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