Defeated by Death Valley

posted in: Motorcycling, Travel | 8

After spending the night in Ridgecrest, California, the plan was to ride through Death Valley National Park to Pahrump, Nevada. We knew it was going to be windy, it had been howling around our motel all night, but we didn’t really comprehend what that amount of wind would mean in the desert. Sand. Lots and lots of sand.

Zartusacan - Death Valley

A panorama as we headed down into Death Valley, said to be the hottest place on Earth. Not today. 

It started off fine – a bit windier that I would like, but fine. For the first 40 or so miles we rode along happily, enjoying the fast straights and the mountain passes. As we came down the valley we started to get sand across the road, just floating across but we could along ride with no problem. Then that sand got thicker and as we rode through it hit us and our bikes and stung our legs and made everything really (really) dirty.

Zartusacan - Death Valley

Where does the road end and the desert start? 

Then we got to an unpaved section of road – after a sign that said “highway 178 ends”. The roads do that here… at home we can be pretty sure there will be tarmac (with a multitude of pot holes and cracks of course, but tarmac of sorts) wherever the map says road. But not here. Sometimes the map shows the unpaved bits, but sometimes the paved road just ends and is replaced with gravel and dirt instead. In this case there was a sign saying the highway ends, then a sign saying “construction work” that someone had written “NO” above. I suspect it’s been like this for a while! Anyway, it was only a couple of miles, but was very loose gravel and in the wind was a bit wobbly – I’m just not used to it. We both managed it okay though, standing up and taking it at a fair pace so the bike didn’t weave too much.

Zartusacan - Death Valley

Sand storm in Death Valley.

We got to the Death Valley national park sign and the sand got worse from there. We made the call to carry on hoping it would be okay, but when we got to the junction with the 190 and turned right into the park and towards Furnace Creek we found ourselves right in the middle of a terrible sand storm which was dangerous and quite scary. We pulled over and decided to turn around. The visibility was about six feet, if that, and it was all very painful my legs and arms as it pelted me. We rode about three miles in the opposite direction to Panamint Springs, a café and general store that we stopped at when we were in Death Valley two years ago with our Eagle Rider tour. We went inside and had a drink and chatted to a (British) family who’d just arrived having driven through the storm and the guys working in the café and made up our mind to find an alternative route. As we were leaving we met another biker who’d just turned around too, this storm was getting in the way somewhat!

Zartusacan - Death Valley 2014

Zartusacan - Death Valley 2016

Top: Death Valley from Panamint Springs in June 2014.
Bottom: Death Valley from Panamint Springs in May 2016.
Same spot. Very different experiences.

We rode west and then south taking us pretty much back around to where we’d come from. The wind was still very strong and we were pelted with sand a few more times, but it was definitely the right choice as we were leaving that huge sand cloud behind us. Another 50 or 60 miles and we stopped at a fuel station to gather our thoughts and come up with a plan; either go back to Ridgecrest and find accommodation for another night and cancel what we’d booked in Pahrump, or ride 250 more miles to Pahrump. It was 1.30pm and despite making it a very long day we decided to ride the miles and get to our accommodation. We did it in two stints with a stop for ice cream in the middle. It was basically fast straight roads which were VERY windy – oh and drivers here are crazy, we saw one with a phone watching YouTube or Facebook videos!! We rode nearly 400 miles instead of the 185 we planned but it was absolutely the right choice and we were both relieved to reach our destination in one piece despite having missed out one of the places we’d really wanted to visit on this trip.

Zartusacan - RV Rental

Our lodgings for the night in Pahrump. Not sure how we’ll tow it.

That night we stayed in an RV. They have them here to rent and it seemed better than camping in Death Valley, and would be a bit of an experience as they are so popular here. It was huge! It’s a caravan really, it has the hook-up at the front to go on a pick-up truck. There’s a lounge and dining and kitchen area with oven, fridge freezer and microwave, bathroom with shower, separate bedroom. It was more equipped than a motel but was camping – I can see why people have them.

Zartusacan - Washing the Bikes

Washing in the bikes. Some sand damage to our screens, lights and visors – we’ll have to say it adds character.

It was a particularly exhausting day but after a shower to get rid of the sand, washing the bikes and eating some pizza we both relaxed. We were and always are grateful for travelling mercies and not too shabby riding skills. It was a day on this road trip we shall both remember for a very long time. The fact that we have ridden through Death Valley before took away some of the disappointment of having to miss it out this time, but we will be back sometime to explore this strange place in much nicer weather.


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8 Responses

  1. bigdavezz

    Life on the road always seems better after pizza..:-))
    When we rode Death Valley with EagleRider I found it a complete and utter chore… It was 104F and I can think of no reason to return… but at least I can say we have ridden through Death Valley…Funny thing is, I can remember seeing Death Valley on Blue Peter (or Record Breakers) as a kid and thinking “that’s incredible, I have to go there one day”…

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