Anyone up for a midweek visit to Death Valley and MotoCamping at Tecopa hot Springs? My friend Tom replied back in time to keep this from being a solo ride as originally planned. For about two weeks prior, we communicate in message form as to what to see, visit or hike. We then develop a very loose riding itinerary. The temperature at Death Valley this week is around 61 degrees with overnight lows of around the high 40’s.
Finally, the day to depart arrives and my dentist reminds me that I have a teeth cleaning appointment scheduled. We leave soon after and around midday we begin our ride up the cajon pass, on highway 15. All is great until up ahead, I see Tom riding straight but, at a 45 degree angle. He is now furiously compensating for the winds that are blowing us sideways. Tom is on a much smaller bike. A Suzuki V Strom with hard luggage cases. He is prepared for MotoCamping but, has cabin reservations for the first two days. I’m riding a new BMW 1250 with soft luggage side cases and a hard top case. I have no planned reservations. Our ride plan is to ride Route 66 but, Tom misses the first available turn to it.
We stop and fuel up at Victorville and he says he didn’t know there was an earlier entrance to the mother road. Tom is only traveling with a smartphone for navigation. In Death Valley you also need a gps to travel as there is no cell service available throughout most of the park.
Unlike my Bike Bro’s riding friends, Tom does not own the Packtalk intercom system. If he did we could’ve communicated anytime. And now if we separate from each other it will take a phone, message or some riding around time to locate each other. We get as far as Elmers bottle ranch on Route 66 before our first must stop spot. Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch is one man’s passion for creating and sharing. Just like I’m now doing, except in words and pictures. Elmer does it by using thousands of colored glass bottles.
The story goes something like this. Elmer and his father started cleaning up the desert by picking up everything and anything. Soon the collection was born unfortunately, Elmers dad passed away so never saw what the son started creating. Wondering what to do with all the bottles, and to honor his father, one day an idea struck, a desert bottle tree? One that does not need watering.
Shaped like hat racks, with glass bottles of all colors and shapes angled off of them, the bottle tree ranch is what you see today. People from all over the world come here while driving or riding Route 66. Most stop to talk to the artist only I can’t do that today on account of Covid and the fact that he died last year.
Elmers’ unique bottle collection still stands and today honors both father and son. You can’t miss it if driving on Route 66.
Route 66 now becomes a part of Highway 15 as it passes through a part of the town or city of Barstow. What a festive little town I yell over to Tom as we’re riding from street lights and stop signs watching several teams of men on ladder trucks installing holiday wreaths and decorations across Route 66.
At the town of Baker we stop for lunch at Jersey Mike’s Sub shop located in a gas station, grocery store and souvenir shop. We enjoy a great sandwich sitting in an outdoor table area. Tom wants a picture of the Mojave National Park sign just across the road so we stop for pictures. We meet another rider from another state who also has a winter home in the area. He is riding a BMW K1600, the largest touring bike made by BMW. Soon we’ll be entering Death Valley but, first we take Highway 127, to Tecopa Hot Springs and Destiny Resort, our first nights lodging.
At Death Valley Junction, the road becomes highway 190, and is one way to access the park. This road runs past the turnoff for Dante’s View, Twenty Mule Canyon, Zabriskie Point, and Furnace Creek.
Tom paid $90 for an overnight stay in a storage shed sized cabin with a toilet and bed; I pitched my tent by his cabin but, was charged $35, the same rate for an all day hot Springs soaking pass.
After exploring the area we find the best food and drink spot around known as “Steak and Beer”. That’s the name of the place that serves up the best one pound ribeye that $40 could buy. And they make their own brew at the brewery next door. The desserts are also amazing, from key lime pie to date cakes topped with chocolate.
Outstanding place in every way, food, atmosphere, service and all while sitting outside under a propane heater. I’m still basking from an earlier hot springs soak so, only wore a hoodie on the ride here. The two mile ride back to camp may turn out to be a cooler ride as the desert temperature is quickly dropping.
After a sunrise morning hot springs soak and morning coffee we opted to access the park by way of the nearby town of Shoshone. As soon as we neared Shoshone the winds started picking up. Oh, oh we thought. Last night while Tom slept in his storage shed cabin I camped and felt the full effects of the wind passing through. We fought the winds as we rode on but, soon entered another Valley and no winds. We had a fantastic clear riding morning with almost no vehicle traffic except for adventure bikes. We saw around ten of them. Six were also stopped at Badwater. I spoke to one of the guys that told me they trailered them behind a motor home. This way they can explore a new location daily. We stopped at all the tourist stops like Desolation Canyon, Artist’s Drive (Artist’s Palette), Devil’s Golf Course, and the Natural Bridge.
We stopped in Furnace Creek at the “The Last Kind Words Saloon “ for lunch. The food again was excellent. Tom enjoyed the ribeye sandwich and sweet potato fries and I opted for a pulled pork sandwich also with sweet potato fries. This is a five star resort with the room rates, I believe around $300 a night but, thankfully the food is not overpriced. Our sandwiches went for $17 each and we enjoyed them at 100 feet below sea level. Our server, a gal from Washington state told us she recently purchased a home in the thriving town of Trona.
Non of the nearby mineral towns look pleasant enough to me for a lengthy visit. The nearby Trona Pinnacles on the other hand are worthy of a stop. The landscape consists of more than 500 tufa tufa spires. Some as high as 140 feet rising from the desert floor. They sit on a dry desert basin and are composed of calcium carbonate aka tufa. The drive to see them is on a desert dirt road across a railroad track.
The 12 plus miles of a one way road into Artist Drive in Death Valley is a must stop and ride. A motorcycles dream ride. The road and scenery can only best be described in pictures. Imagine for twelve miles all the scenery you can loaded with various sandstone like colors then toss in enough curves to twist you this way and that. About as close to the log ride at Disneyland as you can get.
If you started early in the day and still have plenty of time, you may want to continue on. It’s a little over a half-hour to Panamint Springs and another 20 minutes to Father Crowley Point. After this, you can turn around and head back to Stovepipe Wells, and out of the park on the Daylight Pass Road (374) that leads to the town of Beatty. Before getting to Beatty, stop at the Rhyolite ghost town to see the ruins of this old mining town and some creative art installations. From Beatty take Highway 95 if you want cheap lodging at Las Vegas.
For our second night we chose Panamint. Tom’s cabin was reserved for $145 a night. My MotoCamping spot rate was more like $25. While at Furnace creek we were able to access wifi and some spotty cell service. I call home and my wife informs me that Santa Ana winds are due in tonight. Tom also reads something about the winds but, he seems more concerned with managing a home refinance by phone. I do not like the idea of Santa Ana winds, riding or driving. The forecast sounds accurate. I’m now 275 miles from home and Tom is about 300 miles from home. He says he’ll make the call later; with that we each part ways and I’m on a mission to get home before nightfall. Before six p.m. I arrive home. Earlier I was tossed about on the 15 freeway valley area by the beginning build up of the Santa Ana winds. Prior to that I did not experience any winds but, cooler 52 degree temperatures. And now below the El Cajon pass the winds were gusting at around 25-40 mph and the temperature rose to 73 degrees.
A 575 round trip ride to Death Valley is enough motorcycle therapy for me today. I can feel it in my very core, hands, neck muscles and thighs among other places. Most of all my my mental health as well. Great riding, scenery, hot springs, excellent food/drink and conversation with a fellow rider.
Motorcycle therapy is the sense of freedom, adrenaline, and the open-road but, it needs to have a MotoCamping component to really work.