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3 Days In December LAX-LAS - What National Parks? (Death Valley?)

3 Days In December LAX-LAS - What National Parks? (Death Valley?)

Old Nov 3, 19, 5:04 pm
  #1  
formerly smoaky
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3 Days In December LAX-LAS - What National Parks? (Death Valley?)

I unexpectedly have four days to travel in late December, right before Christmas. I live in the northeast, and can't get enough of the desert/Southwest.

I was thinking of flying in/out of LAX/LAS as these regular flights to both from JFK (sadly not LGA, but I digress). Death Valley is very appealing, but I'm a bit hesitant given the paucity of reasonably priced accommodation in the valley. I'd have from the morning of the 20 (possibly the 19th, but working that out. If I arrive LAX on the 19th I probably have to do something in LA that night) until the afternoon of the 22nd (or whatever the last flight out of LAS is that isn't a red eye). I could leave extremely early and drive from LAX all the way to the Inn at Death Valley, and see what I can on the way on 20th (this drive seems loooonggg), then spend the 21st poking around during daylight hours before driving to LAS, overnighting there and flying back east on the 22nd.

Does that seem doable? I really don't want to have to shell out $450 for the Inn in Death Valley, but I really see very few appealing options. It's particularly hard to swallow since I could book a Springfield Suites in Ridgecrest for only 12,500 Marriott points, but that doesn't really work geographically/time-wise.

I've also considered driving to Palm Springs and checking out Joshua Tree/Mojave, but there's something about Death Valley and I feel I'd regret if I didn't have a look.

One other alternative is flying to LAS and spending a few days in Zion. It's not the warm(ish) weather I'm looking for this type of year, but seems like it could be nice? I do like hiking in national parks, which seems possible at the lower altitudes, but I'm not crazy about being outside and cold for long periods of time.

Am I missing any options or other warm weather parks easily accessible by flight from NYC? Ideally trying to fly on miles -- Delta, American or United, have them all -- since tickets are quite expensive this time of year. I don't wan't to deal with driving for long periods of time in ice/snow.
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Old Nov 3, 19, 5:48 pm
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Have you considered flying to PHX or TUS and exploring the deserts of southern Arizona? I’ve been to Saguaro N.P. in Tucson and Tumacacori N.H.P. just north of Nogales, which is along the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. I’ve visited both in January and the weather is quite nice at that time of year. I have not yet visited Organ Pipe Cactus N.M. in the southwestern part of the state, but I understand all three have desert hiking trails. There are also trails in several Phoenix area (Maricopa County) regional parks that are nice. You should also be able to find reasonable accommodations for far less than $450, even in Scottsdale.
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Old Nov 3, 19, 7:00 pm
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Originally Posted by kale73 View Post
Have you considered flying to PHX or TUS and exploring the deserts of southern Arizona? Iíve been to Saguaro N.P. in Tucson and Tumacacori N.H.P. just north of Nogales, which is along the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. Iíve visited both in January and the weather is quite nice at that time of year. I have not yet visited Organ Pipe Cactus N.M. in the southwestern part of the state, but I understand all three have desert hiking trails. There are also trails in several Phoenix area (Maricopa County) regional parks that are nice. You should also be able to find reasonable accommodations for far less than $450, even in Scottsdale.
Sorry, I should have mentioned I stayed in Tucson for a week last year this time. I'm almost considering going back but feel I should try somewhere new.

Saguaro is absolutely wonderful (though there was freak snow around when I was there), and i agree that southern Arizona is a logical choice. Rates are extremely low for the week before Christmas... and the hotels there are very nice.
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Old Nov 5, 19, 12:00 am
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Joshua Tree and Death Valley are both spectacular and very different. If you're looking for warm, JT will be colder - it's at elevation and can get very chilly in the winter. You can't really do either one justice in a day, but I've taken visitors to JT for just a day trip a number of times and it's always fun. I've also been through DV a few times straight through at low speed and it's still dramatic. You can also get a lot of the Death Valley feel if you take back roads from JT to Vegas - I've done those roads and Death Valley by bicycle and the Mojave outside DV has a lot of similarities, though you don't get anything quite like Badwater or Dante's view. There are some peaks if you take Amboy Rd. and then Kelbaker & Kelso to Cima, but not as dramatic. Kelbaker is quite possibly the worst piece of paved road on earth - it's as if the wind removed most of the adhesive asphalt between the rocks in an asphalt road, and even most of the rocks, mostly just leaving sharp jaggy ones pointing up all over like millions of little razor blades.

You should get one or both of these books if you do it as a road trip:
Roadside Geology of SoCal Roadside Geology of SoCal

Geology Underfoot in SoCal Geology Underfoot in SoCal

ETA: there's a
Death Valley specific Death Valley specific
Roadside Geology, too
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Old Nov 5, 19, 1:22 am
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Unfortunately late December is high season in and around Furnace Creek in Death Valley. If you really do want to stay at Furnace Creek and don't want to spend what Xanterra is asking for rooms at the Inn or an even more expensive casita, you might consider the Ranch. While not cheap either, Ranch rooms are about half of the rate of rooms at the Inn. And, if you're a bit hardier, consider camping.

Death Valley can also be cold and wet in December - and still quite spectacular.

Joshua Tree is likelier to be as cold and probably a bit more windy as well. The benefit of Joshua Tree is that there are far more places to stay either down in the Coachella Valley (Palm Springs, Palm Desert, etc.) as well as up in Twentynine Palms - if you're a Marriott elite, there's a Fairfield Inn that is a Category 3 property. Joshua Tree will have a different feel than Death Valley but both quite well showcase the large sloping alluvial fans, downdrop basins and arid landscapes of the basin and range province that is quite well described in the books noted by chrisl137.

If you are willing to think a bit more broadly about the California Deserts, there's plenty of stuff to see driving up California 395 through the Owens Valley, Mt. Whitney and the Sierra Crest, Mammoth and Mono Lakes, and, if you want to keep going, all the way up to Lake Tahoe. Or cut east at either Olancha or Lone Pine and through and into Death Valley, spend time there and then keep heading north and east to Scotty's Castle, into Nevada and potentially head south past Beatty and Rhyolite and continue into Amargosa, Pahrump and into Red Rock Canyon before cresting into Las Vegas.

If you do fly into LAS or PHX, there's not only Zion National Park but also Grand Canyon. Neither are likely to be warm in December but both are equally magnificent when mantled in snow.

Have fun!

David

p.s. And, if you want warm weather, May through September have been known to hit some very high temperatures in the deserts of the Southwest and California...
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Old Nov 5, 19, 8:27 am
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If not strictly focused on national parks, I would also put in a pitch for Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire which are very easily accessed from LAS.
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Old Nov 7, 19, 12:24 pm
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I am on a return trip to Death Valley next week. Went a couple of years ago and decided I need to see more. It looks like the hotel in Stovepipe Wells has availability for your dates. I stayed there last time and will be staying there again this time. It wasn't fancy but is nicer than alot of places I've stayed in. I think I'd opt for driving from LAS rather than LA given a choice as I feel like it would be less frenetic.
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Old Nov 10, 19, 3:39 pm
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BTW - if you get a flight to ONT, that should save you quite a bit of time, depending on when you land. You’ll be that much closer to the outskirts as you head to the desert.

I would also second driving up US395 and exploring the Owens Vally - some great small towns and lots to see using the towns as a base of exploration. Also, the significance of the Owens Valley in the history of California adds a layer of interest.
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