The next morning, sunrise beckoned as did a visit to see a man about a horse. That’s when we first heard a gawd-awful, shrill, please-put-the-beast-out-of-its-misery noise coming from the direction of the Scout camp. After about twelve bars I recognized:
I can’t get ’em up
I can’t get ’em up
I can’t get ’em up this morning;
I can’t get ’em up
I can’t get ’em up
I can’t get ’em up at all!
And tho’ the sun starts peeping,
And dawn has started creeping,
Those lazy bums keep sleeping,
They never hear my call!
Good morning Panamint Valley
Pete and I usually ride from point A to B to C and call it a day. On this tour we decided to spend two nights in Panamint Springs, using the extra day to refresh the sights and sounds around Death Valley we’ve grown to enjoy.
After the August 5, 2022 flash flood
Hopping back on to CA-190 we headed towards Stovepipe Wells over the highway that was previously closed due to the “1000 year monsoonal flood” back on August 5, 2022 (above). It appeared that any damage to the road had been repaired and evidence of the flooding had been cleared. I remember watching YouTube videos of travelers who were making their way out of the park over the damaged roads after the flash flood waters had receded. Death Valley is WRECKED @SufperfastMatt… Gnarly.
On this 2023 President’s Week holiday, the entrance to Death Valley National Park was crowded with vacationing travelers. Stovepipe Wells was teeming with activity as was Furnace Creek. Our plan was to make our way to Death Valley Junction to see if the Amargosa Hotel restaurant was open and perhaps check out Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View along the way. No way! Cars in the parking lot to Zabriskie Point spilled over to parking alongside CA-190. We figured Dante’s View would likely be the same. Maybe next time we’ll choose a non-holiday week.
Passing Dante’s View Rd I noticed some buildings on a mountainside that I had seen in the past figuring they were some sort of mining operation. I just learned, according to the Death Valley Conservancy, that the structures are from a mining operation, “begun as Lila in 1907 which produced colemanite for the Pacific Coast Borax Company. The town was named by its owner William Tell Coleman, after his daughter, Lila C. Coleman. Soon after its completion, the community of Lila C became known as “Ryan“, in honor of John Ryan (1849–1918), who was General Manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company and a trusted employee of “Borax” Smith until his death in 1918. The Death Valley Conservancy writes: “Ryan was a luxurious mining camp by any standards of the day – with electricity, steam heat and refrigeration it also boasted a school, a hospital, post office, recreation hall/church (shipped down in sections from Rhyolite) and a general store.”
Ryan now (Wiki)
“After borax production had stopped in 1928, in an effort to increase revenues on the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad which had carried the borax ore, Pacific Coast Borax converted the miners’ lodgings into tourist accommodations and gave tourists visiting Death Valley trips on the narrow gauge rail line into the mine. The Death Valley View Hotel operated full-time from 1927 until 1930, the year the Death Valley Railroad ceased to function. After 1930 the hotel was used as overflow accommodations for the Furnace Creek Ranch and Inn through the 1950s.”
Ryan, or Lila, then (Death Valley Conservancy)
While Ryan is closed to the general public for safety and historic preservation reasons, theDeath Valley Conservancy offers occasional public tours. Tour participants can be selected by signing up on the Death Valley Conservancy’s website, https://www.dvconservancy.org/ryan-camp/.
Our next stop was the Amargosa Hotel and Opera House. I’ve shared previous stops on earlier posts about the history of the hotel. We were hoping to have lunch at the Amargosa Restaurant only to find it was a victim to Covid. According to the hostess, the hotel fills nightly and reservations are recommended.
Can’t quite read this sign from CA-127
The Amargosa Opera House under the fullness of sunlight
We met a couple of fellows on KTM thumpers who were touring the area following off-road trails on their navigation who were from San Diego. Apparently their tour was not for the faint of heart as the conditions of their ride can best be described as gnarly. They were hoping for a tour of The Opera House, which was made famous by Marta Becket, an eccentric American actress, dancer, choreographer and painter. She performed for more than four decades at her own theater, the Amargosa Opera House where in 1967, due to a flat tire, she discovered this theater in Death Valley Junction and decided to stay until her death in 2017.
Lobby of the Amargosa Hotel
The shady veranda of the Amargosa Hotel
Here’s a film by Poppy Walker, Dust Devil, that captures the essence of Marta Becket: Dust Devil (YouTube).
Opera House interior (The Desert Sun 2017)
From Wiki: When the town of Amargosa was booming due to the Borax mining business, and its position at the terminus of the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad, about 350 people lived in the town. The hotel served as a very nice place to stay for both company executives and visiting investors, who were met at the train with white-gloved valets after a long and hot train ride. In addition to the hotel rooms, the cafe and a restaurant within the hotel, other rooms were bunkhouses for workers, an infirmary, a general store and what is now the Opera House, which was mostly used for showing films. A large gas station and garage across from the cafe was the only location in the area for repairs of trucks hauling borax out of the mines, in addition to passenger car repairs. When the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad ceased to be economical in 1942, the tracks were torn up completely and sent to Egypt, where the railroad was set up again to aid the Allies military effort in Egypt. Once the railroad stopped, the Opera House, Hotel and about 250 acres of land changed hands many times, until Marta Becket arrived on the scene.
The Opera House Under a Fool Moon, 2019
The photo of the Opera House at night was from our October 2019, Riding Under a Fool Moon, tour began on Friday, October 13, from Merced to Mammoth. From Mammoth it was a frosty night ride after a late afternoon stop in Panamint Springs. The idea was to ride under the full moon to Beatty, NV and spend the night at theAtomic Inn. It’s doubtful that you’ll ever need reservations for the Atomic Inn, but I would recommend the Inn for your next stay in Beatty. From the website: Miss Cindy wants a sweet roll or carrot cake! Anyone stopping in Seligman, AZ at Westside Lilo’s bring her one, and receive a substantial discount!!
Andy in 2019, ailin’ not alien at the Atomic…
Worth a stop when next you’re in Beatty, NV
After a surprisingly appetizing grilled chicken Greek salad brunch at Mel’s, we headed west on NV-374 to Rhyolite, a ghost town that began in early 1905 as one of several mining camps that sprang up after a prospecting discovery in the surrounding hills. During an ensuing gold rush, thousands of gold-seekers, developers, miners and service providers flocked to the Bullfrog Mining District. Many settled in Rhyolite, which lay in a sheltered desert basin near the region’s biggest producer, the Montgomery Shoshone Mine.
Why do Pete and I enjoy these trips so much? It’s because we get out into the world on a vehicle that demands attention to the terrain, through which that attention demanding road runs. It’s that we get to see new places, meet new people, and enjoy an experience you just don’t get any other way. All of which contributes to that notion of a journey, often into an unknown or foreign place, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about one’s self, others, nature, or a higher good through that experience. It can lead to a personal transformation, a pilgrimage, after which the pilgrim returns to his daily life of dirty laundry, household chores, YouTube motorcycle videos, and planning for the next, and possibly greatest, ride. Oh yeah, and the reunion with our enchanting families!
On this afternoon we struck up a deeper conversation with our neighbors, Mike and Marissa from Toronto. After obtaining that it was okay to address them Canucks even though they weren’t from Vancouver, we learned that Miike was a paramedic-firefighter and Marissa was a marketing consultant who were, like our encounter with the Montreal fellow in Three Rivers, escaping mid-winter Canadian temps for some early spring desert chill. Their camp setup was an incredibly swagged out Jeep Wrangler rental featuring a Roofnest pop-up rooftop tent and a custom-built trail kitchen that included a portable stove, a sink with 2-gallon water tank, a foldable countertop, an electric/powered cooler and a solar shower with a 2.5-gallon water capacity.
Mike and Marissa, Canucks to the core
They generously invited us to share their post dinner campfire and so after another fine appetizer of Simply Nature MultiGrain Tortilla Chips it was off to the Panamint Resort Restaurant for a breaded cod sandwich and großes bier, “bigga-beer”. After a delightful laugh-filled evening of conversation with our new Canadian friends where we shared stories of adventures and families that both entertained and informed us, we turned in.
Around midnight the first braying of feral donkeys near our campsite began. The group of spiritual women retreaters who were camped next to us awakened, startled at first, but after one of them suggested that the sound was that of an elephant, proceeded to giggle for the next hour or so presumably about their “wilderness” experience.
The next morning, reveille was sounded for the second morning, this time recognizable by around the eighth bar, after the first three bars of You gotta get up, You gotta get up, You gotta get up this morning. The leader of the scout troop from Chino camped in the adjacent group site later apologized for the novice buggler’s rendition. I thought it was full of character, not unlike the braying of the mules the night before…
After packing up we bid adieu to our new friends inviting them to check out sisyphusdw7.com and should they ever return to California to visit Yosemite, to message us so that we might host them on their journey, perhaps accompanied by the child they intended to have… Awww!
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…
Different Direction, Different Sights, Same Mistakes
Departing Panamint Springs and Death Valley for Three Rivers, our first and final night’s destination, we retraced our route back to Ridgecrest where a veggie omelet at a packed Denny’s took waaaay too long to arrive at our table. A single server with a Presidents’ Day crowd was the issue. After thanking the wearied waitress who apologized several times, we left, appetites sated.
Deciding we likely had enough fuel to get back to Lake Isabella and wanting to make up time, Christopher Columbus here zigged when I should have zagged leaving Ridgecrest heading south on US-395. After about 30 miles or so I realized we were headed to Victorville and not Walker Pass. Embarrassed and now distracted by a flashing low fuel indicator, we turned tail and headed 30 or so miles back to Ridecrest to correct my directional error and fuel up. It was at the gas station that Pete reminded me that we, rather I, made the very same navigational error when we departed Ridgecrest on our last Death Valley pilgrimage. Hmmm. Lightning strikes twice, again…
This time we hoped to make up the mileage faster than when we funorkled our way two days ago to Panamint Springs late, only to find a full campground. Three Rivers didn’t have the Death Valley attraction this time of year, especially as the weather was changing and winter storms were headed our way so I wasn’t worried about any no-vacancy.
We decided to skip Kernville as the Gunsmoke and Petticoats revelers were still in full revelry. Heading back over Alta Sierra from Wofford Heights we skipped stopping at the crowded Saddle Sore Saloon in Glenville.
Meadowfoam and fiddlenecks along Yokohl Rd
Once down on Yokohl Rd, the hillsides presented emerging blankets of spring color with patches of meadowfoam, fiddlenecks, lupine, and poppies leading the bloom. The increasingly menacing skies foretold the oncoming late winter storm with apocalyptic warnings of gusting winds, rain, and snow that compelled our hasty departure from the mountains. Even at that we saw a couple of intrepid bicyclists who were uphill bound for a Washington’s birthday cycling challenge.
We had planned to stay at the Sequoia Campground and Lodge just as you enter Three Rivers on Sierra Dr, however, the entrance was blocked with a sign indicating Campground Closed. It looked abandoned. In checking their FB page, the last post was from 2021. Perhaps it was the summer fires smoking out the tourists, Covid, or the recent heavy winter rains that appeared to have flooded the campsites since there did appear to be lots of flotsam strewn about.
After setting up camp it was back to the Totem for a delicious meatloaf sandwich dinner and a bundle of wood for a campfire. Calling it an early evening, we retreated to our tents after fighting to get somewhat wet firewood to burn to our elevated Smokey Bear, smokeless campfire standards.
We awakened the next morning to a saturated campsite unlike the frosty morning three days prior. After drying the gear as best we could it was time to get on the road back home. First stop, Orange Cove for brunch.
There were a couple of backroad options for the day’s ride and so we selected a new route, Yokohl Drive to Springville. New for me, but not for Pete who 20 years earlier took the same road Death Valley bound with his late pal Steve Walstad. Kind of a tribute to a lost friend.
From Three Rivers we headed back on CA-190 through Lemon Cove to Exeter where we had a delightful breakfast at the East Meet West restaurant. From the “City of Exeter” webpage: “Exeter is known for growing the sweetest oranges in the world and as the “Citrus Capital of the World”. How sweet!
Citrus Capital of the World
From theCitrus Capital of the World we took Yokohl Drive headed to Springville. Fiddlenecks and meadowfoam, lupine and poppies with the backdrop of snow capped Blue Ridge beckoning, we noted a number of bicyclists, kitted out exhibiting an array of fitness levels, heading up to and down from, higher elevation. It was some sort of organized ride, perhaps a club enjoying this early spring appetizer. The road surface was comparable to Mariposa’s Old Highway 140 we often enjoy on hill rides ourselves, roughly 20% original pavement, 60% patched potholes, and 20% potholed. At one point in the road, as we began a steep climb, I was glad to have throttle assist and shock absorbers on our two-wheelers. Check out the street views on Three Rivers to Panamint Springs
Beginning to bloom
I learned the hand on hip move from my granddaughter
From Yokohl Drive to Springville, it was CA-190 to just east of Porterville where we rambled over Old Stage Rd to White River and White River Rd to Glennville. Glennville lies just west of the Alta Sierra Pass on CA-155 that drops down to Wofford Heights/Lake Isabella. It’s a very popular road attracting riders from far and wide who congregate at the Saddle Sore Saloon(pics from a 2021 tour). This tour included lively bike conversations with four gentlemen sitting on the deck of the Saddle Sore, all of whom were of our vintage, riding a V-Strom identical to Pete’s, a Honda NC-750, and a Tiger 850. I think the fourth bike was a Yamaha.
Saddle Sore Saloon, Glennville – Note the anti-saddle sore gel pad on the Kawasexy
After exchanging pleasantries, we mounted our steeds as another vintage fellow threw a leg over his Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero bagger, who warned us to be careful of the sand near the summit. Indeed, the road was sanded and for a stretch, slushy from the melting snow of the most recent storm. Up and over Alta Sierra Pass descending from an elevation of 5,718 ft the road was clear as we headed to Kernville for gas and a stretch.
At the intersection of CA-155 and Wofford Blvd in Wofford Heights, it’s 4.3 miles to Kernville. Turning, we started seeing cars, trucks, and motorcycles parked on either side of the road for at least a mile from Kernville. Little did we know as we stop-and-went for that longest mile into town for fuel at the Shell station that it was the 66th Annual Whiskey Flat, Gunsmoke and Petticoats celebration established in 1957 and sponsored by the Kernville Chamber of Commerce. (https://whiskeyflatdays.com/). Below is a screen capture from last year’s event. Needless to say, my hands were firmly attached to the handlebars and I wasn’t going to try to take a picture…
No reaching 25 mph in this crowd
Since 1957, this event commemorates the old Kernville of the 1800’s that was named Whiskey Flat. Just a short 3 hour drive from Los Angeles to the Lake Isabella recreation area, you will find the quaint town of Kernville, home to Whiskey Flat Days (50 miles east of Bakersfield on Hwy 178). Just a short 3 hour drive from Los Angeles to the Lake Isabella recreation area, you will find the quaint town of Kernville, home to Whiskey Flat Days (50 miles east of Bakersfield on Hwy 178). Whiskey Flat Days is held every Presidents Day Weekend. It is a leap back to the good ol’ wild west days when the area was settled by gold miners, cattle ranchers and trappers. Join us when Kernville reverts to its old name “Whiskey Flat” for four nostalgic days of fun for the entire family. Parade, Wild West Daze Rodeo, Wild West Encampment, Carnival Rides, Frog Jumping Contests, Whiskey Flat Mayor Contest, Food and Craft Booths, Epitaph, Costume and Whiskerino Contests, Line Dancing, Pet Parade, BlueGrass and Country Western Music, Art Show, Gunfighter Skits, Kids Activities, Games, and much more! Kernville Chambeer of Commerce
All we saw on our fuel stop were impatient drivers ignoring that fact parking was likely unavailable any closer than a mile back, and hundreds, maybe thousands, of beer swilling but good natured, revelers making any low-speed, high-center-of-gravity, Kawasexy manuevers terrifying as we attempted getting into and out of the Shell station dodging likely inebriated pedestrians and distracted drivers searching for noted non-existent parking.
From Kernville we sailed through Mountain Mesa, Weldon, Onyx, and Canebrake to whip over Walker Pass on CA-178 (el 5,246 ft). It was chilly, but clear of ice. Behold the east side. This descent is almost as breathtaking as the descent from Kennedy Meadows over Sherman Pass, just to the north, down 9 Mile Canyon Rd that I have only ridden on my other two wheeler, the Seven Axiom. Maybe it’s the extra mile that gives 9 Mile Canyon Rd that extra something. Or perhaps it’s the 56 mile climb to get to the 9 Mile Canyon Rd descent. Again, on this day, it was nice to have throttle assist.
Close to where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses CA-178
Short sections of US-395 and CA-14 took us through Inyokern to Ridgecrest where we joined CA-178 through Searles Valley, Trona, and Valley Wells on the Trona-Wildrose Rd, past the Ballarat Monument to the Panamint Valley Rd and our destination of the Panamint Springs Resort.
From Ballarat the Barker Ranch is only 21.8 miles
From 1897 to 1917 Ballarat served as a supply and recreation center for miners in the Panamint Mountains and Death Valley. Ballarat springs, cemetery, and remaining ruins of adobe, tin and wood buildings are featured. At its peak the remote outpost boasted 7 saloons, one school, and no churches.
Seems like a reasonable ratio of civilization:recreation…
Panamint Springs Resort Restaurant sporting 150 beers to choose from
We raced to make the campground at Panamint Springs before sunset. Upon approaching the campground I had the sinking feeling of approaching the Joshua Tree National Park entrance with “no campsites available” posted in 2021 (https://sisyphusdw7.com/2021/04/29/mojave-moto-spring-2021/). Then, it was our incredible good fortune to have meet Andres and Pablo, two motorcyclists in their 4-wheeled vehicles, who shared their Jumbo Rocks campsite with us. The frazzled lass at the Panamint General Store where campsite registration is made said she was 100% sure there were no sites available. Pete and I have been to this campground on several past trips and we’ve never, ever, seen it close to capacity. In fact a year ago, it was closed in October and had been closed because of Covid since 2020.
Panamint General $tore
It was at that moment that Mike, the frenetic Bostonian who also worked the counter, was furiously searching their computer database for something that might wipe the desperation off of my face. I contemplated boondocking in Panamint Valley as he seemed to be acknowledging no-vacancy. It was also at that moment a gentleman behind us serendipitously announced that he wanted to cancel a campsite (#32) that he didn’t need as he and two other gentlemen had their daughters/goddaughters snuggled away in a “glampsite” at the “resort” and since their wives declined to join them, they didn’t need the extra campsite. Can you believe it? Lightning in the desert struck twice! I guess our search for new or expanded meaning about ourselves, about others, about nature, and about higher good through the experience, was manifesting itself.
This is what campsite #32 at a resort in Panamint Valley looks like
We hastily set up camp and made our way to the Panamint Resort Restaurant for my second BLT where we Pete and I had the opportunity to enjoy großes bier, “big-ga beers,” and thank all of our campsite benefactors who arrived for dinner as well.
Strolling back to our campsite, our survey of the campgrounds indicated a large group of Boy Scouts in the group site to the east of our spot and a group of about 25 women adjacent to us in REI rental tents who were having themselves a time with lots of chatter and laughter. That’s when we met Mike and Marissa who had pulled into the adjacent campsite #33, our new neighbors from Toronto for the next two nights. They were spending the following day checking out the Scenic DV’s Greatest Hits and then were off to Joshua Tree. I was proven wrong about what I thought was wine induced merrymaking when I learned from Mike and Marissa the following evening that the merrymakers in the REI rentals were a religious group on some sort of retreat. That and the morning prayer circle gave them away.
You meet the nicest people on a Versys
In addition to the Scouts and Merrymakers other campground occupants included several RV’s, camper trailers, vans, tent campers, along with a few like minded moto travelers, all of whom rounded out the caravansary. In fact, there were several EV’s sporting about DV and even camping causing Pete and I perplexity as we wondered where they plugged in, in this infrastructure starved expanse. That is if you don’t include “bigga-beers” as infrastructure…
Mesquite Flats Dunes, home of the Chino Boy Scouts Sand Surfing Grom Championships
As the sun had set, the scouts, though tired from sand surfing the Mesquite Flats Dunes, were merrily chatting away while listening to whatever popular music coming from whatever amplified device brought from home to ostensibly ward off homesickness. They were outlasted by the adjacent REI rental retreaters whose leaders apparently weren’t enforcing the campground 10:00 quiet rules.
Alas, adult mirth beats adolescent music, homesickness inspired or not, IMHO for violating campground quiet rules… A few distant bleats, not quite brays, from the local donkey patrol closed out the evening’s festivities.
Once the campground became quiet, the wind picked up setting up the percussive flapping of the tent making for a restless night. That’s okay. I was given time to consider our journey thus far, often into mostly known places, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about oneself, others, nature, or a higher good through the experience. Not sure I had met the personal transformation criteria, I wasn’t willing to return to my daily life until I had given another shot at transformation. And not the moment’s inattention transformation from the previous pilgrimage on the Kawasexy…
Where the pilgrimage finds Tom and Pete contemplating our good fortune…
“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America
To Reacquaint With or a Pilgrimage To?
Preparing for our 2023 Desert Pilgrimage required planning to ensure comfort when we pitched our tents on each of the four nights on this five day late winter tour of the Sierra Nevada foothills, Death Valley, and Western Nevada basin. We covered some 1,215 miles not unlike how John Steinbeck prepared Rocinante for his nearly 10,000 mile trip of 75 days to reacquaint himself with the speech of the real America, to smell the grass and the trees, to see the colors and the light. These were his goals as he set out, at the age of fifty-eight, to rediscover the country he had been writing about for so many years. He took his dog Charley along for company.
Our goal was to take a journey into known and familiar as well as unknown or foreign places we have rambled through for so many years without freezing with Pete along for company. And as a pilgrimage is defined (and noted in the previously published preview of our Desert Pilgrimage on sisyphusdw7.com), we would be in search of new or expanded meaning about ourselves, about others, about nature, and a about higher good through the experience which would lead us to personal transformation. All this, after which Pete and I, two humble pilgrims a decade-plus older than Steinbeck, would return to our daily lives of household chores, motorcycle YouTube videos, our families and dog and cat friends, and an ever disappointing Warrior’s season following the defeat of the 49ers.
It’s a good thing baseball season is just around the corner. You know, hope springs eternal and the pitch clock promises to give me back wasted minutes watching major leaguers tug at their various appendages while mugging at the camera in a paix de dieu between pitcher and batter… Go Giants!
Day 1, Merced to Three Rivers Friday, February 17, 2023
What’s it take to travel 1,215 miles in February on a motorcycle to the desert in the winter?
Pictured is the gear I hauled including the tent, ground cloth, sleeping bag, camp blanket, down jacket, air mattresses (a Thermarest pad and a Klymit Insulated Static V Lite insulated pad), JetBoil stove, fuel canisters, and the now infamous, REI Flexlite chair.
Infamous Flexlite chair? Yes. I manage to tumble over both entering and exiting the chair wherever it is used regardless of slope. And, no, it has nothing to do with the “rehydration” portion of the rehydration, relaxation, and reflexion ritual observed at the end of the day; the 3R’s we’ve come to perfect as camp has been made, whereupon victuals are scarfed, a fire set, and we sit back to enjoy the canvas of stars and planets and examine the nature of the day’s expanded meaning about ourselves, others, nature, and a higher good made possible by the day’s experience on the motos which would lead, hopefully, to some sort of personal transformation. Oh, and that acrobatic chair entry and exit.
Maybe my issues with the Flexlite, aside from just enjoying the night sky with a cold brewski and conversation with Pete, may have to do with trying to keep from cascading into a hypothermia-induced inability to think clearly or move well, the result of shivering, feeling very tired, confused, with fumbling hands, suffering memory loss, with slurred speech, and drowsiness. You know, any five of the seven hypothermia symptoms that mirror typical male geezer behaviors after spending the day on a motorcycle. Pete doesn’t seem to have the same issues with his Walmart folding camp chair. He’s older than me too.
Absent from the picture are the additional clothing, tools, technology, and other assortment of “stuff” that added approximately 85 pounds of gear in the panniers, dry bags, and tank bag to the 25 pounds of the armored jacket, pants, helmet, and boots worn for protection while riding. Including my weight, I added 290± pounds to the svelte, 473.6 pounds of the Kawasexy Versys. I added 61% of the weight of the bike just in my nalgas and gear. That’s a whopping 864± pounds when you add in the fig and Kind bar snacks. Given the high center of gravity of the bike and all of the gear, it makes for anxious low speed maneuvers on stable, much less unstable, ground, paved or otherwise. I do my best to avoid the Flexlite manuever on the loaded Kawasexy.
Our first day of the 2023 Desert Pilgrimage began with an approximately 180 mile day from our home-sweet-home in the San Joaquin Valley, Merced, to the foothill community of Three Rivers, the portal to Sequoia National Park.
Pine Flat Reservoir
Backroads are our preferred pavé. Santa Fe, various numerical roads in Madera County, Daulton, Friant, Millerton, Auberry, Maxon, Trimmer Springs (Pine Flat Reservoir pictured), Piedra, Elwood, Kings Canyon, Dunlap, Dry Creek, and Sierra are but a few of the names of the interconnected roadways you can see in the Google Map link. Check out the street view option on the map to see more of the terrain.
We arrived at The Hideaway campground in Three Rivers on Sierra Drive which just happens to be on the Kaweah River; the Kern and Tule rivers nearby. Pete has become the master selfie photographer. The pic does give you an idea of what an 864± pound Versys touring outfit looks like. I requested that he take a picture of the campsite, me, and my rig. Pete decided to improve the empty campsite photo with one of his mug in focus, in the foreground…
We had set up camp after nearly 8 hours of undulating foothill and mountain twisties in a nearly empty campground. There was a large canvas teepee with a wood stove chimney billowing smoke, a large brush pile, and us–our two tents and two chairs. As we were making our way to the Totem for dinner and to procure campsite provisions for the night, an SUV with a roof tent showed up. We don’t mind neighbors.
Loves us our Totem
Pete had his buuurrrgggerrrr alotment for the trip and I enjoyed the first of two BLT’s. The Totem isn’t fancy but the food is scratch made with good ingredients and the bar is well stocked with a variety of craft beers and wines. As with most eateries near a National Park, there were the typical mementoes, camping supplies, bundles of wood, and tire chains for sale.
All of the patrons were decked out in the latest winter outdoor fashion as we sat somewhat awkwardly adorned in our motorcycle gear. You know what they say about ATGATT (all the gear, all the time).
A Smokey Bear approved fire
It was now dark and we returned to our campsite to enjoy the “3-R’s” with a cozy fire. We managed to take up 5 campsites along a shaded rockwall figuring no one would show up this late in the day, but low and behold, a family van circumnavigated the campsites settling on one along a fenceline that wasn’t ideal, however, we weren’t going to cede the campfire that we had set safely away from our tents.
The family consisted of two parents and two kids. Dad set up a family sized tent as mom presumably prepared the evening meal as the kids frolicked in the dark twirling their lanterns and giggling. I started feeling guilty, understanding this expanded meaning of myself for selfishly taking up so many sites, but, since the kids seemed to be having fun, Pete and I decided that our colonization of The Hideaway was meant to be. And like that our guilt transformed to pride.
Too cold for my nalgas
The next morning we met some of our campsite neighbors. One fellow from where the RV’s were parked above us who made his way up from the river showed interest in our bikes and revealed that he too rode a touring motorcycle, a KTM 850 Adventure R. I noted how cold it was and he said that he and his wife, their 6 month old, and 2 year old had been touring the western US on a 45 day tour leaving their home in Montreal as temperatures dropped to sub-zero. I noted that the morning’s 30 degrees in Three Rivers must have been like a day at the beach and he quipped, “Hey, I’ve already been for a swim in the river.”
He had that, “Ya know, I’d love to be on my moto touring, but it’s garaged for half of the year because of the weather…” longing in his voice and eyes. I acknowledged that what he was doing with his family was far more remarkable than anything two retired silverback dirtbags were doing to pass time, thus achieving higher good points for the day.
As we had stalled until the sun had risen enough to dry our tents, I made coffee and we packed the other gear. The family van Dad stopped by, giving me the opportunity to apologize for having monopolized ¼ of the campground. He dismissed my guilt by noting that they had a wonderful evening and were looking forward to visiting the snowbound Sequoia National Park and the Giant Forest Sequoia Grove. With that we bade our neighbors safe travels and set about on Day 2 of our Desert Pilgrimage, 2x higher good points in the bank, and I managed a tumble free Flexlite night, cha ching!
Stay tuned… up next, Day 2: Three Rivers to Panamint Springs and Death Valley.
Well, wouldn’tcha know, it’s that time again. Time to mount the Kawasexy and roll south and east to the Mojave. Since I’m in a line to access ChatGPT, I went to resource 1.2, Wiki, to make sure my understanding of “a pilgrimage” was at least in the ballpark, or desert, as it happens. From Wiki:
A pilgrimage is a journey, often into an unknown or foreign place, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about one’s self, others, nature, or a higher good through the experience. It can lead to a personal transformation, after which the pilgrim returns to their daily life.
That sounds pretty high minded. Not like mindedness after edibles, but mindedness beyond the capacity of my mind, high or otherwise. Since I’ll be in the company of my motley band of brothers, the Silverback Dirtbags, I can’t vouch for their mindedness except to say Pete is all in and Andy is somewhat equivocal. It’s not that Andy has anything against expanded meaning or higher good. In colloquial Dirtbag, Andy, like a Rorschach, is as clear as dishwater in his intent. I suspect if we asked him for a mandala to clarify, he would produce something along the lines of a compass rose, leading us to no clear intent. It may be, if I take him at his word, that his decision to join us depends on a diagnosis and favorable prognosis with regards to an orthopedic issue.
Speaking of orthopedic issues, my guy, Dr. Beauchman has cleared me for any and all activities that will fuel my desire to keep on keeping on in search of self, others, nature and/or higher good. All with the caveat that I will use my good judgment to, Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy, Lighten up while you still can, Don’t even try to understand, Just find a place to make your stand and take it easy.
As is my indefatigable desire to plan, our journey will twist and turn us on backroads, some familiar, others foreign in keeping with the pilgrimage theme, through the Sierra foothills to Three Rivers. From Three Rivers we’ll make our way over Alta Sierra, past Lake Isabella, over Walker Pass to Ridgecrest.
From there it’s to Trona, the garden spot of the Owens Valley, (left, the bustling Searles Valley Minerals plant where Na2CO3•2NaHCO3•3H2O is processed and right, the Trona Pinnacles, tufa,or calcium carbonate spires). Then it’s on to the Panamint Springs Resort. It’s as much a resort as Trona is a garden spot. But it is the desert and we are there not because the “resort” is unknown, moreover, that it is a reminder of “daily life” in the middle of the Panamint Valley where we can enjoy victuals, beverages, and fuel our steeds. Two nights.
The next day we will venture forth to unknown or foreign places to expand our understanding of ourselves, others, nature, and a higher good through the experience of Rhyolite, NV. Okay, it’s not entirely foreign, though it is in Nevada, or for that matter unknown as 40ish years ago I explored Rhyolite in another life. I expect the venture to be rewarding nonetheless. After Rhyolite it’s back to Panamint Springs for the night. Not foreign but there will likely be foreigners there.
Day four of our journey will find us back in Three Rivers for the night in a foreign campground, not our favorite and familiar first night destination at the Three Rivers Hideaway, but now opting for the Sequoia Campground and Lodge for the night.
Day five will be the return route to our daily lives where our no doubt expanded consciousness of self, others, nature, and higher meaning, along with dirty laundry awaits. Stay tuned for the post ride update on sisyphusdw7.com. Cheers!