GTS Touring Society - Death Valley, April 2003

Launched: 04/08/2003

The year we left the asphalt
(click on each photo to enlarge)

Road past
Tecopa, CA
We've been congregating in Death Valley, California for a lot of years. But we've pretty much seen the same things, gone the same places. Don't get me wrong, those are all great sights that we see and great roads that we ride. But recently I got a dual-sport bike, and a couple of months prior to this ride took it
Setting Sun
in Beatty, NV
to the Valley of Death. Not only was I having a great time looking at all the sights and places I'd never seen, but I was also scouting for untraditional places that the GTS club could go on our trusty steeds. That is, without risking life, limb, or the bikes themselves. Most of the roads in Death
The crew at
Harmony Borax
Works ruins
Valley are fairly inhospitable to street bikes, and I wouldn't feel right suggesting that people take a path that might leave someone with less than a favorable opinion.
Mustard Canyon

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We all gathered at our meeting place in Norco, a little town on the eastern edge of the Los Angeles area between Anaheim and Riverside. It's a convenient spot for us to gather-
20 Mule Team
wagon train
Attendees were from a wide radius. Bob and Jan Johnson came from the San Diego area, Doug and Paula McLeod and Jay and Haruyo Koblenz came from Orange County,
Description of
20 Mule Teams
Doug Kirk from out west in Ventura, and I'd trekked south from San Jose the night before and stayed in the San Gabriel Valley.

Strangely, as I rode along the 210 freeway to the meeting point, I came upon a red '93 GTS (you know, the faster kind ;-) and rider that I hadn't yet met. I correctly assumed that it was Doug Kirk, and we rode together to Norco.

Borax description
After a brief discussion as to our route, we saddled up and headed out. We cruised out the "lovely" Interstate 10
Mustard Canyon
area
almost to Palm Springs and had a liesurely breakfast. Despite the sign at the place reading "Great Food", the concensus was that we'd do better to look for a Denny's next time (seriously). Afterwards, we abandoned the superslab for roads much less overrun with cages. We tooled up through Joshua Tree park and Twentynine Palms, then up
Haruyo and Paula
in "Harmony"
little roads through Amboy, a little town on historic Route 66. The main landmark of Amboy, Roy's diner, seemed to be open for the first time in ages. They have
Refining Borax
absolutely killer milkshakes there, but breakfast wasn't too long ago, so a stop there would have to wait for another time.

And so would a jaunt down that historic road- Our travels took us perpendicular to it. So I mentally waved to the "Mother Road",
The Works ruins
and we left it behind.

Up through Kelso, past Silver Lake, through Tecopa, Shoshone, and in the east side of Death Valley (east of the Black
Path by
Harmony Works
Mountains, that is), we made our way to Beatty Nevada. And what a way it was, too! We were riding in very strong and gusty crosswinds. most of us weren't overly thrilled with them, some were downright unnerved, but Ranger Jay actually seemed to LIKE them!
20 Mule
Team Train

"The road was so straight and boring, the crosswinds kept me from going to sleep" he later exclaimed. Still, I think most of us would have preferred that the winds were a tad less than "gale force."

GTS Dual
Sport Bikes in
20 Mule
Team Canyon!
A short while after entering the park, but before crossing into Nevada, we passed by the historic Amargosa Opera House and Hotel in the little town of Death Valley Junction. I'd love to stay at the hotel sometime, and the sign said it's open year-round, but it
GTS Dual
Sport Bikes in
20 Mule
Team Canyon!
looked pretty closed up as far as we could tell.

Once in Beatty, we rode to the Stagecoach Inn and Casino. And we rode at a snail's pace of 25 miles per hour- There's ONE policeman in town, and he writes tickets
The Valley from
Dante's View
for anything over the posted speed limit. Fortunately Beatty's a tiny town, and even at that pace you're across town in moments.

We all charged to the reservation desk at the hotel, and everyone got checked in. Everyone that is, except me! It seems they'd lost
The Valley from
Dante's View
my reservation. It must've happened when I called to release the rooms that hadn't been booked by the GTSers. But no matter, there was still room in the inn, and I was even able to be put in the same block of rooms
The Valley from
Dante's View
as the rest of the crew.

Come Saturday morning, we headed into Death Valley. The first thing I noticed as we crossed into California was how green the hills looked. They weren't like the lush hills of most other places, but for Death Valley they were
Green Hills
extraordinarily full of life. Clearly all the rains had done their work. There were also loads of flowers along the road. Although Doug McLeod said that he'd seen more flowers there right after a big rain, this was more
Green Hills
than I'd ever seen in the Valley. And while there were a lot in bloom, clearly we'd missed the bulk of them. Apparently they're short-lived in that climate.

The Valley from
Dante's View
Our first stop was in Furnace Creek. Right next to the main village is the Harmony Borax Works ruin. Right next to this is a very small, unpaved road through Mustard Canyon. It's a beautiful path, through large
The Valley from
Dante's View
bright yellow hills. My secret plans of riding off the tarmac were divulged to the group the previous night over dinner. The reception of these plans were, uh, guarded to say the least. Jay even said over and over "I don't ride in dirt." But after a lot of convincing, they all agreed to go along with the plans, and
Zabriski Point
give them a try. After all, I wouldn't lead anyone someplace I wasn't willing to go myself! True to my word, the road was very smooth and posed no problem for the intrepid bikers. There were no mishaps, and
Zabriski Point
everyone seemed to like the scenery.

A little side note here- I'm being intentionally wordy in this writeup, as I'm still trying to get the photos to not overlap each other. The shots of Mustard Canyon are far up the page, but no doubt soon the words will catch up to the pictures.

Zabriski Point
Bob suggested that we go up the hill to Dante's View early in the day, in case the wind returned. Being that high up on a windy day is not only unpleasant, it can be treacherous.
Zabriski Point
So we took that course, with a little side trip through the unpaved 20 Mule Team Canyon. This is a little 2.3 mile road through more beautiful and odd yellow rock formations. It too was very smooth and easily navigable, and again there were smiles all around.

Zabriski Point
Then we rode up to Dante's View, which is over 5000 feet above the valley floor below. Directly below Dante's View is Badwater,
Zabriski Point
the lowest elevation in North America- 282 feet below sea level. It was getting towards lunchtime, and in the tradition of the group, we have a nice meal at the Furnace Creek Inn , a four-star restaurant and resort.
Since Doug Kirk hadn't been to Death Valley before, I told the rest of the group we'd meet them at the restaurant and
Professor
lecturing
Doug and I would go see Zabriski Point (or Za-Brewski, as Doug called it), one of the most fascinating places in the park. After listening to
An elegant
lunch
the geology professor who was lecturing his class on the structures of the Point, Doug and I headed down to meet the others.

The food at the Inn is never a disappointment, and the chicken lime tortilla soup is recommended by all who try it.

Devil's Golf
Course description
During lunch Paula decided that it'd be a good idea to prompt a big political debate by asking us what our views of the Iraq war
Devil's Golf
Course salt
crystals
were. Of course this fed other topics, and soon it became clear that while we were all together on the topic of motorcycling, we do have some greatly differing views of our political system, our leaders, and their actions. But despite those ideological differences, it was clear that we still like and respect each other. That didn't surprise me; I've known this is a great group of people for a long time.

Closeup
of crystal
Once we'd had enough lunch (and political upheaval), we headed off for Devil's Golf Course. This is a huge salt structure, many square miles in size. I've always wanted to see
The group
on the salt
it, the concept has fascinated me for years. And I did see it on my last trip, but it was pouring rain so I couldn't linger and truly enjoy it.

The people in the picture at right are (from left): Doug Kirk, Bob and Jan Johnson, Haruyo and (Ranger) Jay Koblenz, Kelly Cash. Seated: Doug & Paula McLeod.

What I never realized was how large those crystal structures are! I thought they were only a couple of inches high- No no! You can
Me hiding
IN the field
see me HIDING behind one in a picture! While some of the crystals are quite delicate, they're more often surprisingly strong. And SHARP- I smiled in the picture despite scraping my hands on one, and having another stab
Miles of salt
me in the back. Ah, the things we do for art.

Clearly I wasn't the only person fascinated by the place- The group hung around there a LONG time. The place just seems so odd, it could just as well be another world.

The group on
the salt
After Devil's Golf Course, I'd run out of planned things to see for the day. But I mentioned that there was a natural bridge a short
The group on
the salt
way from where we were. The only problem was, the road getting to it was beyond the difficulty we'd seen so far. It had a lot of large, loose gravel, and would be tricky to ride up and back. A number of us started out, but only Jay (the most vocal anti-dirt rider, you recall) was up for the trek. Since everyone else decided (probably quite rightly) to turn around and skip that geologic feature, Jay and I did too.
The group on
the salt
The day was getting short, and most planned to gather at Furnace Creek for our ride back to Beatty. Doug & Paula had gone on ahead,
Flowers by
the road
skipping the nasty gravel of the natural bridge earlier than most. And being the tourguide at heart that I am, I insisted that Doug Kirk see Artist's Drive and Artist's Palette. This is one of the most beautiful features of the park.
On the way there, I stopped to snap a couple of shots of the flowers at the edge of the road. These tiny, delicate flowers seem so out of place in the rugged desert environment.

Flowers by
the road
Doug was suitably impressed by the drive, and lo and behold, we caught up with Doug & Paula at Artist's Palette!
Artist's Drive
The late afternoon sun was casting all sorts of interesting golden colors on the rocks, giving the colors a richness I hadn't seen before. We all took the requsite photos, and helped other couples take photos of themselves. I've got to wonder just HOW many photos of this particular part of the world are out there.
Artist's Drive

One other thing worth seeing at this time of day is Golden Canyon. It's on the way back to Furnace Creek, but we didn't have
Artist's Drive
time to hike up it. It's more of a walk than a hike, however, But it's beautiful, and the setting sun makes it all the more magnificent. But back to Artist's Palette- The colors come from a number of mineral deposits in the rocks. Mica, manganese, iron, etc.
Paula at
the Palette
And as beautiful as it is, Titus Canyon is MUCH more dramatic. But Titus Canyon is only accessible by a high clearance 4-wheel-drive, or offroad motorcycle. I'll get more pictures of it the next time I go.
The Palette
without Paula

Speaking of which, it seems that all of the people in the group have dual sport bikes as well! I think next year we'll leave the sport-touring bikes at home, and bring the dual-sport bikes. True, it seems odd for a GTS club gathering to leave the GTS bikes at home, but this is a
Doug Kirk
at the Palette
different kind of place, and demands special considerations.

The rest of us gathered together in Furnace creek for the ride back to Beatty. But I had other ideas- I wanted to take some
Artist's Drive
pictures of the setting sun reflecting off of the Funeral Mountains. So Doug Kirk and I stayed behind to capture those images while the others went on ahead.

It wasn't too long of a wait for the sun to run its course and dip below the horizon, and soon Doug and I were back on the bikes,
Artist's Drive
heading to Beatty in the dark. It was an enjoyable ride, although we had to keep the speed much lower than usual. There are no lights at all along the roads, and the moon wasn't
Artist's Palette
out. It was DARK. At times like this the added PIAA lights help tremendously.

After dinner at the casino, I had the idea of going out and taking pictures of the stars. With no moon and no clouds, this should be the best chance I'll ever have to do it. But it was pretty cold outside, and
Artist's Palette
most have better sense than I do, so I was on my own. I rode back towards the Valley, but stopped on the road to Rhyolite- A little mining ghost town. The stars were amazing-
Kelly at the
Palette
There were so many it was hard to pick out constellations. But the big dipper (Ursa Major) stood out, and I got some great pictures. But even with a shutter speed of 16 seconds, many of the stars are pretty faint in the images. After reducing the size of the shots to be reasonable for posting on the web, I think all but the brightest stars
Sinking sun
over Artist's Drive
will be hard to see.

I was back to the hotel in time to pack for the trip home. I had a
Sinking sun
over Artist's Drive
little more stuff with me than when I left- I had taken advantage of the Death Valley Nut & Candy company next to the hotel. I packed as many things as I could carry, to have munchies for a LONG time! But some of the items were intended as gifts for family.

Artist's Drive
The next morning came too early (particularly with the time change that night), but we were all out and ready to go by 8:00 am. After checking out, we started the
Artist's Drive
trek back into the Valley. I paused a few timed for pictures of flowers along the road- I was still fascinated by the colors. The others went on ahead while I happily snapped shots. I probably should have waved ALL the others on- As I got to the fork which took the roads to Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells, I saw Doug Kirk sitting there. He'd waited for me to see if
178 by
Golden Canyon
I was all right, and by the time he realized what I was up to, the others had gone ahead, leaving him to wonder which fork to take! Breaking stride wasn't necessary as I
178 by
Golden Canyon
waved to the right, and passed Doug on the way to Stovepipe Wells.

We had a good breakfast in Stovepipe, and headed south. Instead of riding down the usual route of Panamint Valley Road, I led the group down Emigrant Canyon Road. This was my last "surprise" road for the trip- It has a short "unpaved" section on it, and that
Funeral Mountains
knowledge was enough to keep most people picturing the worst and staying off of it. But I'd previously seen that it was easily
Funeral Mountains
passable by street bikes, and the scenery of the road is amazing. It has nice turns, open views, and paths through tight canyons. Definitely the road to take. It passes by a road to the Charcoal Kilns, but we didn't ride to them. I've accidentally taken my GTS there once, and it was miserable- It's NOT the kind of road for a 600+ pound street bike.
Flowers in
Furnace Creek

After passing through Trona and saying our goodbyes, most of the group headed south on the fast roads to L.A. while Doug Kirk
Flowers in
Furnace Creek
and I headed west on 178 through Ridgecrest, past Lake Isabella to Bakersfield. This is a wonderful road, and was a lot of fun to ride. Unfortunately the Johnsons had to blast back to San Diego as fast as possible. I began to feel badly that I lobbied to take the back road into Death Valley a couple of days before- That meant that Bob & Jan
Setting Sun on
Funeral Mts.
wouldn't get to enjoy 178 on this trip. I'll make it up to you next year, Bob, I promise!

ThumbTitle
Doug and I had a late lunch in Bakersfield, headed west on 58, and said our goodbyes. He headed south on 33 towards Ojai, a wonderful road. I headed north on 33 past the California oil fields to Coalinga. From there, I had another 150 miles of favorite roads- 198 west through Priest Valley to 25 north to Hollister. Beautiful scenery, great twisties and sweepers.

So there's the ride- As usual, a great time was had by all.

And I just can't write anymore- I may have already blathered on for much longer than I should have. :-) Be sure to check out Doug Kirk's page for his pictures too!

Flowers in
Furnace Creek

Setting Sun on
Funeral Mts.

Setting Sun on
Funeral Mts.

Setting Sun on
Funeral Mts.

Setting Sun on
Funeral Mts.

Setting Sun over
Panamint Mts.

Setting Sun on
Funeral Mts.

Setting Sun on
Funeral Mts.

Setting Sun on
Funeral Mts.

Setting Sun on
Funeral Mts.

Setting Sun on
Funeral Mts.

Setting Sun on
Funeral Mts.

Big Dipper
over Rhyolite

Stars over
Rhyolite

GTS by cars'
headlights

Your
Photographer

Green Hills
east of
Daylight Pass

Looking west
through
Daylight Pass

Grass by 374
west of
Daylight Pass

Flowers by 374
west of
Daylight Pass

Flowers by 374
west of
Daylight Pass

Some strange
bloom by
Wildrose

Send accolades, comments, questions, or ridicule to: Kelly