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West Side Road, Death Valley: Is It Worth The Drive?

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There’s more than one road that passes through the deepest depths of North America — there’s two of them.  One is paved, the other is not.  So is it worth the effort to drive 36 miles on Death Valley’s West Side Road?  Arguably, no — unless you have some special reason to go there.  Here’s a look at what I found.

Location

West Side Road runs parallel to Badwater Road, taking you through Badwater Basin on the other side of the valley.  You can access the road in just two locations: the north end near Artists Drive, and the south end near the Ashford Mill Ruins.  It’s a 36 mile gravel road, and while a 4-wheel-drive vehicle is not necessary, the high clearance and thick tires of an offroad vehicle could be helpful.

My Visit

I wanted to drive West Side Road, simply because it’s there.  I saw a few minor attractions mentioned on the park map, and I figured they might be intriguing, in an off-the-beaten-path kind of way.  But the truth is, I didn’t find much of interest, and I’m not inclined to recommend that you spend time out there, unless you really want to, or have some special reason.

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The northernmost end of West Side Road is somewhat interesting.  You can take some nice photos of the dirt road stretching out towards the mountains on the west side of the valley…

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… and you’ll pass over several patches of salty, rough lakebed.

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A few unmarked turnouts provide access to these areas.  And then, the road stretches on.

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There are several side roads that lead to some natural springs.  But don’t expect to find a Hollywood-style oasis out here.  All you get is a mound of tangled vegetation, that’s slightly greener than everything that surrounds it.   I stopped at a couple of these springs, and walked all the way around them, hoping to find some access point, but with no success.

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I don’t know if it appears in the record books, but I’d guess that a guy named Shorty is buried lower than anyone else on the continent, with the possible exception of his prospecting partner, Jim Dayton, who is entombed nearby.  It’s shorty’s grave that got the marker, though, due to his storied history of finding gold in Death Valley.

Shorty’s fame also inspired a sculpture at the Goldwell Open-Air Museum in Rhyolite, Nevada (near Beatty, just outside the park). Shorty is depicted in a towering metal silhouette — with a penguin by his side.

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I had high hopes for the spot on the map marked as the Eagle Borax Works ruins.  While I found the sign…

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… I found almost no ruins, and just another clump of desert vegetation.

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A few minutes later, I passed a marker for Bennett’s Long Camp.  But, the marker was the only thing there.

A group of gold-prospecting 49’ers ended up stranded at Bennett’s Long Camp for a month, and many of them nearly died here. Eventually, two members of the group went for supplies, and later returned, allowing the group to finally escape the valley.

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Out of the entire West Side Road, I’d say the most interesting thing to see is right here.  These two old water tanks provided a nice excuse to stop for a moment.  If you’ll notice, one of them has a ladder on the side…

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… which allows you to climb up onto the top of the tank.  If you’re even more daring, you could climb down, through the roof, into the tank.  I looked down there, felt the heat, saw all the trash, and decided it would be a very undesirable place to slowly die.  So, I opted against a visit inside.

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The view from the top of the tanks is quite nice.  You’ll be able to see for miles.

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I stopped just one more time before the end of West Side Road, to take some pictures of wildflowers.  During my visit in 2016, the Superbloom was in full swing — and this area was a great place to see the blooms (as was Warm Spring Canyon Road, one of several dirt tracks that lead into the western mountains).  I’ll show you more of the Superbloom on a separate page.

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West Side Road returns to Badwater Road just north of the Ashford Mill Ruins — some leftovers from the Borax mining industry.  If you’re all the way down here, you should stop and see them.  I’ll show you more from this area on the next page.

The Bottom Line

West Side Road is time consuming and not very rewarding.  If you’re looking to get away from almost everyone else in the park, this is the place to do it.  You might also want to access one of the canyons on the west side, at the end of those dirt side-roads.  But otherwise, there aren’t many reasons to drive this road.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a look at the time-lapse video of the drive southbound on West Side Road:

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