional setting for off-highway vehicle exploration and adventure. Located in the deep trough between the towering Panamint Range and the Argus Mountains, the Panamint Valley sits at an elevation of around 1,000 feet above sea level. From the valley floor, the OHV enthusiast can follow 4-wheel drive roads up narrow canyons to some of the region's legendary mines and mill sites The 4-wheel drive routes in Goler and Pleasant Canyons can lead you into destinations within Death Valley National Park.
Part of the lure of venturing into the Panamint Valley are the challenges you may encounter in this remote desert valley. Once you venture off the paved roads out here you are on your own. Your vehicle needs to be a high clearance 4-wheel drive, and equipped with adequate safety and desert survival equipment.
This information flyer will give you some basic guidelines to follow to ensure you have a safe and trouble free adventure.
WHERE CAN I DRIVE
The Panamint Valley is divided into two general motorized vehicle use classes: Limited or Closed to off-highway vehicles.
Limited Use Areas - Existing Routes of Travel: Within most of the valley, motorized vehicle travel is allowed on the existing road and trail network and all cross country travel is prohibited. An existing route is any road or trail that is at least 24 inches in width and shows some previous use. Desert washes and canyon bottoms are also considered to be existing routes even if flash floods have erased all evidence of their previous use.
On BLM managed lands all off-highway vehicles must display a current "Green Sticker"/California OHV registration or be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles as a street legal vehicle. Within Death Valley National Park, only street legal vehicles are permitted on the road and trail network. "Green Sticker" registered vehicles are not permitted in the National Park.
Closed Areas: Within the Argus Mountains and the Panamint Range are several areas that have been designated as Wilderness and are closed to all motorized and mechanized vehicle use. The boundaries of these Closed Areas are well signed.
These areas are: Surprise Canyon Wilderness Manly Peak Wilderness Darwin Falls Wilderness Argus Range Wilderness
The surface of the South Panamint Dry Lake is closed to motorized vehicles from the Ballast Road north to the Indian Ranch Road. The lakebed is often soft and muddy and is closed to protect wetlands in the Warm Sulphur Springs area.
Be aware that the willful violation of any of these motorized use regulations is a Class A Misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or a year imprisonment.
There are other regulations pertaining to OHV use within California - refer to the BLM Flyer: Riding your OHV on the Public Lands - What You Should Know - Before You Go.
The BLM encourages all desert recreationists and travelers exploring public lands, not only within southern California but throughout the west, to use propylene glycol based antifreeze/coolant in their touring and recreation vehicles. Proven safer, it will have minimal impacts on both the wildlife and the environment should a lead occur.
CAMPING: Primitive dispersed camping is allowed anywhere on the BLM managed Public Lands in the Panamint Valley with the following conditions and exceptions:
1. Camping is permitted for up to 14 days at any one site. After this time period, you must relocate to another site at least 25 miles away.
2. Depending on the time of year and where you are camping, a Campfire Permit may be required. Contact the Ridgecrest Field Office prior to your trip if you plan on having a campfire. Never leave your campfire unattended - you may be held liable for fire suppression costs if your fire gets out of control.
3. Camping is permitted within all units of the BLM administered National Wilderness Preservation System in the Panamint Valley. However, motorized and mechanized vehicles and equipment are prohibited.
CAMPSITE USE: Many dispersed campsites are beginning to show the signs of heavy use. Campers can lessen their impact on the desert by adopting the following Leave No Trace - minimum impact principles:
Plan Ahead and Prepare - Get to know the regulations and special concerns for the area you plan to visit.
Camp and Travel on Durable Surfaces - use existing routes and trails and when possible camp at previously used sites. Camp at least 200 feet from all springs and 600 feet from all guzzlers or other wildlife water improvements.
Pack It In, Pack It Out - Pack out your trash and a little extra.
Properly Dispose of What You Can't Pack Out - Deposit human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp, or trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
Leave What You Find - Treat our cultural heritage with respect. Leave all artifacts as you find them.
Minimize the Use and Impact of Fire - Use a lightweight stove for cooking. If you do build a fire keep it small and only use dead and down wood. You will find that firewood in arid environments is scarce, so plan to bring your own. Use established fire rings and consider using a fire pan - a metal tray or garbage can lid used to contain a campfire and prevent the fire from blackening the soil. Before breaking camp, transfer cold ashes into a plastic bag or other container for disposal at home.
PREPARE AND PLAN AHEAD
Always head out with a full fuel tank - from the south Trona is your last chance for fuel and from the west - the resort at Panamint Springs on SR 190. Your vehicle should have a set of good tires, a reliable spare and jack, air pump, pressure gauge, tire sealant, and a small board to support your jack in the sand.
Also pack the following:
- All the Water you can carry (at least 2 gallons/day during the summer months and 5 gallons for your 4-wheel drive vehicle).
- Adequate clothing (enough to survive a night out without a warming fire in the winter).
- Map and compass along with the knowledge of how to use them.
- First Aid Kit:
- Roll 2" gauze
- Snake bite kit
- 3x3 gauze pads
- Alcohol wipe pads
- Band aids
- Gauze swabs 1"x1"
- Saline eye wash
- Extra large band aids
- Roll adhesive tape
- Personal prescriptions
- Emergency blanket
- Sun screen
- Fire extinguisher
- High-strength tow strap
- Matches - stored in a waterproof case
- Snaplight Light Sticks
- Distress Whistle and Flares
- Small Pencil and Pad of Paper
- Flash light and/or head lamp and extra batteries
- Spare Vehicle Keys
- Basic Tool & Equipment Kit including:
- Jumper cables
- An assortment of screws, hose clamps, washers, nuts....
- Electrical tape
- Baling wire
- Spare fuses
- Multi-purpose knife
- Multi-plier Tool
- Assorted screw drivers, wrenches, socket wrenches, hammer.....
- Duct tape
Summer temperatures in the Panamint Valley often exceed 115°F, and the routes in the mountains are frequently snowbound during the winter months. Flash floods are common in the canyons of the Panamint and Argus ranges between July and November and often occur without warning. If storm clouds are looming over the mountains - it would be wise to stay out of the canyons.
Help BLM preserve California's fragile deserts. Please park your vehicle or set up camp in previously disturbed sites.
Don't go alone and never set off on a whim without letting others know where you are going, and when you plan to return. Be aware that you can travel farther in 30 minutes of driving than you can likely walk in a day. If your vehicle breaks down your chances are better of being found if you stay with your vehicle.