Trailside Outtakes: Trucks of Death Valley

I recently spent about a week in and around Death Valley National Park, which actually consists of several large valleys and some pretty high mountains. Beautiful views, inviting natural hot springs, abandoned mines and structures, miles and miles of dirt roads including some pretty technical 4WD trails … and old trucks. Lots of old trucks. First, a ’60’s Chevy, complete with semi-trailing arm coil spring rear suspension.

And bullet holes and stickers. Yes, that’s a bit of snow on the ground. Although Death Valley can be one of the hottest places on earth, especially in its low points several hundred feet below sea level, the National Park itself has peaks over 11000′ (3300 m) in elevation and this truck was resting at about 5000′ the morning after a light snowfall.

From Chevy to Ford, the same road took us to this more modern relic. I suspect it broke down and fell victim to vandalism, quite recently. The tow bill to extract a vehicle from this area is purportedly around $3000 US.

The other three wheels and tires were still in place, so either a thief needed only one, or the left front was flat, with no spare, and then the rest of the vandalism occurred. Or perhaps the owner had seen one too many Westerns, and/or had one too many drinks, and decided to put his faithful steed out of its misery. Either way, sad.

Here’s another Ford. This one was about a mile up a rugged hiking trail that followed a lush running creek, in a designated Wilderness area. In the US, Wilderness with a capital W is a roadless area where mechanized vehicles, even wheelchairs or bicycles, are not allowed. What was this truck doing here? Until about 35 years ago, there was a road up this canyon to a gold mining site. Two floods, first in 1984 and then in 2001, washed out the road and according to our guidebook, washed some vehicles as much as 3 miles downstream. This Ford was one. Later, the Department of Interior designated this canyon as a Wilderness area. We hiked about 2.5 miles upstream, gained about 2600′ in elevation, and saw no other people. The air temperature was right around freezing and especially at the higher elevations, the creekbed was icy and tricky going, with short waterfall sections to scramble up. We hoped to get further, but turned around at the right time and got back to the trailhead right around sunset.

The Custom Cab of the Ford was accessible. Look at those extra shift levers … this must be four wheel drive. What’s under the hood? A V8 or a 6?

It’s a six alright, but a flathead! This one had me puzzled, and when I got back in cell range I consulted with Paul, whose theory was that it might have had a Dodge Power Wagon powertrain conversion. There was a Mopar logo on the radiator tank.

A few hundred feet from the Ford pickup we found this dumptruck wedged in the gravel and overgrown with brush. A conventional type cab, all steel construction, and a setback front axle with fairly short wheelbase. Any ideas of the make?

Here’s a Power Wagon (sorry for the poor cropping). These aren’t uncommon in such places, but they still look good.

Like the Ford, the green paint suggests a past with the US Forest Service, though both these trucks were in or adjacent to Bureau of Land Management land. Near the Power Wagon was a rusting engine. This cylinder head casting detail caught my eye and I neglected to take a picture of the whole thing, but it was BIG.

Another unusual rig was this dump truck.

I crawled all over it looking for hints as to its provenance, but no luck. There were badges for the hydraulics and for the winch.

And these instructions for operation on the doghouse, though the light and shadows … plus decades of weather … prevented me from getting a very legible picture with my iPhone. The second plate up from the bottom reads “FOR SPARE PARTS NOT AVAILABLE LOCALLY SEND DISPATCH TO BUORD GIVE PART NUMBER AND QUANTITY”. This had me baffled, until I found that BUORD stands for Bureau of Ordnance, a Naval equipment organization which was disbanded in 1959. Could this truck have some Jeep CJ heritage?

The native peoples in this region went everywhere on foot; the first American settlers used horses and mules, so these old trucks must have seemed hugely capable to those whose travels crossed over into the gasoline age. But I was glad to be in my modern 4WD truck, with a powerful heater and electronic traction aids. Not a classic yet, but I’ll include one picture for comparison.