Death Valley National Park Is Getting Trashed by Illegal Off-Roaders

Idiots have scarred the park’s protected wilderness areas with 130 miles of illegal tracks.

byCaleb Jacobs|
Culture photo

Death Valley National Park is famous worldwide for its otherworldly vistas far below sea level. Unmatched temperatures reaching 134 degrees Fahrenheit make it one of Earth's harshest habitats and a literal hotspot for tourists. Unfortunately, its wide-open nature means it's hard to police—the park is about the size of Connecticut—and officials there are currently battling a huge spike in illegal off-roading threatening some of Death Valley's most important spaces.

Over 130 miles of unauthorized 4x4 tracks have been discovered in Death Valley over the last few months, damaging protected areas near popular spots like Stovepipe Wells, Badwater Basin (that's the lowest point in North America at -282 feet), and Panamint Valley. Photos released by the National Park Service show large tire tracks dug into formerly pristine dry lake beds and desert landscapes—sometimes the obvious result of trucks doing donuts. This is obviously not the Tread Lightly crowd.

These pictures should make your blood boil for a few reasons. One, California actually runs a whole network of state-sanctioned off-road parks (not to mention thousands of miles of official fire road trails) where you can show up anytime, pay $5 and run free, so there's literally no reason to go out of your way to trash a national park (and a remote place like Death Valley is certainly out of the way). Two, irresponsible enthusiasts give the entire off-roading community a bad image that can have lasting repercussions. And three, it's just plain wrong.

Panamint Valley, NPS

News3 Las Vegas reports the park has reached out to California's Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division to request grants to fix the damage and protect these areas in the future. Officials are holding public meetings to raise awareness and put together groups of volunteers to fight against the growing problem.

Making this all the more ironic is that Death Valley actually has more miles of paved and dirt roads than any other national park in the country, though 93 percent of its 3.4-million acre sprawl is roadless, protected wilderness.

This issue of bad 4x4 behavior pops up all too often—last August alone, we highlighted the dangerous and depressing damage done to the famed Bonneville Salt Flats by irresponsible idiots ripping donuts on the land-speed course, a Jeep Wrangler abandoned in a protected creek in northern California, and a crop of freshly-planted saplings destroyed by vengeful off-roaders in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Don't be like them.

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