Death Valley: A Lesson on the difference between BLM, Wilderness, and Parks! - JKowners.com : Jeep Wrangler JK Forum
 
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post #1 of 15 Old 03-05-2012, 02:19 PM Thread Starter
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Death Valley: A Lesson on the difference between BLM, Wilderness, and Parks!

My long weekend in Death Valley was great fun! I left last Thursday night and came back just before midnight, Sunday. I felt pretty good about making the most of a long weekend.

I scouted this trip five weekends ago. The conditions were even better this time around; temperature highs in the upper 70s, and the lows were in the 40s. This trip also started in Owens Valley, ran through Saline Valley, and out Steele Pass and beyond Eureka Sand Dunes.

The highlight of this story are the variety of old mining roads and features that I wanted to check out since my last trip. In this case, I decided to drive down some old trails to see what I'd find. Beautiful area! Lots of interesting rock formations and signs of old mining activity. One thing I did not count on was running into a National Parks Ranger on foot! It turns out he was slowly tracking me (and later pointed out that he could not follow me in with his Dodge pickup). He wasn't happy with me.

To be fair, the ranger was very courteous and professional. He explained that I was in National Parks land and OHV use was prohibited. That surprised me since I thought I was in BLM-land. Turns out most of Death Valley that was once BLM-land has been given to the National Parks for Death Valley. In fact, he cited 95% of the land is National Parks land -- there are small swathes cut out everywhere for OHV/other use, but those are clearly marked on any current map.

We all know how to use a map, but do you always take the trouble to read it carefully for information about park borders? I was relying on old knowledge gleaned from friends -- dated, at best. Even if you are following what appears to be an established trail, you may be violating OHV rules for the national park. If there is a rule here, it's that the road you're interested in must be clearly marked as valid on a current map. The old trails "fall off", and it is your responsibility to be sure that you have a current map.

In hindsight, I'm very aware of my error. Sure, I wish I had read the map more carefully. I had a long conversation with the ranger about the absence of signs. Very few areas had any kind of sign (a contentious part of park policy that governing bodies don't agree on!). That was confusing for me. I am very used to the idea that off-limits areas have signs. Be aware that Death Valley is a big exception to anything resembling a rule on that front! The ranger agreed with me and said he'd include that in his report. One last point is that the area I was in was "protected wilderness" -- a special designation within the parks area.

At the end of the day, I'm facing a fine, a day in court, and additional civil penalties (speculated to be "in the thousands"). Sometime in the next thirty days I'll receive court details. There are only four dates a year, and my date is expected in June. I'll need to take time off work and travel to Bakersfield to spend the entire day (or two!).

But, that didn't sour me on the trip. I had a blast and learned a big lesson. Hopefully this helps someone considering a similar trip in Death Valley -- or any national park. There are additional details that I could share privately, but this is probably all I want to say about it publicly.


Here are a couple photos from the trip:
(photos from out-of-bounds areas are not included)




(This shot is from my previous trip; my Jeep was stock five weeks ago!)





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Last edited by state; 03-05-2012 at 05:40 PM.
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post #2 of 15 Old 03-05-2012, 04:03 PM
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Nice write up of your account. When in DV I stay on the fire roads. No wondering around in that park for us. Also, major signage at the ranger stations, all 3 of them to stay on designated paths/roadways. Place is huge and if you go missing, probably won't find you for days. One good reason for flame red jeeps.

Be interested in hearing how this pans out for ya. OBTW, the court you are going to Bakes, I hear the officers don't need to show to prosecute your case. Cops on EAFB, when they write you tickets, this is the court you go to and they never show but you get prosecuted anyways. Had a coworker get busted for 85 in a 60.
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post #3 of 15 Old 03-05-2012, 04:54 PM Thread Starter
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Nice write up of your account. When in DV I stay on the fire roads. No wondering around in that park for us. Also, major signage at the ranger stations, all 3 of them to stay on designated paths/roadways. Place is huge and if you go missing, probably won't find you for days. One good reason for flame red jeeps.

Be interested in hearing how this pans out for ya. OBTW, the court you are going to Bakes, I hear the officers don't need to show to prosecute your case. Cops on EAFB, when they write you tickets, this is the court you go to and they never show but you get prosecuted anyways. Had a coworker get busted for 85 in a 60.
Thanks, I can see the wisdom of "sticking to the main road"! But, the advice here applies even to to the trails you *think* are valid -- you just have to plan your side trips very carefully! Also, there are huge expanses between stations and signs (and consider that there are plenty of ways in that don't take you near a station). I hope that helps my cause (and the fact that the portion I was in used to be BLM-land).

I'll let you know how this goes for me. It wasn't the slightest bit antagonistic with the officer. I hope the court shows mercy.

Last edited by state; 03-05-2012 at 04:58 PM.
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post #4 of 15 Old 03-05-2012, 05:30 PM
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Had an issue with that here in NM. Followed a trail down to the river and was fishing. Ranger drives down. He was a real dick? Then almost didn't make it back up the trail he came down on, maybe he was nice because I could have ran and didn't. Either way he made a lot of threats about $5000 fines and stuff but nothing ever came of it. I think he was just trying to scare me. I worried for a few months though.

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post #5 of 15 Old 03-05-2012, 05:47 PM
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post #6 of 15 Old 03-05-2012, 06:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by state View Post
To be fair, the ranger was very courteous and professional. He explained that I was in National Parks land and OHV use was prohibited. That surprised me since I thought I was in BLM-land. Turns out most of Death Valley that was once BLM-land has been given to the National Parks for Death Valley. In fact, he cited 95% of the land is National Parks land -- there are small swathes cut out everywhere for OHV/other use, but those are clearly marked on any current map. [/IMG]
Sounds like a great trip. But who decided blm land was national park land? Was this an act of congress? A beuracratic transfer? Did we all vote on this and I missed it? This is our country and we should have the right to use it without being out of bounds. This hundreds of thousands of acres off limits by decree.
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post #7 of 15 Old 03-05-2012, 06:43 PM
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I have had my fair share of run in's with federal agencies. The court can be intimidating just be straight and hopefully you get off easy. The new travel plans all now say trails are closed unless posted open. I personally have an issue with this. Our land is being taken away in large quantities. It's our duty as jeepers to stay informed and help fight to keep land open. Blue ribbon coalition has been a great help as well as the ama.

http://www.sharetrails.org/

These guys have the best up to date info on Government land grabs

http://www.americanmotorcyclist.com/

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post #8 of 15 Old 03-05-2012, 09:09 PM
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Not that I would want to, but would a person be allowed to go too these areas on foot?
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post #9 of 15 Old 03-05-2012, 10:07 PM Thread Starter
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Not that I would want to, but would a person be allowed to go too these areas on foot?
Yes, provided you stay on established trails! Trust me, there is plenty here that is not intuitively obvious. I'm an avid hiker and climber -- I've been all over the United States and abroad. I was sincerely caught off-guard.

In retrospect I have to admit that the desert setting biased my thinking. Were I in the Sierras, I'd have been extra cautious. But, I have enough experience to know that signage application is highly uneven. Where many people congregate, signs are plentiful! There just weren't any here.


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post #10 of 15 Old 03-05-2012, 10:18 PM
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I'd detail your travel route on a map, show the entrance to the Park with signage (or lack thereof), and show the trails where you drove.

If there was no signage, if the trails already had tire tracks that weren't blown or grown over, and little or no other disclosure, you might be able to plead no-contest and ask for probation and/or some sort of educational requirement (i.e. Tread Lightly or something from the Park Service) instead of a fine.

The fines very well may be in the $ thousands.

It is probably worth making a few calls to Blue Ribbon Coalition, Tread Lightly, California Off-Road Vehicle Association, and a few others to ask if they have a lawyer they'd recommend you at least contact for a phone consultation--even if it costs you a few hundred $.


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post #11 of 15 Old 03-05-2012, 10:26 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Trail Concepts View Post
I have had my fair share of run in's with federal agencies. The court can be intimidating just be straight and hopefully you get off easy. The new travel plans all now say trails are closed unless posted open. I personally have an issue with this. Our land is being taken away in large quantities. It's our duty as jeepers to stay informed and help fight to keep land open. Blue ribbon coalition has been a great help as well as the ama.

http://www.sharetrails.org/

These guys have the best up to date info on Government land grabs

http://www.americanmotorcyclist.com/

Jason
Right on! I'm a lifetime AMA member. I love bikes. I've had 18 in 25 years!

As an interesting aside, I ran into a couple bikes way off the beaten path. One on a BMW 800 GS and the other on a KTM Adventure 950 (I'm partial to Beemers and love the 1200 GS Adventure!). They were stopped for a break. I asked if they needed anything, but they were fine. As luck would have it, I'd run into them again a little over a day later.

I don't know if it was chance, or if they sought me out while parked near Upper Warm Springs. Maybe they recognized the silver JKU. They were good guys and very complimentary about Jeeps.

They told me about sleeping at night along the route -- "this is BLM land..." said Sam aboard the KTM. Maybe they were right, but I remember thinking the same thing. A small twist of fate separated us and many others with the same idea.

Before I bid them farewell, I asked again whether they needed anything. Apart from the three crashes John's GS sustained, they appeared fine. They were setting off to Big Pine when I asked about their fuel situation. The extra 2.5 gallons Sam mentioned having in his backpack was long gone!

The JKU's 22.5 gallon tank didn't seem so plentiful out here! I carry five extra gallons of fuel, but I've never needed it. I'm happy to help those that do. A gallon or two set Sam up well enough to exit DV...


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post #12 of 15 Old 03-05-2012, 10:32 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by RUCKDOG View Post
Sounds like a great trip. But who decided blm land was national park land? Was this an act of congress? A beuracratic transfer? Did we all vote on this and I missed it? This is our country and we should have the right to use it without being out of bounds. This hundreds of thousands of acres off limits by decree.
BLM land can be converted into National Park land. In this case, it apparently happened in the mid 90s -- yes, an act of congress! Like other congressional acts, they tend to be one way.

I'm no stranger to this notion, but I was caught in a very unfamiliar place! I've never been on this side of the fence before!


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post #13 of 15 Old 03-06-2012, 05:04 AM
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I was wrote up a couple of yrs ago for tresspassing on public property. Cali has a law about tresspassing on reclamation grounds. However it states in the law that all areas must be clearly marked. Cali's basic tresspass law states that all entrances must be marked with signs. I don't have these laws at the tip of my finger but google is your friend. I did the research, took plenty of pictures of the area, and beat the case. State Law 602 ().

What law did he state you violated? Would start there as they are available on the state website and you can read about them to ensure the state was in compliance as well.

Sorry about the sea lawyering but I don't like when people write others up when they themselves don't know the law properly. Most people don't fight, they just pay the fine and that is what they count on. When I showed up in court I had to explain the law to the judge. No, that really happened as this was a new on the books law. I addressed this with the cop that wrote me up at the time that all trails and entry ways have to be clearly marked and that signs have to be posted every 100 ft. The cops response, "People knock them down", my response, "Show me one knocked down sign". Still got the ticket but beat him in court.

Last edited by DaK; 03-06-2012 at 05:20 AM.
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post #14 of 15 Old 03-06-2012, 05:27 AM
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Get a lawyer and follow his advice.... likely, he can get you out before you have to travel to bako. Might cost you a couple of grand, but I would bet that is where it ends. You might get away cheaper on your own, but consider all the costs and the likelihood that the lawyer will have a better time getting you out of this. The signage issue seems like a winner in court (and PLANMAN had some great points to utilize)!

We have at least one lawyer on the boards that is in SoCal (4x4LOYR). Not sure what kind of law he practices though? Hit him up... I bet he can either help you directly or give you a reference.
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post #15 of 15 Old 03-07-2012, 08:46 AM Thread Starter
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Get a lawyer and follow his advice.... likely, he can get you out before you have to travel to bako. Might cost you a couple of grand, but I would bet that is where it ends. You might get away cheaper on your own, but consider all the costs and the likelihood that the lawyer will have a better time getting you out of this. The signage issue seems like a winner in court (and PLANMAN had some great points to utilize)!

We have at least one lawyer on the boards that is in SoCal (4x4LOYR). Not sure what kind of law he practices though? Hit him up... I bet he can either help you directly or give you a reference.
I've officially started to research this issue from a legal perspective, but I'm not counting on the ability avoid the trip to Bakersfield. If nothing else, I'll educate myself well enough to present my case.

Thanks to everyone for the advice, and I'll certainly keep this thread current. I'm not expecting to hear anything from Park Services until the end of the month. With a court date in June, I still have time...
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