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Death Valley Trip
some time 1999 ??

please send a note if you are interested

Death Valley, death, valley, lippincot mine road, racetrack, saline valley





drive me home



© 1998-2005 Harald Pietschmann

STUCK in Death Valley

Death Valley, death, valley, lippincot mine road, racetrack, saline valley

I was out in Death Valley with friends over the weekend of 11/22/97 when something really strange happened to me:

Shortly after I had switched the ML320 to low range for more torque and control to climb a steep road I lost low range and started rolling back down the hill.

I lost it with the same "clunc" noise as when I would engage low range.

I never trusted those electric dash buttons for transfer cases in any SUV. Here my worst nightmare came true: Out in the bushes one day worth of hiking away from help my 4x4 lost one of it's major advantages - low range!

Granted, my cell phone worked but to give a tow truck operator GPS coordinates to pick you up 50 miles east of the "safe world" would make the guy laugh for days. Even if he wanted to, he would never get his truck even close to my location.

I was on a trail in Fish Canyon, the escape route for the settlers that were stuck in Death Valley in the 1850s. This road is not even on the topo map but it is a wonderful road to adventure for anyone with a 4WD vehicle. (Route description, pictures, tips etc will follow soon on this site)

So, here I was with a crippled M. Low range had not only disengaged itself - It was lost completely. However, we were not stranded since the M in high range worked just fine and we completed the Fish Canyon route without any difficulties. We were able to visit all scheduled locations without difficulties due to the ML's extreme low firts gear (Mercedes engineers just know what we need) and due to the fact that it is an automatic. With a manual transmission we would have been stranded.

Before we reached the hot springs in Saline Valley to make camp, we visited Goler Wash and Barker Ranch (Hideout for the infamous Manson family).

Lippincott Mine Road, usually a nice challenge for all four wheel drive vehicles, was the easiest drive in ten years: A bulldozer had just recently graded the steep winding road leading up to Lippincott Mine and the Racetrack.

The Racetrack had a stunning new display of "moving rocks". I haven't seen more impressive tracks behind those rocks that move across the surface of Racetrack Dry Lake in many years. Some indicated rather bizarre movement: long straight shots for 50 yards and more followed by an immediate return - only thrown off by maybe 10 degrees. Others seemed to have moved in circles. Everybody can witness the evidence of the moving rocks, however, nobody has ever actualy seen them moving.


On our way home another strange thing happened:

Sunday after sundown around 5 pm, still in Death Valley with a chilling outside temperature of 32F, I lost high range!

My M did not move at all anymore- I was stranded!

For people with no wilderness experience this would have been a frightening experience. Only a couple of days away from a new moon the night was as dark as it could be. To make matters worse the second ML320 in our group was stranded right that moment 2 miles back with a flat tire. And my handheld FM radio had just run out of batteries.

I thought: "If I don't find and solve the problem - we have to spend the night and hike out in the morning (It was 20 miles to pavement). To me the idea of spending the night was not upsetting at all. We had enough protective gear, tents, sleeping bags, food & water. I feel safer out there than in any house with security system. Disturbing was only the fact that we did not know about the status of the M behind us.

First I checked under the vehicle if any of the cables going into the tranfer case had come lose. (I had that happen earlier this year in Baja California to my Grand Cherokee). But all cables of the ML320 are tucked away out of harm's way. Again, it is obvious wherever you check: the M is an extremely well engineered SUV.

Since the transfer case high and low settings are initiated electrically I assumed it was very likely to be an electric problem. So I checked for fuses and relais next. The big fuse box is in plain view under the hood. Not hidden in an akward location somewhere under the dash. The lid of the fuse box lists all components with detailed descriptions.Sure enough, there it was what I was looking for: transfer case fuse = F8.

I pulled out fuse F8. It was intact. Hmmm - now what? I pressed it back into the socked and repeated that procedure hoping it would improve contact. I did! The transfer case worked again and within a minute we were rolling. Helped our friends with the flat tire ( I need to do a page on that subject soon) and drove home.

By the way: With cruise contol set on 65 mph the entire drive home both vehicles indentically averaged from DV to Los Angeles 24.4 mpg. (Two days off-road in Death Valley averaged 17.2 mpg)


*** Please note:
I was travelling with a second ML320 that weekend. Even though I personally like to travel just by myself - it is always a good idea to travel remote places with at least another vehicle. Called the "buddy system".