Dante’s View, looking south
Day 3 of our trip was mostly spent on paved roads, riding to Dante’s View, which was a relatively long distance from our base camp in Beatty. It was worth it, though, to be able to get some nice images. We discovered the Mule Team Rd., which was a “find” from a photographic perspective.
Then we went to the Mesquite Dunes late in the day to shoot more photos, and that was about it for that day. However, our last full day in Death Valley had the potential for the most epic ride of the trip. That day, day 4, we were planning to explore the Panamint Range by riding west from Stovepipe Wells. We’d never been this way before. We started out by riding down Daylight Pass, the we went on to Stovepipe Wells. Immediately after we left Stovepipe Wells, we began to climb into the mountains.
Down in Stovepipe Wells where it was very warm, I had shed a couple of layers, thinking I was going to be hot the rest of the day. I was wrong. We climbed back up to around 4000 feet, and the temperature was cool. Once again, we plunged down, back to sea level. We rode through a playa that was very much like the one at the Racetrack. To the north, I was surprised to see dunes; I later found out they were the Panamint Dunes. Once again, we climbed into the mountains. This time, we found Panamint Springs at the top, and stopped to fuel up. We did not know how many miles we would be traveling off-road, and it was best to have full tank of gas before we went into the sparsely-traveled road. The fuel was over $5.00 a gallon; a little price gouging going on maybe?? That’s how it is in Death Valley.
We rode another twisting paved section of road, but we were soon at the turn onto the dirt road that would, we hoped, take us up and over Hunter Mountain. The road was called Saline Valley Rd. and started out much the same as Titus Canyon road had – flat and corrugated. It was about the distance before it started to go up, too. We climbed gradually for a while, then we came to a fork in the road. (I know, “take it!”)
One side went west and seemed somewhat flat. The other side of the “Y” went almost straight up. Well, we looked at it, looked at the map (useless), and thought that logically, since we wanted to go up a mountain, we should take the “straight up” option. It looked super-scary to me, and since we weren’t sure, I hoped that it would turn out to be the right choice. Up we went, and we climbed more and more. We stopped at an overlook and were amazed to find snow on the next ridge, down below, the Panamint Dunes, and far to the east, was the Panamint Range, the high rugged peaks coated in snow as well!
If you look carefully, you can see the road far below, behind the dunes. We had been riding there about an hour before I took this photo.
Soon, as we kept riding, we found ourselves in snow! We eased our bikes through the muddy melting snow. Since we were out in the middle of nowhere and had no idea if we were in the right place or not, we were careful. We went through a few sections of muddy snow, and by the last one, we were riding confidently through it. At this point, we were at about 7,000+ feet in elevation.
“We still have to go down,” I said to Hal over the comm. system. If this really was the right road, we were trying to get to Teakettle Junction, which we knew to be much lower. In fact, it is at 4,150 feet in elevation, still a long way down. We started to descend steep, narrow winding switchbacks. We were still traveling slowly, and the day was advancing. “If we don’t find any confirmation by 3:00 that this is the right road,” said Hal, “then we should probably turn back.” I groaned. If there is anything I hate, it’s having to turn back.
Luckily, as I followed him down a switchback, I heard him on the mic saying, “Hey! How are you doing?” He was talking to a guy in a jeep down around the switchback on which I was riding. I soon joined him, and heard most of the conversation. It was confirmed, we were on the right road! I was thrilled. We were headed toward Teakettle Junction!
After a couple of wrong turns that resulted in only a few miles riding out of our way, we thought we were on the right road. Hal flagged down another rider, an older guy on a big bike who was riding hell-bent for leather, a cloud of dust billowing behind him. “Are we on the road to Teakettle Junction?” Hal asked. “Yep!” he shouted, “13 more miles!” With that, he twisted the throttle again and took off, leaving us grinning in his wake.
It seemed like a long 13 miles, and we were able to travel quickly now. We were mostly in a false flat, riding through desert with Joshua trees punctuating the landscape. In fact, we were still on a gradual descent, which wasn’t really apparent until I looked back over my shoulder. Then I could see how much we had dropped just since we left the switchbacks. We passed through the next section, which was through a wide canyon. I saw what I thought was a cave with a triangular opening in the rock face. I should have stopped to get a photo.
Then we were riding through the open desert again, and finally, I shouted, “There it is! 1 o’clock!” I saw the sun glinting off the many teakettles suspended from the sign. After a few minutes, we were at last there at Teakettle Junction. We paused to take the obligatory photos, even though we’d take them last year, too. The teakettles were different now, I noticed.
The Racetrack wasn’t too far away, and we could have visited that amazing, unique playa, but since it was getting to be late afternoon and we were still about 20 or so miles away from pavement, we decided just to go back to Uebehebe Crater where the pavement started.
The Racetrack (image taken last year)
Again we were able to ride quickly until we got to a short narrow section, and finally as we kept descending, we rode through the black sand near the volcanic crater. A mile or so later, our tires touched pavement for the first time in nearly four hours. We still had a long way to go to return to Beatty, about 65 miles. As the sun set, we climbed up over Daylight Pass, the light fading, the air growing much colder. We made it back to our motel, parked the bikes, then walked to dinner in the dark. It was a very satisfying day, but our last full day in Death Valley for this year.
Next: Rhyolite, on the way home: images of a ghost town.