I see lots of good info already posted, so I'll just add a few things.
I go there once a year, usually in very early April.
If you are willing to sleep in the back of your vehicle - and I think you said you are - you'll have a lot more access to interesting photographic sites at the times of good light - e.g. very early/late.
My favorite place to visit is the Racetrack Playa. This is the location of the famous "moving rocks" that leave tracks in the surface of the playa. I've been out there quite a few times. You wouldn't have any real problem negotiating the long (55-60 mile round trip) and somewhat rough road.
Going to the playa during the full moon is a great idea. When I go I like to arrive in mid-afternoon. Hint: the structure called "The Grandstand" out on the playa photographs well in the mid-afternoon - unlike most other racetrack subjects which are generally pretty boring in that light. There is a "camp" a couple miles beyond the south end of the playa - really just a turnout along the road with no water or amenities - but a lot of people sleep in their vehicles nearer the playa.
My plan: In the late afternoon I head out onto the playa and scope out some interesting rocks and shoot like a madman as the Good Light arrives, continuing until it is nearly gone. Then I'll wander back to my car, eat something, take a break... and then go back out onto the playa to shoot in the full moon. I(f you want to shoot a moonrise, you'll need to head quite a ways back up the road since their are tall mountains between you and the eastern horizon.) I shoot until I can't stand it anymore, then sleep in the back of my vehicle for awhile. I get up very early and head back out onto the playa the next morning, shooting until after the last mountain shadows have left the playa. Sometime around mid-morning I'm ready to head back to "civilization" and I start the 2 hour return drive.
Some Death Valley subjects are, surprisingly, photogenic during times other than "golden hour." Some of the deep and narrow canyons are - at least in my opinion - more interesting to photograph when a bit of overhead light gets in. Examples include Marble Canyon and Golden Canyon.
I'll stop for now...
I'm planning a trip to Death Valley, CA on January 1st of 2008. I've read all of the literature from the gov websites and tons of information about where to shoot and stay. However, it is a daunting task to get things all lined up perfectly. I can possibly stay 5-6 days and 4-5 nights.
I was planning to travel to locations during mid day, then shoot morning and sunset on each end. If daylight permits, I'll fill that in shooting other non sunlight critical areas mid afternoon, such as inside the mine at Aguereberry point, ghost towns, and night shots are also on the table.
I'm not really interested in the tourist stops, such as Scotty's Castle, but more the photographic areas. I'll be driving around 800 miles to get there and I don't want to elave empty handed because I got distracted.
Any help planning this trip will be appreciated. I can travel almost anywhere. I'll be in a 2007 Toyota Tacoma 4WD with a shell and I can sleep comfortably in the rear. I would like to stay in a hotel most of the time, however. But I do want to spend one night camping out.
I'll be coming in from the west on 178 and leaving the same direction.