Goler Canyon Ride Report Where is Goler Canyon and why would I want to go there? Goler Canyon is in the southwest corner of Death Valley National Park. It’s rough, rocky and barely passable by high-clearance 4-wheel drive or intrepid off-highway motorcyclist. I didn’t go “because it’s there” I went because I had to return. I made two previous trips, in 1965, at age 8, in the back of my Dad’s 1962 International Scout. The first trip included my Mom and 2-years younger brother. It was rough, scary, and I thought we were going to die. We met a crazy old coot of a miner forty-niner. All he wanted in the world was a 6-pack of tall Coors beer. What persuaded my Dad to bring him that beer the following week is a mystery. My Mom had better sense, opting to stay home so she could call the rescue rangers if we didn’t return in time. I didn’t want my Dad to go alone, and since we survived the first trip, I figured there was half chance we’d survive the second. My clearest memories are of bouncing off the roof over some horrendous bumps and holding my little bro as best I could. He managed to sleep through some of that pounding, bless his heart. So we delivered the beer and in exchange got a rock. Not just any rock – a 20-lb. arrow shaped one, painted mauve, with a red squiggly line that represented a rattle snake. That old coot was crazy, and that rock is in my parent’s planter to this day. We earned it. The bottom line is I had to go there on my own terms, one of those things one does for oneself. Friday, Oct 15 2010 – I took a day off from work for this 06:40AM Start – leave the house. 07:00 arrive at Red Rock Canyon scenic loop 07:00 Willow Springs picnic area, Potato Ridge trailhead – air down On this trip I decided to carry my 12v Slime air compressor. Having to air up 6 times in 2 days made carrying that piece of equipment worthwhile. I have a small hand/CO2 pump. On average, it takes about 100 pumps for the rear and 70 for the front to come up to street pressure. It was nice to not have to sweat that. The Rock Garden bit me. I bashed a rock, coming to an immediate stop from 1mph and toppled over (1). The Flatlands skidplate now has 2 broken welds, but it’s done its job. I saw 2 deer at the top of Lovell Canyon, no photo. First time I’ve ever seen deer in these parts. After an otherwise uneventful cruise down Trout Canyon to Hwy 160, I stopped and aired up for the 5 miles into Pahrump. In Pahrump, I stopped at McDonalds for a breakfast burrito. It tasted ok but was sloppy and I ate standing up in all my riding gear. Good thing I ate though as it was a long, high-energy day with but a bad orange and trail mix for a snack. 28 miles to Shoshone where I stopped for fluids – gas in the tank and gas in the can at $4.25/gal. I carried a Rotopax 1-gallon gas can on my GYTR tail rack, topped with a Wolfman Peak Tail Bag. Good kit. It’s takes a high-karate kick to get your leg over the saddle though. I added a ½ liter of water to my Camelbak and sucked down a 20oz. green Gatorade. Glad I took the extra drink. It was a hot day and I drunk the 1.5 liters in my Camelbak and most of the 64oz. reserve bottle. 11:00 – Hit the West Side Road in Death Valley. This is a picture of Death Valley, not the road. It’s cloudy and 90°, aired down here. It’s 20-something miles to Butte Valley, home of the Prominent Striped Butte. The aforementioned prominent Striped Butte This is my favorite picture of the trip. There is a cabin; I think it’s called Prospector’s Cabin. The plaque in the threshold says, “You’re welcome to stay here. Please leave it better than you found it.” Indeed, someone was availing themselves of the facility for there was a full rucksack, air mattress, gas camp stove and a half a big bottle of Crown Royal. The current occupant was not home this day. You would think that I couldn’t fall down here, but I did. Motor off, kickstand down, stepping off the bike, when the stand sunk in the soft dirt on a downhill slope, I managed a nice shoulder roll (2). There is a rocky, rough section up the trail a ways that usually provides a photo op for the adventure rider types because someone always takes a tumble. I rode up it like a pro and was happy and proud of that accomplishment. I wondered if riding down would go so well. At the top of Mengle Pass, I snapped a photo looking westward and sent a SPOT Tracker OK message. About half way down Goler Canyon is the Barker Ranch, now infamous for being the hideout of insane mass murderer, Charlie Manson. I didn’t bother to go see it. Goler canyon itself is not too bad a ride. There are several spots where water comes to the surface, so there is plenty of vegetation. The burros must love this place because there is a ton of donkey doo, and I mean that literally, not figuratively. Never saw a burro though, just their excrement. There is a tricky rock slope called the waterfall, breezed through that too. Had it been wet, might have been a different story. Out of the canyon, looking back at it and onto the Saline Valley floor Looking north up the Saline Valley. I want to go south into the China Lake, Naval Weapons Center B Range to pick up Randsburg wash since I’d never seen a ride report from there. My Google Earth reconnoitering of the area showed a gap in the road for several miles near the range border. This concerned me to not be able to see the track. My concern was warranted. Much of the “road” was little more than sand wash, and sand washes trouble me. I managed to fall-over here too (3). In an effort to be free of the stuff, I got to harder ground, but soon lost the trail altogether. I stopped to regroup. I was hot, thirsty, hungry, had a headache, and was getting lost. The bike was excellent, so I counted my blessings and took a break. Still looking north to the Saline Valley, but from farther south, off the track. The route I laid into the GPS showed to be a little west of my position. I spotted a burro trail under my feet. Knowing that these animals are lazy enough to take the easiest path, I decided to follow it west, as much as possible to see if I could pick up the trail. I picked up the trail and continued south, sand or no sand, No Trespassing signs be damned. The gate and barbed-wire fence on the other hand, thwarted my would-be trespass. Damn! I succumbed to Plan B, cross the Slate Range and come out near Trona. The road around the west side of the Saline Valley was a treat. The mountains come down to the edge of the salt pan. There, the ground is firm and sandy smooth. But the devil gets his due when you rise into the rocky, volcanic Slate Range. This trail was miserably rough and rocky. After that torture, you’re invited on a long, steep hill climb. My hill climbing skill is still sub-novice. Several lesser obstacles have dumped me to the ground. I hit this thing with throttle and faith, trying hard to keep traction under my rear tire. I made it, another mini triumph! Looking back, the ascent was palpable. This road wound along the spine of the mountains, not a bad trail, just absolutely no shoulder and no turning around in some places. You can trace the trail into the distance, top center of this picture. The road became more civilized as it dropped down into the Searles Valley, Trona in the distance. Happy to be rid of the Slate Range Yes, it’s 93° F, I’m hot and wearing a jacket. That’s nothing, you should see all the protective gear underneath this outer layer. It’s the desert. I slap a lot of bushes and a few rocks. From here, I slabbed it to Ridgecrest and bunked at Mom’s house. Trip stats for the day: Max speed 70.5 mph Total moving time: 6h28m Total stopped time: 2h50m Average moving speed: 33.0 mph Overall trip speed: 22.9 mph Total miles: 213.5 Fall-downs: 3 End of Day 1 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Saturday Oct 16 2010 After a sound night’s sleep and a good breakfast of bagels, fruit, juice, and coffee, I was ready for the return. I’m not taking that Slate Range route again! 08:00 Depart Ridgecrest There is a pass on Hwy 178 between the Searles and Saline valleys, at the north end of the Slate Range, been through here hundreds of times. People always stop there to take pictures. There is a dirt road off the highway that I always wondered where it went. Wouldn’t today be a good day to find out? Sure it’s still the Slate Range, but how bad could it be? Yet another picture looking north to the Saline Valley, the interesting road is in the background, behind the bike. You can see the highway cut into the mountain, looking west, the recommended route. Whenever someone says, “How bad could it be?” it’s an obvious portend of doom. The road started off semi-improved, then degraded horribly. When there are no recent tracks on a road, it’s a sign that you shouldn’t go there, no good can come of it. Indeed, it was worse than the day before, only this time I was going downhill. Dreading the thought of returning, I pressed on till the trail disappeared and I could see no trace of it from my lofty vantage. Dread upon me, I returned, suffering only one tip-over (4). That’s not entirely true as suffering lingers. My right foot hit an immovable rock, forcing it back into a bracket, which then pushed the bike away from the rock. I’m certain my new Alpinestar Tech 3boots saved me from more serious injury, but my Achilles’ tendon took a blow in the one, soft, flexible part of the boot. Remind me to add an ice pack to the first aid kit. I was about ready to throw in the towel and highway it home. Instead of high-tailing it back to the pavement, I take a pole-line road for a while till it intersected the highway, then aired up for the 5 miles to the Ballarat turn off. Do I stay on the highway to go to the dirt? Maybe I’ll just check out Ballarat while I think about it. Arrive at Ballarat at 10:15 Everyone who goes to Ballarat takes a picture of this sign. It’s the law. Thought about it. I laid this route for the main purpose of running Goler Canyon. Having bested it yesterday, I figured I could do it again. So down the 15 miles of graded dirt road, arriving at the Goler Canyon turnoff at 10:50 That’s a big mining operation in the distance, don’t know what is mined. I enjoyed the canyon run even more the second time, while trying to avoid the voluminous donkey droppings, a veritable bumper crop of road apples. I even breezed up the waterfall obstacle. Once again at Mengle Pass, this time looking east with Striped Butte just peeking over the shoulder of the hill. The tricky rock section I vanquished the day before looks a lot worse going downhill. I made a slight miscalculation trying to slow and locked the rear brake on a sand-covered boulder (5). With confidence shaken, and no good lines, I resorted to baby-footing it down. You can guess how Striped Butte gets its name. Pretty clouds (and they match the bike) Coyote Canyon Road heading east, down to Death Valley Mining is what brought people here in the first place. This mine is next to a spring, an actual babbling brook, for a few feet, good place to build a house. Being the only shade for miles and noon time, I stopped for lunch of an apple and trail mix. On the way out of the down, where Coyote Canyon road intersects the West Side road, 2 blokes were sitting in the shade of a couple of road graders. They had shredded a tire and didn’t have the key to the lug nut lock to get the spare off. I took their info and offered to send help. I’d been praying for my worn out rear tire the whole trip. As luck would have it, I encountered a CHP officer, told the story, gave her the info, and drew a circle on the map indicating their position. My wife always asks if I saw any wildlife. This time I can say yes and prove it with a picture. This young and healthy looking coyote was crossing the highway. I stopped to check him out and he came over to check me out. Note his perfect camouflage coat. It was 103° in Death Valley and I needed to get moving to higher elevation. It’s about 60 miles of 2-lane highway via Shoshone, CA to Pahrump, NV, where I filled my tank. Five miles further up the highway takes you to the dirt road turn off to Trout Canyon (an optimistic name) that goes over the Spring Mountains, aka Potato Ridge. There are a couple of nice spots in this little range just west of Las Vegas, and the fall colors highlight that. Do tarantulas count as wildlife? I like the creepy little fellers. Potato Ridge has a “bad spot” known as the Rock Garden. I’m batting .500 for getting through here unscathed, except for this trip where I’m batting 0. Another tip-over (6) Nearing the end of a long hard ride and I have to wait for these squids. It’s not that I’m above going somewhere I can’t get through and having to turn around, but this trail is getting more and more torn up by unsuitable vehicles driven by people with unsuitable off-road skills - Squids. I’ll give one of them credit for having the courtesy to let me pass once they moved truck out of the hole it dug itself into. I guess they saw what lay below and decided better of it. A few parting shots of the back side of the Red Rock scenic area outside Las Vegas. It’s easy to see what draws people here. Day 2 trip stats Max speed 68.3 mph Total moving time: 6h29m Total stopped time: 2h26m Average moving speed: 34.7 mph Overall trip speed: 25.3 mph Total miles: 225.5 Fall-downs: 3 As a parting shot, I’ll be parting with my rear tire because it’s shot. The stock Trailwing TW302, to its credit, acquitted itself well in 3500 miles of 50% hard, rocky dirt and 50% street/highway during a hot Las Vegas summer. Tread depth down to 5/32” and many knobs chunked away. It gave its final measure on this ride and brought me home. For that, I give it credit. The brand new D606 has 20/32”, may it do as well. This was no epic ride by adventure rider standards, but it taxed the limits of my riding skills and was the longest and hardest in terms of dirt miles and ride time. Satisfying. Fortunately, I’m not compelled to out-do myself, so simple day rides that provide practice, riding enjoyment, and occasional companionship remain the mainstay. Lesson learned There is one lesson I keep working on. The concept is so simple but the execution is so hard. “Look where you want the bike to go.” Riding a motorcycle in the dirt begins as an exercise in avoiding rocks that should progress into picking good lines. Unfortunately, our instinct is to focus on the threat. It’s so true that if you look at that “bad spot”, your front wheel will go there. It’s just as true that if you look at the “good spot”, you will go there. “See the threat, then look and hold focus on where you want the bike to go.” It’s surprising how much will power it takes to do that. Even though I proved this to myself over and over, I still have to consciously overcome threat fixation and focus on the desired line to earn the reward of riding through gnarly sections. The Yamaha WR250R is an awesome Dual Sport machine!