Back From the Valley of Death

Wow that sounds dramatic doesn’t it? But honestly, it’s a fitting name for a place that is one of the most inhabitable places, yet most beautiful I have seen.

I rode to work Thursday knowing my brother and Kent would be waiting for me when I got off. As soon as it was quitting time, I donned my leather jacket and hopped on the bike and rode to meet them. We fueled up and hit the road.

I love riding with my brother and Kent. You see, there are different types of motorcyclists. Some just pull their bikes out and display them in the driveway on Sunday. Some actually get on their bikes but never get further than the neighborhood bar. But when these two guys ride, it’s for distance. They had already ridden 3 hours to get to Fresno and we had 4 1/2 hours to go.

So we barreled down the highway only briefly stopping for gas, turning in Bakersfield and heading east on Hwy 178. I had never ridden 178 before but I’m glad we took that route. 178 cuts directly though the south end of the Sierras. It’s a winding canyon road with steep rock walls rising straight up the right side of the road and falling off to the left. Perfect road for a motorcycle.

We stopped in Lake Isabella for gas and it was starting to get dark. As the sky turned purple we head out toward Lone Pine where we were staying for the night. Along the way, we took a slight detour as the GPS got confused and led us down the wrong highway. As dark set in, the earth went black except for the dark blue outlines of the landscape made visible by the light cast down from the full moon above. It was spooky, yet cool at the same time. Three rumbling bikes, slinking through the night with not another soul to be seen for miles in any direction. At the next highway intersection, Tony figured out that the GPS was leading us in the wrong direction and got us back on course. We arrived at our hotel soon after.

The hotel where we stayed was called the Dow Villa Motel. Apparently it was a hot place back in the 50’s when Hollywood stars would stay there while filming the latest western. Movie posters with autographed photos adorn the lounge area as well as the narrow hallways. We stowed our gear, headed out to the local cafe for dinner, then finished the day with a cigar and a few beers. A good day. Tomorrow would be even better.

We got up semi-early and had breakfast at our cafe. Chicken fried steak and eggs. It’s pretty much a must when I am traveling. We saddled up and hit the road to Death Valley. It’s not far up the road and it only took us about an hour to enter the park.

The first thing you notice when entering Death Valley is that the vegetation changes. Suddenly the plant life disappears, replaced with sparse grasses and bushes that somehow manage to survive with only 2 inches of rainfall a year. The ground also changes. Death valley is incredibly rocky. It almost looks like another planet and if the soil were red or grey you might think you were looking at Mars or the moon. I just kept wondering; “How the heck did these big boulders get out in the middle of this valley floor?”. It’s like a giant sprinkled them across the landscape like a chef spicing a dish.

As you get further into the valley the landscape changes dramatically and it’s amazing how many types of geography are present here. We crossed the nearly perfectly valley floor where the road stretches straight as an arrow for as far as the eye can see. We rode by a cluster of sand dunes that looked almost man made as they stood out from their rocky surroundings. We rode through the twisting colorful canyons of artist loop, painted in blues, pinks and reds. We viewed the bizarre yellow rolling hills of Zabriskie Point and climbed from sea level to 5500 feet in less than 10 miles on the way to Dante’s View. There’s so much to see and words simply can’t relay the enormous scale and odd beauty of the features we witnessed. If there’s one thing that being here makes you realize, is how freaking small you are.

After a full day of riding, we only saw a few major features of the park, but we were tired and it was already getting late, so after slamming a few beers in the hot sun and tucking some souvenirs in our saddle bags we headed back to the motel, leaving the rest of the park to be explored on a future trip.

Our ride was not over yet though. The following day we got up, did breakfast and packed the bikes for the trip home. Tony and Kent had decided they wanted to take 395 north and then cross over 108 and head back to Sacramento. I decided to go with them and cut through Yosemite on my way home. 395 was absolutely beautiful and such a sharp contrast to Death Valley. As you head north you start to see more and more trees as the landscape turns mountainous again. The temperature drops rapidly and while sweating in the heat the day before, our fingers were now freezing and our teeth chattering. There’s a few quaint little towns along the highway as well which seem to be filled mostly with artist types and military families. At one point we pulled over as a caravan of police, military vehicles, and several dozen veterans on motorcycles escorted a Hearse carrying the body of a soldier who died in the line of duty. It was very moving seeing the streets lined with patriotic Americans holding our flag high, and I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to my camera quick enough to record the event.

We continued north and at Lee Vining we stopped for gas, a hot cup of coffee, and to put on more clothes to battle the cold. I gave my bro a hug and shook Kent’s hand thanking them both for an awesome ride. We then fired of the bikes and rumbled away in opposite directions.

As I climbed the mountains into Yosemite I thought how happy I was that I decided to take this longer, yet more scenic, route home. Yosemite was absolutely stunning and I honestly never get tired of seeing this absolute masterpiece of God’s. The leaves have taken on shades of yellow, red, and orange, and shed constantly across the twisty highway as I made my way home. It was almost like a car commercial or something, except without that guy with the deep voice talking about airbags and crap. It was totally a 180 degree turn from where I had been the day before, and I realized that’s why I’ll never leave California. Where on earth can you go from hot painted desert to cool lush forest in just a few hours? Amazing. I continued riding, and a short time later, I was home to my loved ones.

So that was our adventure. This is the last major trip I had planned for this riding season. It’s getting cold now and so the ride possibilities are going to be limited. It was a heck of a way to finish the year. I don’t plan on parking the bike though. There’s definitely some day trips, and maybe even an overnighter to the coast is in my near future. But with the holiday season fast approaching, the next epic ride will have to wait until spring.

I posted some pictures for you to check out. Click the Flickr section over on the right.