West Side story

 

White minerals shine,
Sun bites down, an angry glare;
heat sinks to the depths

Hal, Juliette 3207 small

March 14, 2017

Heat, shimmering white minerals, and vast distances – that was what I thought I would experience today on West Side Rd. during our last riding day in Death Valley for this trip.

The day started much the same as yesterday, with a ride up and over Daylight Pass. However, Hal and I took the “Beatty cutoff” down toward Furnace Creek. Our plan was to ride West Side Rd., a road that runs between the floor of Death Valley and the Panamint Range.

As is typical for the deceptively vast distances in Death Valley, by the time we got on West Side Rd. we had already ridden 50 miles from our starting point in Beatty. When you look at a map of Death Valley, you often don’t realize how spread out it is, and how far it is between destinations – and fuel stations.

Road behind us 3217 small

West Side Rd. started out heading west from the paved road. It went through the white mineral deposits on the floor of Death Valley. We stopped to look at it, how amazing and unique the white snow-like minerals are.

Minerals, closeup 3210 small

We also aired down our tires since the road’s surface became corrugated, alternating with sections of big gravel. As the road turned south, we were able to travel quickly, but we stopped at a few roadside attractions.

Shorty's grave 3225 small

 

There was a hidden spring, which we never did find, then a prospector’s grave, and then a plaque that told of a group of people trapped here in the valley for a month, unable to go on. The story was that they sent a couple of younger members of the party to find help, and the young people eventually returned with provisions so the rest could make it out alive. I wondered how many stories similar to that one that have never been publicly told or acknowledged. I am sure there are many.

Bennett's Long Camp 3230 small

As we did this stop-and-go thing, it was getting hot. Finally, there were no more things to look at, and we just kept riding to keep the air flowing. All the vents were open in my riding jacket, and I appreciated my dual sport helmet. I haven’t worn it too much in the past, but lately I have really taken advantage of its many benefits. During our exploration of West Side Rd., we passed four different roads that led into the mountains, all designated “four wheel drive roads.” We talked about exploring them on our next visit!

The road is 40 miles long and it is made up mostly of deep gravel. There were a few small spots of deep sand as well. I haven’t quite learned the technique of going faster and floating over the top of the sand, but I made it through anyway.

Airing up 3235 small

Finally, we made it to the south end of the road, aired up the tires, and got back on pavement. We stopped briefly at Badwater Basin, officially the lowest spot in Death Valley, and talked for a short time with another rider.

 

Badwater Basin 3242 small

GPS at Badwater 3241 small

Hal wanted a photo of his GPS showing 289 feet below sea level in elevation. Earlier, he had seen it read as low as -307 feet as we came through areas near the mountains on West Side Rd.

After Badwater Basin, we rode the 90 miles back to Beatty. When we got there, we were “done” from the heat, tired and dehydrated. Hal got some cold sweet tea from the candy store and I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything so good.

We went to dinner at Gema’s again, which was super delicious. Then Hal drove the Xterra out to Rhyolite so we could look at the stars in the complete blackness. We also tried (in our own little amateurish way) to shoot photos of the stars, but that was ridiculous since we really don’t know how to do it. It was beautiful to see the myriad stars anyway, away from the light pollution of any populated area.

Today was our longest day on the bike – 175 miles, making our total for this trip 490 miles. Tomorrow we leave Beatty behind (already) and return home. These great times and great rides seem to always be over in the blink of an eye.

Scenes from Death Valley

 

Alex at A. Point 3099 smallIn order to save time this morning, Hal and I had breakfast at the Denny’s in Beatty, NV. Despite the fact that they were out of a lot of food items (due to the somewhat remote location), it was an excellent choice. The cook is really good – my “poached hard” eggs were done to perfection. The objections I have to this particular restaurant are it is in the back of a casino, and it has no windows. That means you have to walk through all the ugly smells of cigarette smoke and cheap booze, and the noise from the slot machines and bad music to get there. I know this is done on purpose, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

After escaping from casino hell, we formulated our plan, which was to go back to Wildrose Road and explore the dirt roads we’d seen yesterday radiating from the main road. Once we got out there, we accidentally went past the first one we came to, so we proceeded to the second road. It turned out to be a great choice because it was the best of the two.

It is an easy dirt road, with a few tight, narrow places, which are interesting and fun. After those, we started to climb steeply to an overlook, which led to Aguereberry Point, named after Pete Aguereberry, who mined in the area from 1905 until he died in 1945. Later, we would find and explore his camp.

Aguereberry sign 3100 small

While up on top, we stopped, took photos of a scene that was every bit as spectacular as the Dante’s View overlook that I’d photographed a couple of years ago. This view is on the other side of the main “floor” of Death Valley, so we were looking at it from the west this time. It is said that Pete Aguereberry built this road to the overlook so he could share the amazing view with others. I am so grateful that he did. We spent some time there, but then went up higher by riding some steep exposed switchbacks to get to the highest point.

The view was even better, and we hiked a short trail to the farthest point north. It hung over the valley toward Stovepipe Wells. The minerals in the valley below shimmered white in the sun and we gazed in awe at another spectacular view that included interesting geographic features and formations. I took lots of photographs so I could later show my sixth grade students when I got home.

Me looking down 3113 small

After drinking it all in, we rode back down. We’d passed two mountain bikers on the way up, and when we pulled over to get Hal’s video camera running, the two cyclists stopped and talked to us. Husband and wife, they had camped at Wildrose campground, and this was their planned ride for today. They were in great shape, obviously, and I thought of my mountain bikes sitting idle at home. Sometimes I’d like to get one of those racks that attaches to a motorbike to carry bicycles. Anyway, the cyclists were very interesting to talk to. The man had done the CDT last year, and that got my mind spinning. I’d like to do it, too, but I think I’d take a moto!

Soon we found the mining camp, and left our bikes at the road because no motorized vehicles are allowed past the entrance. Aguereberry camp is where Pete lived and worked.

Homestead 3139 small

Above: Pete probably watched the sunset each evening from the front of his home. In the winter, he watched the storms roll in over the mountains. I am sure the beauty was worth all the hardship of living in such a remote place.

The buildings are in rough shape now, due mainly to people vandalizing things, but you can still get a sense of how it was when it was a working camp. We took lots of photos there, in and out of the buildings. It always amazes me how these people, who had a pretty rough life, were so passionate about Death Valley, how they loved it so much. I love it too, but I don’t know if I’d like living there through the heat of summer. There was no air conditioning, and people had to work constantly, no matter what the weather was. Apparently, Pete was fairly successful. Later in this trip, we would continue to see evidence of the love people have felt over the years for the seemingly desolate Death Valley.

While at the camp, Hal and I also walked farther up the road to where an abandoned car was parked, presumably Pete’s, deteriorating in the sun. Again I wondered why people have this need to destroy things. The car, I guessed it was a 1946 Buick, was deteriorating, but most of the damage was (sadly) human-caused.

Me and car 3186 small

It would have been nice to see it somewhat intact. Hal and I spent some time photographing it, and then when we walked back down the hill to where we had to park our bikes, we spent more time talking with the mountain biking couple.

Finally, we left that road and rode down to the other dirt road. It, however, wasn’t as long, or as interesting. The road was supposed to lead to the remains of a town called “Skidoo” that reached its heyday in about 1907.

Skidoo sign 3194 small

However, when we got there, we found that there was almost nothing left of it, just a few random pieces of rusting metal strewn around the desert.

Skidoo remains 3196 small

While we were there looking around and trying to get a sense of the place from the sign that showed an old photograph of the town, an SUV came blasting along the road, passing the town site and continuing west on a road that was supposed to end where we were. Being curious, and because the vehicle didn’t return, we got back on the bikes and decided to follow the road. Maybe it led back to the main road? Instead, we found ourselves on rough two-track that got narrower and more precarious. It hung on the side of the mountain with no barrier between the right wheel track and the drop-off. It was obviously not well traveled. After less than a mile, we found the end of the road – and the vehicle, the doors flung open, and no one in sight. It was really strange. The SUV was parked right in front of a gated mine entrance. I saw brightly-colored workout shoes lying on the floor of the front seat, but no humans anywhere. Suddenly, I got that tingly feeling of being where I shouldn’t be, and I said to Hal, “Let’s get out of here!” So we did.

As we descended, I kept looking in my rear-view as we rode fast toward the paved road. Once, I thought I saw the SUV behind us, negotiating the turns in a cloud of dust. We were flying along, and I had all kinds of crazy thoughts of the vehicle running us down for daring to follow it to the end of the road. You never know. Finally, after several minutes of riding hell-bent for leather, we reached pavement, and Hal pulled over to the side to start the video camera again. It wasn’t too long before the SUV roared past us. I cringed. At least they left us alone. I can’t imagine what was going on with them, and the whole episode was so strange.

After that, we relaxed and rode back down through Stovepipe Wells where, once again, it was super hot until we started to ride up Daylight Pass to return to Beatty. Today’s ride was only 145 miles or so, and we went to dinner (delicious) at Gema’s. After dinner, we decided to drive over to the local Family Dollar (my favorite place while on the road) to get some candy and other stuff that we needed.

Tomorrow is already our last riding day here. This trip is, as usual, is going by way too fast.

Next: A road on the floor of Death Valley

Dirt bike gangs, and Death Valley daze

Alex, snow mtn 3042 small

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.

Snow-covered Sierras 3044 small

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.

Kilns 3049 small

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!

Musicians 3051 small

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.

Road from the kilns 3077 small

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

A dirt route to Mogollon, NM

Alpine/Mogollon, late July, 2016

As promised, the story continues with a return to Alpine, Arizona, in late July.

Once we returned from the 12-day vacation in Colorado, things oozed back to normal very quickly, like lava flowing over the terrain of my life. I had to go to some classes for work, and the depression of having to return to work full time loomed on the horizon. With that in mind, Hal and I wanted another short trip to make us feel human before the onslaught began (at least for me). Hal never seems to get a real break, but that is why we value our time while on the road.

Before I left home, I suffered through three days of “training” for work. We are supposed to be using “thinking maps” to teach, but they don’t make as much sense to me as they should. I don’t need a “map” to think, and the people who make these things up must think that we don’t know enough to come up with these concepts on our own. I also “think” that the different versions of the “thinking maps” are somewhat redundant in that a person could apply any of the versions to anything. The instructors tell you to “use this map for this, use that map for that.” Most of the time I don’t agree with how the “thinking maps” should be applied. Anyway, that’s just me …

As we were on the way to Alpine, that was what the conversation between Hal and I was about. I was analyzing the presentation with Hal as he mostly listened. I was objecting to it because I don’t learn that way. I learn best by listening, taking notes, and going back and processing the information on my own later. But perhaps a very small percentage of the population learns that way?? – probably, hence the need for “thinking maps”? I don’t know, I’ve always had a problem with thinking too much! 😉 (now that I’m thinking about it! Did I say that word enough now??)

As we left the incessantly hot Phoenix area around 4:30, we were in the Xterra, the dirt bikes on the trailer behind us. It was cool and dark when we arrived in Alpine six hours later, When we got there, we had a late snack then soon fell into bed awaiting the next day when we could explore an area that we hadn’t before.

Day 2

The feeling of being on the road for real is one that can never be duplicated unless we are really on the road. It is there only when I am on our annual road trip, a feeling of being un-tethered, of not having to be in a particular place at a particular time, and not having to play by the rules. Of not having to go to work, or caring what day it is, or having to do the usual day-to-day crap. I miss that feeling.

Today was an amazing day, though – Hal and I finally got to do the Reserve, NM to Mogollon, NM back roads route that we’ve wanted to do for so long.

After a good breakfast, we headed out on Hwy. 180, a paved road that led to Reserve, NM. We then took FR435 south out of town. It turns into FR141, and it is (somewhat) paved for quite a distance. Finally, 60 miles from when we left Alpine, it became a dirt road. It was easy gravel, and a good surface that twisted lazily through the mountains as we climbed. We saw many elk and deer in this section of the ride.

Typical of late July, the clouds were already building toward the afternoon storms, and we kept a wary eye on them. We were a little worried about being up high in the mountains when the thunderstorms hit, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time if we were.

Willow Creek:

Eighty-five miles into the ride, we finally reached Willow Creek, which was down in a hollow between mountains. It was very green and lush, but I began to see signs of the 2012 wildfire that destroyed much of this section of the Gila forest.

Right after Willow Creek, the road turned rocky and climbed up a steep grade. At 95 miles in, we came to a sign that said “not maintained for low clearance vehicles. Not safe for trailers.” We had also seen a sign that noted the mileage to Glenwood – 37 miles. I knew we must be near Mogollon, then, and would probably soon come to the part of the road where we turned around in 2011.

At first, this part of the road was rocky, but it had recently been bladed. The trees were burned and what was left of them was slowly deteriorating. It was the fire-ravaged area where the effects of the fire were most severe. Then the road got narrow and very rocky with a steep drop-off on the right. It wasn’t super-challenging, but I had to pay attention. The sky was darkening, but it wasn’t raining or thundering yet. We continued riding the narrow road, and a dark cloud moved over us. Then we came to a wide pullout that had a spectacular view to the northwest. I asked Hal, “do you recognize this place?” I asked him this as we were hurriedly taking photos because the thunder was rolling ominously and getting closer.

What it looked like before the fire:

What it looks like now:

Me, looking at the view from the same place:

“Yes,” he said. It was where we had been five years ago. It was barren and windswept, all the lovely old tall pines had been destroyed by the fire. It was a striking, heart-breaking contrast. We could see forever into the distance, but we didn’t stay long. The threat of the incoming thunderstorm was real.

Back on the bikes, we started down, soon passing the rock fall where I’d posed on my 2006 F650GS. As we descended the winding road, the switchbacks were as steep and tight as I’d remembered them, and there were areas of sandy soil. I was amazed that I’d ridden the big (to me) GS on this tricky road. We met a group of riders on KTMs coming from the opposite direction. I met one of the riders as I was going through one of the steep switchbacks, and there was just enough room for the two of us to pass in opposite directions with inches between our handlebars.

I knew we were close to Mogollon when we started going through the creek at the many water crossings. Back in 2011, there were about three water crossings, and now there were too many to count. We’d heard there had been severe flooding here, and there were changes to the road.

At last, we reached Mogollon, and we stopped for a break. We’d been riding for hours by then. We got coffee and a root beer float at a place called the Purple Onion.

We talked to the man who owns it, and he said that during the flooding, he had three feet of water in his establishment! The water had been incredibly high in the entire town. He said that the flooding had more to do with the amount of rain than the erosion from the effects of the fire, but I am sure it didn’t help.

I also went shopping in an antiques/souvenir shop where I looked at all the shiny things and eventually bought a beautiful scarf with sequins on it. I don’t know if I will ever wear it, but at least I will remember Mogollon when I look at it.

More images from Mogollon, NM:

Main street in Mogollon:

Hal in front of the store where I was shopping:

After about an hour, we got back on the bikes. As we left town, we experienced more of the effects of the flooding. We were on FS159, which had been completely washed out at one point. Another person in town had told us that there was a big piece of metal high in one of the trees at that end of town, but I must have missed that because I was too busy paying attention to the condition of the road. I don’t doubt it, though. Mogollon was severely affected by the flooding, and it was doubtful for a while if it would ever reopen to tourists.

We descended on 159 to Hwy. 180, and, back on pavement, we turned north to Alma where we fueled up and looked around inside the little store.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you might remember how we loved Alma, its general store, and its restaurant, the Alma Grill. We spent time there in 2011, and at the time, watched and listened to updates about the frightening Wallow fire that was burning fiercely in the nearby White Mountains.

The Wallow fire burning in 2011; the sight gave me a powerless, insignificant feeling:

Back on the bikes, we turned toward home in Alpine. We watched a big storm to the west, bolts of lightning striking everywhere, and I wondered if we should have waited it out in Alma, or if we were going to run into it at all. But as we rode, we always seemed to skirt it, going through a few sprinkles here and there, and traveling over wet roadway, some parts covered in mud.

We didn’t get rained on until the scenic overlook not too far from Luna, and then we had to pull over and put on our rain gear. I was actually getting cold and wet, and only a few miles earlier, in Alma, I had been complaining about heat! We rode in light rain and 60° F. temperatures all the way back to Alpine. When we got there, Hal and I had done it – the Reserve to Mogollon route we’d been hoping to find and do for five years! The trip was 169 miles total for the day.

In the evening, we ate dinner at the Foxfire, walked back to the lodge, and later collapsed into well-earned relaxation and sleep. I woke up later on purpose to look out the window and see the black sky full of stars. Only here do I get to enjoy them so thoroughly. In the deepest part of the night, I clearly saw Andromeda, and in the complete silence, I could almost hear the faint song of the stars.

Hannagan get-together

Another get-together for our local motorcycle riding club has come and gone. It was held at Hannagan Meadow Lodge in the White Mountains of Arizona. This year we are missing a very vibrant, strong member of our club, a dear friend who passed away in December. It was a different sort of gathering without him, but we still managed to make the most of the riding. He would have wanted that.

Here are a few of the highlights from Hal’s and my experience.

Saturday morning, riding the part of a forest road that had been closed for about three years because of the wildfires of 2011. We had despaired of ever seeing it, until a year and a half ago when it re-opened. It was worth the wait. So beautiful, as always, and quiet:

Hal riding another forest road toward Springerville. We were on the way to check on the progress of seedlings that had been planted to help recover from the Wallow fire:

Seedlings were planted inside cones:

Some said it was a “failed experiment,” but we found more surviving seedlings than dead ones:

There were several that were this tall, and had a small cone on top! Worth the effort to replant and nurture, in my opinion.

Blue Point Vista in the afternoon, where we went to get cell service (sketchy) so I could “phone home:”

Later that evening, we had dinner with fellow riders. It was nice to sit and chat, relaxing, instead of standing around in full riding gear, ready to race off to the next destination.

On Sunday morning, we rode another forest road and saw a herd of deer. There were about 20 total that we saw that morning:

We got back to the lodge around 11 o’clock, stood around talking with part of the HML “family,” and loading the trailer until around noon, then began the (sad) journey home. I never want to leave the White Mountains, and our time there is always too short. It was quite a contrast to return to the heat and glare of the incessant sun. Overnight in the White Mountains, it had been in the low 50s F., and deep in the night, sleeping with the windows open, I heard the scream of a big cat from the darkness of the forest.

The White Mountains are a beautiful, unique place, away from the constant “noise” of everyday life, and always a welcome relief for me.

Leaving Nevada

3-16-16

Just outside Beatty, Nevada. It’s completely devoid of any light out here at night:

The following morning, Hal and I reluctantly loaded up the truck and trailer, and headed down the main street of Beatty. All week, I’d watched people going through town, or pulling out of the RV park on their way to somewhere else. Now, we were heading out, too.

We turned east, and drove into the parking lot of Mel’s Diner, a place we’d come to enjoy during the last trip here, for breakfast. It was made of good food, and local conversation. We ate our breakfast, then got back into the Xterra for the long drive home. As I leaned back in the seat, watching Beatty recede in the rearview mirror, I imagined the diner, our table being cleared, ready for the next people to come in. A swirl of dust, and we were gone, as if we’d never been there. Much like life, I suppose.

The road opened out, and I reveled in the feeling of the wide-open space that fascinates me every time we travel here. I was looking out the window at snow-covered peaks, just visible up over the lower, closer mountains.

It made me want to be on the road all the time, the same longing I always have, a longing few people understand. These vacations are too short, and there are so many places I want to see, and be. But then I think of my sewing machine at home, sitting idle for four days (!), waiting for me to come home and create something. And, most of all, Desmond, also waiting for me to come home. I am always torn, it seems.

In the truck, I amused myself by noting the interesting “stuff” I saw being carried by the big trucks. The list included:

• railroad car wheels/axles;
• big machinery, possibly for use in building the future Interstate 11, or maybe just “building the future;”
• a giant powerboat being carried away from Lake Mead. (Why? I wondered. Where was it going next?)

A stop in Kingman for gas and coffee, and then another stop in Wickenburg for more coffee, and the next thing I knew, I was home.

The trip went by way too quickly. The allure of this trip, much like the ones to the White Mountains, is to be on the dirt bikes, exploring, getting into rough stuff, having adventures, and discovering new and beautiful places that are in areas that most people do not get to see and experience.

As I was putting clothes and gear away or into the washer at home, I wondered when will I get to go back to Death Valley?? And, for that matter, how will I see all the places that I want to discover before time runs out?

Only time will tell.

 

A day at the Racetrack

Day 4, Death Valley, March 15, 2016

Our day started at Gema’s Café again. We ran into the same couple that we had seen yesterday, another moto riding team. We were all waiting for tables, and when Hal and I were called first, I asked them to join us. We had a nice breakfast and conversation together. Tiana just started riding a year ago. Yet, she rides a big H-D, and has ridden 17,000 miles in the last year! Her partner has an Indian, and a few other bikes, and he rides with Tiana most of the time. It was nice to meet another female motorcyclist who rides many miles. She is very courageous because she will ride alone. I am not too keen on that, especially after the car accident, and I am always grateful for Hal’s company.

As a result of a too-long (but nice) breakfast, Hal and I left late from Beatty. We were on our dirt bikes, of course, headed toward “The Racetrack.” It was going to be a full riding day.

We rode down Daylight Pass, across the floor of Death Valley, then north to Ubehebe Crater, about 67 miles. It was a long time to be riding dirt bikes on pavement. Finally, we got to the black, deep cinder surface of Racetrack Rd., and since my tires were aired up for pavement, I felt almost like I was out of control! “Hey, I’ve got to air down now!” I said urgently over the intercom.

“Sure, we’ll find a place to pull over up here somewhere,” Hal answered.

On Racetrack Road:

“Uh, hopefully before I go down!” I said. It really was crazy trying to ride with too much pressure in the tires on that loose, deep volcanic surface. Quickly, we pulled over to the side of the road and aired down to avert any drama. The road soon became “corrugated” as well, and I was glad that the suspension was working on the KLX! The suspension worked best when we were at speed, floating over the top of the surface.

Empty playa:

When Hal and I got to the playa that is the Racetrack, we were dismayed to find that most of the rocks had been stolen! People take the rocks for their “mystical quality.” I think I saw one rock of any measureable size out on the playa. It is very selfish for people to do this, now no one else can enjoy the rocks, see the evidence of an amazing natural phenomenon. Besides, once the rocks have been removed from the playa, they no longer have meaning. I was glad Hal and I had been there two years ago to see more of the “moving rocks.”

The playa two years ago:

Hal and I took a break at the edge of the playa, drank some water and had an energy bar, then got on the bikes and turned back toward Teakettle Junction. We took a couple of photos, and then a guy in a jeep pulled up. His jeep said “Jeep Kitchens,” and we discovered that his company makes camp kitchens that are made to fit into the back of jeeps.

Hal at Teakettle Junction. Al’s Jeep Kitchens jeep in the background:

We talked for a little while with Al, and found out that he is going to be at Overland Expo, held in Flagstaff, Arizona, in May. Perhaps we will see him there then! (We did!)

We ended our conversation with Al, then rode back to the crater. By then, I was getting my second wave of energy after feeling really tired.

The amazing crater:

My dusty pants and boots:

Hal airing up his tires:

We took a break in the tourist parking lot, listened to many languages being spoken, aired up our tires, looked over the edge at the deep crater, then headed back on the long paved stretch of road to Beatty.

That evening, after we’d cleaned up a bit and put the bikes up for the night, we walked over to Mama Sara’s for dinner, a local restaurant that serves amazingly delicious fajitas. We marked our last night on the road, at least for a while, by toasting our adventures with a glass of wine, and hoped that our next trip wouldn’t be too far in the future.

Next: Going home