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Old 04-15-2011, 04:11 PM   #1
HardWorkingDog OP
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Casting a spell...

Going to Death Valley.

How do you decide where to go, what to do, which trail to take? I don't know. Still trying to
figure that one out. A few years ago I heard neighbors talk about camping in Death Valley; I've
read many reports about riding in Death Valley, the riders praising it as a unique place to ride.
Somehow it materialized in me as something I wanted to see and experience.


It's a desert, right? Probably best to go in the winter before it gets hot, so found a block of
time in late March, checked some temperature records, seemed a good choice. A couple nights
before we were to leave I stayed up until 1 am, reading the mesmerizing report of larryboy.
I don't use the word mesmerizing lightly. His report is a work of art.

I wondered if a place could really cast that kind of a spell.




There is always a sense of unease heading out someplace I've never been before. What if it's a
waste of time? Only way to find out is to just go. Got packed up, bikes ready, warm weather
clothes, and our new dog along with dog stuff. Hope this works.


Well, first of all Marleau the dog turned out to be a great adventurer. He loves riding in the
truck, calm, sleeps most of the time, and can hold it better than his human travelers. He loves
being in his crate, and when nothing exciting is going on he's perfectly happy to just hang
inside.



It's a long day's drive from the Bay Area to Death Valley and we took our time getting there,
driving through Red Rock canyon and up Highway 395, places that resonated with me from long
ago. My father took me to Red Rock canyon to ride and camp once, and we'd spent several
summer weeks backpacking in the eastern Sierra, traversing 395 each trip and filling me with
strong memories.

I had decided to head for Panamint Springs as it seemed like a good place to use as a base
camp, with lots of interesting places radiating from it. I knew there was gas available there as
well. We got there after sundown and as I pulled off the road and opened the truck door I could
hear disembodied voices from campers across the highway, smell hot trailer brakes mixed with
campfire smoke, feel the warmth still in the air. It was about 75°F, warmer than it had been
for weeks in the Bay Area. Already, Death Valley was casting its spell. I paid for one night; I
normally don't much care for private campgrounds and thought we'd give it test and decide
tomorrow if we were going to stay here or move on down the valley.

We pulled into our spot in darkness, headlights lighting up our camp neighbor asleep in a
lounge chair at 8:30 pm. We tried to be quiet...

The morning was a nice blue sky day, a little haze in the air, warm and pleasant. The
campground was situated in the foothills between the Darwin Plateau and the Argus Range,
with a broad panoramic view of the Panamint Valley below and the Panamint Range beyond.
Death Valley itself was beyond that range.



The campground seemed nice enough, and I couldn't find a reason that would make me want to
hitch up and move so we decided to stay and paid for the rest of our nights in advance. Turned
out to be a good decision.

That day a couple moved into the site above us. Turns out we had strangely parallel lives. He
rides (had his F650GS there), is an inmate at advrider.com (Hiya lostinnevada), we both have
yellow labs with hockey names, and we have spent summers at the same state park at the
beach near San Diego for years. Probably have been there at the same time...weird, huh. Their
son is an F18 pilot, training at China Lake and they were hoping to see him fly. The weather
didn't cooperate for them, but we did get to see some amazing flying skills right before they
arrived. A very gracious couple, and hopefully I'll take the opportunity to ride with lostinnevada
in the future.

I'd picked up a few intriguing places from larryboy's report, and one of them was called China
Garden. It was fairly close by and from what I could read would make a good first day ride. We
geared up and headed back up Highway 190, looking for a dirt road off to the left. I turned on
the first left I saw...a deadend driveway, leading up to some abandoned buildings. Great start
already. Check the map and gps, hmmm must be a little farther up 190. Yeah, like another
half-mile up 190. Found it, and away we rode. Nice washboardy dirt road, winding through
beautiful desert rocks and washes and ridges.



Got to the trail head for Darwin Falls and, not wanting to hike 2 miles in off-road boots, we
kept riding up the road. Saved for another time. The road got steeper, rockier, a bit more fun.
Julie lost momentum and her bike stopped against the side of a rutted rocky upslope. I had to
ride it up a few yards, and then she took over. Good progress, because she didn't get
discourage or frustrated. We figured out a solution and just kept going. Dropped down into a
valley, and there was the unmarked side trail to China Garden. An amazing oasis in the middle
of a desert. Time for lunch.



The magic of China Garden lies in its gold.



Goldfish, that is.




Crazy fish, living in this harsh environment...we were absolutely taken in by the spell of Death
Valley at this point. I don't know anything about the history of China Garden, there were ruins
of buildings and what looked like some kind of mine machinery nearby, but the contrast of small
beauty in a largely hostile environment is partly to explain why Death Valley seems like
a place to be savored.

On to Darwin. More great dirt road riding, and we arrived at the settlement of Darwin. An odd
mix of abandoned and in-use buildings, the only clue to which was which was by looking at the
tires of the vehicles in front of the building. I figured if they were aired up, someone was living
there. Yes, a post office seems to be the hub of activity.



The real estate boom was still going strong at least.



It was getting late, so we heading on to Highway 190 in order to make a loop back to camp.
Highway 190 drops down through Rainbow Canyon in a tight twisty series of paved turns. We
rode carefully, most of the time, and made it back to the trailer.

Marleau was holding the fort down securely.





Next up, Titus Canyon. We first made the obligatory stop in Rhyolite. A bit...touristy...for my
taste. The outdoor art museum was worth the stop at least.





The weather was slowly turning cooler, grayer, windier. Not quite the warm desert weather we
were expecting but not a problem. Back on the bikes, and on to the one-way road through Titus
Canyon.



Spot the XT?





The earth forms are magnificent. I feel very lucky to have been able to experience this.


The next day we planned to go up Saline Valley Road a ways, cross Hunter Mountain and then
try to make Teakettle Junction. We got a late start, and trucked the bikes back up 190 through
Rainbow Canyon to the start of Saline Valley Road. Can you guess why it's called Rainbow
Canyon?



We started climbing from rocky and sandy desert, to joshua tree forest, to scrub pine forest.
The views back down into the Panamint Valley were spectacular.



We climbed to over 7000 feet, there was still snow in places, some mud holes too. Nothing too
bad, but we were slowed down and made a few wrong turns. One road I turned into led us to a
couple firsts--my first gate, and my first cabin!



Ride reports of far away exotic locales always seem to involve gates, and the dirt road
etiquette involved. I guess I can say I've ridden somewhere exotic now. At least I knew gate
etiquette—leave the gate as you found it. We did.

The road only went another mile or so beyond the gate, and ended at a pretty simple cabin.



Don't know the name, but inside there was a log book, a single cot (no mattress), some canned
tuna, and a warning from the park service about hanta virus. The two windows were boarded
up. No stove, but it was much warmer inside than out. By that time the wind had picked up,
and the temperature was dropping. We kept moving.

We stopped for lunch after we'd dropped down the other side of Hunter Mountain. We realized
we'd never make Teakettle Junction because of the late start so we turned around and headed
back. As we neared the summit, it started snowing. We'd brought plenty of layers but my
hands and feet and face were getting cold. It was a long cold slog back to the truck and by the
time I got the bikes loaded the engine had warmed up and I had the heater going full blast. Of
course as the sun dropped down near the horizon it finally found an opening below the storm
clouds. Despite the sunshine, it was COLD out there!



That night it rained and stormed, I think the winds were probably close to 50 mph gusts. A tent
full of gear blew across the campground like a tumbleweed. I felt honored to be in Death Valley
during a rain storm. Got up in the middle of the night and just watched and listened to the
storm for awhile.

Unfortunately that was the end of our riding. The next day was not a good day to ride. Cold,
wind, rain and snow. We drove into the main valley, bikes in the truck just in case, but never
got them unloaded. Here is Towne Pass-



Yeah, it's snowing.



Scotty's Castle was pretty damp, but still would've been cool to have been a guest there in its
heyday.





The wind was howling at Ubehebe Crater. You could lean into the crater at a 30° angle and the
wind would hold you up.



As we drove back to camp, I felt like I was going back in time. That road stretches out a long
way into the past.




We woke to a beautiful morning.



The snow level had dropped to about 3000 feet I'd guess. Here is the view across 190 past the
Panamint Springs restaurant.



Usually at the end of a trip I'm ready to go home. Not this time.

I was leaving, but I kept thinking this is only the beginning. I have more to experience here.



Can a place really cast that kind of spell?
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Old 04-15-2011, 05:20 PM   #2
WoodsChick
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HardWorkingDog View Post
Can a place really cast that kind of spell?
Yes...yes, it certainly can...

Excellent report and photos, HWD! The 3rd photo from the bottom is my favorite...although I totally dig the close-up of the goldfish!

Looks like Julie is totally digging the XT. What was her take on the trip? Is she ready to go back, too? I get this little pain in my chest...very much like a heartache...when I know it's time to pack up and go home. It happens every time, and I don't think it'll ever go away. At least, I hope not, anyway. Just makes the riding that much sweeter




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Old 04-15-2011, 07:44 PM   #3
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So many rides to take & w/ so little time left.
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Old 04-15-2011, 09:01 PM   #4
HardWorkingDog OP
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WoodsChick View Post
...Excellent report and photos, HWD! The 3rd photo from the bottom is my favorite...although I totally dig the close-up of the goldfish!
Thanks, even though the photos are just OK, you're kind to say that
These reports take me a lot of time, I know you know 'bout that too.

Quote:
Looks like Julie is totally digging the XT. What was her take on the trip? Is she ready to go back, too?...
Oh yeah, she loves that bike. It fits her perfectly. We both were ready to go back the day we got home. Thanks for looking in!
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Old 04-15-2011, 09:10 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wolfgang55 View Post
So many rides to take & w/ so little time left.
Yep, that feeling is only getting worse and worse as the time left grows shorter and shorter. Only one thing I can do...go ride

Thanks for taking a look—my first ride report here on advrider! I started writing reports on that crusty, ancient ol' internet backwater called usenet (rec.motorcycles.dirt) and then moved on to my own blog, but I spend so much time on advrider I thought I'd post a report here as well.

That WoodsChick (& her husband) knows a thing or two about "so many rides to take." I'm trying to give her a run, but it's gonna be tough.
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Old 04-16-2011, 08:14 AM   #6
PinkPillion
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Thank you so much for sharing this report. Taking a few notes since we are headed down to Death Valley from Susanville on Monday. Riding 2up on the 1200GS. From your photos it appears you didn't have to share the road with many others. Looks like an awesome trip!!
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Old 04-16-2011, 08:28 AM   #7
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You're welcome, and thanks for reading!

You are right about not having to share the roads much. The main paved roads--190 and Scotty's Castle Road have a fair share of passenger cars. Once you're on the dirt roads, just about deserted. A couple of jeeps surprised me on a blind turn, you can get lulled into thinking you're all alone and suddenly there's a jeep coming at you so you always have to assume there's two way traffic.

This week is probably going to be more populated because of Spring Break.

Hope you have a great time...
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Old 04-16-2011, 08:29 AM   #8
airborndad
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Very nice RR
you must have been there the week or weekend before us, we got there the day after the storm stopped 3/24 and Hunter Mtn was virtually impassable / impossible & Titus was closed

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Old 04-16-2011, 08:35 AM   #9
HardWorkingDog OP
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Originally Posted by airborndad View Post
...you must have been there the week or weekend before us, we got there the day after the storm stopped 3/24 and Hunter Mtn was virtually impassable / impossible & Titus was closed
Wow! Yeah, a week earlier. The weather guess is such a moveable target. Our neighbors were there the week before us and had almost perfect 50°nights/80° days...

The closer to summer, the colder it gets, right?

Thanks for stopping by, I've enjoyed your reports (silently).
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Old 04-16-2011, 12:23 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HardWorkingDog View Post
Can a place really cast that kind of spell?

Ahhaa, met my mistress I see. You'll never be able to get away now.


That little cabin is called 'Hunter Cabin', that was his last name and if you closely you will find his name carved into a timber.


Thanks for sharing your trip with us!!!
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Old 04-16-2011, 03:49 PM   #11
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Thumb Spellbinding!

Thanks for sharing. I was there a few weeks ago and the weather was great. Looks like we timed it just right.

This is just further proof Larryboy's reports have increased the traffic out there.
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Old 04-16-2011, 07:03 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by larryboy View Post
Ahhaa, met my mistress I see. You'll never be able to get away now.
You called it, all right.

Quote:
That little cabin is called 'Hunter Cabin', that was his last name and if you closely you will find his name carved into a timber.
Nice! It was definitely one of the highlights, especially after reading your report. I wouldn't have had any idea about the history of cabins in Death Valley.


Quote:
Thanks for sharing your trip with us!!!
My pleasure, high praise indeed from a master of the art.
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Old 04-16-2011, 07:05 PM   #13
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...This is just further proof Larryboy's reports have increased the traffic out there.
Just for the record, we were planning to go BEFORE I read his report...
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Old 04-16-2011, 10:53 PM   #14
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Sweet RR and excellent pics HWD. Thanks for sharing....
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Old 04-30-2011, 09:42 AM   #15
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Thanks for the link to your ride report. I really enjoyed reading it and seeing the pictures. It brought back good memories! Zamboni says "Hi" to Marleau.
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