Escape from Death Valley


Russ Chung

Take a trek back in time

By Russ Chung

According to the Death Valley National Park website, in the Fall of 1849, a group of pioneers left Salt Lake City for the gold fields of California.  The disaster that befell the Donner Party a couple of years before were still fresh on everyone’s mind.  So instead of attempting to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains in winter, they intended to follow the Old Spanish Trail, which went around the south end of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  On Christmas Eve of 1849, some of them arrived at Travertine Springs, the source of Furnace Creek in what is now known as Death Valley.

Their oxen were weak from lack of forage and their wagons were battered and in poor shape. They too were weary and discouraged but their worst problem was not the valley that lay before them. It was the towering Panamint Mountains that stood like an impenetrable wall as far as could be seen.

From Furnace Creek, the pioneers struggled across the salt flats and attempted to pass over the Panamint Range via Warm Springs Canyon, but were unable to do so. They retreated to the valley floor and sent two young men, William Lewis Manly and John Rogers, 'over the mountain' to get supplies.  Nearly a month went by as the men walked more than 300 miles to Mission San Fernando, got supplies at a ranch and trekked back.  When Manly and Rogers finally arrived to the camp of the Bennett-Arcan party they found many of the group had left to find their own way out of the valley. The two families with children had patiently remained, trusting the men to save them. Only one man had perished during their long wait, but as they made their way west over the mountains, someone is said to have proclaimed "Goodbye, Death Valley," giving the valley its morbid name.

On November 11-13, 2020 Cal4Wheel will follow the route of these pioneers and travel from Death Valley Junction, across Death Valley to Trona, CA in the "Escape from Death Valley 2020 Run". Any vehicle with high clearance and four-wheel drive is OK.

PLEASE NOTE: There is a vehicle limit established for this run by Death Valley National Park. We will establish a waiting list once the limit is reached.


  • Wednesday, November 11
    Meet at Death Valley Junction at 9:00 AM. Travel to Dante's View, 20 Mule Team Canyon and Hole-In-The-Wall. Camp at Furnace Creek Campground. (Optional - Tuesday, Nov 10. Stay at Amargosa Opera House and Hotel.)
  • Thursday, November 12
    Depart Furnace Creek Campground, travel West Side Highway, Warm Springs Canyon, Butte Valley, Mengel Pass, Goler Wash. Camp in Panamint Valley.
  • Friday, November 13
    Depart Panamint Valley. Travel Fish Canyon Escape Trail to Trona. Travel via Trona Road to PVD Headquarters.
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