I’ve done a fair amount of driving in the American west, though never in Death Valley.
Once you get off the main roads, it can get pretty damned remote pretty damn quick, and there’s likely no signal for Google Earth.
“It’s what I’m beginning to call death by GPS,” said Death Valley wilderness coordinator Charlie Callagan. “People are renting vehicles with GPS and they have no idea how it works and they are willing to trust the GPS to lead them into the middle of nowhere.”
The number of people visiting Death Valley in the summer, when temperatures often exceed 120 degrees, has soared from 97,000 in 1985 to 257,500 in 2009. That pattern holds at Joshua Tree as well, which recorded 128,000 visitors in the summer of 1988. Last year: 230,000.
With another potentially deadly summer season approaching, Death Valley managers now are adding heat danger warnings to dozens of new wayside exhibits and working with technology companies to remove closed and hazardous roads from GPS units. They also have posted warnings on the park’s website, telling visitors not to rely on cell phones or GPS units.
I was driving to a job site once with the boss and advised him to strike out along some back roads rather than to go through the stoplight hell of Milford, Delaware.
As we went past the corn fields, eventually emerging right in front of the factory, the boss asked, “How did you find this route?”
“Map,” I said, and pulled out the atlas.