Don't ride through Death Valley solo
The adage "Do as I say and not as I do" applies here. So I'm sure none of you ADV FF's will follow my travel advice and instead do plenty of exploring on your own. And of course, I chose to ride it solo through the western entrance into Death Valley by way of Goler Wash/ Mengal Pass. Why go into Death Valley on my own? Because I can ( I thought?), and because there was a rare, once in 100 year bloom occurring that would dry out and disappear within the week. My first broken rule was having bought a brand spanking new KTM 950. I've always recommended to others finding a well maintained and upgraded preowned, if you will, hopefully one with lots of nice upgrades. Mine was still near stock save for a set of side tank bars and dual sport tread.
For the trip I packed fairly light... gallon and half water, some light food, extra layer of clothes, stock tool kit and 2 cans fix o flat. No spare tubes or tire irons on this trip ( like I said "DAISNAID"! Best time of year for this trip is in March after a lucky rain where the valley floor comes to bloom. Of course if you're heading up from L.A. you might as well pass through Trona Pinnacles and check out the backdrop for the first Planet of the Apes movie. Here's my trusty steed. Note the removed GO stickers from the side tanks. Not an easy job considering they're clear coated into the paint.
Desert Surfer -
Solo riding, the best Adv possible!
This is seren dipiddy or whatever. I am in Ridgecrest tonight doing some planning and prerunning for a cross country ride.
Can you recommend a good way to get from Mojave to Yucca mountain area taking in Death Valley and using as little slab as possible? I have some stuff picked out and drove some of it today but I have zero local knowledge.
Thanks. Sent you a PM with my phone number if you are so inclined.
:lurk Pic's not coming through.
...not gettting it...:huh ... you did this or want to?
Removed the GO!!! stickers?..oh man, bummer :pierce
Only gettin' red X's in a box
Riding solo into the jaws of Death Valley
I did this trip in March, yes... solo. I rode a new stock new 950 S save for a few minor upgrades. I managed to ride half dirt/ half pavement from L.A. This route is an excellent one with minor highway travel. It all started from Santa Monica, Ca. I jumped on the 405 N for a short jaunt 5 miles exiting at Mulhullond. This little piece of heaven is an amazing route and A MUST to be taken on two wheels, also and a great primer for heading out of L.A. From here I dropped down onto the 5 fwy north/ 2 fwy north for a short 8 miles and the connected to the Angeles Crest Hwy. Ahhh, another great weaving paver through the San Bernardino mountains. I veered onto the Angeles Forest Hwy cutoff leading up to Palmdale (avoiding the 5 fwy and 14 fwy) and then connecting to the 14 at Palmdale through Mojave. Beyond Mojave I took California City exit and followed the road east to the famous 24 Mule Train road heading east.
There is a nice large OHV park with campsites and tables.
There are showers for washing the dirt off after a day of OHV trails.
I stayed on the mule train road which turns to dirt until I hit the 395 fwy. Then 395 north to Ridgecrest and stayed the night at a nice motel, the Ridgecrest Inn... they're all pretty inexpensive here. The next morning after a nice cooked meal I left Ridgecrest heading toward Trona. Then 5 miles from Trona is the Trona Pinnacles National Park and a great side trip in route to Death Valley.
You can also access the Pinnacles from the Highway 395 further south if you want to ride through a long deep sandy jeep trail.
Be careful not to take this during weekends or you'll be competing against sand rails for the right of way. I headed into Trona for fuel before riding north along the Panamint Mountains toward Death Valley. Top off for fuel and buy any last minute water and snacks. I was told two BMW GS had tried to ride into Mengal Pass and turned around. Glad I missed them and avoided being talked out of my route. From here there are two ways into Death Valley via dirt. You can take the Slate Range trail in to DV at the mile 1 marker north of Trona. I've driven this route before in my H3 4x4 and it's pretty rough, passing long river washes with boulder beds filling the two track. At one point the trail dissappears but is tagged with ribbon by the park rangers.
Here's the view from above the Panamint Valley's mineral lake looking into Death Valley and the Goler Wash entrance
Instead I rode the pavement up to the Ballarat exit. This gravel road takes you to the Ballarat general store ( no gas here if opened).
I rode past some old dwellings in town. There are great rides east of Ballarat including the Pleasant Canyon Loop trail, considered one of the best offroad trails in the U.S.
I took the dirt road south that follows along the mineral lake bed.
Continuing south there's a signpost pointing east to Goler Wash. The sandy track looks like it ends at a rock wall.
A trail reappears and winds it's way up a serpentine canyon, passing several forks leading to old mines and the Charles Manson hideaway at Barker Ranch. Having the Backcountry Adventures Southern California Guide is very helpful as the route crosses the wash in several places and knowing which side to stay on is critical. Water trickles across the wash but is not enough to cause a problem.
However, do not attempt this route if rain is forecasted. Several years earlier I entered the northern end of the park a day after torrential rains and the center of the park was washed away with hugh 20 foot chasms throughout. Two vacationers disappeared in the deluge. Upon traveling up the end of Goler wash the trail becomes uneven as it enters Mengal pass. It was at this point that I realized how desolate I was. Previous rains had washed the trail down to exposed boulders dispersed through out the trail requiring precision steering. The trail ascends exposing several off camber inclines. These are not for the faint of heart. These areas are comprised of babyhead gardens where the walls of the canyon funnel the runoff into the trail. This area separates the KTM Adventures from the BMW GS 12's. Rising out of the washes my bike began to sputter, not the best spot to be loosing power. Fortunately it was intermittent. I assumed it was just carb float's vibrating from the rugged ride. Nearing the crest my bike sputtered again with fuel leaking out from under my bike. At the same time the downhill trail funneled into a nasty long boulder filled winding wash. I managed to find a crest to prop the kick stand on and inspect my problems.
At this point I was worried that any fuel I was leaking might hinder my range, so I found the left tank petcock and shut it off. My first thought was a frayed left fuel line. But I couldn't see any damage to my bike. The weeping fuel was coming off of an overflow tube. Strange indeed? This would be as good a place as any to take a water and snack break. The sun was past noon and the temperatures reaching three digits. A quick check of my cellphone confirmed no reception, ruling out any quick calls to my bike shop for advice. I decide to try to fire the bike up for confidence, but after turning over it wouldn't start? WTF? I'm screwed if the bike won't start? It's acting like it's starving for fuel? Say what? I decide to finish my snack, let the bike cool down and not pannick. I don't see any broken lines or wires. It sure is creepy out here. The worst case scenario I'd walk out to the Ballarat store before nightfall. I try to start the bike again and it's a no go. WTWTWTF? I try again, keep the throttle wide open to clear the body... it gurgles and starts. SWEET, let's just keep this MF'r running. Now I just have to ride my ass down this nasty rock chute without laying the beast down and breaking any levers.
Heading down the rocky chute...
This section of Death Valley between Goler Wash and Mengal Pass is considered one of the most difficult in Death Valley. Another shaky cam meant I was scared S'tless.
Fortunately for me I was heading east and traveling downhill, which is the easy way. The 950 is nimble and plush when you have some momentum to lighten it up. Traveling slow over boulders on a downhill wash is not it's strength, for sure. I had to muscle the handlebars to avoid dropping the bike constantly. This downhill wash seemed to go on for endlessly. And the loose baby heads were everywhere.
Somehow I managed to make my way down, but at one section I bounced my front tire off a boulder where the front end almost slid out. I posted my right foot down, pulled the front end up to roll out of it. But I felt the kind of twinge in my right hamstring that meant one thing... a pull that would stay with me the rest of the ride. A muscle pull is just one small step away from becoming a tear on this long journey ahead.
The gulch at the bottom began to smooth out. I ascended up to the Carl Mengal grave marker, the pioneer who opened up this route to early settlers.
The view down into the valley below is breathtaking. The valley floor was covered with a bright green desert weed from the recent rains. From a distance the sun's reflections made it appear to be a green lake.
In the center of the valley was a pyramid shaped peak with stripes running top to bottom, thus it's name "Striped Butte" and the Butte Valley. Riding the two track down into the valley floor a cabin appeared near the five corners trail intersection.
I decided to take the fork leading to the cabin. This unlocked cabin is one of many renovated and offered by the parks service as first come accommodations for visitors. After a quick look around I headed back to the five corners going east with the Striped Butte on my left shoulder. I tried to assess the bike problems, concluding it must have been fuel overflow from pogoing around the trail with full tanks. The overflowing fuel must have backed up into the carburator. Perhaps only a minor situation I could deal with. Meanwhile, I was still only half way to my room at Furnace Creek Inn. The transition between the volcanic rock walls and sandy bottom is both eerie and exciting.
The trail along the Butte Valley's floor was very long before leading up the pass into Warm Springs Canyon.
This was a shallow canyon comprised of long unpredictable washes of either baby heads or soft sand.
This was also my first experience in soft sandy terrain with the KTM Adventure and the introduction into it's head shakeing characteristics. I see why everyone adds the Scott's steering head damper. My top speed was limited as I had to bare down and keep the front end pointed straight. As I decended the canyon wash became narrow and curvy. Several times I nearly layed the bike down, recovering before dropping the bike. A hard bounce off of my right heel and again a shooting pain up my hamstring. Another wrong move and I'd be jeapardizing handling the Big K Pig in the washes. It was time for another pull off spot to break out the water and snacks. I needed some shade in this 100 degree heat, but there was none to be had. I was only at the 2/3rd mark from Furnace Creek and was starting to boil up fast. The bike's weight was also taking it's toll on me. I was estimating my speeds at between 20-30 mph in this section, trying to spare my rims. But I couldn't imagine how guys like Despres and Coma can ride at 80-90 mph without breaking a sweat. After another pint of water I was off again.
The trail flattens out and connects with the graded West Side Road leading to highway 178 and Furnace Creek. This was where I thought I'd be pulling out all the stops getting to the motel... that is until I saw the 45mph sign and disclaimer fines doubled inside state park, Jeez. In route to Furnace Creek I past the Badlands and Death Valley Mineral Lake. This happens to be one of the lowest elevations on earth.
In the foreground is Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower 48 U.S. It's truly a rare and privileged occasion witnessing two geological extremes from one single vantage point.
I was surprised how lush the valley became once I pulled into Furnace Creek. I drove through date palm groves getting to my motel room.
My motel room at Furnace Creek. I was exhausted from the ride and immediately hit the hot shower. The Blue Crush faired well. Somehow I managed to avoid dropping the bike at all. This is definitely not possible if heading the route east to west.
There's a nice mining museum in Furnace Creek to tour.
The following morning I ran into a group of riders, a KTM 950, two GS12's and a GS 6.5 Dakar. The KTM rider mentioned the dirt trail north to racetracks was unrideable. This was my original route out, so I instead took their word and traveled the pavement to Emigrant Pass off Wildrose.
This ended up being the best spot for witnessing the unique desert bloom in the entire valley. The roadside appeared to be lined like a velvet carpet.
There were red flowers scattered throughout the pass.
The cacti were in full bloom.
This particular purple berry bloom would not be seen for another 100 years after the week's sweltering heat.
The route through Emigrant Pass cuts along three mountain peaks in the Panamint Range covered with snow and reaching 11,000 ft. The Wildrose road turns to dirt for a short section, crossing water runoffs and loose rocks until it reconnects to the main highway to Trona and past the Ballarat turnoff.
I rode the same route heading home taking the 24 Mule Train road toward Mojave. I was anticipating smooth sailing until I hit the notorious high winds blowing from the Tehachapi Valley. The winds were nearly blowing me sideways, forcing me to alter my course through east Lancaster and back across the Apple Valley highway to the Angeles Forest Highway into the L.A. Basin. This is a fantastic trip that I strongly recommend to other dual sport riders. Of course I would not recommend doing it solo as I did, but then again knowing you FF's will probably jump at the chance. Have fun, bring lot's of water and don't expect any cell or GPS reception.
Look here on how to post an image and please note that file attachments to this forum may not be working all the time It's best to post the pics elsewhere and link them here:
Desertsurfer..looks like like you had a memorable adventure, if I can make one smallll recommendation...break your writings into frequent paragraphs, makes it much more readable and much more likely to be read. Tks for the RR.
All the pictures:
pics are great in a ride story...if you have the pics up on photobucket whatever, use the IMG to link it. Otherwise you have to upload each one.
GO!!! is gone
Great D.V. report, thanks for posting. Hoping to get out there some time this year. :D
Love DV, I spend at least 2 weeks riding there every year, almost always solo. Hopefully I'll get there this March or April. I was going to the Death Valley ride the weekend of Jan 29th. But my back surgery is going to not allow it this year, I don't think.:cry I'm still holding out for a miracle, otherwise I'll cancel my reservations and wait until later in the spring.
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