Death Valley National Park/Baja/Bike/Ride Story

The following story is about Death Valley; a past and present story for the DV uninitiated. The first part is about the park itself and then my first ride through the park on a bicycle in 1992. The park itself is 156-miles long from north to south, bordered on the east and west by the Amargosa and Panamint Mountains. Death Valley is the lowest point in the USA at 282 feet below sea level. A short 15 miles to the west, Telescope Peak rises to 11,049 feet, and the difference in elevation between these two points is greater than the depth of the Grand Canyon! The ride up to Telescope Peak is as great as the view.

Around 1992, my friend Chuck Williams and I signed up for a rare moonlight ride through Death Valley. Only 100 riders were allowed. Earlier, I recall us installing lights up front. I’m fairly certain bicycle LEDS did not yet exist. My x-wife drove and dropped Chuck and I off around 11:00 p.m. and picked us up the following morning 150 miles away. The desert at night is eerily quiet. Thank goodness for a full moon that cast really long shadows, as we coasted for what seemed for miles and miles. We roughly covered 150 miles before our ride ended. Today I can’t exactly recall our start or end point but, I can guess that the following is fairly accurate.

Once we started our ride we quickly dropped towards the national park itself; a 3,000-foot descent over something like 20 miles leading one into Furnace Creek. Furnace Creek campground is an ideal camping spot if you choose to do something similar today. I recommend you also explore a 30-mile section between Stovepipe Wells and Panamint Springs, in the next valley over. Your reward on the other side is Panamint Springs Resort, which has camping facilities but also rustic lodging accommodations if you prefer a night in an actual bed.

From Panamint Springs, the next morning go up the winding road past Father Crowley Overlook and toward the park’s western exit through the Coso Range. The last pass to reach is around Saline Valley Road and begins the long descent and joins State Route 136, which loops into Lone Pine. The final night of your trip can also be a campsite in the evening shadow of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the 48 contiguous states. At this point, you’ve successfully ridden or like me many moons ago, pedaled Death Valley National Park!!

There’s something transformative about the Mojave Desert. The dryness feels good and so does the elevation, the sand, the silt, the wind, the roads; get out and test your limits – it’s either now or never.

Walter Scott (aka Death Valley Scotty) helped make Death Valley famous. Scott, traveled with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show for more than a decade.

The anatomy of a Bike Bro’s ride to Death Valley: First, someone in the group like Kevin or I decide we want to set up a ride and invite others to join us. For example, the day after Christmas of 2020, the ride group deemed would be a good day to travel south of the border to Baja.

And so, a group thread is developed on WhatsApp so that all in the group could comment as to their desire to also join in on the ride. First there is the usual banter comments from those that value their lives, in my humble opinion, just a little too much. Then a comment or two about safety and narco traffickers that eventually settles down to, ok Ill go!

In our riding group are also the special requirements folks. You know, the ones with “special needs”, such as, I can’t camp, spend over this amount of money, must be home or depart by this date and time, eat spicy foods, ride on dirt roads or speaky Spanish?

Suddenly, out of nowhere another ride is offered up from Douglas MotoCamping Meetup group. This is a 1,000 mile ride all the way to Cabo from the Tijuana border. Most of our Bike Bro’s do not want to ride that far, on account of wanting to stop, smell and consume copious amounts of tacos plus ride the twisty roads but, only on their conditions.

And then the Baja experienced chime in that they know baja, speak the language, and driven/ridden it multiple times by car, truck and motorcycle but, never at the same time. And so that’s how Version 2.0 of the original planned itinerary is born, to entice the less timid into signing on to the ride.

What no whales someone soon points out? Our original intent was to ride down Baja way to see the whales. Only someone and not the original ride planner (me) did a little research and quickly told the group the offshore whales don’t yet arrive until at least February or March.

And so as if by magic, Version 3.0 of the ride itinerary is soon born. A new and revised plan resembling nothing like the original, so as to accommodate the lack of whales and the final two holdouts of our original group.

Now just you stop and pause for a moment at what a beautiful itinerary this is: Dec 26, 2020, cross the border at Tecate; visit the Wine Museum; stroll through the displays that showcase the history of wine production in Baja , since the arrival of the missionaries.

And more! And so my friends, this is how Bike Bro’s MotoCamping group transitioned from a Baja Ride to a Death Valley ride.

DAY 1 – Ride into Death Valley National Park. Stay at Furnace Creek, California.

DAY 2 – Ride Artist’s Palette Loop, check out Ubehebe Crater, Badwater Basin, Racetrack Playa, and Titus Canyon. There are more options out there. Stay in Furnace Creek, California.

DAY 3 – Furnace Creek, CA to Joshua Tree National park – 250 Miles

Notes: Death Valley has long appealed to the adventurous, the unconventional, and what many people consider the “crazy”.

And now to recap it all. Yes we are doing a motorcycle and not a bicycle ride even though that is how I first started this story.

No we are not going to Mexico, not on account of the narcos this time but, on account of something you can’t see. Covid 19.

The ineffable vastness of the Death Valley landscape, the feeling of us mere humans and our motorcycles being so small; lends itself to the kind of internal journey that will have a radical and lasting impact on our very soul.

And so, whomever in the end, decides to undertake this kind of arduous external/internal journey know that our sense of interconnectedness and camaraderie will once again forge a profound experience – the kind that serves as our grounding reference point, before returning to the hostile world we now know as a world wide pandemic one.

Cleaning our souls through motorcycle therapy. Looking forward to 2021.