back to Death Valley


February 13, 2005

Back to day one....

We got up early again (well, early for Peter which, admittedly, isn't saying much) and had breakfast at the 49er Cafe at Furnace Creek Ranch. I walked next door to the general store and bought a long-sleeved T-shirt; I wondered why some of the shirts said "Death Valley, est. 1933" and some said "Death Valley, est. 1994". Turns out that President Hoover proclaimed Death Valley a National Monument in 1933;it became a National Park under the Clinton Administration's Desert Protection Act in 1994.

The first item on our agenda was to head south to see the wildflowers along Badwater Road. I'd heard that the wildflowers were blooming in force after record rainfall last summer (including a fatal flash flood in August).

Heading south on Badwater Road, our first stop was at Badwater Basin, about 15 miles south of Furnace Creek Ranch. Since it was winter, the salt pools formed an unofficial "Badwater Lake". The water in the Badwater pools isn't posionous, just salty, and actually supports some life. At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere.

Peter at the edge of "Badwater Lake"

After leaving the basin, we continued south on Badwater Road for about 20 more miles. The road swoops alongside the basin the entire way, making for some great scenery -- desert rock formations to the left, endless salt basins to the right.

About 40 miles south of Furnace Creek, we started noticing Desert Gold wildflowers lining the road. Naturally, I stopped so that the bikes could pose:

We continuted south, as we'd heard that the most spectacular flower displays were just north of the abandoned Ashford Mill. I didn't honestly know where that was, but we were promised that we'd know it when we saw it.

I rounded a curve and suddenly, there it was! Desert gold in bloom as far as the eye could see. Green rolling hills, flowers everywhere -- this was Death Valley? Fortunately, the flowers grew up amongst the hard desert rocks and craggy bushes so that we could remember that we were still in one of the hottest and least habitable spots on earth.

We took a bazillion photos of the wildflowers before heading back north along Badwater Road.

Peter was in the lead during this section and he decided to stop at Golden Canyon (a popular hiking spot a couple of miles south of Furnace Creek). We got some funny looks from other tourists as we climbed up the rocks in our motorcycle gear, carrying tankbags. The padded butt on my bike pants sure made it easier to slide down the slate rock face on my way down, though...

We arrived back at the Ranch around 2pm, just in time for a quick hamburger before continuing north.

After lunch, we continued north along Highway 190 out of Furnace Creek to the North Highway turnoff.  I'd never been on North Highway before -- what an AWESOME motorcycling road!  It's about 45 miles long, straight in parts and curvy in others. There are sections of roller-coaster dips and bumps -- lots of fun at -- ahem -- 65mph. We came across very little other traffic, so we zoomed and bumped and dipped alone, for the most part. The road is lined with creosote bushes, some smatterings of wildflowers, and desert rocks.

There's a ranger station a couple of miles south of Scotty's Castle, so if you're a scofflaw like me, you will actually have to pay the park entrance fee ($5 for motorcyclists).

From the ranger station, the road up to Scotty's Castle is pretty narrow and twisty -- beware of lumbering RVs bearing down at you!  The Castle itself is pretty neat; it was built in the 1920s for Death Valley Scotty, a local legend who invented a gold mine and kept investors  paying for shares in its imaginary output.  The stock market crash of 1929 prevented the Castle from being finished, and parts of it -- like the swimming pool in the foregroud of the photo below -- will never be finished.

We didn't have enough time to take a tour of the Castle and still make it to Ubehebe Crater, so we promised to come back another time (particularly for the underground Technology Tour).

To get to Ubehebe Crater, you ride almost all the way back to the ranger station and then head west on a tiny little road.  This road's definitely an adventure! It's tight and curvy and washboarded with these impossibly regular buckles that run perpendicular to the road.  They're like little ridges that you hit every 50 feet or so -- way to find out how your suspension's doing! The scenery up to the crater is really neat; it's all volcanic debris: black rocks, ashy hills, etc.  Light-colored creosote bushes poke up from the ash, giving it a cool spotted appearance.

The crater itself is really neat -- from the USGS site: "Some of Ubehebe Crater field's most dramatic eruptions occurred when magma met water-soaked bedrock and alluvial fan sediments. In an instant, water flashed to steam, and a violent release of steam-powered energy blasted away the confining rock above. It produced a dense, ground-hugging cloud of rocky debris which surged out from the base at up to 100 miles/hour, decimating the landscape.  A fiery fountain of lava erupted with a roar, forming a vent to the south of what is now Ubehebe Crater. Liquid rock was thrown  into the air, then fell to the ground as solidified cinders or partially-molten lava blocks and bombs.  A ring of black volcanic material soon builds around the central vent. The first of the Ubehebe Crater complex is born."

Peter and I split up on the way back to Furnace Creek Ranch -- I wanted to stop for photos and he wanted to open up the Superhawk in the empty desert.   He waited for me at the intersection of Hwy 190 and North Highway...I think he said he waited for almost a half-hour, and I wasn't THAT slow, so he must have had a fun ride back.    

The day's mileage ended up being just about 200 miles -- here's a map.

We had dinner at the "steakhouse" at the Ranch -- we split some chicken fettucine, which ended up being a perfect amount of food.  I had two glasses of Mojave Gold from the Indian Wells Brewing Company -- fortunately, it tasted better than the brewery looked -- we passed it on our way into Death Valley (it's on Hwy 14 outside of Inyokern) and the building looked pretty delapidated.   Next time I'll have to stop for a tour.  

On to day three....