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Old 10-15-2010, 08:48 AM   #1
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Joined: Dec 2006
Location: somwhere north of Kingston, Ontario
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Little Bikes, Big Desert - Panamint & Mojave 2010

Every chance I get, I leap at the opportunity to go ride the deserts of Southern California. Those of you that live in the area are improbably lucky. Nothing quite matches the peace, solitude, beauty, and openness of the Western deserts. After months of slogging through the mud, roots, rocks, and endless sameness of the forests of Ontario, I was eagerly awaiting the visual and mental space that's so easily achieved in the desert. Early March opened up on the calendar, and off I went.

As usual, I'd be riding with Wes ("rinconrider"), as we've been riding together virtually since we both first owned motorcycles, and he's one of the lucky few (million... ) to live a short distance from the start of the Mojave. He started working his GPS magic to put together a most excellent desert excursion with lots of great suggestions and waypoints from local ADVriders.

I keep this little beast at his place. I have a soft spot for this bike. Here she is, freshly back from Trailtricks with some magic Javier suspension massaging, a new pumper carb, and some other odds and sods. We'd be camping much of the time, so we had to think pretty carefully about how to pack.

Wes was on a new-to-him WR250R also with some suspension work and a big tank, pictured here en-route in the campground at Panamint Springs.

As usual, it took us far longer to pack up and leave than we planned. We didn't get out of the city until the early evening, so we blasted down the highway (ok, "blasted" is a relative term on small-bore heavily-loaded dual sports!) to Barstow where we grabbed a quick hotel room that night in order to be ready for a full day riding desert trails enroute to Panamint. It was _bitterly_ cold after the sun went down, sub-40 F, and we were layered with just about everything we owned.

Speaking of everything we own in gear, here it is occupying the entire hotel closet that first night in Barstow.

Desert tomorrow!

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Old 10-15-2010, 09:24 AM   #2
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First desert trails, just outside of Barstow, heading in a north-westerly direction towards Ridgecrest.

Happy to be out riding in the desert at last!

Humping the WRR up a long, steep, very loose hillclimb.

Two roads diverging in the yellow desert; And sorry we could not travel both; And be two travelers, long we stood; And looked down one as far as we could...

You locals probably take this stuff for granted, but to us Easterners, this kind of terrain is just fabulous. Pick a line, follow your compass heading, and ride. No trails, no markers, no boundaries. Unbelievable.

Into the great wide open, under the skies of blue...

Who doesn't love the Joshua Tree? Whimsical, iconic, prophetic. I could while away many a lazy afternoon under a Joshua Tree, contemplating my place and purpose in this grand chaotic theatre.

Dirt biker symmetry.

2nd half of Day 1 coming up next.

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Old 10-15-2010, 09:29 AM   #3
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I've ridden in the desert, but never camped out there. So I have a question. What the hell do you burn for your campfire? Doesn't seem to be much wood out there.
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Old 10-15-2010, 09:32 AM   #4
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We didn't make campfires this trip. We were either close enough by dinner time to spend the evening eating before returning to the tents to sleep, or staying in one of the several fantastic old miner's cabins scattered around the Panamint Valley (more on that later).

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Old 10-15-2010, 09:42 AM   #5
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I forget exactly where this was, but there are some interesting old hieroglyphs way out in the Mojave. It must have been about halfway between Barstow and Ridgecrest.

Lots of volcanic rock, much of which was scattered all over the trails also. I was sure I was going to flat a tire on some of it, but we both got lucky.


This place is called, I think, the "Husky Memorial". It's at the intersection of multiple trails and, I'm told, was/is the meet point for lots of local weekend rides or races. An impromptu memorial for local riders has organically grown around an old Husky which was placed in concrete as a fitting tribute in the desert to a lost friend. It was a good place. Quiet, respectful, peaceful. I liked it.

Heading towards Ridgecrest at the end of a long, fabulous day of desert riding.

Tomorrow we head across the mountains to Trona and then through the trails into the Panamint Valley. We get lost, crash, stuck, abandon my bike in a mud pit, and arrive exhausted, filthy, and freezing cold at the end of the day in Panamint Springs. In other words, it was one of the best days riding one can have. Pics upcoming!

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Old 10-15-2010, 12:35 PM   #6
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In! My son-in-law just got back from a ride in the Panamints, so more photos are welcome.
"Can't never could."-Grandma Belle Marie Bullock-Shuflin
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Old 10-15-2010, 12:42 PM   #7
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Starting a ride report just before you take off on another ride.

I guess your get up and go needs a coffee. - Drif5
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Old 10-15-2010, 01:57 PM   #8
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It was just that fact that made me finally get around to making this ride report!

I knew if I left on another trip before finishing this RR, I'd never get back to it.

Kids need dinner, then I'll be back to update the rest.

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Old 10-15-2010, 05:58 PM   #9
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Day 3, the ride from Ridgecrest over the mountains into the Panamint Valley, and up the valley north to Panamint Springs.

A slightly off-highway trail that short-cut across the hills to drop down into the fine urban paradise of Trona, CA. This view looks across the hills towards Searles Lake, and the town is to the left. Trona has to be one of the strangest towns I've encountered in the US to date.

A glorious industrial view. This is the Searles Valley Mineral plant, the biggest operation in town, and arguably the only thing actually happening.

From Trona, we took another trail shortcut east over a fairly rugged pass that then dropped down into the Panamint Valley. This was the first of a few good obstacles we encountered along the way!

Up at the top of that pass, the stunning view of the Panamint Valley, looking east towards the imposing Panamint Range mountains, which serve as the western border of Death Valley.

The road down the pass towards the valley floor was gorgeous, but quite narrow, and demanded some extra concentration. Some of the descents were quite steep and loose, and riding this route in reverse would likely be a few degrees more difficult.

Wes' WRR was drawn inexorably towards this large solitary rock. It was begging for company.

When we reached the Panamint Valley floor, it was late in the day, around 1630hrs. The shadows were lengthening and we were still more than a hundred miles from the Stovepipe Wells campground in Death Valley where we'd initially planned on camping that night. The road on the valley floor was impossible to ride quickly - it was a giant carpet of enormous grapefruit-sized rocks that were punishing the bikes and their riders. We didn't think we could make enough time to get to Death Valley by dark over these road conditions, and after consulting the GPS, we discovered that to get to the faster dirt road on the far eastern side of the valley, we would have to backtrack considerably to the south in order to find a road to cross over.

Here's where we thought it would be a totally reasonable idea to just break some trail across the valley floor and take a compass heading directly east, and we were, by the GPS, no more than a few short miles from the fast gravel road on the other side.

For the first mile or so, things were going swimmingly. Until we got to the middle of the valley, which is, of course, a somewhat dry lake bed, packed with a high concentration of salts and minerals. I was in the lead, and rolled up to the obviously wet spot and stopped my bike and contemplated how to cross the low section without getting stuck. Suddenly Wes came blazing past to my right, up on the pegs with his right hand cranked, apparently not realizing why I'd stopped, and barrelled into the muck without letting off the throttle at all.

When the WRR hit the middle of the muck it was like a giant hand reached down and just grabbed the bike and yanked it down. The WRR came to a stunningly abrupt halt and pitched Wes over the bars and many feet in front of his bike. He executed a nice barrel roll and jumped up triumphant.

As you can see in the above pic, his initial speed carried him far enough through the mud that he was on reasonably hard ground on the far bank, and was able to get moving again without much trouble. The crevice dug by the WRR, though, was well over 18 inches deep, and I should have realized the trap we were in.

I headed up the bank to find the narrowest section I could see, and tried crossing, though not as aggressively as Wes, which would turn out to be a big, big mistake.

I made it this far.

Mired in the thickest, saltiest, stickiest, goo-iest stuff I've ever seen. The bike literally felt like it was wedged in concrete.

Taking some more pics while I contemplate my dilemna. You can see from these shots that there is absolutely nothing around for as far as you can see in any direction, and the closest civilization on the map was fifty miles north. There was obviously no help coming as we'd (foolishly) tried to break our own trail and were well off the beaten path.

At this point, it was closing in on 1800hrs and we were losing light fast. I could NOT budge my bike one single centimeter from it's resting place in the mud, and I was waiting for Wes to arrive for an extra set of hands, although I was starting to get a bit worried already. We heaved and ho'd with all our might and could hardly get the bike to move. The suction of the salty glop was phenomenal, and despite both of us pulling with all our strength, the bike stayed put. We tried digging out by hand, which was fruitless, and then trying to lie the bike over on its side to drag it out across the surface of the mud, but we could only manage to partially lay it over. Here she is, in the failing light, sad, lonely, and completely stuck.

It was almost dark and we had to abandon the bike. We stripped both machines and left much of the gear piled on the muddy bank, and with a few salty swigs from my Camelback, I climbed on the back of the WRR (with no passenger pegs), and we gingerly tried to make it to the dirt road to head north and find some one to help tow us out, in all probability, not until the next morning.

Yet just before we hit the dirt road on the far side, Wes slowed the bike down. We both saw a piece of an aluminum ladder, just lying in the mud next to a much smaller, drier water crossing than we'd just attempted. We looked at each other in silence. Here we were, fifty miles in any direction from any civilization, not on any road or trail, in the middle of this enormous valley, and we stumble across an abandoned ladder that must have been used for extrication of a different vehicle. We could not believe the luck, good fortune, Karma, grace...pick your sentiment! We quickly dragged the ladder back to the DR350, wedged it underneath the rear wheel, and in minutes, the poor mired beast was, incredibly, FREE.


Showering huge clumps of salty mud, we rode on the rest of our adrenalin wave, all the way up the valley to Panamint Springs, a private campground and restaurant just outside the entrance to Death Valley that we knew about from a previous trip. We stumbled into the restaurant covered head to toe in caked-on primordial slime. Cold, tired, relieved, and exhilarated, we shared a truly fine pint of Fat Tire Ale and shared lots of stories and laughter that we were much too stressed to enjoy a few hours earlier.

We elected that night to stay in Panamint and stage a couple of long rides from the campground rather than head into Death Valley as we did previously, as Wes had many tracks and trails marked out on the Panamint side as well. As it turned out, we couldn't have planned it better in advance.

Tomorrow we head on a long loop past Ballarat, up Surprise Canyon to the snow line, and back to Panamint Springs, for another terrific day.

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Old 10-15-2010, 08:31 PM   #10
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Not sure were you were but I don't think they were legal roads. There is no cross country travel allowed in Panamint valley.

I see you have GPS. I have tracks of all legal roads in the area. Most are available on
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Old 10-17-2010, 12:34 PM   #11
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Thanks Countdown - I'll definitely take you up on your tracks offer next time we're there, as local knowledge is invaluable.

Like I said, it was a foolish decision to try what we thought would be a very short off-trail section, in order to attempt to make our destination before nightfall. At the time, we didn't know it wasn't legal, for what that's worth. There certainly were lots of 4x4 trail marks heading across the valley in the direction we tried to take, and obviously someone else had been stuck there previously. It's definitely not something I'll ever try again, of course...!!

Ok, on to the next day.

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Old 10-17-2010, 12:53 PM   #12
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Early morning wash, getting the worst of the salty mud off the bikes.

Rock wash leading south out of Panamint Springs, down the western side of the valley. It was HOT today!

Beautiful view of the Panamint Range from one of the miner's cabins on the western slope of the valley.

I still find it amazing that these places are kept up by volunteers, free to stay in overnight, and are situated in some of the most spectacular canyons and valleys in the area. It's an incredible resource that I never really knew about until this trip.

Wes, chillin' out of the hot spring sun.

The running mouse tally

Ran into a nice bunch of guys from the Northwest who travel to Panamint/DV every year for a week of riding. They gave us some good tips and good conversation.

Heading towards Ballarat, Wes cased the back side of a big double washout at a goodly clip, and went over the bars. He and the bike were a bit banged up, but some roadside repairs to both of them, and we were on our way again.

The colourful local inhabitants of Ballarat.

From Ballarat, it was already late in the afternoon, and we had only a couple of good hours of daylight left. We elected to ride as far as we could up Surprise Canyon, realizing we'd have to hit the road and return north to our campground in Panamint in the dark. Surprise Canyon was beautiful, and lots of snowmelt meant we were often riding in a clear cold stream.

Magic hour!

Another cabin near the top of Surprise Canyon. The sun was pretty low by now as you can see, and it was getting mighty cold. The elevation rise was substantial - I think we were well over 6 thousand feet at this point, and the snowline was just a few feet higher than our turn-around point. The PNW riders on KTM's had to turn back shortly past this cabin as they quickly ran into several feet of impassable snow blanketing the trails.

Gratuitous ADV promo shot.

Brilliant ride down the canyon at sunset. One of those truly magical times where the scenery, technique of riding, and camaraderie all combine together to make something more than the sum of the parts.

Back to Panamint Springs, again late in the day, where we celebrated with a couple of huge dinner plates and a good bottle of wine.

Tomorrow we head up a different canyon, the name of which escapes me at present, and stay overnight in one of these amazing old cabins, high up in the mountains, in the middle of nowhere.

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Old 10-17-2010, 01:19 PM   #13
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That is so the kind of trip I need right now.

Thanks for sharing.

British Columbia, Canada

"How hard can it be?"
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Old 10-17-2010, 08:33 PM   #14
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great start......

cd, keep them coming...

my regards to wes...keep the rubber side down.
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Old 10-17-2010, 09:17 PM   #15
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