Death Valley Part Two

 

(Death Valley is the first of four trips taken as part of Iron Butt Association’s National Parks Tour (NPT), where I visited at least 50 national parks, monuments, historical sites, etc., in at least 25 states in one year.)
 
 
BTH 4-12-09
 
Greetings from Death Valley Junction, California, and the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel, located on the edge of Death Valley National ParkWoohoo!   
 
This morning started early.  Decided to run by Lake Mead National Recreation Area to get my National Parks Passbook stamped since it was only a few miles away and NOT across the Hoover Dam!   Okay.   I know less than a week ago I nobly declared I was going to go in and listen to all the park videos, blah, blah, and really learn something about each destination.  So maybe I have a future in politics! 
  
I’d gotten to Lake Mead before the Visitor’s Center opened, and when the first employee arrived, I asked her if she’d let me in just long enough to get the stamp.  Well, she did, I did, and then promptly left.   Shameful!  
 
From there I cut over to Mojave National Preserve for a total change of plans.   The Mojave, Great Basin and Sonoran Deserts all converge in that area, and you can’t believe the geological and biological diversity of the place.  A person could easily spend a week in the preserve and barely scratch the surface.  It’s huge!  Came in kind of a back way with almost zero traffic and went through the largest Joshua tree forest in the world.  Here is some of the forest. 
  
 
Mojave National Preserve has the most interesting Visitor’s Center I’ve ever seen, with an art gallery and lots of railroad and local history.  The government bought the Kelso train station for $1 (as in one George Washington bill) and completely restored it for $7 million, turning it into a truly magnificent historical building.   
  
Here is the restored original lunch counter, The Beanery, where I had a tasty tuna sandwich with toe-maw-toes.  
   
 
The next picture shows the entire station.  By the way, the actual railroad there is still quite busy.  I heard so many train whistles that at first I thought it was some unruly kids constantly setting off an exhibit! 
 
 
It all seems so foreign to me here, and I must have looked like a rubber-necking bobble-head going down the road.  There is a certain feeling of familiarity in New Mexico and Arizona, but you know you’re in a different place in California.  I guess it’s because the geology and vegetation are so different.  Even the dandelions aren’t the same!  It’s all, well, sort of prehistoric and vast to me.  Does that make sense?
   
After a nice, long break at the train station, headed north and saw sand dunes, rock formations, volcano cinder cones, lava fields and mesas.  This shows some Joshua trees and volcano with it’s top blown off.  See what I mean by prehistoric?  Is there a better word for it? 
 
  
A few interesting facts about Joshua trees. . . .  The “tree” is not actually a tree, but a short-leaved yucca.  These yuccas can reach a height of about 40 feet and their roots can spread as far as 35 feet.  They only grow about 3 inches per year for the first ten years and about 1.5 inches per year after that.  They can live for hundreds of years, with some reaching the age of 1,000, and grow only in the high desert at elevations above 3,000 feet. 
  
Stopped a hundred times (I swear!) for pictures and was taking one of a blooming creosote bush when this butterfly showed up.  Those spots in the bottom center of the wings that you can barely see are gorgeous electric blue.  The best I can figure out, this is a swallowtail butterfly, not tiger swallowtail or yellow swallowtail.  By the way, there must have been some kind of butterfly migration moving through the area because I drove through thousands of small, dark orange butterflies.  
 
 
Gassed up in Baker, CA, which is the first time I’ve used those EPA fuel nozzle doodads.  Couldn’t get it to work in the first gas station even with another lady helping.  Went to another station and a guy who didn’t speak English got it to work, but sprayed gas everywhere when he thought 2.5 gallons wasn’t enough.  The whole episode must have been hysterical to watch, although he was not laughing!  
 
Now I see why everyone complains about filling their motorcycle tanks with those things, but after that fiasco think I understand how to do it.  Also, the gas here might be a bit, well, crappy since Lizzie has been knocking and pinging since that fillup.
 
From there headed towards Death Valley, where I descended and descended and descended.  Went through sections of brown, yellow, white, dark brown, even green-tinted sand.  Amazing! 
 
It’s obvious this was once a seabed by the lay of the land, and hopefully you can see what I mean by that in this next pic.  It’s like a big shallow bowl.  The light-colored stuff in the distance is sand dunes.   Love those mountains in the background! 
   
 
Now here I am at the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel, and last night there was a performance by Marta Becket!  Man, I wish I could have seen that!   I’ve changed my reservation to stay an extra day because there is so much to do and see.  Like usual in these restored-enough-to-make-them-habitable historic places, there is no TV or internet and no cell-phone coverage in the entire DV area.
  
Question for the baby-boomers. . . .  Do you remember watching Death Valley Days, sponsored by twenty-mule team Borax, when you were a kid?  Well, that sponsor was the Pacific Coast Borax Company, which built their company headquarters/town in 1923 at Death Valley Junction.  That U-shaped headquarters is now the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel.
  
Seeing and experiencing Death Valley fulfills a dream I’ve had since I watched that show back in the sixties.  In fact, in my mind’s eye, clear as day, I can still picture that line of twenty mules hitched to a wagon and can hear that deep voice saying, “Twenty-mule team Borax”!   Staying here at the old Borax headquarters seems to bring the dream full circle.  Funny what impresses a kid, isn’t it?
  
Peace on the Road!
BT
 
 
BTH 4-13-09
 
Hello again from Death Valley Junction, CA! 
 
Today’s report will be short and to the point.  It’s late and I’d like to get going pretty early tomorrow.    
 
By the way, today is Lizzie’s second birthday.  My good friend Lana took me all the way to Destination Cycles in Kerrville on Friday the 13th, 2007, to pick ‘er up.  She’s been nothing but good luck!
 
I was afraid I’d be disappointed in Death Valley National Park because it had become so built up in my mind.  Well, quite the opposite!  This place is incredible and deserves all the hype, and I haven’t even begun to see the highlights.  What I have seen, though, I’ve seen well.  I stopped so danged many times in that thick gravel on the side of the road for pictures and so far haven’t dumped.  Scares me each and every time. 
 
Here are some good scenery shots.  The first picture is of the sea basin looking all the way up to Telescope Peak, the highest point in Death Valley at 11,049 feet.  It’s hard to believe that’s snow when you can see the heat radiating from the ground.   Unfortunately, DV has quite a bit of smog from Los Angeles and things are much more hazy than they could be, but you can imagine the extraordinary colors.  Seeing it in real life is more than stunning.  Actually, it’s a good thing for me it ended up being pretty hazy and cloudy today because it was well into the nineties.  Would have been terrible in the full sun.
 
 
 
 
These next two pictures were taken on Artist Drive, which is an approximately seven-mile scenic drive that took me two hours!  I’ve never seen anything like the colors in those rocks!  Then you’d go around a corner and it would be a completely different color and texture.  This place looks like an enormous Georgia O’Keefe painting and I have to wonder if she ever painted here.   
 
 
 
 
This was taken at Badwater Basin, which is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere.  You can have dry land that’s below sea level only when there is an extremely dry climate.  Rain will eventually fill it up to sea level if it doesn’t completely evaporate.  Badwater got it’s name because the guy who went to survey the spring couldn’t get his mule to drink the “bad water” there.  In reality the water is salty, not “bad.”   I walked out on the salt flats, wet my finger, touched it to the ground and then tasted.  Man, that’s some concentration.  The strong salty taste lasted well over an hour!
 
 
This attempts to show how the sea basin looks standing there at Badwater.
  
 
The next picture is by far my favorite of the entire trip.  Red-faced, but happy!  Finally used the tripod I’ve been hauling around in that yellow bag all this time.  I can’t tell y’all how much it means to be here.  Well done, Lizzie!   
 
 
Peace on the Road!
BT
 
 
BTH 4-14-09
 
Hello from Caliente, NV, which is about 25 miles from the Utah border, about one-third of the way up.  Once again, no cell phone coverage here.  
  
This morning I reluctantly checked out of the Opera House and drove through the north side of the park.  It was already well into the eighties by 10:00 in the basin.  As the road began climbing up and away from the low-elevation heat, the vegetation became much more plentiful and diverse and there were a lot of wild flowers.  These next two pictures are Death Valley parting shots that show what I meant by “texture” yesterday. 
  
 
 
The boundary of the park is also the state line.  I wasn’t going to force another state-line photo on you, but I like this one.
 
 
So I turned east for the first time to head back home.  Actually, before I could go east very far I had to go north or south to get around Nellis Air Force Range and naively picked north since I haven’t had access to a weather report for a few days.  Had some rain, which is no big deal, until it plummeted into the thirties as I climbed a mountain pass.  Thank goodness I reached the summit and began descending before it turned to snow! 
  
The rest of the ride?  Out of the mountains for 150 miles of 45-mile-per-hour wind and 25 miles’ worth of dust storms, sometimes with quite low visibility.  I’ve never encountered anything like that.  Made it okay but am very tired so will sign off early.
 
The weather report for tomorrow predicts snow so it might turn into a rest day.  Right now it’s raining, the wind is howling, and I’m ever so glad to be indoors!
 
Peace on the Road!
BT 

 

BTH  4-15-09

Hello again from Caliente, NV, where it’s in the high twenties, which is very cold for this southern girl, and there have been snow flurries off and on all day. 
 
Well, looks like the ole Biketrash weather good luck has dun run out and the smart thing to do is just stay put for the day.  Fortunately, the Shady Motel is nice, clean and quiet.  My room even has decent overhead lighting and two extra ACCESSIBLE electrical outlets, which is more than you can say for most of the chain hotels!  Internet access comes and goes because the town is surrounded by mountains, but at least it’s there part of the time.
 
This is what Lizzie looked like this morning.  I feel terrible making my loyal friend sit out there in ice and snow like that!  The luggage lock was frozen shut so couldn’t get my regular jacket and gloves out.  Had to wear the goofy-looking jacket liner and motorcycle gloves to walk to breakfast.  This would be a good day to do some laundry, but I’m having to wear every layering piece of clothing brought to stay warm!  (In spite of how it looks luggagewise, I only have one and a half outfits besides the cold-weather-layering garb.)
 
 
 
 
This afternoon I walked over to the library to use their DSL internet for a little route research.  The hotel wireless seems to fade in and out in the inclement weather, although there wasn’t that problem last night.  The city and county offices are located in a cool old train station.  Here is the station and you can see what I mean by the town being surrounded by mountains.  I had visions of “Stand by Me” as I crossed the tracks, but nothing quite that dramatic happened!  
 
 
 
So here is my dilemma.  I have to exit Nevada either through Utah in the mountains or go all the way back to Las Vegas and over the Hoover Dam!  That Grand Canyon sure gets in the way of travel plans!  There’s one more cheesy, touristy thing I’m dying to do so don’t want to get too far south. 
 
I’ll turn on the Weather Channel later this afternoon and make a decision — rather, the decision will be made for me! 
 
Peace on the Road!
BT
 
BTH 4-16-09
  
Hello, once again, from Caliente, NV.  Your Biketrash made the difficult decision to sit out yet another day.  It’s too danged cold, no matter which direction I go.  Rain is no big deal with proper clothing, but I can’t tolerate those low temperatures in the mountains — not when they last all day.  Did I mention there are still snow flurries here this morning?  But my wise retired-court-reporter-friend Sandy put it into perspective this morning by advising it’s a whole lot better than being stuck in court!!!!!!!   With that positive perspective, let’s see if I can make a story out of nuthin’. . . .
 
Walked over to the Brandin’  Iron for my daily dose of  breakfast grease and cholesteral, located in an old building with a beautifully patterned tin roof on the ceiling.  It was the consensus of all the patrons and waitress (who even made a few phone calls to the highway department) that the mountain temps would be in the thirties.  That’s freakin’ cold at highway speeds!  This shows the restaurant front, and you can even see a little snow coming down.  Yikes!
 
 
 
Here is the Nevada-shaped marker with the history of Caliente, complete with bright and cheery fake flowers to the side.
 
 
 
 
If you go to the J&J Mini Mart, whatever you do, do NOT sit on the freezer!
 
 
 
 
TRAVEL TIP:  This is what I found when I arrived in Caliente one — two — three — however many days ago it was.  You can see why, when packing, you should always put everything liquid in a freezer bag (stronger than regular bags) and then put any other items you don’t want wet and gooey in a sturdy bag to protect them, just in case.  Fortunately, the freezer bag did its job and the mess was contained on the inside.  And what’s that purple stuff?  It’s shampoo that people with white — I mean, platinum-blonde hair use to keep it shiny.  Hey!  No comments from the peanut gallery!
  
 
 
 
So that’s the best I’ve got for y’all.  I’ll have to sit down for a cable TV fix to numb my bored senses.  Hmmmmm, I wonder what’s on TCM. . . .
 
Peace on the Road!
BT
  
BTH 4-17-09
 
Hello from Page, AZ, which is in North Central Arizona, just over the border from Utah.
 
My reward for waiting out the bad weather for two days was being able to enjoy Zion National Park under blue skies while staying warm.  Here’s what I think about Zion:  magnificent, stunning, incredible, unique, beautiful, unbelievable, breathtaking.  Any descriptor left out is purely unintentional.  It was difficult to choose just a few photos to include here and they’ll speak for themselves.   
  
 
 
 
Right after the last picture was taken I went through a long (seemed like several miles), very narrow tunnel that, I’m quite sure, makes a lot of people claustrophobic.  When I came out the other end of the tunnel, the rock formations looked very different, all layered with swirls (totally unscientific term).  My understanding is that the “swirls” are formed when a lava flow is blocked and it jams up on itself.   
  
 
  
After leaving Zion, the landscape gave way to beautiful red mesas and rolling high plains and passed a large herd of buffalo.  You know, there is nothing that touches my American-born soul as deeply as seeing a herd of buffalo.  It was disappointing that there was no shoulder to pull onto for picture-taking.  While there are a lot of places I’ve never seen, I do believe the State of Utah has to be our most unique.
 
Came down Scenic Hwy 89 to the Glen Canyon National Recreational Area and got to the Visitor’s Center just in time to get my passport stamp before they closed.  Sweet!  I’d expected it to be just a bunch of marinas on big Lake Powell, but this area is really something to see.  Walked across the Glen Canyon Dam Bridge and felt it shake when large trucks drove over it.  I overheard one guy tell his kid it felt groovy.  Whatever.  (Apparently  I’m not the biggest dork in the world after all!)  Here are pictures of the bridge and a small part of Lake Powell.    
 
 
 
Tomorrow I head for New Mexico, where I’ll lose an hour from Arizona.  Just a few more days. . . .
 
Peace on the Road!
BT
 
 
BTH 4-18-09
 
Hello from Albuquerque, NM!
 
Left Page under clear, sunny skies.  It was mostly in the fifties all day today so had to layer up some, but it was comfortable.  Things are always relative, aren’t they?  After riding in the thirties the other day, the fifties seem toasty warm.  As Judge Thurman used to say, “It’s all your point of view.”
 
The only real highlight for you today is something I’ve wanted to do since I saw a picture of it as a kid.    Went to the Four Corners Monument, where Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico all meet.  Got there on a highway coming from Arizona, but entered through New Mexico. Here I am with my right foot in Utah, left foot in Arizona, left hand in New Mexico, and bum in Colorado.  You can see the wire from the electric jacket running down my left leg.  When was the last time YOU were lounging in four states?
 
 
There were at least two booths selling Navajo fry bread, which is nothing but fry bread, and this Four Corners “monument” looked like a flea market with probably 35 booths for selling souveniers and junk.  The whole thing was cheesy and fun, but I bought some of the bread anyway.  One of the tourists was even walking around with a cat on a leash!  Can you imagine what this place is like during peak season?
  
 
 
Other than that, it was basically a travel day, covering a lot of ground.  Rode through gorgeous red canyons and mesas on two-lane highways with fresh snow in the upper elevations.  Crossed the Rio Grande River twice here in Albuquerque, and it’s just a little ole thing this far north.
 
Peace on the Road!
BT

 

BTH 4-19-09

Hello from Post, Texas.  Didn’t make it as far as I’d like today because of a late start, but at least I’m in MY state and MY time zone!  I will say, though, that losing two hours in two days ain’t so easy, even with my flexible schedule!
 
This morning I got up early and went to Petroglyph National Monument, located on the west side of Albuquerque.   This place is incredible and you’ll want to put it on your must-see list for New Mexico.  There are several volcanos you can visit, but the access road is unpaved.  And if you’re properly attired, you can hike the trails and see up to 20,000 petroglyphs.  I took the shorter walk and did see several.  Saw a faint kokopelli, but couldn’t find the right angle to get it to show up in a photo.  It took every ounce of willpower I possess to not touch them, but I reluctantly conformed to the rules and kept my mitts to myself! 
  
Here are a few of the photos that show up the best.  The first photo is my favorite, showing two cats.  The one on the lower left, which is real faint, looks to me like it’s arching its back.   
 
 
  
 
 
 
PetroGRAPHS are the symbols that are “painted” onto the rocks.  PetroGLYPHS are actually carved or etched into the rock by chipping away the rock’s outer darker “varnish” and leaving  a lighter mark.  Each of the images has deep cultural and spiritual significance to the people who created them. 
  
This area is covered with old lava caprock that has eroded over time, leaving huge piles of basalt boulders.  It’s estimated that most of the images were made 400 to 700 years ago and some may be 2,000 to 3,000 years old.  What a remarkable area and what a privilege it was to visit this sacred place. 
 
Didn’t get onto I-40 to leave Albuquerque until what would have been straight-up noon Texas time.  Stopped at the Subway in Moriarty, where a short section of the old Route 66 runs through.
  
 
From there it was back to Texas.  Not exactly the most inspiring ride unless you like flat, boring, cross-winds and the, ahem, aromatic smell of oil wells.  Was it really only two days ago that I was in Zion?  But at least it’s warm!
 
Peace on the Road!
BT
  
BTH 4-20-09
 
Greetings from Austin, Texas!
 
Just a short note to let you know I made it home, safe and sound.  The ride through Central Texas was quite pleasant, and I got to see at this late date, believe it or not, lots of roadside bluebonnets and even some of those Aggie maroon bluebonnets!  The roads were lined with yellow and white flowers and green grass, so it did rain here after all!
 
Enjoyed a pleasant Texas welcome home by my Yammie (Yamaha) friends in Brownwood with good barbecue and real live conversation with other human beings!  At this stop I was able to take the quilted liners out of my pants and jacket.  It was sooooo nice to get rid of all that bulk and feel some WARM Texas air! 
 
Today’s only picture shows Brenda, yours truly, Kenny and Wolfbyte (aka David) there at lunch.  Man, that girl with the platinum-blonde hair sure looks rode hard and put up wet!
  
 
 
Thank y’all for sharing the ride, and thanks again for everyone’s good wishes!  Long live long rides!
  
Peace on the Road!
BT
 

2 Responses to “Death Valley Part Two”

  1. mhoy January 29, 2011 at 7:42 am #

    Thankyou for a beautifull ride.

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