Death Valley Part 2 – The Ride

Day 1 plan: South through Panamint Valley past the ghost town of Ballarat then over Mengel Pass to visit the ruins of the last hideout of Charles Manson. Down Warm Spring Canyon and into Badwater Valley then over Jubilee Pass into Shoshone for lunch. Sounds easy right?

The meetup time was 7:00 in Panamint springs about a 45 minute ride from our hotel which meant we had to leave by 6:15 am. It was dark. It was cold but we had the road to ourselves over the 5000 foot Emigrant pass. We decided to leave our truck at the hotel. I asked around about parking for three days and couldn’t get a straight answer yes or no, just some jumbo about the National Park Service and they weren’t sure what the rules were. Not wanting to leave the truck along the road I left it where it was, directly in front of our hotel room. I figured it’s been there three days already what’s a few more?

We arrived a few minutes after 7:00 chilled but ready for an exciting day of riding. About 20 other riders were starting to gather around Kevin’s truck for a short riders meeting. 

It wasn’t long before we were off on a rocky (really rocky) path down the Panamint Vally towards Ballarat. It was an immediate warm up for Deby and I. Deby was still getting familiar with the Yamaha WR250R which is relatively new for her but we stumbled along with no real problems.

After Ballarat the trail curved East towards Mangel Pass through the Goler Canyon. A somewhat recent episode of Top Gear covered this area. Check out this You Tube clip of them on the same road we were on: Top Gear 4 x 4 Challenge.

For us the road started out ok.

We passed a number of abandoned mines with dire warnings….Yes, that is a tipped over car behind the sign. 

Soon the road got crazy with big boulders and steps. The pictures stopped as Deby and I fought to maneuver the bikes over the pass. My paper map has this warning about the road.

“Road conditions require experienced 4-wheel drivers” 

Well, after I thought about it we each had two wheels and were at least Half experienced so between the two of us we qualified!

Eventually we came to the Barker Ranch, best known as the last hideout of Charles Manson.

This is all that is left of it now.

There is a pretty good writeup about it HERE.

After resting and hydrating it was down the back side of the pass on Warm Spring Canyon Road, what a nice sounding name. More rocks, boulders, stones, rocks and finally loose sand. Here is one of the better sections, it never looks that rough in pictures…

We were glad to finally arrive in Shoshone for lunch after a 30 mile gravel detour because the road was washed out over Jubilee Pass.

At the restaurant we noticed something with Deby’s bike. Kevin takes a look.

Yep… that’s oil leaking out the bottom. A bolt from the skid plate was just long enough to poke a little hole in the engine. Good thing we caught it soon enough and had some JB Weld on had to glue it together. Between the two of we had the repair done and were ready to ride. Sort of.

By the time we were done we were loosing daylight fast so we went with our better judgement and decided to ride the highway to Pahrump, our destination for the night. We arrived well after dark.

Day 2

According to Kevin’s ride description, Enter Death Valley through desert roads then over Deadman Pass where it is “a bit sandy”. (Quotes mine) A stop at Dante’s View and on to Furnace Creek for lunch.

We decided to test out the sandy section and it wasn’t actually bad. Sand, of course, is a relative term as we learned on the Trans American Trail. This was mostly loose gravel that was at the same time challenging and fun. 

Some parts were more loose than others.

We ended up at Furnace Creek about noon which just happened to be halftime of the Seahawks playoff game, they were down 31 to 0. Ouch. Hoping for the best Deby and I decided to hang out and watch the game anticipating a huge comeback that sort of happened but it wasn’t enough. A similar fate befell our other team the Green Bay Packers the night before. Not a good weekend for football.

After lunch we took the road to the ghost town of Rhyolite, a place where we had been a few years before. This time the road was paved and all the buildings were fenced off. It didn’t seem the same so we rode through and didn’t stop.

However… right next to Rhyolite is the Goldwell Open Air Museum. Click on the link, it’s pretty cool. I took a few pictures. 

The last supper. 

Bicycle ghosts with our bikes in the background.

Mosaic sofa….

Rocks in a circle, Deby wanted a picture of this.

All in all another fun day riding.

Day 3

I knew this would be a fun day, the route was almost exactly the same as the route Deby and I rode when we were here 5 years ago. We started out through Titus Canyon which was now our third time, over to Ubehebe Crater where we had already hiked around and then down the Racetrack Valley road to Teakettle Junction and the Racetrack home of the mysterious moving rocks.

The Racetrack Valley Road was long and dusty. I took this picture of the bikes in front of us and their dust trails. 

Teakettle Junction is just a junction of two dirt paths where people hang, what else, teakettles.

Deby picks up here share of dust riding behind me….

The racetrack is this mysterious playa where rocks move.

The National Park Service has a nice description of the area HERE.

From the Racetrack is was over Hunter Mountain…. where we found this!

Yikes! It wasn’t pretty. The shady spots were totally iced over and impossible to ride on. 

Deby rode as best as she could since she had never ridden in snow. I had some experience because for some dumb reason my friend Jeff and I had a pact that we would ride our Norton motorcycles every New Year’s Day in Wisconsin. Usually it involved snow, ice and some amounts of alcohol. After moving to Washington State I somehow ended up with a group of guys that wanted to do a snow ride every year. The goal was to ride up into the Cascade Mountains until we hit snow and then see how far beyond that we could ride. I seem to remember drinking was involved with that as well. Hmmm. We decided not to consume on this trip which may be part of the problem?

Deby hit a patch of ice and as Arlo Guthrie has said, went off the mountain side and not the cliff side.

When we finally got to the top this guy from our group came along. Wow, he managed to get help from some people visiting the park from Florida.

Whew, eventually we made it. Wow, what an adventure. We rode back to Stovepipe loaded up the truck and drove off into the sunset (literally, it was a beautiful sunset).

Thanks to Kevin, Missy, Jeffery and the whole gang. It was great riding with you and thanks for all the help and I hope we were some help as well. Greg, Randy, and KLR guy I hope we meet again some day it was fun.

Next stop Baja Mexico! Stay tuned, thanks for following us.

Donn and Deby


3 thoughts on “Death Valley Part 2 – The Ride

  1. Great report. You two really adventure well and are a true pleasure to spend time with. I look forward to meeting you both again sometime.

  2. Awwww, wish we could be there with you……we are stuck on the Olympic Peninsula with frog drowning rain and flooding rivers!
    Joe & Dee

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