On the way into Death Valley from the west, it’s probably no surprise that you’ll face a long and lonely road. From the town of Lone Pine, California Route 136 takes you southeast along what used to be the northern shore of Owens Lake. Water-thirsty Los Angeles has left Owens Lake little more than a dry lakebed.
It’s not long before Route 136 ends, at the junction with Route 190, which takes you on into Death Valley National Park.
Just minutes after passing the welcome sign, the road twists and turns, as it prepares to drop down into the Panamint Valley. Just before the descent is…
Father Crowley Point
Father Crowley Point provides a nice view of the Panamint Valley (the valley before Death Valley — although it’s still plenty hot here). The dirt road that leads to the end of Father Crowley Point is extremely rough. Back in 2005 (when I took the exact same picture as the one you see above, showing the road as it descends to the valley), I made it out to the end of the point in a regular rental car. This time, I had an SUV, and it still seemed like a challenge. Of course, you could always walk out to the end, or be satisfied with the view of a side canyon, that’s right next to the highway.
Just before I arrived at Father Crowley Point, a military jet buzzed me. It was probably only 100 feet above the roadway, and took me totally by surprise. In the blink of an eye it was halfway down the valley. A minute later, it made another pass, as if the pilot was giving me my own private air show. The jet flew over the road, then turned and dropped into the narrow side canyon near Father Crowley Point. My heart skipped a beat, as I prepared to see a huge fireball from a crash. Of course, that didn’t happen — the jet safely passed through the side canyon and out into the valley.
Much of the Panamint Valley is part of the China Lake Naval Weapons Center, which flies a number of different aircraft, including the FA-18, which is probably the jet which I saw.
There is a small convenience store/motel/RV park/gas station in Panamint Springs. In fact, it’s the only thing in Panamint Springs. If you want a souvenir T-shirt with an FA-18 on it, they have ’em. The desert had already made me hot and thirsty, so I picked up a 16 ounce soda for the incredible price of, if I remember correctly, $3.50. Yikes.
Panamint Junction is just a mile or two beyond the “town” of Panamint Springs. At this point, the road is still dropping down to the bottom of the basin. It’s a good place to stop and think about the vastness of this corner of California — and give your gas gauge one more check.