Super Bloom on Two Wheels

Four days and 1147 miles in April 2019 from the Central Valley to the Pacific coast, across the Carrizo Plain, over the Tehachapis to the Mojave and Death Valley, returning back home along Sierra…

Flowers for the Kawasexy
Flowers for the T-120

The 2018-2019 rainy season in California proved to be a bit shy in the early months however by January the atmospheric rivers roared. With record breaking snow levels in the Sierra and above normal rainfall in the rest of the state, the long dormant seeds of California’s native vegetation exploded as the days lengthened and temperatures began to rise. Considering the ravaging fires of last summer, the landslides associated with burn scars were limited and the verdant landscape was renewed.

This season’s banner year
Twenty-nine year average precip

The maps above show how this year’s precipitation (top) is substantially greater than in the past 20 years (bottom) that have been considered drought conditions for much of the Western U.S.. Note the scales. (Northwest Climate Toolbox)

In Spanish, the Sierra are living up to their name… (NOAA/NASA Observatory image)

All of the rain gave me the opportunity to consider this spring’s moto to view the best of the super bloom. Joining me on this two wheel road trip was fellow rider Pete, on his Bonneville T120, and I on the Kawasaki Versys. This was to be our third loop around California to enjoy what the state has to offer in terms of the best two seasonal transitions: fall to winter and winter to spring…

Day 1 Merced to Cambria (Approx. 266 miles)

Old Panoche Rd.

Selecting a route that would showcase the variety of climate zones in California wasn’t a difficult task. Our route would take us from Merced, our home in the Central Valley, on SR 59 and 152 to Dos Palos where we traveled south on N. Russell Rd. through South Dos Palos then west on W. Shields Ave., crossing over I-5 continuing west on our favorite back road, Old Panoche Rd. through Panoche Valley and the Coast Range foothills.

The patched and potholed Old Panoche Rd. rewards you with vistas of verdant chaparral and woodland ecoregions and a great chile verde burrito in the Paicines region

Old Panoche Road is a winding road through open range, blue oak, and gray pinion pine foothills where golden eagles, Western bluebirds, the oak titmouse, the Lewis’s woodpecker, yellow-billed magpies, and phainopepla are resident. Mammals in the area include three federally endangered species; the San Joaquin Kit Fox, Giant Kangaroo Rat, and Nelson’s Antelope Squirrel. The American Badger is also native to the valley. Endangered reptiles in the valley includes Blunt-nosed Leopard Lizard. When approached from the west slope during winter you’ll see mountain bluebirds and flocks of sparrows down from higher elevations. During spring, Swainson’s hawks nest along this road.

More Old Panoche Rd.

Not all of the sunlight goes into photosynthesis as the controversial Panoche Valley Solar Farm is now generating 130 megawatts of power serving San Benito County. Originally proposed at 399 MW, the cost was estimated at approximately $1 billion. The project faced lawsuits from three environmental groups who charged that project would harm native species such as the giant kangaroo rat, blunt-nosed leopard lizard, San Joaquin kit fox, and various bird species. The project was downsized to 247 MW and eventually 130 MW in 2017 after a settlement was reached. [Wikipedia]

Once over Paicines Pass, twisties and sweepers made for a quick descent down to the Paicines Store. Now likely powered by the PVSF, the store’s kitchen produced wonderful chili verde and asada burritos that powered us until dinner. Controversies are abundant in our changing world. It’s nice to have something like a small country store making a legit chili verde to reassure that as some things change, some things remain the same. Well, maybe now the lights are solar powered.

It was on to Hollister, San Juan Bautista, and Castroville for a fuel stop for the machines and our connection to the iconic SR 1. With more traffic than we prefer, Hwy 1 is a beautiful route to enjoy especially exposed to the elements as one is on a motorcycle. The winding road to the Big Sur, Lucia, Gorda, Ragged Point communities, often isolated by the ravages of rainfall induced landslides, all dodged atmospheric bullets this wet season as closures were temporary unlike in 2017.

San Jose Mercury News photo

The Mud Creek Slide, which rained debris in one of the state’s largest landslides, destroyed a quarter-mile section of the roadway. The road had been blocked since May 20, 2017 near the tiny town of Gorda, 65 miles south of Monterey, where the slide occurred when a quarter-mile section of the two-lane road fell into the Pacific Ocean at Mud Creek, along with 50 acres of hillside. The Soberanes Fire in 2016, along with other slides along the route, including an eight-month closure that bisected the town of Big Sur in 2017, meant an even longer wait for an uninterrupted drive along the cliff-hugging highway that kept us on an interior route last year.

The road was open and though we may have wanted to lean a bit more into the curves, sightseeing tourists kept us vertical as we slogged down the highway. Though it was cloudy and cool and the traffic slow, we dressed for the conditions and, making the best of the slog, enjoyed the vistas down to Cambria which were stunning.

How about some witnessed natural history?

Acorn Woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorusare) are very unusual woodpeckers that live in large groups, hoard acorns in granaries, and breed cooperatively. Cooperative breeding is defined as more than two birds taking care of nestlings in the nest. At Nepenthe, a group of acorn woodpeckers gathered acorns by the thousands last fall and wedged them into holes they’ve made in tree trunks, telephone poles, or side of the restaurant. Several were flitting about perhaps inspecting their cache or catching insects, another source of food. These birds will mate in the fall when the acorns are plentiful that is unusual for most birds. I suspect this display was less to impress than to capture a tasty insect or a vintage acorn. It was at Nepenthe afterall…

And now for some cultural history…

State Route 1 was one of the most difficult routes to build particularly along the Big Sur coast. The state first approved building Route 56, or the Carmel-San Simeon Highway, to connect Big Sur to the rest of California in 1919. Federal funds were appropriated and in 1921 voters approved additional state funds. San Quentin State Prison set up three temporary prison camps to provide unskilled convict labor to help with road construction. One was set up by Little Sur River, one at Kirk Creek and a third was later established in the south at Anderson Creek. Inmates were paid 35 cents per day and had their prison sentences reduced in return. The route necessitated construction of 33 bridges, the largest of which was the Bixby Creek Bridge. Six more concrete arch bridges were built between Point Sur and Carmel.

No wonder infrastructure doesn’t get done like back in the day…

After 18 years of construction, aided by New Deal funds during the Great Depression, the paved two-lane road was completed and opened on June 17, 1937. The road was initially called the Carmel-San Simeon Highway (Route 56), but was better known as the Roosevelt Highway, honoring the current President Franklin D. Roosevelt. A 1921 law extended Route 56 south over the county road to Cambria. [From Wikipedia]

Pete’s high performance gear that has stood the test of time

We made it to the campground just in time for fish tacos in Cambria at the West End Bar and Grill. As state campgrounds go, the San Simeon Creek Campground is nearly perfect. Just a few miles from Hearst Castle and Cambria, it’s a fully equipped campground. The ocean lullaby ensures a great night’s rest.

Tom’s yet-to-be-tested high performance gear

After a hearty breakfast at Cambria Mimosas Steak & Seafood and fuel at the local Shell Station, day two beckoned… sans mimosas.

Day 2 Cambria to Panamint Springs (Approx. 342 miles)

From Cambria we would head east on California SR 46, south on US 101, and east again on SR 58 detouring south of Bakersfield through McKittrick, Derby Acres, Maricopa, Taft, and SR 166 to Mettler and weaving in and around back roads through some serious agriculture to Arvin. The southern Central Valley (San Joaquin Valley) is ironically home to fossil fuel production and large scale farming often in the proximity of, if not on the same, acreage. Descending from the foothills, pumpjacks and pipelines dominate the landscape. Further down slope orchards of almonds, avocados, walnuts, pistachios, oranges, tangerines, lemons, and fields of potatoes, carrots, lettuce, garlic, and onions with an occasional pumpjack interspersed. We saw cattle and calves, sheep and lambs grazing on rangeland where oil extraction was taking place. Hopefully, as the roadside banners remind us, the food will grow as this year’s (abundant) water flows.

State Route 58 was super bloom central for 2019

In spite of large scale oil production and agriculture, it was on the outset of this leg of our spring tour that we were astonished by the super bloom. The coastal foothills and westside plains were ablaze with color, the density and scale of which I’ve never seen. The timing of the this year’s rain on the plain was exquisite.

Note the bug splatter free helmet
Note the minimalist windscreen and bug splattered visor
I guess there’s a reason the Bonnie gets more attention than the Kawasexy
Pete enjoying the upgrade from a 3G to an X

After a quick fuel stop in Arvin, we began the ascent over Tehachapi on SR 58. The darkened skies were intimidating as we wove through truck after truck slogging up the pass. Once over Tehachapi Pass, north on SR 14 and 395 the skies cleared. However, confronted by brutal headwinds, we were buffeted to and fro through Bradys and Brown, with a blustery stop at Pearsonville for gas where our helmets came in handy to deflect the wind causing other patrons at the Shell/Subway to grimace as they were pelted with sand and other debris while filling up. Somehow we missed seeing the Uniroyal Gal (a.k.a. the Hubcap Lady) in Pearsonville. That’s the sort of thing that will turn a grimace into a smile…

See photo credit

From Pearsonville, just south of the 9 Mile Canyon exit on US 395 that takes you over Sherman Pass, a route I’ve taken on a bicycle three times, it was on through the Red Rock Canyon, Little Lake, Coso, Coso Junction, Dunmovin, Haiwee, and Grant in increasing headwinds blasting us to Olancha where SR 190 took us east to Panamint Springs. I made the best of the conditions as I tucked in the slipstream behind a Jeep Wrangler. With a taller windshield and the Jeep, my ride was a bit more pleasant than Pete’s with his swave minimalist cafe windscreen. Given the frequency of the winds in this region, I’m pretty sure the number of settlements named on the map outnumber the residents on that stretch of road. Not so much of a super bloom there as the timing of the considerable rain that occured in the desert wasn’t as prolific in the production of wildflowers. Or maybe the wind blew all of the flowers’ seeds away…

As we began the descent into the Death Valley Monument the winds tapered, yet once again our desire to lean into the twisties was stymied by a group of gentlemen tourists cautiously riding their shiny Harley Davidsons as we shared the road. Once again we enjoyed the vistas freed from having to determine the line and apex of the next turn.

If you look closely you’ll see the Father Crowley Overlook in the Google Map screen capture below. I wonder what it was that was overlooked with this Father Crowley fellow…

Google Maps
From the Father Crowley Overlook

Arriving at the Panamint Springs “Resort”, all was forgiven and forgotten about the raging viento as we were greeted with calm. Once our tents were pitched and sandwiches and a cold beverage were consumed at the definitely desert funky Panamint Springs Restaurant we were ready to enjoy the big sky perhaps to see a stealthful F-18 or F-15e from the nearby Nellis AFB, Edwards AFB, NAWS at China Lake, or NAS at Lemoore buzz this Star Wars Canyon.

The Panamint Springs Resort was originally owned and operated by Buffalo Bill Cody’s cousin, Agnes Cody. The motel was opened in 1937 when the first toll road was constructed traversing the Panamint Valley. A post office operated at Panamint Springs from 1940 to 1946. Change comes slowly to the desert, but who needs a post office when you have free WiFi?

Nothing like a good night’s rest on rocks
Panamint Sand Dunes from the Panamint Springs Campground

As the sun was setting the light reflected off of the harsh desert terrain softened as the warmer wavelengths of the spectrum illuminated the landscape. Snow topped Telescope Peak glowed in the setting sun.

We were invited to share a campfire with our campground neighbors with whom we shared stories of our travels. As we watched meteorites flash across the night sky with the Milky Way as the backdrop while contemplating the planets, stars, galaxies, clusters, the question of how big is the universe and then what? What defines a “thing” and how big can they get? The next “thing” I knew it’s morning in the space time continuum and it was time to Jet Boil some java…

After sharing itineraries with our other campground neighbors we packed up the gear and headed south.

Day 3 Panamint Springs to Three Rivers (Approx 256 miles)

Day three would take us southbound on Panamint Valley Rd. also known as the Trona/Wildrose Rd. (SR 178) through Trona, the absolute garden spot of the Eastern Sierra Mojave region.

White Desert Chicory (Rafinesquia
neomexicana) and Purple Desert herons bill (Erodium texanum A. Gray) and a SGHYF (small ground-hugging yellow flower)

Entering Trona one is at once struck by the industrial mineral production and isolated feel of the place. Passing by multiple roadside dumps of the remnants of times of greater prosperity cast something of a pall over the town despite being a very pleasant sunny, windless spring morning. I’m pretty sure automation and international markets have some responsibility for the decline of Trona. There is a high school. In fact it’s one of the best maintained facilities in the town. The baseball and football fields were sand. I can’t imagine taking a short hop as a shortstop or what being tackled as a receiver would feel like. Then again, it’s probably preparation for the hardscrabble life that awaits after graduation…

Esparza’s Family Restaurant, formerly the Fox Movie Theater

Pete has quite an appetite for such a compact fellow. Since earlier we hit the road without breakfast we decided to stop in Trona for a bite to eat where he recalled his first stay at the now closed Pinnacles Motel some thirty years earlier. Since the Esparza’s Family Restaurant was one of two eateries in Trona, we dropped in. There didn’t appear to be any evidence of a thriving community as we rode past shuttered businesses after abandoned houses. The server was very pleasant and a couple of mothers and their “free range children” arrived as we were seated. A few minutes later a couple of auto-tourists dropped in. Take out orders were dispatched. I guess their business model works for what appeared to be a town on its last leg. We discovered that in its previous life the restaurant was a fancy Fox Movie Theater (opened in 1954–my birth year–so it wasn’t exactly ancient history). The boomtown appeared to be considerably busted but my Belgium waffle, two eggs, and bacon were delish.

Some more history courtesy of

Trona is home to the Searles Lake playa located in the Searles Valley on Hwy 178 in the Greater Mojave Desert. Searles Lake is one of a chain of pleistocene lakes which were formed during the Ice Ages. The dry lake bed contains a plethora of sodium and potassium minerals of the carbonate, sulfate, borate and halide classes, due to long sedimentation and evaporation processes which occurred over a period of about 150,000 years.

The Trona Pinnacles are the sisters of the Mono Lake tufa

The dry lake also contains the Trona Pinnacles National Natural Landmark which consists of more than 500 tufa spires. Trona Pinnacles has been the site of many movies and commercials because of its prehistoric mystical appeal. Over thirty film projects a year are shot among the tufa pinnacles, including backdrops for car commercials and sci-fi movies and television series such as Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Disney’s Dinosaur, The Gate II, Lost in Space, and Planet of the Apes.

A short jaunt south on SR 14 brought us back to last spring’s route over Walker Pass on SR 178 to Wofford Heights and Kernville with a slight variation. Stopping in Kernville for fuel and a lesson in credit card fraud prevention, we got conflicting reports about our intended route on the Great Western Divide Highway over the Sequoia Crest. Since we knew that the Sherman Pass Route over the Sierra was snowbound, we had planned to take Mtn. Hwy 99 to Johnsondale catching the GWDH to where it becomes California SR 190 through Camp Nelson and Springville joining Yokohl Valley Drive to SR 198 and Three Rivers for the night. Alas, the road to Camp Nelson was closed for the winter as reported by a young fellow on an Yamaha Fz07 or was it an 09? Despite my checking with CalTrans before departing and being assured the route was opened, he said that there was a gate across the road that morning and that he turned back.

The best laid plans of mice and men in the mountains on motorbikes in the spring… CalTrans let me down.

Instead we traveled over Alta Sierra on SR 155 through Glenville and Old Stage Rd. into Porterville. North on SR 65 through Strathmore, Lindsay, and Exeter we then turned east on SR 198 to Three Rivers for the night. The compensating feature of missing out on the Great Western Divide Highway was that the air was deliciously scented by the blossoming citrus in the region.

Just as we were anticipating arrival and setting up camp in the Sequoia National Park at the Potwisha or Buckeye Flat campgrounds, we encountered a long line of stop-and-go traffic near the Kaweah Terminus Dam. Damn, it must have been Spring Break traffic filling the park! As we rolled on we discovered that a terrible accident involving a pick-up that appeared to be smashed in some sort of head-on collision. We later learned that medi-flight responders evacuated victims.

Rolling on, the traffic cleared in Three Rivers however, upon approaching the entrance station to Sequoia National Park, we noted that only two of the fourteen campgrounds in the entire park were open (see the introduction about snow) and they were full. The friendly ranger referred us to a couple of private campgrounds in Three Rivers and lo and behold we discovered the Three Rivers Hideaway right on the Kaweah River.

Serendipitous find
Kaweah River Hideaway campsite
Where was Baer? In Three Rivers that’s where

We shared a section of the campground with a fellow who introduced himself as Chris, based in Colorado, who was kayaking the spring runoff in California. After dinner we sat around the campfire sharing what brought us there and came to find that he was a professional kayak river guide. He proved to be a fascinating adventurer, at once humorous and humble. His website,, is filled with content of his many world wide wet adventures. When asked if he had a favorite river Mr. Baer simply replied, “Yep, the one I haven’t yet run.”

That’s a line I’ll steal when I’m next asked about a favorite moto tour!

Chris Baer’s tricked out Bluebird and vintage KLR caboose

Day 4 Three Rivers to Home (Approx. 283 miles)

Our final day took us on another variation of last year’s route to SR 216 to Woodlake where a delightful breakfast was enjoyed at Dora’s.

Chili verde eggs, rice, beans and tortillas… YUM!

This year we continued north into the hills instead of staying in the valley through Auckland, Badger, Sierra Glen, Pinehurst, and Cedarbrook, all quaint Sierra communities along right-wrist-fatiguing-twisties and sweepers. North through more of the same sorts of wee settlements named Dunlap and Squaw Valley. A short westward bump on SR 180 and north again on Ellwood Rd. and Piedra around Pine Flat Reservoir through Trimmer on E. Trimmer Springs Rd. to Maxon, Watts Valley, and Burrough Valley Rds. delightfully adorned in best springtime array.

Pine Flat Reservoir near Trimmer with Fiddlenecks (Amsinckia)

Enroute to Tollhouse Rd. we discovered that Dry Creek was wet. We also noted several folks on a springtime ramble who were picnicking along side of the bucolic Maxon Rd., or was it Watts Valley Rd. or Burroughs Rd.? Regardless, the spring splendor was evident on any winding country road in the vicinity.

Reaching SR 168 a quick right hand turn took us up to the Cressman’s store on the way to Shaver Lake where some caffeine chased by a lime Bubbly hit the spot.

San Joaquin River watershed Fuller Buttes (domes) foreground, Mt. Ritter background (?)

After the caffeine-sugar rush at Cressman’s, we turned tail on SR 168 and headed, north on Auberry Rd. Before dropping down to Auberry and New Auberry (?) to Kerckhoff Lake we encountered a view of the Sierra crest that competed with the many twisties for our attention on the namesake road, which was neither new nor old, as we headed down to North Fork. This view is comparable to that of the Mile High Vista on the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway that you can access in North Fork or in Bass Lake on Beasore Rd..

More twisties up Rd. 274 to Bass Lake and Yosemite Forks where we joined SR 41 through Oakhurst zipping onto SR 49 into Mariposa for petrol for the Triumph.

Like Sea Biscuit returning to his stable, we continued zipping on SR 49 to the Mt. Bullion Cutoff where we dropped down Guadalupe Grade on SR 140 to Catheys Valley being careful to slow our zipping as that section crawls with CHP anxious to ticket unaware tourists. To avoid the speed trap, we took Hornitos Rd. to Merced Falls and Snelling Rd. to G St. finally arriving at home sweet home to the affectionate gaze of SoBe eagerly awaiting a reward for being a good dog (and only driving Toni, Kyndra, Luna, and Dakota just a little crazy).

Four days and 1147 miles from the Central San Joaquin Valley, across the Coast Range to the Pacific coast, bisecting the Carrizo Plain, up and over the Tehachapis, to the Mojave and down to Death Valley, & back along western slope of the Sierra home.

I’m looking forward to my next, and who knows, maybe my next favorite tour, the one not yet taken…

Four Days, A Volcano, Redwoods, the Pacific, and Clear Air


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 .

4 Days, A Volcano, the Pacific and Clear Air

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.

Pete mustering an inspiring smile while contemplating where all the ‘bargain” beer will go

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:

“But tell me, just what is it that you want to do?”

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.

Attempting to abide

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!

Lengthening shadows
Ebbing tourism

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.”

“Keep on 89 over the hill…”
The Bonnie and Kawasexy taking it easy at the end of the day

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.

Inspecting crushed spectacles on a beast of a bike… Don’t drop it, it would be considerably harder to pick up than the glasses

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.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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.

There must be UC Extension, Master Gardeners’ group in the area…

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!

The Westport Community Store takes the funk out of the fog

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…

The pristine Pacific Coast
Visual pollution
While camping and fires were prohibited, the selfie was permitted

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.

We miss you friend

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.

Dale’s flair for decorating was assigned to the garage

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…

Sand to Snow

Sunset from Dante’s View

In 2015-16 California experienced a respite from the worst drought in a century.  As of today, we know that water year was an anomaly on an increasingly warmer planet.  With record precipitation in the state, top to bottom, a super bloom emerged in Death Valley.  It was time to see how the mechanics of rain and snow conspired to instruct the botany and topography of the lowest and highest locations in the continental United States.

Note the delicate, yet hearty structure.  Plants survive in this environment of extremes by dressing up for the pollinators while toughening up to preserve moisture.  Seeds may lay dormant for decades, even hundreds of years, awaiting scant precipitation.

From Zabriskie Point the sunset would soon arrive and the heavens opened in the night to fuel quiet contemplation of just how small we are on this miraculous island in the universe.

Wind and water battling the forces of geology

In the early-to-mid Mesozoic when the Farallon Plate under the Pacific Ocean started to dive below the North American Plate, a subduction zone was created.  Volcanoes and uplifting mountains were created as a result. Erosion over many millions of years created a relatively featureless plain. Stretching of the crust under western North America started around 16 Ma (million years ago) and is thought to be caused by upwelling from the subducted spreading-zone of the Farallon Plate. This process continues into the present and is thought to be responsible for creating the Basin and Range province. By 2 to 3 million years ago this province had spread to the Death Valley area, ripping it apart and creating Death Valley, Panamint Valley and surrounding ranges. These valleys partially filled with sediment and, during colder periods during the current ice age, with lakes. Lake Manly was the largest of these lakes; it filled Death Valley during each glacial period from 240,000 years ago to 10,000 years ago. By 10,500 years ago these lakes were increasingly cut off from glacial melt from the Sierra Nevada, starving them of water and concentrating salts and minerals. The desert environment seen today developed after these lakes dried up.                                                                    Geology of the Death Valley area from Wikipedia

Next up: a day exploring the terra firma.

Clockwise from upper left: Ubehebe Crater, Desolation Canyon, Mosaic Canyon, Mosaic Canyon (with intruder), Mesquite Dunes, Artists Palette.

Chiseled box canyon through uplifted consolidated sediments

Wind and water chiseled features now barren that once were verdant.  It’s all a matter of time, geologic time measured in Ma (millions of years).

Leaving Death Valley we made our way up and over the Panamint Range and across the Owens Valley to Lone Pine.

Carpet of Desert Gold Geraea canescens from the Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Hwy 190 near Panamint Springs

The next day we would explore snowbound Whitney Portal.

Whitney Portal Road


… And away!

Desert hiking gear doesn’t provide sufficient purchase on crusty spring snow. Duh…

Then Manzanar.  A reminder of how a nation can betray its conscience and constitution.


NPS Auditorium and Visitor Center


Another magical winter’s sunset from our campsite on the East Side.

Bracketed by an equally magical sunrise the following morning.


On the way out of the Owens Valley, a stop to see Red Hill and Fossil Falls in this land of fire and ice.

Red Hill, a cinder cone quarried to use on icy winter roads on the East Side

During the last ice age, glaciers formed in the Sierra Nevada. Meltwater from the glaciers pooled into large lakes, including Owens Lake and the Owens River. The river traveled through to Indian Wells Valley, and its course was diverted several times by volcanic activity. The falls were formed when the river was forced to divert its course over a basalt flow, polishing and reshaping the rock into a variety of unique shapes and forms.


A posting from the Coso People on a prehistoric blog?


Walker Pass Bloom
Walker Pass State Hwy 168


The bloom wasn’t restricted to the desert.  Throughout California’s natural plains, foothills, and mountains the arid and dusty ground sprang to life.






Meanwhile closer to home, another day and another springtime story awaits about a trail on the South Fork of the Merced River to Hite’s Cove…

Hite’s Cove Trail off of State Hwy 140 on the way to Yosemite NP

Let’s roll

Thanks for joining me.  California is where I was born, and as dust, will likely return to the Earth.  I hope to share experiences we’ve either all had or we plan to have in the spirit of adventures sought or those found in fortuity, rambling around this remarkable state and region of such physical, social, and spiritual diversity.

Some roads don’t exist…

Many of these excursions will be recalled from the past, becoming more distant, others more recent, becoming more cherished, as the present slips away and those presently being planned that keep the wheels turning.  I will observe the following thoughtfulness in each missive:  He said, “Just ’cause you can’t recall, don’t mean it didn’t happen. Just ’cause you can remember don’t mean that it did…”  The pictures help my fading synaptic retention.

Be warned, nothing is for sale nor is anything intended to offend.  I like to think mildly snarky courtesy is the only rule by which to abide.


Some of the fun is on foot

Sometimes the fun is in the selected mode by which to enjoy the travel

It’s mostly about being outside, in the full measure of the season and elements

Often it’s about the company you choose and those who choose you

And sometimes it’s about finding yourself all alone

Scan 3

So, let’s roll!

…and be grateful that all of our roads are long and winding