Following a blistering summer in the Central Valley of California, the lingering heat and smoke filled air made the September transition into fall something of a repeat of the previous four years when fires ravaged the state. To any heat, fire, pandemic, and drought weary Californios, a late September departure seemed like a good time to mask up and head east for a little relief from high temperatures, smokey air, and parched landscapes. At least vaccinations made travel somewhat safer. So, what better destination to ride to than the desert in the direction that prevailing winds travel! Duh…
The cast of characters for this adventure included Pete and Andy, familiar faces from previous trips. Sadly, as life wants to do, events unfolded such that elderly parents needed attention and Andy, good son that he is, had to bow out. Likewise there were issues with my mother-in-law, but my wife and her sisters were able to care for her and with Toni’s blessings, I was given the green light.
Pete and I met on Sunday morning, September 26, at our usual meeting place, the Chevron station on the corner of Yosemite Ave. and “G” Street in Merced. Our route was to take back roads to CA-120 crossing the Sierra over Tioga Pass on to Tonopah, NV. Road repairs and the closure of any services minimized the crowds one might expect to find at the end of the summer in Tuolumne Meadows. Though not evident in the photo, the air was less than pristine with smoke from the Caldor and KNP Complex fires casting a pall over the foothills up to and over Tioga Pass. In fact landscapes of our entire ride east of the Sierra, nearly all the way into Utah, were obscured by smoke.
At the Benton Junction we pulled into the Benton Station where we met David who was traveling on a 2002 BMW GS in search of gas which apparently the Benton Station was fresh out of… Benton may have been out of gas, but bees were aplenty as we approached the California Agricultural Inspection Station just a few miles east Benton on US-6. The bees suffered far greater casualties than the three of us motorcyclists. Full face shields, windscreens, armored textile clothing, gloves and hand guards provide multiple safety functions on a motorcycle. Far greater than sunglasses, fingerless gloves, and lycra on a bicycle, our other favored two-wheel transportation…
David was traveling from Utah, heading home seemingly uninformed about services in these remote locales, and so we reassuringly accompanied him some 70 miles on US 6/95 in the direction of Tonopah, the next closest fuel on his homeward bound leg before parting company with a so-long wave at Miller’s Rest Stop, a little oasis in the basin and range landscape of rural western Nevada about 12 miles west of Tonopah. Last year we met Tim on his Goldwing, from Sacramento, who offered and egg salad sandwich and cool beverage. There’s more than the wave that bond motorcyclists.
Arriving out our motel we dropped our gear and busied ourselves with locating beverages and food.
We met a fellow moto traveler at our motel, Robert from Bellingham, WA, who was heading home from touring Cedar Breaks, Bryce Canyon, the Escalante, and Zion National Parks. It appeared that Pete, Robert, and I were the only non-working-stiff types staying at the National 9 Inn.
Later, out of curiosity, we asked the desk clerk about the nature of the residents of the motel since we three on motorcycles appeared to be the only tourists. He said they were mostly workers from nearby mines. These miners apparently have differences with the implementation of the Biden administration’s environmental policies reversing those of the “environmental legacy” of former president Trump. His move to restore Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments in Utah to their original boundaries I’m sure was met with mixed reactions by locals. Thus as non-locals we were left to contemplate the state of affairs in Tonopah as the relaxation, rehydration, and reflection hour arrived.
We met one of those miners the next morning, Jerry from New Mexico who had a turquoise mine near Tonopah.
After a satisfying breakfast at the Tonopah Station I was reminded of the Tour de Basin Grande in 1993 where after pedalling a bike 75 miles across basin and range mile after mile of nothing but mile after mile, stopping only for emergencies, the food at Tonopah Station wasn’t nearly as satisfying. Everything was fried, including the salads which would later prompt an emergency stop.
It was on to NV-375 from US-6 to Rachel on the Extraterrestrial Highway.
After a brief stop for a cool beverage, we stretched abit walking about the premises of the Little A’Li’Inn and noticed a message taped to the passenger window of a delivery truck.
With that, we forged on slightly amused, a bit confused by the syntax, but grateful for the forewarning.
Passing-up the Alien Research Center this trip, heeding the line from the message taped to the window of the delivery truck at the Little A’Li’Inn, “Outer space is fake,” we entered US-93, The Great Basin Highway through Crystal Springs, Caliente, Beaver Dam, and Bennett Springs to Panaca and CA-319 where at the Nevada/Utah border CA-319 becomes UT-56 through Modena, Beryl Junction, and Newcastle climbing up and up to Cedar City, our day two destination just in time as the weather was beginning to change as we departed arid Nevada for Utah at elevation.
It was much cooler with clouds gathering. Could this be a sign? We had “ears to hear” but hunger to sate so it was off in search of victuals since the rain would likely douse the fire prophesied by the Little A’Li’Inn delivery truck prophet.
Little did we know that yet another omen would be realized. After alerting the desk at our Super 8 motel that their dumpster was fully engulfed in flames, hungry and willing to disregard the ominous delivery truck message, we solicited the recommendation of a friendly river guide, who had just returned from taking USU students on Green River float, for where we might find a satisfying evening meal.
Given the guide’s directions and Google Maps, we strolled along a very busy UT-56 for about a mile and arrived at the Centro Pizzaria near the downtown of Cedar City. After being forced inside from dining alfresco as winds preceding what would later be an awesome thunderstorm nearly sent the umbrellas at tables into the Mary Poppins stratosphere, Pete and I savored delicious woodfired pizzas.
Choosing to avoid the busy highway back to our hotel, we delighted in the few raindrops preceding what the radar was showing as gully washer heading our way. Strolling through the Southern Utah University campus reminded me of my carefree youthful days at my alma mater in Chico, only now as a carefree retired geezer. By the time we arrived at our hotel, the dumpster fire had been extinguished. The evening thundershower was gathering and beginning to resound. As the relaxation, rehydration and reflection hour arrived, our nightcaps left us feeling confident that we were not about to go out in that weather to start a riot.
Perhaps you’ve notice the sub-heading identifies our third day destination as Green River, however the maps link indicates Moab. The plan was to take UT-14 out of Cedar City to US-89, then UT-12 to Torrey by way of Bryce where we saw our first eye-feast of fall color and began riding through then next several days of intermittent rain.
Then it was on to Cannonville, Tropic, Henrieville, Escalante, and Boulder where last Spring we toured the Burr Trail. Thankfully the twisty roads were dry and relatively free of traffic.
In Boulder a piece of apple and peach pie with coffee satisfied our midday hunger pangs at the Burr Trail Cafe where a couple of Ducatis joined the Versys and V-Strom. Next a snack in Hanksville then on to Green River for the night as threatening skies shortened our goal of reaching Moab.
With weather threatening we deferred camping in Moab, another hour or so away, for a motel in Green River. Our stay was at the Sleepy Hollow Motel. Buurrguurrs at Ray’s and with Ducatis on his mind Pete insisted that I consider getting a Ducati Multistrada. I am fine with people mistaking my Kawasexy Versys as a Multistrada. Besides, as we all know, Japanese bikes are reliable.
After Ray’s we procured Utah’s very own, Uinta Golden Spike for the relaxation, rehydration, and reflection hour that would soon take place on the stoop of our room as once again, clouds gathered and raindrops began to fall. Pete reflected on staying at the very same motel some two decades earlier. Interestingly, the housekeeper who we met the following morning at the Sleepy Hollow was the very same woman who worked there when Pete, two decades earlier, awakened to a dead battery on his Kawasaki Z900. Pete recalled that her husband assisted him in jumpstarting the bike. A battery failure doesn’t qualify as an “unreliability”.
There were no dead batteries upon awakening the next morning, but it had rained and more rain was in the forecast.
The next day took us through Moab and fortunately, the rain of the night before had moved east and the earlier forecasted showers arrived later that afternoon. It was here we had our first sighting of the mighty Colorado River having crossed the mighty Green River earlier. Well, historically mighty. Drought has rendered most of the west’s mighty rivers turbid. Mt Tukuhnikivatz to the east, however, was crowned with a late September dusting of snow. The precip was welcomed despite having to ride later in the day through showers on two wheels, thankful for this morning respite.
Moab was crowded with millennials and hipsters in Subarus and Sprinters and white-heads in Winnebagos and Airstreams. Edward Abbey would be turning cartwheels in his grave seeing the conga line to get into the Arches National Park, so it was south on US-191 to Monticello where we would take US-491 to Cortez now in our third state, Colorado, where we joined US-160 to Durango and Pagosa Springs all in the rain. From there it was a soggy US-84 through Chromo, and US-64 to Chama now in our fourth state, New Mexico, for another wet night.
I had read about the Y Motel in Chama on a moto-friendly website. It’s named for the three-way intersection of US-64, UA-84, NM-17 forming a Y. It seemed to meet our criteria for selecting lodging in rural areas, namely a motor court, preferably from a bygone era, and cheap. Besides, every other room was booked in Chama as deer and bear hunting season was set to begin the next day. After waiting for David, a Continental Divide Trail hiker https://glideonblog.wordpress.com/ and dead ringer for John Muir, to register and after some negotiating with Sam samschild.com, both of whom had retreated from trail because of the sudden snowfall, we secured a room.
Mike the motel’s clerk was an entertaining, you might say, eccentric chap. He seemed to be delighted to serve equally entertaining and eccentric guests. He explained how the motel was under new ownership which explained why all of the boxes of items intended for renovations were stacked in the motel office. He implied that as long as they remained in the boxes in the “lobby” he wasn’t responsible for their unpacking or installation. He also noted that Pete and I were worthy of the motel’s reputation among Continental Divide Trail hikers. It seemed some fellows on Harley Davidsons declined staying at the motel as there was no covered parking for their machines. Like parking under a cover somehow mitigates riding through the rain? They ended up riding to Pagosa Springs. In the rain.
When we were given the key, yes, an actual key and not a card, we entered the room. Spartan to describe the room would be generous. Rigorously simple, frugal, or austere comes to mind. There was no soap, two outlets, surprisingly a TV, and towels that might charitably be called handkerchiefs. Better yet described, primitive. Maybe. Rustic for sure. Actually, it was a dump. It’s amazing how the relaxation, rehydration, and reflection hour can allow for one to adjust one’s expectations, and like Brian, look on the bright side of life. Like our hiker friends, at least we all weren’t freezing outdoors in a soggy tent as the deer and bear hunters enjoyed all of the remaining cozy accommodations in town.
The next day, we bid adieu… Sam and Mike, Pete and Tom. Adios boys!
We were anxious to reach our Santa Fe halfway “Abbey’s Other Road Trip” destination at the Delaware’s, Bob and Suzanne, with the promise of fair weather on the more direct route from Chama to Santa Fe on US-84/285. We passed through Tierra Amarilla where, because of the threat of yet another day of cold wet pavement heading up into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, we decided to skip US-64 to Taos. So, onward through Cibola, Canjilon, Abiquiu, Espanola, stopping in Pojoaque tipping our helmets to the Camel and fueling up while alerting Bob and Suzanne of our impending early arrival.
We wasted not a minute before launching into Bob’s personal tour of his new hometown. Well, reclaimed hometown. His lovely wife Suzanne is a native New Mexican (Albuquerque) and both she and Bob attended the University of New Mexico. After a wonderful career in education in California and a brief “retirement” in Ballard, WA, they’ve settled into the ristra lifestyle in a beautiful setting in enchanting Santa Fe. A quick romp around the plaza found us enjoying an early, albeit brief, relaxation, rest, and reflection half-hourwarmup as I reflected on the public statuary saluting my ACD SoBe.
Next up was the el Rey, a classic motor court “motel” built along side of the original Mother Road, Rt-66 opening its doors in 1936 and now an iconic “boho” inn (whatever that means) where my lovely wife and I spent the night on one of our southwestern honeymoon stops some 27 years earlier. No need for a calculator, 1994. I remembered our suite. Okay, it was room.
As the cocktail hour approached, we hightailed it back to La Hacienda de Delaware where Suzanne had prepared a delightfully savory Classic New Mexican Green Chili Stew. The recipe was from her mother’s Classic New MexicanRecipes. The remainder of the evening was devoted to relaxation, rehydration, and reflection and enchanting conversation. We were, after all, in the land of enchantment…
Day 6 Santa Fe Layover
The next day we arose to yet more inclement weather. That wasn’t going to deter Bob from chauffeuring us along the the High Road to Taos, a most scenic byway. We enjoyed this authentic remnant of Old Spain, still evident in the religion, architecture, topography, history, and people along the real. The byway travels through Chimayo, a community known for the beautiful Santuario de Chimayo, a national historic landmark, and the El Posito, a hole in the floor of a side chapel filled with healing earth. Along NM-76, the byway follows the terrain; the creased and wrinkled badlands populated with scrubby pinon and juniper, with the Jemez Mountains enormous on the horizon if it wasn’t for the clouds.
Nestled in the village of Chimayo along the High Road to Taos sits a national historic landmark, El Santuario de Chimayo. Every Good Friday, tens of thousands of pilgrims make their way to this “Lourdes of the Southwest.”
Next up was the San José de Gracia Church in the village of Las Trampas. First settled by 12 Spanish families in 1751, the village of Las Trampas was originally built within a defensive wall with low buildings packed around a central plaza. The tight-knit traditional community flourished for hundreds of years, developing and retaining a culture little influenced by the outside world. Within the village is the San José de Gracia Church, one of the most-original and best-preserved examples of Spanish Colonial architecture in New Mexico.
It was then on to the bridge across Rio Grande Gorge next where it’s not for the faint of heart to peer over the rail some 600 feet to the river below. It was a tad unnerving to feel the bridge vibrate with the passing vehicles, especially the tractor-trailer rigs.
After a walkabout in Taos to visit another stop on the Honeymoon Tour at the Taos Inn we made our way to Ranchos de Taos and the San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church.
Completed in 1816, the San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church is a large, sculpted Spanish Colonial church with massive adobe buttresses and two front-facing bell towers. Because of its imposing form and sculpted body, the church is a favorite subject for artists. Ansel Adams photographed the church for his Taos Pueblo art book and Georgia O’Keeffe painted a series of perspectives of the church. O’Keeffe once described it as “one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards.” In most works, these artists favored the view of the back of the church, with its smoothly sculpted adobe beehive buttresses. The beautiful colonial-era church continues to attract artists and the Ranchos de Taos plaza is home to several galleries.
The afternoon found us making our way back to the Delaware Hacienda along NM-68 and the Rio Grande but not before spying Camel Rock.
The next morning we would begin our return leg home having enjoyed the generous hospitality of our hosts, Bob and Suzanne. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t photograph Suzanne during our stay. So, I stole one from FB.
Stay tuned for Part 2: Homeward Bound, Santa Fe to Merced!
It all began as an invitation from Andy Neufeld to ride the moto, with whom in countless chance meetings at the supermarket or hardware store our conversation always ended with, “Let’s get together and ride some time…” The body of the emailed invitation follows:
“Please get your bike (and your core) in shape and join me for an October ride. I propose that we leave Merced on the morning of Saturday, October 12 and cross over Yosemite National Park via Tioga Pass Road.”
“I propose that we then continue south from Lee Vining and stay the first night either near June Lake or near Mammoth Lakes. Mammoth is the more populated and busy of the two areas and it’s a little further along the route but in my opinion, June Lake is more desirable.”
“From the Lakes area I propose to travel to Panamint Springs and rest there through the middle of the day. Panamint Springs is a bit on the rough side as tourist destinations go. There are, however, hot springs and resort environments. There may be beer available for purchase. “
“When the sun goes down in Panamint Springs I propose to travel across Death Valley by the light of October 13th’s full moon, arriving late at our next destination, which will be Beatty, Nevada.”
“After a night in Beatty, we will travel north through Nevada and turn west toward Lee Vining, where we third and final night. The next morning, it’s back home through Yosemite.”
“I am inviting 4 people for this ride. If you can come, you are welcome to invite others. Please let me know if you are able to come, and how many you will be, and I will get to work finding us places to stay!”
I always get excited when invited on a ride. Especially one that comes with an itinerary and disclaimers and endnotes:
Weather can ruin everything. It can certainly change plans without notice. We’ll have to deal with it.
In my imagination of this trip, the riding will be the roughest part. No sleeping on the ground or eating out of cans.
There should be no expectation of any standard of any sort for gear or machines.
There are lots of individual decisions to be made and people might join late, leave early, or generally go off on their own paths at any time.
Sound like fun? Then let’s go!
Little did I know what was meant by disclaimer (or note) iv, “There are lots of individual decisions to be made and people might join late, leave early, or generally go off on their own paths at any time.” Especially the “go off on their own paths” part…
Day 1, Up and Over Tioga Pass
A disclaimer of my own:
Sadly, WordPress won’t allow directly embedding any of the video I took from the moto. I would first have to publish it on YouTube and link the content. I’m new at the whole GoPro thing, but there were several spectacular clips riding over Tioga Pass that would have added to the beauty and feel of the ride. The old dog needs to learn some new tricks… That’s why there are no photos of our crossing.
Another friend, fulfilled Andy’s generous offer to invite others and ignoring his second end note or disclaimer (ii), Pete Etchegaray, who you might have noticed has appeared in several of my previous moto adventures. Pete and I planned to camp. We drew the line at eating out of cans however.
Stoked to travel over Tioga Pass in the fall to enjoy the splendor of an East Side autumn was a deliciously seductive reason to ride in October. Sunny days and chilly nights were perfect, especially since we’d come off of a debilitatingly hot summer and that we’d only be riding through the night on the Death Valley leg of the journey. Perfect!
Seems to me Coulterville could use a visit from Kevin Bacon…
We began the ride by making our way to Hwy 120 via Hwy 59 north through Snelling, Merced Falls Rd. and Hwy 132 to Coulterville, Greeley Hill Rd. to Smith Station Rd. and the northern route through Yosemite. With the exception of a brief delay on the Greeley Hill Rd. leg to look for, but sadly not find, an air duct that fell off of Andy’s “Flying Brick”, we arrived in Lee Vining at the Whoa Nellie Deli for a snack around noon.
We arrived in Mammoth intending to meet with a veteran bicycle riding comrade, Karl Teller to exchange mockery, insults, and other juvenile impudence. However, as once before on an earlier Autumn East Side Moto, Karl and his son Johnny were off bow hunting elk. I guess next time I come to visit I’ll check the California Fish and Wildlife Big Game Hunting Digest to see what’s in season and when…
After a fine dinner at Roberto’s in Mammoth watching the sun set over the Sierra, the night chill began to weigh on our decision to ignore that second endnote as we motored back to the Sierra Nevada Lodge. We decided to disavow the notion of camping choosing instead to awaken in a warm motel room rather than a frosty campsite.
Day 2, Elevation Extremes
Awakening to another clear sunny day, though chilly to be sure, we set off for breakfast at the Tom’s Place Resort, Cabins, Lodge, General Store, Cafe & Bar near Crowley Lake down Hwy 395 from Mammoth.
Having time but little distance to make our afternoon destination in anticipation of the full moon rise, we took a side trip up to Whitney Portal along the way stopping at the Manzanar Camp, a U.S. National Park Service Historic Site just north of Lone Pine. A little history thanks to the NPS:
I highly recommend touring the Manzanar Camp. I recall my first visit some 40+ years ago when the visitor center facility that is now a remarkable interpretive, interactive, historical museum of Smithsonian caliber was then a road maintenance facility for Inyo County. If timed right, you could jump the fence, trespassing, and examine the camp’s ruins back then. Today the Park Service has reconstructed many of the features of the camp with the compelling story of the hardships imposed on the interned, but resourceful and dignified Japanese American citizens during WWII.
Upon arriving at Lone Pine for fuel and a mid-day snack, we were diverted from Hwy 395 to B Street so that a parade could commence commemorating the Lone Pine Film Festival. It seems that movies had been screened for three days, all day long and the event was wrapping up with a parade and later a campfire.
In 1920, Lone Pine was changed forever when a silent movie, The Roundup, was filmed in the Alabama Hills. Since then, over 400 movies, 100 TV episodes, and countless commercials have been shot in location in the area, immortalizing the striking rock formations and taking advantage of the picture-perfect weather.
I’ve always enjoyed spotting Mt. Whitney in as a backdrop to many of the western films I’ve seen over the years. Indeed the mountain is the star!
The East Side of the Sierra Nevada Range or what Mary Austin called “The Other Side of California” is captured in John Muir’s concise description, “In general views no mark of man is visible on it, nor anything to suggest the richness of the life it cherishes, or the depth and grandeur of its sculpture.”
The road to the road’s end at the portal is filled with stunning views of the peaks above and the valley below, each stretch of pavement revealing the majestic geology characteristic of this extraordinary western landscape. You have to overlook the road, movie crews, and other folks bagging the YOLO hike up to Whitney summit to appreciate Muir’s description, however, there is this…
Top pic below: Pete, Andy, and Mt. Whitney with a guest appearance by the official LP ‘Bama Hill; Next pict, Tj and Mt. Whitney; 3rd pic, Andy as Motaur; Last pic in the series, the Owens Valley, Alabama Hills, the southern terminus of the White Mountains, and what’s left of Owens Lake…
Pete on the rocks followed by a sweeper, neat, back…
Onward to Panamint Springs
No trip to Death Valley would be complete without entering the park from the north out of Lone Pine. After a brief reach on Hwy 395 south from Lone Pine to the intersection with Hwy 136 we headed in south-easterly direction through the settlements of Dolomite, Swansea, Keeler, all having seen more prosperous days when silver ingots were hauled by steamship across Owens Lake and then by rail to Los Angeles from ore mined at Cerro Gordo in the 1870’s. Had Andy and I been on more adventure worthy bikes like Pete’s V-Strom, we would have taken the 4×4 road up to the ghost town. Cerro Gordo will have to wait for the next bike upgrade.
History lesson: The 1872 Owens Valley Earthquake interrupted mining briefly rendering a pier in Swansea inoperable so enter Julius M. Keeler whose steamship “Bessie Brady” brought ore from Keeler across the lake to the town of Cartago. 1882 the Bessie Brady was destroyed by fire. There was a 300-foot wharf at Keeler, and the steamship route cut days off the time a freight wagon would have taken to circle the lake. She carried 700 ingots at a time in a three-hour crossing. Silver prices in the late 1800’s plummeted so the next boom of zinc, rallied the town along with small surges in the mining of silver, lead, and limestone. However, by the 1950s all mining had ceased. Train service was stopped in 1960.
A few reminders of those better days remain as does a small population of residents in Keeler.
A Catholic Priest and a Jedi Knight
Continuing east on Hwy 190 we rolled up and down, but more down than up considering we were heading towards Death Valley into Panamint Springs. The highway takes you through Rainbow Canyon (nicknamed Star Wars Canyon and Jedi Transition) just inside Death Valley National Park in Inyo County on the park’s western border. It is commonly used by the United States Air Force and Navy for fighter jet training and is frequented by photographers who, from the canyon rim at the Father Crowley Overlook, are able to photograph jets flying beneath them.
No jets today Pete, who is neither a priest nor Jedi Knight, as far as I know…
History lesson cont.: Father Crowley, for whom Crowley Overlook is named, is also the namesake for Lake Crowley, just north of Tom’s Place. Upon the completion of the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913, the diversion of the Owens River by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power took the water from the the “Land of Little Rain” along 223 miles to Los Angeles, resulting in that city’s phenomenal growth. No mystery in the corresponding decline of the Owens Valley farms as the once verdant and productive agricultural economy collapsed. Before long, the verdant valley was returned to desert conditions where the vegetation consisted largely of greasewood and sagebrush. It was in this harsh environment that Fr. Crowley would live during his years of service to the area. With the demise of agriculture as an economic base, Fr. Crowley turned to tourism as a potential means of helping the valley residents survive. Learn more at: https://www.catholic.org/featured/headline.php?ID=1576
Tourism, that’s what gets a lake and and overlook named in your honor on The Other Side of California.
The Panamint Springs Resort in the 1950’s (top) and today…
Slipping into Darkness
After a fabulous burger and a thirst quenching draft we retreated to our respective corners. Andy found a lovely ironwood tree to nap beneath at the Panamint Springs Resort. Pete and I schemed to get a tent campsite and lodging for Andy so that we could enjoy the serene beauty of a night in the Panamint Valley as we had in the prior spring. Since riding across Death Valley under the cover of darkness illuminated by a full moon was the raison d’être, we thought we could use the resort as our base camp and tool around Death Valley and return to the camp that evening. After awakening Andy, since it was his inspiration to ride under the full moon to Beatty, we folded. After fueling up, we set off for Furnace Creek.
Since we were only 140 miles into our 290 mile day we topped off our tanks with some expensive petrol and as the sun was disappearing quickly, we bypassed the road to Zabriskie Point for the sunset. Besides, it was closed for repair, thus beginning our trek across Death Valley (278.5 feet below sea level at Badwater) in the fading light of the day. Seeing a young coyote alongside the road in the fading twilight–the soft, diffused light from the sky when the sun is below the horizon, either from daybreak to sunrise or, more commonly, from sunset to nightfall, or, a state of uncertainty, vagueness, or gloom–? You decide as I began to wonder about other potentially somewhat immovable obstacles that might wander onto the road. You know, like a freed descendant from the 20-Mule Team or Death Valley Scotty’s great, great, grand burro enjoying a saunter in the full moonlight. But the air, much cooler than the temperate mid-eighties of the afternoon and the low angle of the setting sun made for a dreamlike landscape and collision concerns briefly faded. Blissful optics only lasting for a few miles so we hunkered down keeping eyes peeled for any critters or road conditions that might detract from the otherwise surreal ride.
Fooled by the Full Moon
We didn’t really see the moon or enjoy it’s illumination until we had pretty much climbed out of Death Valley and began heading east on Hwy 190 crossing the Funeral Mountains. Finally, upon seeing the moon rise over the Funeral Mountain Wilderness Area, we pulled over. It wasn’t disappointing, it was just sort of not as we had imagined. Bundled up in ATG and concentrating on the road, the whole full moon affect was not so much noticeable. At least not like cross country skiing across a frozen Ostrander Lake, hiking above the treeline on the Sierra over Muir Pass, or sailing on the San Francisco Bay under a full moon. Besides now it was getting cold as we climbed up Hwy 190 out of Death Valley and we had variously been on and off the bikes for 12 hours. Fortunately the glow on the horizon of Amargosa Springs gave us inspiration to keep going so that stopping and adding a layer of insulation would make the final 70 mile leg possible, if not a little more bearable, in wind chilled to the single digits according to Pete’s V-Strom ambient temperature gauge.
Andy as the OH (original hipster) in minimalist leather and jeans…
From Wiki: Amargosa Opera House and Hotel is a historic building and cultural center located in Death Valley Junction, in eastern Inyo County, California near Death Valley National Park. Resident artist Marta Becket staged dance and mime shows there from the late 1960s until her final show in February 2012. The Death Valley Junction Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places and is owned by the nonprofit established by Becket for the preservation of the property.http://www.amargosaoperahouse.org/
Next trip along Hwy 127 the Amargosa Hotel is a must stop to stay the night…
The theater was part of a company town designed by architect Alexander Hamilton McCulloch and constructed in 1923–25 by the Pacific Coast Borax Company. The U-shaped complex of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture style adobe buildings included company offices, employees’ headquarters, a dormitory and a 23-room hotel with a dining room, lobby and store. At the northeast end of the complex was a recreation hall used as a community center for dances, church services, movies, funerals and town meetings.
Had we only known that the now hipsterish AH&C served, “Delicious entrees and nourishing choices with ingredients sourced from a surprising abundance of local artisanal growers. No visit to the Death Valley region is complete without the discovery of how well you can eat in the desert!” (from the Amargosa Hotel and Cafe website), we could have gotten rooms enjoyed artisanal abundance and ridden those 70 miles the next day in the warmth of daylight.
Spacing Out in Beatty
Riding Hwy 127 across the Nevada border then on Hwy 95 to Beatty was to say the least, a bit of a let down. The first hour of the night ride from Stovepipe Wells was sublime. The second hour of the night ride to Amargosa Springs was “interesting”. The third hour of the night ride to Beatty was agony. Cold, hungry, and in the dark on a motorcycle riding up a lineal two lane undivided highway heavy with triple tractor trailer rigs isn’t my idea of a great time. Given my latent masochistic nature though, I kind of enjoyed the suffering. I think we all did and if by our subdued manner upon reaching the hotel was any indication, the distress was nary mentioned.
I did express early in the planning stages that when we arrived in Beatty, if too beaten up to pitch a tent in the cold at 10:00 pm in the dark, maybe staying at the Atomic Inn would be just the thing… to do… in Beatty Nevada. From their website: “The Atomic Inn is a retro themed classic style Death Valley lodge located in the Eastern Mojave Desert in the Wild West pioneering town of Beatty, Nevada. We are the gateway to Death Valley National Park, located just 6 miles from the Hell’s Gate Entrance! Established in 1979, The Atomic Inn has been under new management since 2012. We have completely remodeled the rooms in our boutique, themed hotel to offer the finest Death Valley accommodations in the area. However, we do remain the most affordable of Beatty Hotels.”
Pause to think what “boutique” and “most affordable” in separate sentences means. Yep. You can tell you’re in quality affordable boutique lodging by noting the preserved 70’s era wall panelling and luxurious see through bath towels that also work as dermabrasion devices. Notice the classic Nevada landscaped theme in the bedding…
It was late so in lieu of a hot dog from Rebel 74 gas station (note Andy grasping his stomach having eaten one…) Pete and I opted for a tasty boutique microbrewed beverage. 40 years ago such a thing didn’t exist in Nevada. 40 years ago the Atomic Inn wasn’t a boutique inn either.
Day 3, Columbus or Indigenous I’m Not
The following Columbus/Indigenous Peoples’ Day morning awash with sun shine was much warmer than just a few hours earlier. Packing before breakfast, Pete a conspicuously minimalist rider and aspiring hipster, finished first while I was wrestling with my strap dense DrySpec bags as an aspiring geezer. Andy was enjoying a few extra minutes of snooze as a seasoned OH would. Pete happened to meet fellow motorcyclist who had also spent the night at the Atomic Inn and who is a member of the Women In The Wind motorcycle club. She had been on the road for a few days hailing from Kingman Arizona and was enroute to a club gathering on the coast of California, at Morro Bay or Monterey if memory serves, or somewhere in between. It seems the Atomic Inn appeals to we wind therapy seeking types notwithstanding gender or club affiliation. It’s also testimony of Pete’s uncanny ability to meet and collect the stories of fellow motorcyclists.
After a nice breakfast of corned beef hash, eggs, and hashbrowns at Mel’s we were caloried-up for the ride ahead to Lee Vining for the night. The service was a bit slow because the place was packed. We were only one of two tables where English was spoken. There were families and couples of French, Dutch, Asian and Spanish speakers, all of whom apparently have a knack for finding places like Mel’s. It may have some renown in the Yelps or TripAdvisors of the interwebs and therefore attracts unwitting foreign tourists. I’m sure the tired kitsched-out Happy Days theme is uncommon in Flanders or Paris. There was one hitch in an otherwise fine, yet ordinary breakfast experience. A churlishly rude and ill tempered waitress, far more so than the fabled surley servers at McSorley’s Ale House in NYC, seemed indignant to have to take orders or deliver plates. She had the customer service skills of Social Security aged Bevis and Butthead. Fortunately, we had a much nicer, younger, and far more affable waitress. Maybe if you live in Beatty long enough it changes you…
After a slight navigation error (uh, my bad) our attempt to visit Rhyolite and the Goldwell Open Air Museum installations fell flat as temperatures were rising and miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles lay ahead. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldwell_Open_Air_Museum
Passing through Beatty once more, having traveled some twenty miles in the wrong direction, we righted our course and lo and behold we encountered our first true sign that we were definitely in Nevada.
Oops, I (He) Did It Again
Our day included the option to head north on Hwy 95 to Lida Junction (home of the boarded up Cottontail Ranch Brothel) (Like Amazon, has the interwebs delivered the demise of the local Brothel?) then west on Hwy 266 to the Oasis junction then on to Hwy 168 over the twisties up and over Gilbert Pass to Big Pine. Another option was to travel further north to Tonapah then head west on Hwy 6 to Benton Springs. None of the three of us view love as a game nor do we have any affection for Tonopah. I don’t think Britney Spears, whose lead single from the album by the same name, Oops I Did It Again (not Tonopah), had geography on her mind when belting out the song on MTV in March of 2000 following the Y2K scare. Nor do I think she ever performed in Tonopah. Nor did Andy, who at mid-day, suddenly disappeared for the second time on the ride. (We are sworn to never speak of the first time he went MIA.)
I had taken the lead with Pete and Andy behind. The roads were true and in good condition so the throttle hand was itching to eat up some miles. When I arrived at the Y in the road where Hwy 266 splits from Hwy 168 I had by then lost sight of my two companions.
Like the closing stanza in Robert Frost’s, The Road Less Traveled;
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
Not ages hence, as I write this in November following our October adventure, and not in the woods but along a tree sided road, I sighed and thought that we had clearly discussed this junction, at and earlier junction to Goldfield on 266, when we contemplated how lost we were. You see, this part of the ride was untraversed by any of us in the past as had much of the prior route. I pitched the leg earlier because it passed by Deep Springs College once over Gilbert Pass on Hwy 168 to Big Pine.
From Wiki: Deep Springs College is a small, private liberal arts junior college in Deep Springs, California. With fewer than 30 students at any given time, the college is one of the smallest institutions of higher education in the United States. https://youtu.be/utziPMKcK3U
Deep Springs is founded on three principles, commonly called the “three pillars”: academics, labor, and self-governance. In addition to studies, students work a minimum of 20 hours a week either on the ranch and farm attached to the college or in positions related to the college and community. Position titles have historically included cook, irrigator, butcher, groundskeeper, cowboy, “office cowboy”, dairy, and feedman. Deep Springs maintains a cattle herd and an alfalfa hay farming operation.
Why I chose Chico State over Deep Springs is a something of a regret I have. What I didn’t have is the IQ to get into the place… https://www.deepsprings.edu/
When I arrived at the summit of Gilbert Pass weaving in and out of scores of perfectly banked curves I decided to rest, collect myself for the downhill, and await my pals. After a few minutes with no sign of the lads, Pete arrived and asked if I had seen Andy. Uh, I thought he was behind you… After waiting for 20 or so minutes, we decided to turn back and find out what was up insofar as we were concerned given an earlier episode (which we are sworn never to mention).
Arriving back at the Oasis junction, no Andy was in sight. We puzzled over whether he had taken the wrong road, one diverging in an alfalfa field, one less traveled by, wondering what difference it would make. After inquiring at what appeared to be a ranch where the residents were apparently checking the back 40 and not around, I stopped a car asking the two young Parisians if they had seen a fellow on an orange moto heading east in the opposite direction from them on Hwy 266, the road less traveled. They smiled and said they had not. I asked them if they needed directions. Smiling again, they did not. I thought about how my dear and departed friend Larry would have handled that encounter. I am not worthy…
Pete and I decided to ride up and over Gilbert Pass, past Deep Springs, and high-tail it to Big Pine over Westgard Pass where we knew cell service was available to give Andy a head’s-up. Getting to ride the twisties back up Gilbert Pass again distracted me temporarily about wondering where Andy was and appeased my disappointment for not stopping and checking out Deep Springs College, maybe buying a tee shirt or mug. On my first trip up and back down the road, I passed by a pick-up and camper rig that was on the side of the road with a family having lunch. There was a table and chairs and food so I didn’t bother stopping and asking if they needed assistance. On the second trip up with Pete we noticed another vehicle stopped and so we decided to inquire. Neither vehicle’s occupants spoke English. Dutch and French again. Imagine that. Assuring us they were okay and awaiting a tow truck, we departed.
Following Gilbert Pass we enjoyed Westgard Pass, one of the best ways to pass time on a moto.
We rolled into the Mobile station in Big Pine. I called Andy leaving a voicemail and text and retreated into mini-mart seeking a High Brew “for those who do” and some sunflower seeds. As I was walking out of the store, checking my phone to see any response from Andy, I look up and what do I see? Andy walking up! I was relieved to find out that he wasn’t abducted by aliens that are rumored to visit the area in a cosmic rapture but that he consciously decided to take the road to Dyer, a 30 mile detour form Oasis, to get fuel as the “Flying Brick” didn’t have the gas mileage or capacity of the Kawasexy or Wee Strom. Feeling relieved we soon hit the pavement heading to our Lee Vining destination for the night (refraining from mentioning the earlier episode about which we’ve sworn to never speak).
A quick 15 miles on Hwy 385 we continued north from Bishop taking Hwy 6 to Benton Station and the intersection with Hwy 120 to Lee Vining. Benton Hot Springs, a few miles west of Benton Station, is a funky relic of a time when miners and original Cowboys enjoyed the mineral waters heated from the depths below the thermally active Long Valley Caldera. https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/long_valley/
From the Historic Benton Hot Springs website:
The west was wild along the California and Nevada border in the late 1880s and Benton Hot Springs was no different. Horsemen came in from around the range on payday and enjoyed a good meal, a stiff drink and anything else they could find. The town was populated by fairly peaceful folks, but there was a sturdy jailhouse for those stepping over the line.
Benton was once a small mining town with up to 5,000 inhabitants. Many of the original buildings still remain, but the town has never completely died. In fact it is still rich in ranching and farming and features the Old House and Inn, a popular vacation destination.
In 1883, a railroad line was completed to Benton Station and soon train service was initiated to Laws Station, located several miles east of Bishop Creek. Benton Hot Springs got its start around 1863 with the discovery of silver in the nearby Blind Springs Hills and along the White Mountains. One of the oldest surviving towns in Mono County, Benton was once thriving, with up to 5,000 inhabitants.
It’s always interesting to contemplate how in such a short period of time, maybe twenty years, the enterprise that would support several thriving East Side communities where mining, agriculture, and commerce could ramp up to build such impressive infrastructure that would sustain a significant population for another 50 years, but is today, scarcely evident.
46 Miles of Sweepers, Rollers and Long Straightaways…
46 miles to Hwy 395 with another 13 miles of slab to Lee Vining lay ahead. Now, late afternoon with shadows lengthening, there was an “urgency” to make our way to Lee Vining for what would likely be a competition for the last room at the inn, or Lake View Lodge, where Andy had earlier made reservations. By this time our camping gear was an accessory to make our bikes look like we were hearty adventure travelers.
It was on this stretch of highway I temporarily suspended my otherwise conservative approach to riding a motorcycle by opening up the throttle to see what the venerable Kawasexy could do. Throwing caution to the wind, I experienced the landscape passing by so rapidly it was a blur concentrating intently on the road as speed clearly exceeded the distance needed to stop should a wayward elk or pika run across the road before me. Only two vehicles passed in the other direction on the entire 46 miles between Benton Springs and Mono Lake. Knowing Pete’s predilection for speed, I was surprised not to see him in my mirror.
Venerable Institutions Galore
I arrived at the Lake View Lodge and in a few minutes was joined by Pete. It seems we had the same idea about the road. Andy, maybe ten minutes behind, savored the experience, sipping the landscape as Pete and I quaffed it.
As I had considered, the Lodge was full up for accommodating two more weary travelers on this late Monday evening. However, Andy asked if it would be possible to upgrade his reservation for one of the larger “cabins” that when presented to Pete and me exceeded our budgets for hostel. The Lake View Lodge is family owned and operated since 1932 and is a mash-up of a motel, a variety of small cabins, and larger modular homes. We were given the 4 Queen Cabin that could accommodate eight guests. The math worked out getting a deal since it was unlikely to be occupied that evening so we signed the register and made plans for dinner.
After a fine dinner at Nicely’s, a venerable Lee Vining institution with a menu that probably precedes my first visit 47 years ago, we procured some après dinner beverages at the Mono Market (ditto a venerable institution) to enjoy while gathered around the smelter-caliber gas fireplace in the Queen to watch the Lions lose to the Packers on Monday Night Football. Much reflective conversation about the ride took place as we were warmed from the outside by fireplace and on the inside by a fine bourbon. The ride was on the whole quite satisfying. Covering over 800 miles by then, experiencing the changing season over a range of topography, can not be under appreciated.
Tomorrow the homeward leg over Tioga Pass…
Day 4, Adieu… As for 1/3 of the Crew, the Grind Beckons
Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’
Into the future
I want to fly like an eagle To the sea Fly like an eagle Let my spirit carry me I want to fly like an eagle Till I’m free
The clock was ticking and Andy, anxious to get back for the obligation of work, was pressing for an early start. Since we couldn’t fly like an eagle over Tioga Pass on our return route we rolled up to gas up at the Whoa Nellie Deli Mobile at the intersection of Hwys 395 and 120.
The ride back over the pass was absent of any warmth whatsoever as evidenced by Pete’s ambient temperature gauge reading below the scale of single digits. Wearing virtually every stitch of clothing I brought, including layering up the gloves, I resembled Ralphie’s brother Randy, from a Christmas Story.
Nature is not a place to visit, it is home
Poet Gary Snyder’s words expressing the relationship between nature and home is just the sort of Zen I was feeling as the ride concluded. We arrived home in Merced sound of body, mostly, and with rejuvenated minds. Rides such as this with friends elevates the experience especially when taken across the interestingly elevated topography* from the Sierra Crest to the depths of Death Valley and across the Great Basin of Nevada and the high desert of Eastern California. Certainly a motorcycle ride is the cure for most any ailment induced by inactivity or isolation. We all agreed that another ride would surely emerge to enjoy another season over new terrain in the fine company of one another.
*Topography defined as the relief features or surface configuration of an area or schema of a structural entity, as of the mind, a field of study, or society, reflecting a division into distinct areas having a specific relation or a specific position relative to one another.
The air was lighter in October than during the early fire season where much of Central California was blanketed by smoke from the Ferguson, Carr, and Mendocino Complex fires in July through September. These fires, just three of the 8,527 conflagrations in all of California, were controlled when the tragic and massive Camp fire erupted in November 2018. In Merced, our home, we’re accustomed to fog in the winter but without the AQI 200 – 300+ ashen particulates you could taste with each breath experienced this summer. The extended summer fire season ironically put a damper of sorts on my usual bicycling, hiking, and moto adventures.
Thankfully, as fire activity rapidly diminished and the AQI resumed it’s more normal “unhealthy” rating in September before raising it’s ugly mane again in November, plans were made to travel through the Western Sierra Nevada with moto/bicycle pal Pete on local roads including Hwy 49 up to Lassen National Park, west on Hwy 36 to the Lost Coast, south on Hwy 1 to Jenner, and finally east to Santa Rosa and home .
Day 1 to Sierraville
The challenge on a four day 1,000 plus mile moto ride is that the riding part will take up a good part of the day that cuts into the stopping parts for fuel, food, and snapping inspiring pics. Most gas station stops, while a necessity, are less than inspiring food or pic ops unless beer is your food of choice.
Hwy 49, the Golden Chain Highway, would have taken us through Jamestown had we opted to go to our usual Bear Valley Rd. junction. Not wanting to deal with the Golden Traffic Chain quite yet, we opted to travel the less traveled roads through Knight’s Ferry following part of our bicycling route on Los Cerritos to Keys Rd., Lake Rd., around Turlock Lake, and across the Robert’s Ferry Bridge. From there on Crabtree, Warnerville, and Willms Roads intersecting with Hwy. 108 at Knight’s Ferry we headed north on E. Sonora Rd. through Eugene on Milton Rd. then rode through Felix, Milton, Jenny Lind, Rancho Calaveras thus skipping a big chunk of Hwy 49 when finally reaching San Andreas. From there it was on to Camp Pardee, Buena Vista, Ione, Latrobe, Shingle Springs, and Kingsville into Placerville where a first inspired smile was recorded. Bob Frost would approve the lesser road smile.
No less admiring of Robert Frost, my fellow two-wheeler friend and I often jest about our admiration for Peter Fonda’s declaration from The Wild Angles that inspires our taking roads less traveled:
Dirtbags that we are, not wanting to be hassled by the man, we figured the tourist traffic along the more established picturesque State Highway 49, say from Coulterville, was best to be avoided in pursuit of our desire to be free to ride our machines and have a good time, even though we’d miss out on Pete’s favorite twisties on Hwy 49 from the Fremont Overlook down to Bagby. From the inundated historic Bagby stop on the Yosemite Valley Railway, more twisties climb up into Coulterville where if you’re lucky, the “mayor” will be holding court on the patio of the Coulter Store …
Plans, like dreams, are easily broken and unlike a movie script we had resumed riding Hwy 49 through the suburban Sierra through Placerville to Auburn. Somehow stop light after stop light dampened our sense of freedom until reaching the Grass Valley and Nevada City nexus where less of the man’s repression was evident. Presumably because fire discouraged tourism was at an ebb.
From GV/NC we headed NE to Downieville as the afternoon shadows lengthened and we were once again free, free to ride our machines and have a good time!
Two wheeling in Downieville inclusively involves pedalling as well as twisting a throttle, although from the photo above, you’d think Downieville a sleepy little foothill burgh. Absent are the two wheelers that I recall outnumbered the school busses something on the order of 100:1 that are mysteriously absent in the photos.
From Downieville we entered the deciduous and evergreen zone of the Sierra having left the grasslands savanna riding twisties and rolling hills through chaparral/oak woodlands of the valley and foothills. We crested the Sierra Nevada near Sierra City, where the vegetation grades from mostly ponderosa pine at the lower elevations on the west side and lodgepole pine on the east side, to fir and spruce at the higher elevations. Después de disfrutar de una buena comida en el restaurante Los Dos Hermanos, we discovered the creeping seasonal change in what resembled alpine conditions that exist on the eastern side of the Sierra crest and at the highest elevations where the aspen beginning to change color telegraphed winter. But where to camp for the chilly night?
A quick stop for provisions, following that delightful mexican dinner, we procured the philosophical musings lubricant known as beer, Negra Modelo as I recall, at the Sierraville Service and Country Store. Here the delightful proprietor happily gave directions to the nearest campsite: “Keep on 89 over the hill and down at the bottom you’ll see the Cottonwood Creek Campground. It should be open.”
Indeed, the campgrounds were open with two other occupants. Running water was not available as nighttime temps were below freezing and the system was shut down. However, our cervezas didn’t have a chance to freeze as we enjoyed spirited conversation of the philosophical sort in recalling 280 some miles of the day’s riding through stunning landscapes ending the day in view of those aspen readying for winter.
Day 2 Bound for the Redwoods
Up and at’em early, thinking we would scoot out of the campground leaving no trace of our stay as did our neighboring occupants who scooted out only minutes before us and who should we encounter? Yep, Ranger Earl seeking remuneration for his dutiful 8 a.m. campground roundup. For our nine hour stay he generously gave us the “winter rate” of $10 instead of the normal $20 fee since there was no running water. Not quite the rate our fellow squatters enjoyed, we suspected our $10 provided the good Ranger with a fine huevos rancheros breakfast at Los Dos Hermanos following our departure.
Returning to Sierraville we sought breakfast at Smithneck Farms Bakery/Cafe for a hearty bowl of oatmeal and a stout cup or two of java.
Our destination was the Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park to camp for the evening, but first, there was this volcano we wished to see. Heading N Northwest on Hwy 89 we rode through several small communities. For such a sparsely populated region the folks living there sure like to identify their homesteads. We rode Hwy 89 through Calpine, Whitehawk, Clio, Graeagle, Blairsden, Two Rivers, Cromberg, Spring Garden, Massack, East Quincy and Quincy two communities I remembered visiting during my undergraduate days at Chico State. From Quincey we encountered Keddie, Indian Falls, Greenville, Canyon Dam, Lake Almanor, and Chester, the latter two also remembered from the fog of Chico Daze.
Heading west on Hwy 36/89 we climbed up to Lassen Peak the southernmost active volcano in the Cascade Range of the Western United States. On May 22, 1915, a powerful explosive eruption at Lassen Peak devastated nearby areas, and spread volcanic ash as far as 280 miles to the east. Considering California was already smoldering, the potentially eruptive volcano didn’t really cause us any concern, our lungs hardened with forest particulates having endured the summer fires riding our bicycles. What’s a little pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis among friends?
It’s a small world after all and whom should we encounter at the Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor Center? A fellow geezer and former resident of Merced, our home town, fellow bicyclist, and grandfather who adoringly cares for and celebrates his grandson and their antics on Facebook while my former student, his son, is at work… Ken who eschewed BMW motorcycles for years owning a Honda CBR 1100 XX and who gave up riding motos for bicycles after his second or third mid-life crisis until a fourth or fifth mid-life crisis found him retiring to Lincoln, CA. We serendipitously discovered him astride a BMW beast of a geezermobile pulling into the visitor center parking lot where his riding chaps were waiting. It seems his buddies were frustratedly awaiting his return from the volcano’s summit with spectacles he both lost and later found crushed. A classic geezer move that ended with a surprising encounter and mini-reunion.
Soon we bid adieu to Ken and his stuffy BMW crew who were returning from some Canadian luxury tour headed to some cushy resort at Lake Almanor to guzzle fancy micro-brews. With miles to go before we sleep, and miles to go before we sleep, we climbed back on the people’s bikes to begin the our westward journey on Hwy 36 to the famed twisties west of Red Bluff. You know you’re on the right road as you leave Red Bluff and see the sign warning…
But before you can enjoy the clutch-wrist, throttle-wrist, and shift-lever-left ankle, right-brake-pedal ankle fatigue, you happen to notice a nail in your tire after fueling next to a motorcycle dealership/shop. Serendipity again? Nah. I had to plug the tire because the shop manager wouldn’t assist me other allowing me to air up the repaired tire citing liability exposure. He couldn’t sell me a tire because he didn’t have one to fit my bike. It was a Kawasaki dealership too! Speaking of exposure, we were exposed to searing heat in the upper 90’s having just descended from the cool of the mountains adding to the fun. Indeed, our delay wrought afternoon sun angle glare directly in our face as we began the best part of the ride.
Soon the arid lee side of the Coast Range hills gave way to mountains shielding the sun with forests giving us a greater measure of confidence in being able to see through the glare the undulations and blind corners we encountered. However, as we continued through the next 100 or so miles of twisting roadways, some under repair and gravelly, fatigue began to set in.
I hastily pulled over near the Mad River Burger Bar needing a brief respite from the constant throttle twisting, shifting to accelerate, braking, and down shifting, repeat and rinse. I used the stop as an excuse to consult the map even though there was only a single road to our destination. Slightly off-balance, my topheavy packed-with-gear bike began to tip just as Pete pulled alongside. Though I had dropped my bike once before on another trip with Pete, that time when he had abruptly pulled over to take in a view on wet gravel along the side of the road on ride west over Ebbetts Pass earlier in the year, I hadn’t since. I wear the scratched hard case as a battle scar of freedom! Timing is everything and so just as Pete pulled up my candy-matte orange Versys domino struck his pristine, shiny chrome, black and white [and in a] Triumph [of gravity] both bikes came to rest, gently on their sides.
Hastily righting our bikes, embarrassed as wouldn’t you know a crowd was assembled for happy hour at the bar, we superficially assessed the damage and were pleased to notice how little damage had occurred. I was somewhat relieved sensing that Pete was none too happy with my faux pas. An eventual clutch lever replacement on Pete’s bike along with a slight headlight realignment and a footpeg replacement on the Versys made it all mo’ better.
Following a brief conversation with a local about camping in the vicinity we decided to clear out from the gawking crowd of 420 bystanders at the Mad River Burger Bar and Off Sale saloon as he recommended we just ride up a dirt road behind the bar and set up camp there… I have no doubt that his overture was sincere. It’s the 420 happy hour crowd who might just have an interest to protect whatever just might be up that dirt road, that we were concerned with. One never knows how territorial Master Gardeners can be…
Hwy 36 follows the meandering Van Duzen River just west of the Mad River through Trinity and Humboldt Counties. As nightfall was descending and not having eaten since a sammie on the side of a volcano, we passed a couple of opportunities to grab the evenings provisions in the belief that Bridgeville, CA, an actual designated town on the map closer to our destination, would have a store and/or restaurant. We were wrong. Bridgeville had been variously put on the market and sold as many as four times since 2002. Apparently legalizing pot was driving real estate speculation. As far as we could tell the only feature of Bridgeville that had any redeeming value was the old Bridgeville bridge over the Van Duzen River constructed in 1875. We declined taking any dirt roads to look for other “value added” features of the town.
Just a few miles down Hwy 36 we came upon Swains Flat Outpost and Garden Center in the community of Carlotta where Royal Gold Bulk Soil could be purchased. Given that the Outpost was along a fertile river plane in a dense forest we wondered why there was so many garden supplies so readily available. It certainly didn’t appear there was a farmers market nearby and the only food available in the Outpost grocery store was from the industrial food chain. So a pre-made sammie, some chips, and the requisite micro-brew, a fine Lagunitas IPA as I recall, were procured as we were given directions to the only campground open in the area, the Van Duzen-Pamplin Grove County Park on the recommendation of a bored yet distracted young proprietor.
We arrived at the campground under the cover of darkness. Arriving in a redwood forest at night is akin to entering a sensory deprivation tank without the water. It was pitch black and silent. Finding a nearby campsite, we pulled in for the night setting up in the light provided by our motos to enjoy an incredibly still evening, the only sound that of the crunching of chips as we ate our mediocre dry and virtually tasteless industrial sammies. The beer, however, was excellent.
Day 3 More Redwoods, But a Coastal Course Change
We had originally planned to ride through Ferndale to Mattole Road then on to the Lost Coast and down and back to Hwy 101 by way of Petrolia, Honeydew, and Bull Creek. But considering my brand new Dunlop Sportmax Q3 rear tire was plugged, we opted to stay on smoother pavement nearer “resources” should my fix fail. So, our day 3 breakfast consisted of delicious handmade sammies from the Murrish Market in Hydesville restoring our faith that a sandwich is nearly the perfect food any time of the day or night unless it comes wrapped in plastic. The sammie meal theme was established.
Intersecting with Hwy 101 in Alton, we began our trek south through the Avenue of the Giants in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. The otherworldly roadway was sublimely serene with little traffic on our morning tour as mists drifted in and out of this incredible sunlit canvas before us.
Departing the park near Phillipsville we continued South through grove after grove of redwoods crossing the South Fork of the Eel River dozens of times through Garberville, Benbow, Cooks Valley, Piercy, eventually reaching Leggett where leaving Hwy 101 westward we merged with Hwy 1 getting glimpses of the Pacific as we wound our way through Rockport, Hardy, and DeHaven. It was Saturday and the road was filled with tourists and cyclists, though it was a tad misty from fog.
The cool foggy coastal route called for a warm beverage and the little community of Westport was just the sort of funky place you could find a funky cup of fog cutting coffee. And the roadside tire plug repair was holding!
Pete and I entered the store to find a frenzied proprietor behind the counter preparing a couple of dozen sammies for the volunteer fire department’s Saturday training whose CalFire Captain was entertaining us with local knowledge and history of the area. Several other customers were lined up as well. After about 20 minutes of waiting to order coffee, the master deli-man looked up for the first time as we asked his young daughter working the register for a cup of coffee. His head dropped returning to focus on frenzied sammie making and said with only slight derision, “It’s in the back, self-serve.” We decided to forgo sammies…
Wanting to make our Santa Rosa destination for dinner, hoping our friend Dale would prepare something other than sammies, we set off again riding through Newport, Inglenook, Cleone to Ft. Bragg for a snack and fuel where we met several cyclists, one of whom was traveling to or from South America. We suddenly felt small. As the let’s-take-a-drive-up-the-coast crowed continued to crowd the highway, it was on to Caspar, Mendicino, Little River, Albion, Manchester, Stomella, Flumeville, Point Arena, Callway, Fish Rock, Anchor Bay, Gualala, Sea Ranch, Stewarts Point, Walsh Landing, Timber Cove, and Fort Ross. All the names seemed to historically recall past economies of small communities now transformed into tourist stops along a most beautiful and rugged Northern California coastal region.
Reaching Jenner with grumbling stomachs we headed westward on Hwy 116 along the Russian River through Duncan Mills, Seridan, Monte Rio, Guerneville, Forestville, to Guerneville Rd. guided by the GPS to turn right and left here and there to arrive at Casa del Dale.
Dale is a friend with whom, in our other lives, I have skied, hiked, and ridden bicycles along with a group of like-minded outdoor enthusiasts who over the years lived in Merced. Joined by our wives and occasionally our kids, we lived the California dream. We skied cross-country in Yosemite, spending a couple of New Year’s Eves in the Ostrander Ski Hut feasting on unbelievably extravagant and sumptuous meals complete with wine and desserts, all hauled in on sleds and our backs. At other times we would ski out to Dewey Point in the morning then heading back to Badger Pass to ski downhill in the afternoon. Conveniently Dale relocated his family to Yosemite to head a dental practice in the park so a warm fire, mangia and bevi always greeted us following our seasonal trips on snow and into the backcountry. We were hoping Dale had not lost his touch even though it was his wife Catherine who did all of the cooking. Alas, Catherine was out of town.
Lead by our friend Larry, a ragtag assemblage of fellows rode our bikes across 11 Western States on an annual “Tour de (fill in the blank)”. Backpacking was also a feature of our outdoor pursuits. In fact Dale and Larry on a second attempt to hike the length of Muir Trail in ten days was chronicled in a self published narrative penned by Larry. Though a tough little fella, Dale once a Forest Service Smoke Jumper never joined me during my sailing phase. I guess that’s like me giving up on the golf phase. I can’t remember ever seeing Dale swim, though we variously participated in team triathlons. Dale was the designated cyclist. Sadly, while Larry has passed away the victim of brain cancer, his memory is alive in all who knew him and his service to his community, Mammoth. We continue to celebrate his memory in pursuit of adventure. Whether planning or setting about on a moto, hiking, or biking adventure, my thoughts always turn to Larry.
Dale didn’t disappoint as he prepared ribeyes with baked potatoes and wonder salad, right out of the bag! How could he fail? His son Orlando is a talented designer who completely transformed a cramped seventies kitchen into a beautiful and efficient gathering place for the family in their tastefully appointed suburban Santa Rosa home. We dirtbags were honored.
Pliney the Elder was paired with the tasty repast as we lapsed post dinner into conversation of the philosophical kind before retiring. I suspect that’s why Dale’s wife Catherine was absent…
Day 4 Homeward Bound
Anxious to get underway to avoid the Sunday-driver traffic in wine country, Pete and I packed and readied for the final leg of our four day mini-adventure thanking our gracious host.
Though I had roughly planned the course for our previous three days I really wasn’t too sure of the best moto route to take back to Merced from Santa Rosa. It was decided that we leave early to beat the traffic that would blossom as the fog lifted. So it was east to St. Helena skirting Lake Berryessa on Hwy 128 and the Glory Hole. Apparently wine drinkers get an early start as there was much traffic on our way out. Exiting Hwy 128 in Winters we headed south parallel to I-505 on Winters Rd. then east on Allendale Rd., a quick south on N. Meridian Rd., then west on Dixon Ave. West see what Dixon had to offer. Entering the town through what appeared to be a Mendota, CA like barrio, suddenly, and to our surprise, a vibrant yet quaint village square with shops and restaurants emerged from a redeveloped downtown center bustling with Sunday brunchers. Huevos rancheros at Taqueria Adelena hit the spot as we planned our stretch ride route. It’s only sort of weird to have coffee with Mexican food.
South on Hwy 113 to Hwy 12 and Rio Vista was reasonably uncomplicated. However, Hwy 12 across the Rio Vista bridge then west through Terminous into Lodi was a virtual parking lot. To avoid the interstate and freeway we rode through Lodi on Hwy 12 and turned south on Alpine Rd. until heading east on E. Kettleman Ln. to stop for a refreshing cold beverage at the Countryside Mini Mart at the intersection with Hwy 88 attracted to their bold banner screaming FAST SERVICE since by early afternoon we were anxious to get home.
Continuing east on E. Kettleman Ln through vineyards we then intersected with with Jack Tone Rd. south crossing Ruta Estatal California 26 (?) to east on Hwy 4 into Farmington as vineyards gave way to almond orchards and silage fields. South on J-6 Escalon-Ballota Rd. to east on Lone Tree Rd. took us to Valley Home where we then headed south once more. From there it was Valley Home Rd. through Adela and Oakdale continuing south on Albers Rd. on to the Oakdale-Waterford Hwy through Waterford and Hickman down to N. Montpelier Rd. that becomes Oakdale Rd. crossing the Merced River on to Amsterdam and Hwy 59 to home sweet home.
The trip could have easily taken several more days to fully appreciate the terrain, the riding, the nearly perfect weather and the people and communities through which we rode. We might have found something other than sammies to satisfy our hunger. The beauty of living in a state of nearly 40 million residents is that many of them tend to cluster together in coastal metropolitan areas. Aside from a few brief but crowded roadways much of the riding was over good road surfaces with little to worry about except for an unexpected deer crossing. Though it was only four days, spending nearly all of the daylight hours on the bike in the company of a good friend was itself a blast. Next time I’ll use other less traveled roads and maybe take a little more time for the stopping parts and pics…
The road beckons, as usual, Sisyphus and Associates are willin’ to scratch the “Quest into the Unknown” itch on this proposed journey that will reprise a scene or two from where we’ve been before (check out the links). This is to satisfy our incurable quest into the unknown, including some new territory close to Tucson and Tucumcari. Tehachapi, meh.
As the seasons begin to change, we hope the weather cooperates and foregoes any extreme behavior. Well, we’ll just have to wait and see. Our first two days are familiar as they include previous stops in Tonopah and Cedar City with drive throughs in Torrey, Caineville, Hanksville, and Green River. Our ultimate destination and turnabout will be Santa Fe in the Land of Enchantment. I’m curious how the state motto, “Crescit Eundo,” translated from Latin, means “It grows as it goes.” I’ll have to ask Bob and Suzanne our enchanting hosts about the allusion to dynamic progress…
Sisyphus is an insufferable map geek. The roads over which our route will take us fall into the Butler designated “road qualities” of Lost Highways, G1, G2, and G3 segments. Check out Mojave Moto Spring 2021 for Sisyphus’s expansion of the Butler “road qualities” descriptions at https://sisyphusdw7.com/2021/04/29/mojave-moto-spring-2021/. There will be deserts and high forested mountains, river valleys, and arroyos to cross through small towns on backroads that are our preferred intermediate waypoints. What did folks do before Google Maps and Earth? Okay, our quest will sort of be into the unknown. Sorry Mr. Natural.
You may think this trip isn’t so much a quest into the unknown what with having covered ground on previous rides and extensive use of mapping. And you’d be correct. The quest into the unknown isn’t so much about the terrain. We know we’ll be awed by the varied landscapes we’ll ride through. The quest is more about the journey following some of Edward Abbey’s travels and the romance of the road that seems to permeate the long-haul trucker’s, poet’s, and map-loving motorcyclist’s zeitgeist. So, why not let’s call it, There and Back Looking for the Other Abbey’s Road (Trip2021).
Sisyphus humbly offers a scroll-worthy (at least click on the blue map links) proposal for this twelve-day moto adventure, broken into Part 1, Eastward We Go, and Part 2 Westward Down and Bound. Bring your imagination along and join us if you’re willin’ as a brief narrative of the route with some images captured previously in-person and from the interwebs detail our intended waypoints and consider the ese on Guest-friendship that follows.
The Sierra poses the first “obstacle” to overcome. We’ll take CA-120 by way of J-59, CA 132 to Smith Station Rd. (281 miles) with the Tioga Pass Option, or the CA-108 over Sonora Pass Option (~309 miles) to Bridgeport then Lee Vining on US-395. It just depends on which route is on fire…
From Lee Vining, it’s US-395 to the junction w/ CA-120 to Benton (Hot Springs). From there we make our way on US-6 to Tonopah, across range and basin country, where Sisyphus and his Associate Pete stayed in the fall of 2020. You can read about that trip and the next two legs we are reprising from the Burr Trail Here We Come blog post. sisyphusdw7.com, Burr Trail Here We Come
From Tonopah, we ride on US-6/NV-95 through Warm Springs and catch the road to Rachel on NV-375. We hope to avoid being abducted by aliens who are allegedly held captive at Area 51. That doesn’t preclude stopping for a souvenir T-Shirt at the Alien Research Center at Crystal Springs should we escape. T-Shirt safely stowed, we proceed on US-93 through Caliente, perhaps for a delightful lunch, infusing cash into the local economies, to the junction w/ NV-319 in Panaca.
From Panaca it’s NV-319 to the Nevada/Utah border where the road becomes UT-56 to Modena. Modena, just an R away from mRNA vaccine name recognition fame… I wonder if there’s a Pfize Utah?
Following breakfast, an early departure takes us on UT-14 to Tod’s Junction meeting UT-14 and US-89 through Hatch to the junction w/ UT-12 through Tropic, Cannonville, Henrieville, Escalante, and Boulder where we will tip our helmets to the Burr Trail, then roll into Torrey to the junction w/ UT-24.
From Torrey, it’s UT-24 along the Fremont River, past Capitol Reef, through Fruita, Caineville to Hanksville. Staying on UT-24 we make our way through Green River via a brief spin on I-70 to US-191 to Moab, Arches, and red rock country.
Via Moab US 191 through the La Sals and into the Rockies to Monticello and the junction w/ US-491 we make our way through Lewis and UT-184, to Mancos and UT-3 and US-160 to Pagosa Springs. Here we take US-84 through Chomo, cross the Colorado/New Mexico border to the junction of US-84 and US-64. The last leg on US-64 is to the junction w/ UT-17 into Chama.
Via US-64 from Chama, we pass through Brazos, staying on US-64 at Tres Piedras, we cross the Rio Grande on the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge on our way to Taos. It’s fun to walk to the middle of the span and jump up and down. More fun if an 80,000-pound rig passes by.
From Taos, it’s UT-68 to Pilar, where we roll alongside the Rio Grande to Espanola and Pojoaque, then take US-285/US-84 into Santa Fe.
= OR =
Abbey’s Road Trip 2021 V1.1, a.k.a. The Aspen Anna Option (with a nod to Taos)(?)
This route option skips the Moab to Chama, Chama to Santa Fe Days 4 & 5 legs of The Other Abbey’s Road Trip V1.0.
With this option, the riding distance for days 4 and 5 increases by 140 miles so that we might visit Aspen. One of the other Associates, Andy, who you will recall from the Riding Under a Fool Moon post, has daughter who resides there. And Anna happens to be a former student of Sisyphus. Who knows, maybe we’ll see Lance Armstrong and George Hincapie riding their bikes, neither of whom is a former student, but Aspen is a small town. The bonus of crossing the Continental Divide resplendent in fall color looms as we make our way through the Rockies.
Briefly, south out of Moab on US-191 to the junction w/ UT-128 to junction w/ UT-46 in La Sal. A short distance to the Utah/Colorado border where UT-46 becomes CO-90 we roll to Naturita where we don a few extra layers and take CO-141 up and up to the junction w/ US-50 just south of Grand Junction to Delta. Junction US-50 w/ CO-92 to Hotchkiss and junction w/ CO-133 to Carbondale and the junction w/ Rds. 101, 100 to CO-82 on to Aspen. Lots of twisties in the mountains.
Out of Aspen, likely wearing every stitch of clothing we’ve packed, it’s CO-82 over Independence Pass. Unless closed whether the weather! Then on to the junction w/ US-24. US-24 due south to the junction w/ US-285 near Johnson Village. US-285 to junction w/ CO-17 to Alamosa where we pick up US-285 crossing the Colorado/New Mexico border to Tres Piedras and US-64 to Taos. From Taos it’s UT-68 to Pilar where we roll alongside the Rio Grande to Espanola, and Pojoaque and take US-285/US-84 into Santa Fe.
Should the decision be made to skip Taos, remain on Hwy-285 to Santa Fe (Aspen to Santa Fe) ~303 miles. If my vote counts, I say Taos it is.
Meanwhile, on to Santa Fe…
Day 6 – Santa Fe Layover*
Without imposing too much, while in Santa Fe we anticipate that the Bob and Suzanne Delaware, our resident hosts, will consent to allow Bob to summon his considerable skills as a platinum tour guide to provide Sisyphus and his Associates with a condensed tour of Santa Fe. This skill set has been honed over a number of years shepherding student travelers to the nation’s Capitol and the Big Apple, as well as his personal European and stateside rambles.
Hopefully we’ll not have to deal with any plague spreading oppressors! Besides, Bob’s tour will get us out of Suzanne’s lovely red hair…
From Santa Fe, we head north on US-84 to Pojoaque and cross the Rio Grande on US-285 to Espanola. Remain on US-285 to La Quachia (US-84) along the Rio Chama to Abiquiu, with Georgia on our minds, or choose the option to head west and visit Los Alamos via NM-502, -501, -4, and check out what’s shakin’ at ground zero for mutually assured destruction. In either case, then proceed to NM-126 through the mountains to the junction w/ NM-96 and US-550 near La Jara. From the US-550 Interchange, we roll through Counselor, Nageezi to US-64.
On to Farmington along the San Juan River to Shiprock where US-64 will take us across the New Mexico/Arizona border to Teec Nos Pos and the junction with US-160 and the Four Corners Monument north on US-160, a six-mile (x2) round-side trip.
Back on US-160 near Red Mesa, we cross the San Juan River just west of Bluff to the junction w/US-163 to Mexican Hat.
Day 8 – Mexican Hat to North Rim Campground ~265 miles
From Mexican Hat on US-163, in the midst of the Navajo Nation, to Kayenta and the junction w/ US-160 and AZ-98, up to Page and the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell where we’ll spend a moment considering the abject reality of climate change, then head to the junction w/ US-89 across Antelope Pass to Bitter Springs and US-89A crossing the not so mighty Colorado River on the Navajo Bridge across Marble Canyon to Jacob Lake (from Mexican hat it’s ~220 miles to Jacob Lake Campground) where Hwy-67, which takes us to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, lies some 45 miles south from Jacob Lake.
Backtracking, as the North Rim is an out-and-back, we take US-89A back to Bitter Springs, then US-89 south to Cameron, where we roll to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on AZ-64.
Leaving the South Rim, we motor on AZ-64 to Williams before getting on the Historic Rte-66 the following morning. Maybe we can find a corner to stand on with fine sights to see, not Dallas Alice, but the takin’ it easy girl…
Take’ It Easy You may recognize JB. How ’bout the fiddle player? Hint: DL
Getting our kicks on Historic US Rte-66 while takin’ it easy, we roll through Ash Fork, Seligman, Yampai, Peach Springs, Truxton, Cozier, Valentine, Hackberry, Antares, Hualapai, Berry, Getz, to Kingman perhaps to mistakenly stand on a corner scanning to see a flatbed Ford. Road-weary, a kind passerby reminds Sisyphus that the corner about which Jackson is singing is in Winslow, not Williams, or Kingman for that matter, though either city’s name satisfies the meter of the song… There’s probably a corner in Seligman we can stand on too, though there is one too many syllables.
In Kingman we take US-93 to the junction with AZ-68 to the Arizona/Nevada Border.
Entering the great Mojave at the interchange of AZ-68 and NV-163 and crossing the Colorado River again, what’s left of it downriver from the Davis Dam, this time in Laughlin, we head to Palm Gardens on NV-163. From the junction w/ US-95 in Palm Gardens, we roll to Searchlight and the Nevada/California border as NV-164 becomes Nipton Road to the I-15 (Barstow Fwy). From there we “slab” over Mountain Pass past the historic but abandoned and vandalized Hi-Lo Restaurant, to Baker and the world’s tallest thermometer where the Mad Greek Restaurant and Alien Fresh Jerky all await a similar fate.
Our early departure from Shoshone takes us past Death Valley Junction and the Amargosa Opera House on CA-127 or we detour through Death Valley CA-190 ~164 miles to Lone Pine*
CA-127 becomes NV-373 at NV border where we continue to the Interchange of NV-373 and US-95 to Beatty, maybe catching Rhyolite on a short side trip on NV 374 (six miles, twelve round trip) that we missed on the Riding Under a Fool Moon, Death Valley by Moonlight ride (because of Sisyphus’s navigation error) for a picture or two. Then it’s back on US 95 to Goldfield (to check out the Santa Fe Motel and Saloon). Parenthetically speaking.
From Goldfield we take US-95 south, backtracking as it were, to the junction w/ the Lida NV-266 junction crossing the Nevada/California border to the junction w/ CA-168 at Oasis where circular irrigated alfalfa fields thrive. This was the scene of an alien abduction during our Riding Under a Fool Moon, Death Valley by Moonlight moto adventure linked above. This was a pre-pandemic ride in the fall of 2019 with the Associates Pete and Andy, one of whom mysteriously disappeared. Fortunately, for Anna’s sake, he was released by his captors and we were reunited in Big Pine.
Over Gilbert Pass, past Deep Springs College, where Sisyphus regrets not having the wherewithal to have attended, and over Westgard Pass to Big Pine Hwy on CA-168 where we take US-395 to Lee Vining and CA-120 over Tioga Pass and CA 140 to la douceur du foyer where there are numerous corners to stand on, but not many flatbed Fords. Thus ending the story of our route with a hard-to-read text, according to my editor…
But wait, there’s more…
Abbey’s Road Trip 2021 Layover Days: Lessons From the Past Regarding Guest-friendship, An Ese…
Where Sisyphus considers a dialog with an Homeric epic. The italics indicate Sisyphus’s considerations…
While ours is scarcely an epic journey, Sisyphus will reflect on how the classics deal with road trips and apply their wisdom to our contemporary adventure. Sisyphus has considerable regard for how the past informs the present and future.
According to J. B. Hainsworth, in the course of the Homeric epic Odysseus encounters several examples of xenia, “guest-friendship” providing models of how hosts should and should not act. The Phaeacians demonstrate exemplary guest-friendship by feeding Odysseus, giving him a place to sleep, and granting him many gifts and a safe voyage home, which are all things a good host should do.
The Delawares have Phaeacian DNA.
Polyphemus demonstrates poor guest-friendship. His only “gift” to Odysseus is that he will eat him last. Calypso also exemplifies poor guest-friendship because she does not allow Odysseus to leave her island.
Polyphemus and Calypso offer classic “six of one, half dozen of another” poor guest-friendship outcomes. I’ve always known the Delawares to offer the finest beverage upon their guests’ arrival and to offer exceptional repast and delightful conversation before bidding adieu. Neither Bob nor Suzanne have ever once hinted at cannibalism. Their abiding hospitably permit their guests who’ve either satisfied or have exhausted their memorable visit to exit with good cheer. The Delawares conduct all guest-friendship with exceptional grace and decorum unlike Polyphemus or Calypso.
Another important factor to guest-friendship is that kingship implies generosity. It is assumed that a king has the means to be a generous host and is more generous with his own property. This is best seen when Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, begs Antinous for food and Antinous denies his request. Odysseus essentially says that while Antinous may look like a king, he is far from a king since he is not generous.
I promise to not relegate Pete or Andy as beggars to test Bob’s hospitality, as Odysseus did to Antinous since I know Bob, unlike Antinous, is kingly in his every manor and exhortation. If at all flawed in his sincere humility, Bob is indeed kingly in his generosity. I am reminded of his wise counsel: It never happened.
Guest-friendship follows a very specific pattern:
The arrival and the reception of the guest.
Arrival will be on September 30, 2021, mid afternoon, baring the incalculable unforeseen delays of any quest into the unknown.
Bathing or providing fresh clothes to the guest.
A garden hose or perhaps a refreshing Santa Fe thundershower will do. We may need to do laundry. Perhaps we can obtain a wash tub and scrub board from one of the vendors on the Plaza.
Providing food and drink to the guest.
We will sustain the first three rounds of any beverage occasion. Beyond that, neither Santa Fe nor the Delawares bear any responsibility for poor choices. The Delawares may still be on the hook to shuffle us off to the nearest pub or contact our loved ones for bail.
Questions may be asked of the guest and entertainment should be provided by the host.
Good cheer and maybe a beverage or two are the only requirements for entertainment since exposure to centuries of Santa Fe culture and history requires more time to absorb and greater tolerance than the Delawares can muster for weary moto riding dirtbags despite my earlier comments about Bob’s superb skills as a guide.
The guest should be given a place to sleep, and both the guest and host retire for the night.
A curb for our mounts, a yard for a tent, perhaps a couch or a chaise lounge will do. Should the Delawares elect to get a room for the night elsewhere, I think we can support their choice, as we pledge to limit damage to their domicile. We can’t guarantee that no harm will come to Bob’s tomatoes, however.
The guest and host exchange gifts, the guest is granted a safe journey home, and the guest departs.
Our gift will be our departure. As for the safe journey home, guaranteed. We will leave more or less on time.
Another important factor of guest-friendship is not keeping the guest longer than they wish and also promising their safety while they are a guest within the host’s home.
Departure will be on the morning of October 2, having stayed with our gracious hosts Bob and Suzanne for two nights max. It likely takes longer than that for the Santa Fe authorities to evict us. Regardless, the Delawares know Sisyphus’s attention span is limited.
Sisyphus will guarantee the safety of our hosts, only insofar as the pharmaceuticals and preventives guarantee our safety. We will respectfully do our best to erase any plague spores the heretofore mentioned oppressors have spread…
Thanks to Wiki for informing Sisyphus of the specifics of the Homeric epic.
The actual post trip narrative will arrive sometime in October, Sisyphus is already feeling it…
From 2018 Pete on his Bonny joins Tom on the Kawasexy.
Somehow lost in the quanta of physics, the ether of the interwebs, or my incompetence at blogging on WordPress, I originally posted this as a “page” intending that it join its brethren in those vignettes found in my “posts”.
Since I barely understand how navigation on my site works, I thought that linking the page to my posts would patch my bungle. Please enjoy…
It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards. ~ Edward Abbey
If Edward Abbey’s sentiment resonates with you, you’ve passed the first test to become an associate!
Some people like it, some people don’t. We are talking about the desert.
Ken Layne, the Desert Oracle
Conventional wisdom asserts that visiting the desert in the winter or spring is preferable to a summer visit. That leaves the fall option, but a landscape brutalized by an unrelenting summer is, IMHO, less interesting than, say a fall tour of the temperate montane forests north of the Mojave. At the same time, riding a moto over icy roads is a risk since, post pubescent, I’ve abandoned. As I was commencing route planning, given that back roads to the Pacific, the Mojave, and the Sierra were all under consideration, the unsettled weather was one of the first challenges to overcome. The window of favorable conditions was narrowing.
Originally planned for a year ago, but cut down by the pandemic, it was time to put our foot on the rock and don’t stop. https://youtu.be/dGbqudQtKmw as the drums were calling…
For my riding buddy Pete and me, Covid vaccination schedules used up several weeks in January, February, and March along with yet another Mohs surgery for moi, familial obligations for nous deux, and Pete’s jury duty. Even in retirement there are considerations to which one must attend.
When at long last a launch date was chosen even a failed crown wasn’t going to deter me. I needed to shore up the loose ends of an itinerary to make this real. Our departure target of April 11 would be a week after what I fancied as most of the millennial Spring Breakers having scattered and hopefully before the onset of yet another dry and unbearably “warm” spring regime Daniel Swane (@Weather West) was predicting would begin to build. I imagined only northern climate escaping, RV motoring whiteheads would be sporting about the interstates in route to some of the more popular destinations on our itinerary leaving us the Lost Highways and G1-3 PMT’s (I’ll explain later) the loneliest roads for our preferred method of travel.
Our tour was decided to be strictly camping, eating the local fare, and riding under 300 miles a day. We would have to touch the sea, sand, and snow. I planned for a six or seven day tour depending on how much sleeping in the dirt (perhaps boondocking should campgrounds be closed with questionable availability of an occasional shower), would influence our decision making. Lucky for us all of the above worked out.
Pouring over Google satellite views of our intended route was subordinate to the Butler Motorcycle Maps criteria of Lost Highwaysand PMT’s (Paved Mountain Trails) and G1-3 routes. These byways are also a throwback to the roads I’ve pedalled over in another time and place and that I’m trying to reprise on the moto before riding off into the sunset.
A ButlerLost Highway[is one] of faded center lines, crumbling shoulders, and long lonely miles putting these roads in a category of their own. These are the roads that seem lost in time. It is what these roads lack that make them worth the journey.
A Butler PMTsweeps through the remote forests and mountain ranges of California that are paths of pavement that leave even the most seasoned riders searching for ways to describe their riding experience. These roads are exceptionally tight and twisty and other unique opportunities to explore the less traveled corners of California.
Those descriptions are from the editors of Butler maps. I’ll add the first of a few more categories of my own, the JonesPARoC‘s (Paved Ag Roads of California), or, two lane roads astoundingly arrow straight with right angled intersections bordered by crop obscuring sight lines and stop sign, double yellow line disregarding, pucker inducing impatient cagers of questionable sobriety trying to pass anything with ≥ 2 or ≤ 18 wheels.
Our first day would include legs of familiar routes to familiar destinations we’ve come to appreciate and look forward to revisiting. From Merced, we made our way to Panoche Rd via Jones PARoC’s (CA-59 to Dos Palos, Russell Ave. to Shields, then over I-5 to Panoche Rd) to Paicines, rolling through the ag engine of the Central San Joaquin Valley into the bucolic rangelands of the Coast Ranges, where in the past we would grab a burrito. Unfortunately we did not appreciate the conviction and dedication of the cook at the Paicines General Store who was observing the Sabbath. No burritos for us.
Sadly, I did not photograph what would be a recurring theme of this trip, making new friends. As Pete and I substituted a shared Kind bar for a carne asada or carnitas burrito, three gentlemen on three bikes rolled up. One on a Triumph Tiger, another on a small displacement Honda CBR, and the third on a Yamaha XMAX scooter. I apologize for not whipping out the phone to snap a photo, something Pete and I would exam post ride…
The guy on the scooter was a dead ringer for Peter Bogdanovich. The fellow on the sport bike was in full seasoned leathers sporting a long gray braided ponytail. It was only after removing his helmet did we realize he was bald and the disembodied ponytail was attached to the back of his helmet. Once again confirming that refrain should be observed when judging the cover of a book.
The third fellow on the Tiger was apparently their spokesperson or more likely the most extroverted of the three. We exchanged the usual pleasantries of where we were from and where we were headed. Our new friends were on a day ride from Santa Cruz enjoying the CA-25, also known as the Airline Highway, on a fine spring morning. They were impressed and maybe a tad envious of our intended multi-day tour first to the coast, then across the desert, and home through the mountains. It would not be the first time we observed longing in the eyes of an imagined adventure appearing on the faces of those who would learn of our intended journey.
From Paicines, we headed south on CA-25 past the Pinnacles National Park and just past Coalinga Rd to Bitterwater where CA-25 intersects with G-13, AKA the Bitterwater Rd in San Benito County. We traveled another of theseButler PMT roads back in 2019 on the Wildflower Tour only taking PeachTree Rd that intersected with Indian Valley Rd bearing right onto Hare Canyon Rd to Lake Nacimiento.
Our new route took us through King City to G-14, Jolon Rd past Ft. Hunter Leggitt through Jolon and Martinus Corner to Lockwood where we took the Interlake Rd past the Lake San Antonio Rec Area to Nacimiento Lake Dr. Here we rode across the dam whereupon we inspected the lake’s campgrounds. Pausing for a snack at the Oak Hill Market, we decided that 80+ degrees was too warm to set up camp, and since it was a bit early in the day we opted to head to the cooler state park in San Simeon, still observing the “under 300 mile a day” criteria.
With onshore winds picking up, a very cooperative state park ranger directed us to a protected campsite despite the sandwich board sign at the entry that the campground was full. Considering we were at the end of a modest 241± mile day and the temps were in the low 60’s, our decision to abandon Lake Nacimiento was rewarded. Our new ranger friend belatedly admitted that he’d forgotten to take the sign down. The skeptic in me believed he was discouraging late Sunday afternoon campers seeking refuge to knock off a little early…
Our good fortune would be followed by another fine meal of fish and shrimp tacos at the West End Bar and Grill in Cambria. Procuring night caps, we headed back to camp to relax, reflect, and continue rehydrating.
We awakened early, just before the roar of the cock-a-doodle-doo trash collector at the Hearst San Simeon State Park crash-bang-boomed awakened the campground from restful sleep soothed by the ocean soundscape. I was already up as is customary for a gentleman of my age and preparing water on the JetBoil for coffee. As we were breaking camp the truck pulled up to the dumpster across from our campsite. The roar of the hydraulics lifting the dumpster to empty was met with a ear-splitting metallic crash that was considerably louder than the usual ringing of dead soldiers landing in the truck’s bin characteristic of campground refuse. Upon closer inspection it seems the operator had dumped the dumpster into the bowels of his trash truck. The operator noted our witnessing the event, rolled down his window and exhorted, “I guess I’ll be taking this one with me!” and in classic Duke Kahanamoku fashion unwittingly conveyed, “Take your time – wave comes. Let the other guys go, catch another one.” Needless to say, Cambria is not Lake Nacimiento.
By the time we had finished unpacking our gear to hit the road to our next campsite, we rolled past our intrepid trash collector and exchanged, “It never happened” gestures, yet another friend, though nameless, encountered.
A modest day to Saddleback State Park Campground east of Palmdale from Hearst San Simeon State Park would be roughly ±249 miles. From the itinerary: We’ll need to get provisions in Palmdale for our destination for the night at Saddleback State Park Campground which is 24 miles east of Palmdale at the original Joshua Tree Monument headquarters and campgrounds established in 1958 that in 1994 became the Joshua Tree National Park southeast some 116 miles thanks to Bill Clinton. I’m into details.
We wound our way on Butler PMT’sthrough the hills on Nacimiento Lake Rd east on CA-46 to Vineyard Drive crossing US-101 in Paso Robles. Reaching Templeton we made our way south on El Palomar/Cripple Cr Rds with a short east on CA-41 where we joined nearby Creston/LaPanza Rds south eventually intersecting with CA-58 at Wilson’s Corner. Got that? Leaving the foothills, we continued east on CA-58 through the Topaz Solar Farm into, with little or no irony, oil country on the northern edge of the Carrizo Plain before entering Kern County foothills to CA-33 near McKitterick. Did I mention that I’m into details?
A second Jones category of roads, known as OCPRoC;’s (Oil Country Paved Roads of California), two lane roads astoundingly arrow straight with right angled intersections bordered by pumpjack and pipeline obscuring sight lines, stop sign and double yellow line disregarding, pucker inducing impatient cagers of questionable sobriety and mental health trying to pass anything with ≥ 2 or ≤ 18 wheels, most of which, filled with explosive fluids.
Energy, whether fossil or photovoltaic is where you find it, eh? Time to stop for nalgas relief, hydration, and a Kind energy bar…
Fortunately the market was open. The historic McKittrick Hotel, yet another missed opportunity to sample local fare, forced us to purchase electrolytes to replenish our hydration stores at the hot and cold deli where we met our next new “friend”. This new “friend”, who remains nameless, was, well, let’s just say, interesting.
As we made our hydration transactions a woman introduced herself by stating she had just contributed $20 to the humble proprietor of the McKittrick Market to, “Stop the pipeline!” She continued to tell me that she was fleeing Los Angeles as a Donald Trump underground gas/Soilent Green perplexity had devastated the city and the entire population of Los Angeles was beating a hasty retreat from the carnage. She then described how she had driven her late model Mini Cooper on the right side emergency lanes of the freeways to escape the bumper-to-bumper fleeing Angelenos, eventually finding solace in, of all places, McKittrick where pump jacks outnumber residents 1000 to 1 and apparently where the opportunity to claim a $20 tax write-off donation presented itself. I was speculating about the tax write-off. You gotta love the gateway to the desert where the irony:weirdness coefficient begins to increase geometrically.
We stayed south on CA-33 through Derby Hills to Taft. I had recently watched a Huell Howser, California’s Gold episode on the Taft Oil Workers’ Monument and made a point of stopping.
We continued south on CA-33 in the heart of the westside oil country in route to Maricopa where we then took CA-168 south to Hudson Ranch Rd, just across from Soda Cr. Rd that bisects the Carrizo Plain National Monument. Continuing on Hudson Ranch Rd, an emphatic gold Butler Lost Highway/PMTG1 route lay before us, through the Bitter Cr National Wildlife Refuge and up and up through the Los Padres National Forest to Pine Mt. Club (elev. 5,554 ft). There we saw our first rapidly melting north facing patches of snow from a weather system that recently contributed to our delayed departure. On down to Frazier Park (elev. 4,639 ft) where we stopped to delayer before descending further to Lebec and the warmer eastern San Bernardino County where, the weather having sorted itself out, keeping our foot on the rock, couldn’t stop us now.
From Lebec, we skirted I-5 on Ralphs Ranch Rd. through Gorman where Gorman Post Rd. took us to CA-138 (Lancaster Rd.) then on to the Old Ridge Rt. Rd to Pine Pine Canyon and Elizabeth Lake Rds, pure Butler PMT’s.
Entering the outskirts of Palmdale we encountered the most urban and desert (urbert or desban?) environs of the trip navigating over crowded busy streets teaming with post Covid shutdown revival. After a fine meal at Los Originales restaurant and a quick stop for post ride beverages observing the three R’s of relaxation, reflection, and rehydration, we sought our second night’s accommodations after 249± miles of mostly Butler PMT/Lost Highways G1’s and G2’s mixed in with a few (and now for a third Jones category road) PDRoC‘s (Paved Desert Roads of California-description follows), eventually landing at the Saddleback Buttes State Park Campground.
There our new friend, the campground host Gary, and Pete shared Airstream pleasantries. It seems one must be prepared for pleasant conversation when one travels, especially if you want to make new friends. Perhaps the pandemic and shut-down of public intercourse fueled the hyper-willingness to engage in polite casual conversation with someone other than your roommate, partner, kids or dogs in lockdown. We were well equipped to exchange light playful, sometimes teasing, remarks; essentially good natured raillery centering on trailer/moto banter. This is much better gambit to ensure meeting new friends than the dystopian ramblings of a wacked-out Mini-Cooper driving schizophrenic…
Clockwise from upper left below, our Nomadlandish campground host’s ’62 Globetrotter, our recreational mobile Nomad camp, and our first (of many) desert UFO sightings at sunset.
The cabana under which we pitched camp provided a windbreak of sorts as throughout the night gusts would rattle our tents. Having just listened to the first six episodes of the Lost Hills podcast the week before that explored a series of strange shootings at a state park in Malibu, one of which ended with the murder of a 35-year-old father in front of his two kids, prepared me for an uneasy night in an isolated desert campground. The podcast by Dana Goodyear is centered around the murder of Tristan Beaudette, a father who was killed, shot while asleep in his tent, June 22nd, 2018 while camping with his two young daughters in Malibu Creek State Park. Although there were no witnesses or suspects, after Beaudette’s death, other people started coming forward with stories of being shot at near the same campground.
All I could think of is how far away Malibu is from Palmdale and and how 2018 isn’t 2021 and that a suspect had eventually been arrested, though he claimed to be innocent. That wasn’t enough when I was awakened by the crunching of footsteps in the desert sand around four A.M….
Day 3 was intended to be a short ride to Joshua Tree National Park (±126 mi) which would allow time to find a campsite, if enough spring break millennials had scattered, and explore the park. Hopefully it wouldn’t be unbearably hot or windy. The route took us through Mojave Heights, Victorville, Apple Valley, Lucerne Valley, and Flamingo Heights on CA-247 also known as Old Woman’s Spring Rd. Check out the Google Maps link above.
These roads, similar to the Jones PARoC’s classification, might best be described as Paved Desert Roads of California or PDRoC’s. I may just be splitting hairs with the Butler folks who might argue that these are simply Lost Highways. The romanticism of a Lost Highway is misplaced on these roads that also share features with PARoC’s, namely, two lane roads astoundingly arrow straight with right angled intersections, sometimes paved often not, bordered by mirage obscuring sight lines and stop sign, yellow double line disregarding, pucker inducing impatient cagers and semi drivers of questionable sobriety trying to pass anything with ≥ 2 or ≤ 18+ wheels. At least if a threat was approaching one of these intersections from a dirt road, we’d have a warning dust cloud.
Upon arriving in Joshua Tree, I made a point of dropping by the Desert Oracle office to give Ken Layne a whazzup. If you’ve followed any of Sisyphus’s ramblings, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of Ken Layne and his Mojave ramblings, cast of recurring characters, and RedBlueBlackSliver soundscapes. You too can enjoy his Desert Oracle, “cult-favorite radio show and print periodical based in Joshua Tree that explores everything from the political to the paranormal.” According to his bio in Outside magazine, Layne left an influential career in digital media to create the Desert Oracle and his cast of characters has stretched my jowls in appreciation of their tongue-in-cheekiness about things Art Bell never imagined. Check it all out at https://www.desertoracle.com
Alas, Mr. Layne was traveling elsewhere in the Mojave and his office, right on the busy Twentynine Palms Highway, was deserted. He even took down the Desert Oracle sign. Must be like Tom Bodett leaving the light off at an abandoned Motel 6.
Since daylight was burning, we headed up Park Blvd to the West Park Entrance station of the National Park to a rather small “conga-line” as Pete refers to the queue that clutters the entrances to National Parks these days. Unlike other parks, the small printed 8.5 x 11 sign in the entrance station window declaring “Campground Full” would not deter us. What, the feds can’t manage to come up with a sandwich board? When in my best desperate but kindly grandpa, yet dirtbag appearing entreaty, I persuaded the young attendant to suggest where we might find respite, she dismissively replied, “Try the Hidden Valley Campsite, it’s iffy, but it’s non-reservation.”
Arriving at the campground a more official permanent “Campground Full” sign would not deter us from taking the one way road through the campground to exit, though crestfallen. But as serendipity was infusing the gentle desert breezes, the first of two of our newest best friends stepped onto the road and waved us to stop. When Andreas asked if we were looking for a place to camp, even though I really couldn’t hear his invitation wearing earplugs and head nestled in helmet, I was elated to accept whatever it was he was offering.
Ditching the gear so I could now actually hear, Andreas’s pal Pablo graciously offered his adjacent campsite for us to pitch our tents. It seems the common denominator of motorcycles compelled our comrades’ generosity. Days earlier the gentlemen had located two campsites adjacent to one another using Andreas’s strategy to pester campers who appeared to be packing up early in the morning to claim their campsites in the struggle of age old first-come-first-served campsite homesteading. They had decided they needed the two spaces for their separate vehicles, but were only using the one space for socializing.
Having settled into our campsite, Pete and I set off to ramble along the Hidden Valley Nature Trail.
Returning from our ramble, thirsty and peckish, we offered to compensate our hosts for their generosity to pick up anything they might need from town, though they declined our offer. Pablo did request chamomile tea and since I just happened to have brought along some Sleepytime along, we were able to humbly thank him with the slightest barter. The dinner hour approached and the fumes of our Victorville Denny’s breakfast were in dire need of a burrgurr and electrolytes, so we headed back to the millennial vortex at the Joshua Tree Saloon . Little did I know that delicious desert burrgurrs would sustain us over the next three days…
After dinner and beverage procurement we returned to the campsite to once again pay tribute to the 3-R’s of relaxation, reflection, and rehydration. The setting sun and the rising waxing crescent moon set the mood while the Sleepytime brewed next door and the last of our remaining electrolytes were consumed. This is when the the first of dozens of UFO’s appeared in the night sky as coyotes serenaded…
Prior to departing in the morning, we paused to share more pleasantries about where we had come from and where we were headed with our new friends. We learned that Andreas was a photographer and property management exec and he and Pablo were from Huntington Beach. They had met at a recent Noobs Rally in Death Valley that Pablo was covering for ADVMoto and that Andreas was participating in on his KTM 790 Adventure R. Amusing tales of past travels were exchanged as well as an hilarious account of how Andreas arrived in the US from Austria, his native home. Upon returning home I was entertained by a piece Pablo had written on ADVMoto about how he used a Zero electric moto to supplement his Covid-dormant acting income as a two-wheeled Doordasher.
We bid farewell to our gracious hosts after exchanging contact info. Andreas, Pete and Pablo posed for the scrapbook and Andreas, a professional photographer captured our departure.
The roads across the Mojave Preserve are wide open with few curves, few towns, and fewer services. These are classic Butler Lost Highways… Forgotten towns like Amboy, Cadiz, Essex, Kelso, Cima Goffs, Baghdad, Ragtown, Ivanpah, Tecopa, Zzyzx, and Shoshone are spread across this great expanse of BLM lands, the Mojave National Preserve, and the Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks. Once variously thriving centers of mining and railroads are now left to the dreams and aspirations of folks who don’t mind driving for hours for a loaf of bread or gallon of milk. More likely a carton of cigarettes and a quart or two of bourbon, scotch and a twenty-four pack of Miller. Oh, and a Lotto ticket preserving the, “I seen the elephant” respect for the past.
Getting an early start seems to be the conventional wisdom. Hitting the Jones DPRoC from Joshua Tree, we rode on east CA-62, the Twentynine Palms Hwy, before heading north on the Butler Lost Highways of Goodwin Rd and over Sheephole Pass (el. 2,307′) through the Bristol Dry Lake on the Old Amboy Rd to the Amboy Crater and Roy’s Motel and Cafe.
Then from Roy’s it was a short hop east on historic Route 66 for a few miles before taking Kelbaker Rd over Granite Pass (el.4,024′) connecting Kelso with Baker. Clever name, Kelbaker, eh? Now we were deep into the Mojave National Preserve.
Regarding this oasis, Kelso, from Wiki:
Kelso is a ghost town and defunct railroad depot in the Mojave National Preserve in San Bernardino County. It was named after railroad worker John H. Kelso, whose name was placed into a hat along with two other workers to decide the name of the town. The town was built in 1905 specifically as a railroad station along the rail line between Utah and Los Angeles, originally called “Siding 16,” because of its location and nearby springs that provided abundant water.
Starting off as what was a simple train depot in the 1920s, the town of Kelso boomed briefly to as many as 2000 residents in the 1940s, when borax and iron mines opened nearby. Gold and silver were also discovered in the nearby hills of what became known as the Kelso district. The town shrank again when the mines closed after about a decade.
Kelso was a base of operations for the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad, connecting track of Union Pacific Railroad, to which the SPLA&SL had negotiated trackage rights, with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway east-west line to the south. Here, trains were watered and “helper” locomotives were attached to assist the regular trains in climbing the steep Cima Hill. The distance between Las Vegas and the connection with the Santa Fe line at Daggett was too far for trains without a meal car, so Kelso was a convenient spot for a restaurant stop.
About 1944 the railroad brought in an old strap iron jail (above) to detain local drunks. It is now on display just outside the Kelso Depot temporarily housing a visiting sober-minded lad.
The next stop en route to Shoshone was Baker where Kelbaker Rd crosses I-15 and becomes US-127 that would take to Death Valley Junction the following day.
The town of Baker is frequently used as a stop for food and fuel by drivers on Interstate 15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Baker is noteworthy for primarily two reasons:
1) It is the site of a vacant, 223-bed for-profit Cornell prison that had experienced escapes in August and November 1995 and two on July 15, 1997. The prison also experienced a major riot on December 2, 2003, four weeks before it was temporarily closed. It was permanently closed on December 25, 2009, and,
2) Baker is home to what is proclaimed the World’s Tallest Thermometer.
Baker used to be noteworthy for three things, but the “World Famous” Mad Greek Cafe is now closed, no doubt a victim of Covid, and Alien Fresh Jerky isn’t quite as noteworthy since Nevada has cornered alien chic.
From Baker we pressed on to Shoshone after a quick inspection of the Tecopa Hot Springs which, despite the Brewery & BBQ, temps were warming and the wind was whipping, and there were no trees to shelter our humble ripstop abodes….
We arranged for a campsite at the Shoshone RV Park having logged around 200 miles. From the outside the campground didn’t look like much but once inside it was agreed to be our favorite campground northeast of Joshua Tree. At least until we got to Lone Pine which is northwest of Joshua Tree. There was electricity to charge our hungry devices and showers along with a flowing ditch fed by water from the Amargosa River and we met new friends!
After a short stroll into town we enjoyed a delightful burrgurr at the Crowbar. There’s an interesting aside to the story behind Shoshone. The town is owned lock, stock, and barrel by Susan Sorrells and her husband including the Crowbar and the campground and RV Park. There’s an article at https://mojaveproject.org/dispatches-item/reimagining-the-amargosa/ that provides a facinating backstory. I imagine the Crowbar rocks on a Friday night. It was hump day and the modest crowd we joined was decidedly relaxed and reflective while rehydrating.
Indeed, making new friends is a theme of this trip and I’d like to introduce Tasha and Mark who pulled into the campground after dark in an RV with their four children, all 10 and younger after being on the road for the better part of a day. They had left their oldest daughter in charge of the younin’s back at the RV and had escaped to the fire pit near the tent camping area where Pete and I were relaxing, reflecting, and rehydrating following our meal at the Crowbar. They were like minded clutching White Claws to see our our Pale Ales in pursuit of the Three R’s and adult-hooding, sans children.
As we shared our back stories and adventures thus far we could see that far-away look overtake the couple imagining how free we were from their responsibilities of a young family and careers. Tasha was a middle school principal with whom I, a retired middle school teacher, immediately related exchanging some of our memorable experiences with the beasts who inhabit that middle school ecosystem. She was on leave, thankful to not have to manage a staff and distant learners, but now tasked to manage an infant, a toddler, and the rest of their distant learning brood.
Mark was an employee of Google whose tenure topped 18 years, hired when Google was itself an infant! His duties included managing teams monitoring and preventing misinformation and other privacy concerns. For a guy and his wife who were likely wazillionaires, they were both quite sweet and humble with with hilarious stories about life on the road with their kids and their careers. After a couple of hours they retreated to assess the damage to the RV from their free range children and we stumbled, er, rambled to our tents.
Meanwhile, back at the tents the evening winds were breezing up. The sound of the zephyrs gently rustling the fan palms and poplars with the flowing water just behind us made for a pleasant stargazing soundscape.
After midnight the gentle breeze soundscapes had escalated to a gale force, tent rattling, sleep depriving, Mojave tempest and all I could think of was falling fronds from the fan palms or branches from the poplars impaling us as they were blown from the trees. Mind you, riding a motorcycle doesn’t concern me as much as dying in some sort of a campground calamity.
Alas, we met the rising sun with nary a splinter. And there was no cock-a-doodle-do, crash, bang, boom trash collection alarm.
Day 5: Death Valley Junction, 911, Dante’s View, Stovepipe Wells, Panamint Springs, Dave, Keeler, and Lone Pine
What would be day in which all of the experiences would be tossed into a blender and later enjoyed as a mental smoothie began with revisiting The Amargosa Opera House in Death Valley Junction (See a previous post from December of 2019, Riding Under a Fool Moon for context). In October of 2019, a full moon on October 13 would cast a supernatural lucence over Death Valley and so Andy, our third moto-buddy unable to make the this Mojave trip, proposed we ride across the Valley floor, bajo la luz de la luna llena. That fall trip was to be followed by a Winter/Spring ride across the desert that was cancelled, a victim of the pandemic, that we were now reprising. Before riding into the night to Beatty, NV, we stopped at the Opera House to put on every stitch of warm clothing we packed to make final the 50± mile trek to the Atomic Inn.
During the day and not in frosty darkness, Marta Beckett’s dream was brilliantly illuminated. Watch, California Dreamer: A tribute to Marta Becket, Death Valley’s ghost town ballerina, if you’re not familiar with the story: https://youtu.be/39QGMZzku0E
There’s a nifty feature on my iPhone/iWatch that can alert emergency services even when there’s no emergency. It’s constantly telling me I’ve fallen when I haven’t. It gives me an opportunity to dismiss the alert by responding that I did not fall. Nice…
Nice until you’re on the moto, screaming down US-190 headed to Furnace Creek when, by placing the phone in the clasps that keep the phone’s screen in view from the cockpit of the bike, it activates the emergency 911 notification feature. With a soft shoulder and no room on the pavement to pull over and with gloves on that prevented me from activating the touch screen, I was unable to dismiss the automated 911 call. A series of flashing messages and tones indicated that an emergency call had taken place to the Nye County Sheriff’s department in Pahrump, NV, the closest services to my location.
I immediately received a series of four telephone calls from the 911 dispatcher, apparently trying to reach me to confirm an emergency. Pahrump was the same distance, some 30 miles, as it was to Furnace Creek. I guess the feds don’t dispatch emergency 911 services from Death Valley if one hasn’t crossed into park boundaries. I was apparently only a mile or two from the park boundary when the accidental alert was transmitted. A few miles later there was a turnout at an abandoned campground, now a boondocking community. No wifi or cell service was available. How do these people watch Netflix? It wasn’t until we reached Dante’s View that I had cell service and sheepishly called the 911 dispatcher to let her know that a terrible mistake was made and I appealed to her for mercy. She casually said, “I’ll put you through to the Deputy we sent out and you can explain…” This, I felt, was worse than having to go to the Principal’s office.
After a moment or two, she got back to me and said, “I can’t reach the Deputy but no worries, this sort of thing happens all of the time…” Well, at least they didn’t send a helicopter.
Telescope Peak, 911 Squid, and Badwater and Furnace Creek in the distance, top to bottom below:
We gassed up and munched down on snacks at Furnace Creek. There we met two fellow moto comorads one on an older model VStrom and the other on a former BMW police bike like Pete’s old BMW recliner. Pleasantries were exchanged in that light playful, sometimes teasing, manner; essentially good natured raillery centering on moto banter as we traded stories of our mutual adventures. The gent on the VStrom was quick to remind us that in his experience of touring, if one tours with a group, make sure at least one of the bikes is Japanese so that when the American, German, British, or Austrian bikes break down, someone can go for help.
We met our next new friends in Stovepipe Wells where we had stopped for caffeine as the warming temps were inducing Jones DPRoC drowsiness. Drowsiness and operating machinery are incompatible so stopping to peel off the cozy sleepiness inducing layers protecting us from the morning cold as the thermometer pushed 90 degrees was imperative. Leaving my jacket and phone on the table outside of and around the corner to the market’s entry, then sitting in rocking chairs placed under the shade of the porch in front of the market to enjoy a Cold Brew (for those who do), a thoughtful young woman and her partner came around the corner to alert me to having left my phone on the table, unguarded. See what kind of careless behavior drowsiness induces!
Her curious partner expressed his interest in our motorcycles and not unlike my enthusiasm upon returning to motos, had dozens of questions about the make, model, displacement, handling, fuel range, carrying capacity, etc. of the bike as he dreamed of doing exactly what we were doing. He said he had waited long enough for his friends to commit to their shared dreams of freedom the open road offers. As those friends were dropping like flies abandoning their dreams to carers and families, he was on the brink of going for it! Apparently his family or career was worth sacrificing. Of course I recommended the California Motorcycle Safety Program to get a feel for whether he was up to challenges and risks of putting torque and horsepower between his legs before abandoning his family and career. I felt kind of creepy when I realized I had uttered that bit about “between his legs” in front of his female friend…
Bidding adieu, we jumped back onto the bikes headed for Panamint Springs Resort, a favorite Death Valley destination we’ve visited many times over the years. We considered staying in the campgrounds across from the restaurant, but it was early in the afternoon and lying around for hours in the unrelenting sun didn’t appeal to us. That’s when we met Dave from Portland.
You may have noticed a fluid spill beneath his Kymco Peoples 250cc scooter. It was a problem that developed in Death Valley involving an oil/coolant mixture that began to cause problems with the engine… running. Dave and his scooter had made it all the way from Portland. It was the informed opinion of the jack-of-all-trades Panamint Springs maintenance guy who pressure tested the engine that the People’s death was immanent. Being in a spot, Dave who noted that he was due to be in Asia in a couple of weeks was considering his options. Consensus arrived at there appeared to be three. The first was to try limping into Olancha or Lone Pine uphill 50± miles on Hwys 190 and 136. The single feature of this option that increased its worthiness is that cell reception could be had at the Father Crowley Overlook should he need rescue at the top of the most extreme slope. However, there was no place to repair the bike in either Olancha or Lone Pine, even Bishop for that matter.
The second option was “downhill” on Hwy-178 to Ridgecrest by way of the Searles Valley a distance of ±72 miles. Though this route had spottier cell reception, it was probably more heavily traveled than the route to Lone Pine and there was a Kawasaki dealership in Ridgecrest where he could get a great deal on a new bike. There was also a repair shop, but all agreed that it would cost more to repair the Peoples 250 than it was worth, perhaps even costing more to junk the bike than it was worth. You’d think with all of that useless desert out there having to pay to junk a bike in the over regulated nanny state was downright unpatriotic. Or not. I’m of the “or not” persuasion.
The third option was to have for one of the Panamint Springs residents with a pick-up haul Dave and the bike to Ridgecrest for a small fee. There he could junk the bike and catch a flight out of the Inyokern Airport to LA and back to Portland and on to his appointment in Asia. I guess we’ll have to return to Panamint to hear the end of Dave-from-Portland’s odyssey.
Visiting Keeler on the way to Lone Pine was our next stop. I’ve noted Keeler in a past post and how silver ore from Cerro Gordo was once transported across the lake when it was more than brine ponds where the ore was then loaded on a train to be taken to Los Angeles to fuel LA’s early expansion.
While Keeler was a functioning ghost town, Cerro Gordo a mere 8.5 miles east is an aspiring ghost town retreat.
In July of 2018 Brent Underwood purchased the former mining town of Cerro Gordo for $1.4 million with a group of investors. Since March of 2020 when the pandemic began to rage, Underwood has been living at Cerro Gordo full-time and has created a measure of internet fame through his YouTube videos. Here’s a recent installment: https://youtu.be/vYDNICwwOmg
I visited Cerro Gordo back in the 80’s when it was under the ownership of another proprietor. Not unlike Bodie, the buildings that serviced the mines were, and continue to be under Underwood’s care, in a state of “arrested decay”. The American Hotel burned last summer and Underwood plans to rebuild the structure based on the original blueprints he has located. If he can provide enough of a water supply to operate the town, he plans for it to become an “adventure destination”… Good luck mate!
From Keeler we whipped into Lone Pine around the Owens Lake stopping at the USFS Eastern Sierra Visitor Center to check on the best shot at getting a campsite. The Lone Pine campground was recommended and so off we rolled. Upon arriving we found the campground to be attended but not crowded and its layout conducive to semi-privacy along Lone Pine Creek. The afternoon view of Mt. Whitney from the campground as shadows began falling across the canyon portal were stunning.
From Lone Pine our route took us south on US-395 to CA-14 just outside of Inyokern to CA-178. Leaving the more prosaic, Butler PMT and Lost Highway classifications as we were entering the Sierra, new Butler road classifications came to be used. This included a G1 road, described as, “These are the best motorcycle rides in Southern California. Always very dramatic and a thrilling experience. Expect high mountain passes, deep canyons, sweepers, switchbacks, and twisties.” Up Walker Pass on CA-178 and down through Canebreak and Onyx were G1 and G2 roads. A G2 road is, “Only a notch below G1, these are great motorcycle rides. Expect dramatic scenery, road action, and lots of elevation change.” Those Butler editors were on to something!
CA-155 through Weldon, South Lake, and Mountain Mesa to Lake Isabella are more typical of the arid foothill reservoir roads with shopping centers catering to Lake Isabella visitors we see in our neck of the woods. We noticed a tremendous amount of work being done around the dam at Lake Isabella. In preparing this ride report my research found an online engineering website, ENRCalifornia, describing the project as follows: “For the job, construction crews will raise both the main and auxiliary dams 16 ft to help minimize the risk of overtopping and add filters and drainage to both dams to increase dam stability. They will also construct improvements to the existing spillway, and build a new 300-ft-wide emergency spillway.” The article went on to indicate the cost at $600 million.
Damn, the Isabella Dam safety modification project is adding 16 feet at roughly the cost of $37,500,000/ft. What a deal!
At Woford Heights we rolled west on CA-155 up and over Alta Sierra. The up and over leg of the ride into Glennville is a profoundly Butler G1 and G2 class ride. Indeed! Pete and I agree that of all of the roads we’ve ridden in California, this one is a gem for its combination of surface, engineering, landscape, and remoteness.
Glennville consists of The Saddle Sore Saloon, the Highway 155 Market & Cafe, and Cedar Creek Pizza. Given that it’s smack dab in the middle of thousands of acres of cattle ranches, miles from Bakersfield and Lake Isabella, it must be supported by folks like those we met from Las Vegas who had been riding these G1 and G2 roads on their exotic sport bikes.
Dropping layers, we set off enroute to Porterville, CA-65 up to CA-198 and Three Rivers for the night. Traveling through Strathmore, Lindsay, Exeter, Yokohl, and Lemon Cove we were treated the scent of intoxicating citrus blossoms. The olfactory excitement recalled my first trip through those orchard decades ago coming down from a backcountry backpack. Sublime!
Arriving at our favorite campground in Three Rivers knowing that Potwisha and Buckeye Flat were the only two campgrounds open in the National Park and full, we arranged our campsite learning that there wasn’t enough water flowing in the Kaweah to support the local rafting businesses this season. Two years ago when Pete and I camped along the banks of the Kaweah we met Chris Baer a professional raft guide who entertained us with tales of his exploits pursuing whitewater all around the world. The Kaweah was raging at that time. Now it was but a stream without massive snowmelt to fuel its torrent…
We rode to the Totem not far from the park entrance for an excellent buurguur and beverages. Returning to camp we met our neighbors and new friends, Gabriel and Roxi, and inspected their very cool wedge tent mounted just above the bed on their Colorado crew cab complete with a Yeti cooler that could take a week in the Mojave on a single block of ice keeping the beverages at the ready for relaxing, reflecting, and rehydrating after a rigorous day of exploring.
The couple were getting into camping and from our perspective were off to a great start. They’d already mastered purchasing bundles of wood and Duraflame logs as starters. Their enthusiasm for adventure was refreshing and their curiosity about our experiences gave us yet another opportunity to retell our tales of the road that we never seem tire of sharing. But I am curious about our new younger friends… What’s with White Claw among the millennial crowd?
As a fitting last day of riding on our sea to sand to snow trip, we needed another complement of Butler G1 and G2roads. The Generals Highwaythat connects State Route 180 and State Route 198 through Sequoia National Park, the Giant Sequoia National Monument, and Kings Canyon National Park, was just the road. Clear of snow, the road was scheduled to be opened on April 23, but when we checked with the Hideaways camp manager, she said it had just opened earlier in the week.
The Butler maps wordsmiths declare the Generals Highway thusly: There are few places in the world where Giant Sequoia and Redwood trees can be found growing together and this is one of them. With 130 curves and 12 switchbacks, vehicles larger than pickup trucks are almost absent on the 16 mile stretch from Ash Mountain to the Giant Forest.
With many more decreasing radius curves over the total 73 miles from Three Rivers to Squaw Valley and elevations of 5,000 to 8,000+ feet, it was cold. But heated grips and layers kept us cozy and negotiating the road kept us preoccupied enough to forget how cold it was. There was patchy snow over most of the route but the roads were ice free. There was little traffic and our average speed was in the neighborhood of 40 mph because of those curves and switchbacks.
Despite focusing on the road, the naturalist in me couldn’t ignore the landscape, consisting of mixed-conifer forest species including ponderosa pines, Jeffrey pines, Douglas-fir, white fir, sugar pines (the world’s tallest and most massive pine species with the longest cones of any conifer one strives to avoid running over), and giant sequoias were hard not to notice.
Beginning at upper left: The Kaweah River with Moro Rock in the background with Moro Rock left middle. To the right the lads making the downhill pilgrimage to the General. Bottom left, the General Sherman Tree, and to the right, Mt. Goddard forming the southwest boundary of the Evolution Basin in Kings Canyon National Park from the General’s Highway.
Making our way down to Piedra by way of Elwood Rd took us through the mixed lower montane zone of the western Sierra featuring ponderosa pine at the lower elevations along with California black oak, incense cedar, and some other trees (redbud, laurels, buckeye, cottonwoods) and shrubs (chamise and buckthorn) interspersed in rolling meadows of spring grasses and wildflowers (penstamin, lupine, golden poppies, Clarkia) and many more.
Making our way on the bucolic and deserted Maxon and Burroughs Valley Rds to Tollhouse and CA-168 we began to notice on the 7% grade up from Prather the massive rolling thunder of hundreds of Harley Davidsons putting their imprinture on the serene spring day perhaps headed to Shaver Lake. Reaching these lower elevations and wanting to shed layers, we stopped to fuel up at the Shell Station in Prather where by then, it seemed that the herd of Harleys was thinning out and the tranquil natural sounds of a lovely spring day, restored… (The Kawasexy’s stock exhaust has the sound of a butterfly’s wings waving)
There was one last stop in Le Grand for tacos at Marco’s Taco Truck before arriving at our respective abodes, road-weary. It was there we met what would turn out to be the last new friends on the Mojave Moto Spring Tour. Perhaps as a measure of fatigue or as Pete suggested on a recent post trip bicycle ride, “Maybe we should take more photos so we don’t forget half of what we experience…” I didn’t catch the name of the two gents who had just returned from a dog show in Madera with their merled French Bulldog (whose name neither of us could remember). These fellows were a hoot. Their scheme was to breed this little Frenchy and their description of that process, complete with animated gestures, was unforgettable. Almost as unforgettable was the prancing around mocking the Westminster Kennel style when asked if they showed the little fella. With the fruits from this enterprise to make bank, they would buy a house and retire so they could do what we were doing. But first it was necessary to get a business license and permit. I didn’t have the heart to share that our retirements were paid in full for 37+ years of salt mine drudgery. Who am I to spoil a dream?
By the way, the tacos at Marco’s are right there with Ramon’s Tacos in Planada and M&M’s in Snelling. And with that we returned to embrace our loved ones and scratch the ears of our pooches who were far more enthusiastic about our appearance and odor of seven days on the road…
“Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive” ― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Value
I’ve noted that my moto buddy is also my pedal buddy. When we ride bicycles together there’s lots of conversation and shared observation. We’re in a scene, completely exposed, and being social animals who aren’t obsessed with Strava, we’re freed to let our thoughts wander. When on the moto, I’m singularly focused on a full 180 degrees of of what’s in before me with awareness of what follows each minute I’m moving. Except when I’m not and the consequences of inattention jolt me into being present. Especially as my riding buddy points out.
It’s in the spirit of that coactive elastic relationship between ubiety and ubiquity that I chase the scene. When we’re on the moto, we take it all in and it filters back out once off the bikes. Certain moments are recalled but never are they as raw and perfect as when they flood one’s senses, as a part of the scene, as the scene unfolds.
“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.” ― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values
So we try to reconstruct the ride, as I’ve done here. The photos help, but they convey a construct of the trip. The narrative is for me an exercise in finding irony or humor in something separate from riding. I’ve tried as best as I can to look back on the ride and where it took us to inspire and entertain, to find some measure of that same fleeting presence. And so I’ve noted routes and some of pleasures, oddities, and rewards of exploring new places and meeting new friends.
Prompted by Pete, I recently watched on the YouTubes a Fortnine video from the “Why We Ride” series where the host Ryan shared the essence of the following Pirsig quote:
“In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.
On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.” ― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values
Whether on a bicycle or a moto, “You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.” In the words of Jamie Robinson, “Just go ride and have a buurgurr…”
If you enjoyed this post, feel free to comment. Please, just be nice when you comment about my use of the Oxford comma. Pete is sensitive to grammar shaming…