Sunday, March 12, 2017
On Saturday, March 11, we left home and traveled in the Xterra with the dirt bikes on a trailer behind us to Death Valley, California, our annual spring pilgrimage to a place that we love. This is our fifth year that we have made this trip, and we were hoping to explore new places. On the way, we met our friends in Las Vegas for lunch, always a pleasant experience, then continued to Beatty, Nevada, the gateway to Death Valley.
Sunday morning, I awoke after a restless night. Hal and I walked from where we were staying to one of our favorite places, Gema’s, for breakfast. Gema’s, a tiny place, serves excellent food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. While we were there, we overheard a child talking excitedly on the phone, probably to his dad, about all the “dirt bike gangs” in town, and about how they were all orange! His dad probably then told him that they were KTM bikes because the next thing the boy said was, “Yeah, KTMs!” Hal and I laughed to ourselves. Dirt bike gangs, indeed. 😉
By the time we got back to the hotel to gear up for our day of riding, most of the fabled dirt bike gangs were gone, many of the outlaw riders probably having to return to their real jobs the next day. We, however, were lucky to have a few days off and some adventuresome riding ahead of us, so we fueled up and headed out. We had talked about going back to the Fluorspar Mine road where we had been last year, but at the main intersection in town, Hal was leading, and before I knew it, he led us onto Daylight Pass. I was saying “WTF?” to myself, but I went along with it.
Up we went onto Daylight Pass, then down the other side to the kiosk to buy the park pass, 20 bucks for each moto and rider. While we were there, two different couples asked us for directions. We must look friendly and approachable, not “dirt bike gang-y” at all, apparently, because that happens to us all the time.
Back on the bikes, we rode down the long descent to the floor of Death Valley, to zero elevation and below, then west through Stovepipe Wells. As we rose out of the valley into the Panamint mountain range, Hal was looking for a road, “Emigrant Pass Rd.” However, we rode almost to Panamint Springs before we decided we were way too far and turned around.
The road was actually called Wildrose Rd. (when we finally found it), and it climbed steeply toward the southeast for about 40 miles. There was a sign that promised charcoal kilns, and of course we wanted to see them. On the way, we saw lovely mountains covered with snow, and the air became cooler as we rose in elevation. To the west, behind us, the Sierras were covered with deep snow at their peaks.
Once we got to Wildrose campground, the road, still paved at that point, grew narrow, then the pavement finally ended. It was a short but rough climb up to the charcoal kilns. The small parking lot was full, of course, but we managed to find space for our bikes. I thought of the coke ovens near where we live, but these kilns made the coke ovens look like miniatures. There were 10 of them, and people were walking in and out of them, interested in seeing them up close, as we were.
Surprisingly, inside one of them, a man was playing a guitar. “Come on in,” said the sign at the entrance to that kiln, so we did. Another man joined the first man, and I talked to him briefly to find out that he was going to record some music inside the kiln!
The acoustics inside were lively, and so when the two men played together, it made a harmonious and bright sound. It made me think of one of my favorite groups, Pentatonix, who have a couple of videos showing them singing in Death Valley.
Hal actually saw and heard the music in the kiln most, as I was outside walking around exploring. There were more people at this place than you’d expect for such a remote location, but I have learned that no matter how “remote” you think a place is, hundreds of people already know all about it even though it’s a brand new discovery for you. Nothing is left undiscovered anymore.
Just past the kilns to the east, the road was closed and gated because of the snow and ice beyond the gate. We were above the snow line, and saw patches of snow in the surrounding forest as well as a few small patches behind (north of) the kilns. A mom and her daughter were having a “gentle” snowball fight that the little girl initiated. They were laughing and having fun.
We stayed for a little while, enjoying everything, then got on the bikes to head back to the highway. As we went, I realized what a steep grade those last few miles of dirt had been. It’s kind of deceptive as you are riding sometimes, you don’t realize how much you are climbing. It was a washboard road, too.
It always surprises me about the vehicles people bring onto these roads – we passed a person in a nice Lexus car coming up that rough road. I wouldn’t drive my nice car on that road! Oh well, maybe they don’t own dirt bikes? (Or want to be in a dirt bike gang?)
Then we got to pavement and romped all the way back to California 190, enjoying all the turns. Even on a dirt bike with knobby tires it was super fun! But then we descended to Stovepipe Wells where it was very hot, near 100° F. I desperately wanted to get back up Daylight Pass to the cooler temperatures of Beatty. Get me out of this heat!, I thought. We had 40 more miles to go.
Once we got back to town, I was glad we’d explored Wildrose Rd. Hal’s choice was a good one. Our total mileage for the day was 170 miles, and my little KLX 250S never even needed the “reserve” fuel position. When I fueled up the next morning, I only took 2.2 gallons of gas. That means the awesome little bike got 77+ miles per gallon! And, it was many more miles than I’d thought we’d ride on our first day of riding on this trip!
Next: an amazing overlook, and an old mine camp