Some “‘splorin'”

“Let’s do some exploring,” we said the night before. So, Hal and I explored areas in and around Death Valley that we hadn’t seen before.

After breakfast at Gema’s Café in Beatty, which was excellent and not at all like the bad experience I had there last time, we stayed close to Beatty all day, starting with a road that was supposed to be Fluorspar Canyon Rd. One of the things I learned quickly was that in any place outside actual Death Valley National Park, you can forget about signage of any kind. We turned left on 95 just outside of town, found a dirt road, and hoped for the best.

It was a lovely overcast day, and at first, the road was easy, like a dirt superhighway. We climbed a bit and then found an old cabin near the mine for which the road is named.


We took photographs, enjoyed the stunning view, and then continued riding the road. It climbed a bit, then dropped down, and we thought we were on the right road that was supposed to rejoin 95 north of where we were staying. Somehow, we took a wrong turn and ended up going east through gravel that got deeper and deeper. We turned around because we still wanted to find the end of the loop.

Then we ended up on another track that turned out to be a wash that was even deeper gravel and an even steeper descent. That was okay, but then when it dead-ended into a narrow streambed that obviously wasn’t part of any road, we had to climb our way out of it. By that time, though, I was starting to enjoy getting practice in riding deep gravel.

Next we popped back out on 95 by going back the way we had come in, took it back through town, and found Pioneer Rd. It was supposed to be easy, but after a couple of miles, it got very un-maintained.

We found an old mine, got some photos, then took what we thought was the rest of the road (again, it was supposed to loop back to 95 farther up). It wasn’t. And again, we ended up in deep gravel and rocks, then when it became obvious this wasn’t part of the planned road (or even a road at all), we turned back.

We rode back to 95 and took it farther away from Beatty, going west. We actually found the other end of Pioneer Rd., but by then we were looking for a different route. We were supposed to find Phinney Canyon Rd., but I am not kidding when I say there was absolutely no road that was where that road was supposed to be. We were on pavement at this time, which I hate when I am on my dirt bike. So, since there wasn’t any turnoff where it was supposed to be, and we kept getting farther and farther away from Beatty, we modified the plan to go back, then turn in on the other end of Pioneer Rd. and find out where we should have turned to complete that loop. As I said, this was a day for exploring and learning some new roads!

The turn was obvious at a small settlement called “Springdale,” and we turned in. The big wide dirt road quickly narrowed and became rougher. I kept seeing lots of “horse apples” on the road and wondered why. Soon we found out. There was a big tank off to the right and dozens of donkeys hanging out there. Descendants of pack animals brought by those who worked in the myriad mines throughout the area, no doubt.

Once again, we found ourselves on narrow two-track in deep gravel. It was kind of fun by now and I was hoping we could actually ride this road through to the other end where we had come in before. At one point, I crested a rise and the road dropped down steeply in front of me. I came to an abrupt halt, and said “NO!” Visions of my spectacular crash (in a similar situation) out on Cherry Creek Rd. a couple of years ago, and maybe a little bit of tentative-ness from the car crash made me stop. I admit to walking my bike down that short descent. You know how it is, once you stop on something like that, it is very hard to get going again and ride down without freaking out. Oh well, as we used to say in mountain biking, “walk today, ride tomorrow.”

After that, it was easy, and I rode several places of deep sand without dropping my bike! I am admittedly not the best in deep sand, but I did well this time. Within a couple of miles, we were back at Pioneer Mine, only this time approaching it from the back. We saw that earlier we had totally taken the wrong road, but it was okay, all good in the name of exploring. We closed the loop as we rode the rest of Pioneer Rd. back to the 95 where we’d entered earlier in the day.

As we approached Beatty again from the north, we tried to find the Fluorspar Cyn. Rd. north entrance, but we never found it. We did find an old airplane that had crashed long ago, but now was covered with graffiti. All the expensive pieces have been removed, but the aircraft sits out in the hot desert sun, deteriorating little by little with each passing year.

By then, we were right by the hotel so we stopped to use the bathroom, but once we were off the bikes, we were kind of “done.” Besides, a dessert we’d seen on the menu of the Denny’s the night before was calling our names. A dessert that we so richly deserved, ice cream and an apple caramel crisp, and all manner of mmmmmmmm! Plus coffee.

That part of the day enjoyed, we then walked around Beatty, exploring the stagnant pools of the Amargosa River. We found millions of little black tadpoles, the placid green water was teeming with new life. I was fascinated, and we spent some time there, just looking and shooting photos.

When we walked back to the parking lot, we saw an actual Tesla automobile there recharging. I had joked earlier about the eight Tesla charging stations, and how unlikely it was to see even one Tesla there. I found out it wasn’t so unlikely!

That afternoon there was a beautiful black Model S, and to my surprise, the next morning I saw a dark silver Model S. I was actually thrilled, since I hope and think that Tesla will revolutionize automobile travel as we know it. Not to mention help to save the planet.

After our walk, Hal and I got into the Xterra and drove to Daylight Pass to shoot images of the mountains and wildflowers at sunset. We finally made it back to town long after the sun went down, and then had an enormous dinner at KC’s. It was excellent! By the time we walked back to the hotel, I was tired, but it was a good tired from another wonderful day in Beatty/Death Valley.

What a great bike looks like

I had to post this because yesterday, my beautiful blue F800ST turned over 71,000 miles on the odometer! It’s taken me a while to get there because I have other bikes as well, most obviously my GS bikes, for whom this blog is named. My 2008 ST is the only bike I’ve ever bought new, and I think she is just as beautiful as when I rode her away from the dealership.

I toured on the ST (“Pearl”) for many years, and all these years have been absolutely trouble-free. She’s been well taken care of, always properly maintained at the called-for intervals. I almost sold her last year, but came to my senses. I would have regretted that decision forever if I’d gone through with it.

So, here I am, still enjoying every mile. 🙂

South Fork, and Creede, CO

On Wolf Creek Pass:

July 6, 2015

I woke up for the second day in a row in Durango, a wonderful feeling. Although I was ready to get on my bike and ride farther into our trip, it is hard to ignore the trains as they depart for the day.

There is something about the low moaning tones of the steam locomotives as they leave, a visceral feeling that tears at an intangible inside me. There is sadness for me in leaving the beloved engines, their cries a deep melancholy that echoes off the mountains surrounding Durango.

After the last train left, Hal and I walked over to Durango Bagel, near the train station, for a quick breakfast. We were in no hurry, however, since we knew we weren’t going that far, and we enjoyed our last few hours in Durango.

Something I’ve noticed about the people working in Durango is that they are all friendly and happy. The very nice young woman in the bagel shop reminded me of that thought that I’ve had more than once while in Durango. I think it’s because they live in or near Durango. 😉

We left town around 11 o’clock and took Hwy. 160 out of town toward Pagosa Springs. Signs threatened construction ahead, and even included the dreaded “Motorcycles use extreme caution” sign that usually means we are going to be riding through mud, or deep gravel, whether we want to or not. This time, however, nothing out of the ordinary materialized; in fact, the road was smoother than it has ever been. It still was congested, though, as we came into Pagosa Springs, crawling through several cycles of the stoplight at the end of town, an exercise in balance and slow-speed patience. It didn’t take too long to get through town once through the light, and we stayed on the 160 headed toward South Fork, and Creede.

Classic Colorado riding:

Out there on the road, we began to see what I call “the real Colorado:” sky-high mountain peaks dabbed with lingering snow, well-paved twisting roads with clear creeks running exuberantly beside them, and thick forest surrounding us as we climbed to the summit. On the way to South Fork, we would go over Wolf Creek Pass, over 10,000 feet in elevation, the first high summit with my 2009 F650GS. We stopped and took photos there since we had to pull over anyway to put on more clothing layers.

Hal at Wolf Creek Pass:

It didn’t take long to fly down the mountain and get to South Fork. We skirted the town as we arrived, then continued northwest on Hwy. 149, to Creede.

We had been there before, during our very first motorcycle trip to Colorado in 2007, and liked it so much that we wanted to go back. There were so many parallelisms already on this trip to the one in 2007 – me on a new-to-me F650GS, a big traffic delay on our first day that made us late coming into Durango, and now our visit to South Fork and Creede.

We found Creede to be little changed, still charming and somewhat low-key. It is off the route most people take through Colorado, and so is mostly unspoiled by the presence of too many people. We parked our bikes, then walked up the street to the north end of town where the town ends abruptly, the road turns to dirt and disappears between the high walls of a deep canyon.

Then we walked back down to the shops and cafés and found a little place to grab some coffee and some fudge while we watched a young guy playing with a drone on the street in front of us. Very cool. He showed us some video footage of fireworks that he had shot with the drone on July 4th. I thought it was a clever way to capture celebratory fireworks, up in the sky amid the exploding colors.

Creede street view:

It was overcast and cool while we were there, as it had been the first time we visited Creede. After a while, we got back on the bikes for the short ride to South Fork, and we ran into rain as we rode. I thought then how that moment was like heaven – cool, rain, beautiful scenery as we rode alongside the Rio Grande, the bike running and feeling perfect under me. We returned to South Fork in pouring rain, to the rustic little lodge where we would be staying. It was cute, and promised free continental breakfast in the morning. Perfect!

Late in the afternoon, the rain quit and the sun made a brief appearance. Hal and I shot photos of some abandoned passenger rail cars on a siding nearby. It turned out to be a photographic “find,” and I will be sharing some of those IR photos soon on my photography blog.

Remains of train station (shot in 590nm IR):

We walked about a half-mile down the street for a dinner of lasagne at a pleasant restaurant. The clouds were hanging low and gathering again at sunset, and later, I fell into a restless sleep to the sound of rain pattering on the roof, a lovely, cozy sound.


Next: If it’s Tuesday, it must be Taos.

Another perfect riding day

The venerable GS that makes me “AZGSgirl”:

If I could have created and asked for a dream day of riding, it wouldn’t have been any different than this past Sunday. The ride to Flagstaff and Oak Creek Canyon in Arizona included a tasty breakfast, varied weather conditions, a stop along Oak Creek for a photo opportunity, and best of all, it was a long day of 400+ miles. What more could I ask for?

The plan didn’t work out exactly as I’d hoped. On Saturday, while picking up (from Colin) my recently-acquired 2009 F650GS, I found out that the gas tank had cracked to the point that it is leaking fuel. This after last week when the valve cover seal was weeping oil (fixed). Needless to say, I am disappointed because now I will have to buy a new gas tank from BMW ($1200). So far, I’m not too happy with this bike. Well, would you be??

That is what led to taking my 2006 BMW F650GS, my old faithful, Jewel. I was happy about that, though, because it is my easiest bike to pack and the one that protects my cameras best.

I joined up with Hal and Boyd, my riding partners for the day. We first rode to Payson for breakfast at Crosswinds restaurant at the airport, which was packed because of the Memorial Day holiday. While there, we stared out the window at the building clouds over the Mogollon Rim. I smiled.

At Crosswinds restaurant:

Luckily, I had checked the weather forecast online before I left home. The forecast for Flagstaff was 49° and rain. Really? I had thought hopefully. I packed all my gear despite the sun and heat in the Phoenix area. I was ready for any type of weather.

We left the restaurant and rode north toward Pine (arts/crafts festival in full swing), and Strawberry. Our ultimate destination was going to be Flagstaff via Lake Mary Rd., a favorite route. “The boys” were on faster bikes, Hal on his BMW R1100RS, and Boyd on his Gold Wing, but after the initial 65 miles, most of the ride would be spent around a reasonable speed for the good old GS to handle.

As we climbed up on the Mogollon Rim, the temperature dropped. I’d put my jacket liner in, so I was very comfortable sitting behind the big windscreen, and I had the hand guards protecting my hands. It was a sun and clouds day on the Rim, absolutely beautiful, and as we got to Lake Mary, the sky was mostly overcast and gorgeous with varying shades of gray and blue. The views were, as always, spectacular. Soon, we fueled up at the Lake Mary Rd. Chevron just outside of Flagstaff, and before we knew it, we were headed down 89A, twisting down the steep switchbacks, into Oak Creek Canyon!

At first, it wasn’t as crowded with Memorial Day traffic as I’d thought it would be. We found a pullout to stop and do the photo shoot. Here is one of many images that I got:

Slender Trees:

I shoot in IR most of the time now. If you are not familiar with IR photography, anything bright green turns white in IR, and I need at least partial sun to do the “paint with light” effect. Fortunately, the light then in Oak Creek Canyon was perfect. This monochrome look is the look that I love.

Back on the bikes, we headed down the canyon toward Sedona. The road became more crowded the farther down we got. Later, we realized that was why there were so many DPS officers out on motorcycles when we’d never seen them there before. About five miles north of Sedona, we saw another problem. Traffic was backed up from Sedona all the way out to almost five miles north of Sedona, the worst I’d ever seen.

After inching along in traffic for a while, I got tired of it, and the temperature on Hal’s R1100RS started to creep up, so we decided to bail. We turned around in a small spot, and headed back toward Flagstaff. Yay, more miles! 🙂 By this time, the clouds were really darkening, and after starting to get warm sitting there in traffic, I was relieved to be going back up in elevation to the cool weather. Just before we started to climb the switchbacks going north, it started to rain. The sky was beautiful, and it was cold. I was in heaven! Jewel negotiated the turns in her usual predictable, dependable way, and soon we were up on top.

Back at the Chevron station:

Hal and I were chatting the whole time on the comm. system, and we chose to go back to the Chevron and get some coffee (best coffee on the road, IMO), a snack, and figure out the plan for the rest of the day. The rain let up temporarily, and then as we were sitting on the bench outside the door drinking coffee at the Chevron, it began to rain fairly hard. It was lovely. There I was, in May, shivering slightly and about to ride out into the rain!

Just before the rain started:

I didn’t even bother putting on full rain gear, I figured that the rain wouldn’t last long enough to matter. But we did ride all the way past Lake Mary under a dark glowering sky and through insistent rain. Behind the protective windscreen, I was comfortable, not getting too wet, hands warm with the grips on. I did not need more heated gear than that.

We rode back to Payson for dinner at Macky’s Grill (and more coffee, of course!), and then we rode down the hill to home. I got home in the dark, about 9 p.m., the most wonderful thing in the world to me. We’d done a good full mileage day through all kinds of weather, and I loved every moment of it! I wish I could be on the road all the time, but that is another story …

– Jo

Rhyolite, Nevada

This is the last installment of the Death Valley trip series.

The last morning in Beatty, Nevada, was spent eating a much-too-rich breakfast, our last celebration of freedom of this trip, then slowly (reluctantly) packing the Xterra and trailer for the trip home. However, after we fueled up, Hal and I drove the road toward Death Valley National Park one more time because between Beatty and the park was the ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada.

Rhyolite was a boomtown, built on the hope and promise of gold. At one time, it was inhabited by over 10,000 occupants, a dramatic contrast to the meager assortment of building remnants that define the ghost town today. We hoped to shoot a few photographs before we left the area this year.

The day was bright, hot, the remains of the town sun-washed and clean. We spent nearly two hours there walking up and down the one remaining street. Here are some of the images I shot:

Our first stop was the “casino,” which originally was the train station in Rhyolite. No less than three lines ran from Rhyolite at the height of its existence. At the top of this post is the east end of the building, which is now surrounded by a barbed-wire fence.

The walls of this unidentified structure are representative of the condition of most of the ruins in this town. Its heyday was from around 1905-1909, and most of it was already gone by 1939. I happened to find a book about Rhyolite that details its history. When I looked at the old photographs, they showed that the town was huge, spreading over the space between the mountains. When the meager gold ran out, the town was abandoned, and then it was nothing. I got the impression that some of it was dismantled, but otherwise, it has crumbled to ruin in the desert’s changing weather and extreme heat. You can read more about the town of Rhyolite, Nevada, by doing a search on the internet. There are many sites that give the town’s history.

The former general store (above) was one of my favorites to shoot.

This school, the second one built in the town, was big, and expensive. Apparently, it was never fully occupied; no thought was given at the time to how many students it would service. Unlike modern schools, it was overbuilt, roomy and not occupied to capacity. In the current political climate with the motivation to ruin public education, students are stuffed into rooms in schools that are much too small. “Only the worst for our kids,” should be the motto now, thanks to the politicians, who have no business being involved in education.

Random cool metal junk.

It looks like the wooden structure in the foreground, modern or old, I can’t tell, recently burned, taking the truck with it. It was a beautiful little truck; too bad someone didn’t think to move it. The mountains and ruins in the background lend a certain poignancy to the scene.

The famous bottle house, made with thousands of bottles in 1906. There were several saloons in town, so bottles were easy to come by. Strangely, the inside of the house is plastered, and from inside you would not know it was made of bottles. If it were me, I would want the light coming inside through the bottles to make it light-filled and amazing. But that’s just me.

Here is a detail of the bottle house wall:

Random dishes in the yard:

More salvage:

These are the only “inhabitants” of Rhyolite now, this weird Last Supper thing:

Time was getting away from us, so Hal and I had to hit the road for home before it got too late. As it was, we wouldn’t be returning to Phoenix until after dark. One last quick shot of the shoe tree before we left Rhyolite behind:


Every time I go to Death Valley and the places nearby, I am sad to leave. As we travel home,  Hal and I usually are talking about where we want to go next time we visit. For now, though, it is “goodbye, Death Valley, we’ll see you next spring!”

Titus Canyon

Day 2 of our trip to Death Valley

We slept in because of having to drive half the night to get to Beatty. But, after a good breakfast, and some other tasks, Hal and I were ready to get out and enjoy the day. The destination was Titus Canyon. We have wanted to ride it for some time, and last year when we were here, it was closed due to wash-outs from a recent storm. This year, we were happy to find it open.

First, though, we rode through the ghost town of Rhyolite, but since it was so spread out, we thought we would come back on the last day, on the way out of town, and shoot photos of the buildings then. We explored the dirt road north of Rhyolite for a short way. After that, we discovered the little cemetery down the road from Rhyolite, and spent some time there photographing the graves.

As I shot many images, the place made me think again about the tenuousness of life, about how each one of these graves represented the body of someone who was once alive, someone who had an everyday life, someone who had dreams and goals, some of which were fulfilled, and some that probably were not. These were people that once had lives, their graves were not just tourist attractions.

Panamint Annie is one of the interesting people buried there. She was quite a character, she did things her own way. She was a prospector, and lived a rough, interesting life. Her adventuresome spirit appeals to me, and I identified with her at once. I looked around, wondering about others buried there who, although they were not such colorful, memorable characters, were part of the history of Death Valley as well.

The wind blows free over the desert where those who are buried there lay, the years pass, the sun rises and sets, the clouds and storms come and go. It made me think about how the earth continues long after we are gone, the rocks and geology slowly changing over the millennia, our lives so fleeting compared to the changing of the earth. I thought about my friend who has recently died, how she no longer can see and enjoy the beautiful things I was experiencing this day, and any day I am in Death Valley. It made me sad, but it also made me feel again how important it is to enjoy everything to its fullest.

And that is what we did, as we geared up, got on the bikes, and then turned down the road to Titus Canyon. At first, it is a long, straight, sandy/corrugated road. Then, after about eight miles, it begins to get much more interesting as we climbed up into the mountains. Last year, Hal and I had hiked in at the west end (the only part open at the time) and were amazed at the vibrant colors in the rocks and the illustrative geology. The walls were high and close, and this year as I rode, I remembered that part. I knew that was the destination, but what lay in between where I was and that end of the canyon, I did not know.

We climbed more and more steeply as we gained elevation. We saw all the different colors of dark volcanic rocks, and glimpsed a history of the earth as we passed geologic formations, striated rocks that told the story as clearly as any book. The road was narrow and twisting going up, and then we began to descend into even more serpentine turns. The surface of the road in one part looked like it was caliche or similar, a soil composition that turns to slimy gel-like mud in the rain, as was evident by the deep ruts cut through that part of the road by other vehicles’ tires when it was wet.

Near the end of this segment of the ride, we stopped and shot photographs of an old mining town, Leadfield, that literally hung on the side of the mountain. The sign explains how it came to be, and then how it declined to nothingness in the short timeline of a year. All that is left now are a few buildings, but not even a shred of the hope that once swirled in the air.

We came to the most dramatic part of the ride, which is through towering multi-colored rock walls. In some places it narrows to the width of a car, and the shadows are deep and cool. We were still descending, but more gradually, and I was able to see many geologic folds and upheavals.

I kept exclaiming about them to Hal over the communication system. “Oh, look at that, to your left!” I would say, or “to your right,” there were so many things to see. Again, we rode somewhat slowly in order to be able to see everything. The sun was drifting toward the western horizon, and it was dark in the canyon because of the high walls. I loved being deep in the canyon, so close to the rock as I rode.

I began to notice some familiar features, things I remembered from hiking in last year, and then I knew we were coming to the end.

We also began to meet more and more hikers, people who had walked in from the west as we had done last year. It was over way too soon.

The end opened out to an incredible vista, and I said, “It’s so beautiful!” Hal laughed. It’s kind of our little joke, but at the same time, it really was “so beautiful!” We didn’t stop, though, because it was hot, and we had already done this part before. We flew down the wide unpaved segment back to the paved highway, the road that leads to Scotty’s Castle one way, and back to the Beatty turnoff the other way.

Soon we were climbing Daylight Pass, the route “home” to Beatty that we take each time we are here. The temperature drops dramatically from the high 80s F. at the floor (sea level) to the 3307 ft. elevation of Beatty. It is a steep climb in a few places, and sometimes the little KLX250S strains to maintain 60 mph, especially if there is a headwind.

We got back to Beatty, de-geared, then walked to dinner at a nearby Subway, our favorite place when we are on the road. As we munched our salads, we pored over the maps, planning our ride for the next day. It looked like we were going to be on the road for a good part of it, but I did not know then all the stunning sights I would see.