Tag Archives: Death Valley

Death Valley Day 5: Up, Out, and Partings

The last day of a bicycle tour is always a bit harried and sad–so many partings, and so much to do. Plus it is a return to the non-vacationing reality. But first, a bike ride!

What goes down into Death Valley must come up to depart. Our ride out covered 19 miles of steady, gradual climbing up to 3,000 feet. This is at the turn-out to Zabriski Point and our last long look back into the valley.


We all stopped and walked up to the Zabriski Point viewing area–looking out over badlands and the valley, it was a fitting goodbye to the park.



Badlands…I would love to see this when it is raining and water is rushing through the carved channels.


Once we left Zabriski Point, we continued climbing through more badlands.


For the readers who enjoyed the 20-mule team details, here is another: a canyon named for the mule teams.


Our next pull-out was at around 2,000 feet. A lone raven came to see us off–and guard the pit toilets, apparently!


Farther along the road…



Finally, 3,000 feet! It was much cooler up here, and windy, making for more comfortable riding. I had a flat tire, the only one of the entire trip, up here. Fortunately, I was within sight of the van, and the whole thing was dealt with expeditiously.


Which meant I was in good shape for the next stage, a 10-mile descent down to Amargosa. It was also gradual, so we pedaled the whole way down. We met a group of self-supported riders, two from Belgium and one from England. They are headed for Tierra del Fuego and have already been on the road several months. We filled up their water bottles and pressed cookies and energy bars on them, as we no longer needed them. Here is the descent…


Our final stop was the Amargosa Cafe, which I highly recommend!


Out in the middle of nowhere, I got to have this for lunch:



Then it was back to Las Vegas by shuttle, and many partings at the airport. The 15 of us are now scattered to the winds, and I am looking forward to being on my way! Until the next trip…

Death Valley Day 4: Badwater

Today we actually got to start early, while the morning was still cool. Our destination was Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. How low is it? 282 feet below sea level.

But before we got there…we had to ride 18 miles! This picture shows why it is a good idea to ride with a tour company in Death Valley. The van meets us at various points along the route, plying us with water, chocolate, and any other snacks necessary for our continued survival.


With the morning light, I got some nice shots back along the way we came.


Most of the route took us along the side of a long valley. The mountains on the other side are the Panamints.



We rode by the turnoff for the Devil’s Golf Course–if nothing else, this trip has made me want to come back to Death Valley and rent a jeep to explore some of the off-road attractions like this one!


And here is Badwater Basin–that was quick! Telescope Peak, the highest point in the park at over 11,000 feet, is off to the left.


You can walk out on the salt flats and get a sense of the immensity of it all.


And if you look back at the cliffs behind you, the park service has placed a sign reading “sea level” about halfway up to give you an idea of just how far below it you are here. It’s that white blob about midway up the cliff!


And for those inquiring minds who want to know, the park service has also provided this:


Our guides said it is supposed to cool down next week. Damn, just missed that! We didn’t linger at the basin, because in the best tradition of cyclists bent on kicking their own asses, several of us opted to ride the Artist’s Loop on the way back to Furnace Creek. The loop starts with a three-mile climb at an approximately 15% slope. And by then, it was HOT.

Going up…17-climbing

And looking back behind, as I am prone to do…We aren’t even to the top yet.


But we did reach the top, and the van was there with water. Then the fun began, with dips and curves and colored cliffs all around us.



Some of the cliffs reminded me of ice cream (maybe it was the heat…), and I thought of the “Big Rock Candy Mountain” song. This is not really a hobo’s paradise though….


After one more brutal climb, we got to descend all the way back down to the floor of the valley.


If you squint at the picture below, you can see the van waiting loyally down by the main road at the bottom of the final descent. My hands were sore after the descent, because it was narrow and curvy and steep, so I feathered the brakes the whole way down.


After the van, there were only five more miles to ride to get back to the ranch. But boy, were those hard miles. It was hot and I was done. I kept my mind on the pool and rode, but still saw some awesome cliffs that I missed in the morning. And look at that ribbon of road! Really, the cycling here is amazing.


Tomorrow is the last day of the tour. It starts with a 3,000-foot climb over 19 miles, which should be pretty sweet. Especially if we can start before it gets too hot!!

Death Valley Day 3: In Pursuit of Magic

This morning began with universal dismay and disbelief over the results of the election. As Trump himself has said, “The system…is rigged.” So I was happy to see the graffito I spotted on the back of the sign at the trailhead for Mosaic Canyon:


Yes. A much better pursuit than bumming out about a moron occupying the White House.

We pursued that magic first with a hike up Mosaic Canyon. This canyon is narrow and twisty at the beginning…


But opens up the farther up-canyon you go.


The rock was the good part–slick and smooth in some places…mc-rock

And boulders of breccia in others.


Once we finished our hike, we took off by bicycle for a quick 25-mile ride from Stovepipe Wells to Furnace Creek. For me, bicycling is always magic!


Along the way, we passed these salt flats…


And visited the Harmony Borax Works site, which mined the salt flats for borax in the late 1880s. If you’ve heard of 20-mule teams, this is where it comes from–they pulled the double wagons of borax out of Death Valley.


Check out the brakes on the wagon:


And here is all that remains of a worker’s dwelling.borax-housing

Our next stop was the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center, where we learned just how hot it was when we rode in…and how low we were: 190′ below sea level.


The visitor’s center boasts the official dark sky park plaque. We went to a “Death Valley by Moonlight” presentation later, and explored the magic of the night sky in the desert–and saw three shooting stars and our moon shadows.


Furnace Creek is much bigger and busier than Stovepipe Wells. It even boasts its own post office.


But for us, the big attraction was a warm spring-fed pool, where we all ended up after our arrival at Furnace Creek Ranch.


In the desert, the biggest magic is water.

Death Valley Day 2: How to Ignore Election Day

Take it from me: there is nothing like a 47-mile bicycle ride through the desert in 90+ degree heat to make you forget about the 2016 election. My thoughts today were primarily concerned with water and how many miles I had left to go. And pictures, of course!


I started the day early, as I am still on Oklahoma time and thus waking at 4:00 a.m. What do you do when you wake up that early in the desert? Go back to sleep, then get up at 6, go outside, and enjoy the silence as you watch the sunrise.


These two ravens obviously thought I had food with me, and circled around, talking all the while. I told them I had nothing for them, and they flew off in disgust—still talking, of course.


I spent a little time exploring Stovepipe Wells, so named because the well was hard to find, and to remedy that, a miner marked it by sticking a stovepipe in the ground beside it. Here is the general store–note that gas is over $3 a gallon here!


Water is important…and free!


And of course, there is a saloon.


Once the group was together and well breakfasted, we took off in the van to Ubehebe Crater, which is north and east from Stovepipe Wells. Usually the tour visits Scotty’s Castle, but after major rainstorms in 2015 took the road out, there is no access.


Ubehebe more than made up for it though! There is the main crater, and a short half-mile walk up to a smaller crater, Little Hebe. That’s where I went. Here are some shots from my hike around there…caution was used, believe me! The path was loose gravel and, as you will see, erosion is ongoing.


This is looking into the main crater. And here is some of that erosion:


Here is Little Hebe:


To get up to the outer rim of Little Hebe, I went up this trail.


It was very narrow and steep, but the view out beyond was worth it…


Imagine being an explorer, or a pioneer, and facing that broken, arid landscape. Not totally barren though…creosote survives.


After hiking around the crater, we got our bicycles off the van and prepared to ride back to Stovepipe Wells.


It was about 11:30 a.m. by then, and in the upper 80s. At home, I never ride in the heat of the day during the summer. Here, I had no choice. My strategy was to go as fast as I could on the descents and flats, but to stop whenever the van was available for water refills—and whenever I saw something I wanted to take a picture of. Here we go….!



The classic Death Valley road shot…


And for all the physical geography buffs out there, the alluvial fans were amazing on this route!  You could really see where the 2015 floods had carried sediment down the mountains.


And carved out entire washes to move the water down to the valley floor.


Near the end of the ride, I passed these white hills with the Funeral Mountains in the background…


By then, it was all I could do to finish! I think I drank eight bottles of water on this ride. But…I totally forgot all about election day!

Death Valley Day 1: Dead Cities and Aliens

You take a trip to Death Valley, and you expect desert, big skies, sweeping vistas. Like this one, taken near the end of our ride today.


Gorgeous, and awesome in the truest sense of the word. But as it is the desert–the American desert in particular–you also get a lot of really fun weirdness. It started as soon as we got out of Las Vegas, which we left bright and early this morning by van. Our destination was Rhyolite, Nevada—now a ghost town, but once the third-largest city in Nevada. On the way there, we stopped for gas at Nevada’s own Area 51, complete with the Alien Cathouse Brothel and the World’s Largest Firecracker.

I am not making this up.




See? And it only got better when we reached Rhyolite. Which was really cool. Here is a shot of the train station, the only building left that is still more or less intact.


It is fenced in and there are no longer train tracks…but the station remains. Here is the front of a building that still has a name and date on it:


And here is a broader view of what was once a bustling mining town.


But I was telling you about desert weirdness, and Rhyolite has its share. First, there is Tom Kelly’s bottle house, a house made of bottles. Erected in 1906, the bottle house is just that: bottles mortared together to make walls.

Here is the front…


And here is the side…


I kept looking for meaning in the pattern of bottles. The house has three rooms and served as a family residence for years. Most recently, it was a curio shop.

After the bottle house, there is the Goldwell Open Air Museum, an artistic free-for-all that draws you in first with its sign…and a pole covered with shoes. And hubcaps.


Then there is this:

Goldwell Open Air Museum

Icara (1992) by Dre Peters

See how the poles have things stuck all over them? Here is some detail on that:


I love this kind of stuff! There were tin cups, Mardi Gras beads, business cards, and even a pair of needle-nosed pliers stuck to these poles. There has to be a story–or several stories–behind this. But…there’s more!

A shepherd of desert cyclists, maybe?

Goldwell Open Air Museum

Ghost Rider (1984) by Albert Szukalski

And a miner in the desert accompanied by a penguin with no name…

Goldwell Open Air Museum

Tribute to Shorty Harris (1994) by Fred Bervoets

The so-called Pink Lady:

Goldwell Open Air Museum

Lady Desert: the Venus of Nevada (1992) by Dr. Hugh Heyrman

A mosaic sofa-bench I couldn’t resist trying out…

Goldwell Open Air Museum

Sit Here! (2000) by Sophie Siegmann

An artist’s rendering of the last supper, the piece that started it all…

Goldwell Open Air Museum

The Last Supper (1984) by Albert Szukalski

And a stone labyrinth, which every desert needs:


Obviously, this ghost town is not completely abandoned, because artists keep adding to the free museum.

Once I tore myself away from the weirdness, the ride started in earnest, with a climb up to Daylight Pass–followed by a lovely 13-mile descent. We went from over 4,000 feet down to sea level at Stovepipe Wells. Here is the view back over my shoulder while I was climbing.


On the descent, we stopped to admire Corkscrew Peak…


And the Devil’s Cornfield…


Tomorrow we head for Ubehebe Crater and closer views of the Mesquite Dunes. Stay tuned…maybe there will be more weirdness!!

It’s Death Valley!

Two friends of mine who read this blog (you know who you are!) scolded me Saturday night for not having updated my readers on where I will be going this year. Their timing was impeccable: I had that very day made my decision and reserved space on a tour. But here’s the thing: the trip I chose is not one of the two previously under consideration. Instead of Canada or the Adriatic, I’m staying in the U.S. and heading west…for a ride through Death Valley.

And I can’t wait!!

Death Valley!! Photo courtesy of François Hogue, Flickr Creative Commons.

Death Valley!!
Photo courtesy of François Hogue, Flickr Creative Commons.

Seriously, could it be anymore awesome? The names alone feed the imagination: mountain ranges called Panamint, Owlshead, and Funeral, place names like Badwater Basin (lowest point in the U.S.), Stovepipe Wells, and Furnace Creek. And of course the obligatory Devil’s Hole, Devil’s Golf Course, and Dante’s View. How could I resist? Right. I couldn’t. Didn’t.

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley. Photo courtesy of Loïc LaGarde, Flickr Creative Commons.

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley.
Photo courtesy of Loïc LaGarde, Flickr Creative Commons.

How did this happen?

Well, I was all ready to sign up for the Prince Edward Island tour. I emailed the company with some questions, to which they responded promptly…but they also told me that the trip was full. I got on the waiting list, but no spaces have opened up. Since that trip starts the first week of September, I figure I am out of luck on that option. And I decided the Venice-Dubrovnik trip is just too fast for me. I’d like to do that route at 40-50 miles a day, with time to explore.

So…I started looking at the other trips offered through WomanTours, and came across the Death Valley trip…and was immediately entranced. I love deserts, solitary open spaces, and looking at the stars at night. Death Valley National Park is a dark sky park, kept free of the pollution from artificial lights. It is also the largest national park in the contiguous U.S., and is billed as the “hottest, driest, and lowest” national park.

My kind of place.

Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley. Photo courtesy of Peter Rivera, Flickr Creative Commons.

Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley.
Photo courtesy of Peter Rivera, Flickr Creative Commons.

The trip is set for November, so hopefully it won’t be too hot! Plus!! Plus Election Day 2016 falls during the week of the trip, and I love the thought of being out in the desert–in freaking Death Valley!–while all the pundits are pontificating, the candidates are bloviating, the newscasters are endlessly yammering, and the populace is wondering “WTF?” Yep, I got an absentee ballot, but I other than that…I’ll take the collected poems of Edward Dorn, read, ride, look at the stars, and enjoy radio silence that week.

Except…I will blog!

So stay tuned for a sane alternative to election coverage in November!

Go west, cyclist! Death Valley highway. Photo courtesy of Tabitha Kaylee Hawk, Flickr Creative Commons.

Go west, not-so-young cyclist! Death Valley highway.
Photo courtesy of Tabitha Kaylee Hawk, Flickr Creative Commons.