Death Valley 230:
I’m not sure
why the idea hit me, but it did. In October 2013, while kicking around some
ideas with Mike about a four-day getaway between Christmas and New Years, I
brought up the possibility of a Death Valley trip. He had never been, and it
had been years since my last misadventure there. So out came the maps. Inspired
by the recent bikepack trip between Flagstaff and Grand Canyon, I thought, “why
not make a bikepack trip out of this?” And so it began. We settled on a loop
that would hit some of the highlights of the southern end of the Valley: Titus
Canyon, Badwater, Greenwater Valley, Echo Canyon, Funeral Mountains, and even
throw in a side trip to what remained of Rhyolite, Nevada. After a few tweaks
to the route (some minor, some off the wall and quickly pulled), the plan was
set. It would be a 230-mile ride over three days and two nights. Big miles on
the first day, big climbs on the second day, short and sweet on the third.
Christmas break, Mike and I headed out to check out the route, pre-ride
sections, and cache water at the camp locations. We took our dog, Hubs. The
consummate road-trip buddy, this would be his last trip with us. We just didn’t
know that yet. On our first day-trip from Beatty into the Valley, we drove over
Daylight Pass. We stopped at the kiosk at Hell’s Gate to pay our entry fee to
the park and to give Hubs a chance to stretch his legs. We walked out to that
point on the south side of the road where the dirt is red, the rocks gray and
black, to take in the view.
The floor of
the world just seems to fall away from here, and the view opens to infinity.
Though in my mind’s eye I think I can see the curve of the Earth in that view,
I wouldn’t swear to it. As we turned to head back to the truck, Hubs hesitated,
and led me back for one more view. It was at that moment I realized that he,
too, appreciated that grand view, and on some level was awed by it as I always
am standing at that point. Over the following few days, he would hit Titus
Canyon, Badwater, and the Funerals with us, his keen nose and sharp eyes catching
new information and experience, tongue and tail wagging along the way. As badly
as I wanted to take Mike and Hubs to Racetrack Playa on that trip, there just
was not enough time. But Hubs would make that trip with me in March. I just
didn’t know that yet.
on Beatty, Nevada on Friday, February 28, 2014. It was a perfectly gloomy day
to visit Rhyolite, Nevada. While rain looked likely at any moment, it held off…
clouds even broke momentarily while we visited the Goldwell Open Air Museum.
We headed on
over Daylight Pass into Death Valley, stopping at the kiosk for several of us
to pay our entry fees. The sun had tucked itself back into the clouds, and that
view to the south seemed amplified by a bruised and darkening sky.
over the edge of that point where Hubs had urged a second look back in
December. Wracked with grief yet again (how long will it hurt like this??) I
found a spot that felt right, pulled one of Hubs’ desert hiking boots out of my
pocket, and scattered his ashes. It would prove to be a very emotional weekend
for me, with the memory of him imprinted so recently on the route we would
begin riding the following day. There will be tears.
back into the truck and headed down to Badwater, an opportunity to stand on the
bottom floor of North America, two hundred and eighty-two feet below sea level.
While out on
the salt pan, the rain caught up with us. We hastened our pace back to the
truck when we realized that Sabine’s hair was standing on end, certain as we
were that lightning was imminent.
It never struck, and I am still mystified by
Sabine’s hair. She swears it’s due to juicing. I have no reason to doubt her.
March 01, 2014, six of us headed out of Beatty, Nevada on bikes.
The rain had
let up, but everything was newly wet, and that uniquely pungent fragrance of
wet desert permeated the morning air.
six miles, we left the pavement for Titus Canyon Road.
of earth and rock on the climb up Red Pass, always vivid on any given day, were
magnified by the rain.
The summit of Red Pass is one hell of a backdrop…
our descent into Titus Canyon.
night’s rain had taken its toll on Titus Canyon Road. Since my first trip down
Titus in 1996, and all my subsequent trips, the road has always been
well-graded, and even passable without high clearance. Not so, today. Muddy and
rutted, we even encountered two parties driving Jeeps that were considering
turning around while they still could. I didn’t snap their picture. I should
No ruts, nor
mud would stop us. Down we went…
Narrows (here, through overturned beds of the Bonanza King Limestone)…
into Death Valley. We would continue our descent to Furnace Creek (elev. -190
feet) on pavement.
On the way
into Furnace Creek, we detoured into the campground to use their hose to clean
our grinding, skipping drivetrains. While Titus Canyon mud and smiles and
laughter make a great mix, that same mud, chain links, derailleurs and gears do
split up at Furnace Creek. John and Eszter would follow the set route down West
Side Road to Camp One. Sabine, Evan and I chose to take pavement down to camp,
believing that though it was a longer distance, it would be a bit quicker than
dirt. By now, we were chasing sunlight, and it was slipping away fast over the
western Panamints. About that distance? We were wrong. All of the crenulations
taken by the pavement in and out and around the toes of innumerable alluvial
fans adds a butt-numbing 11 miles over the planned route. A gusty headwind kicked
up after sunset, and we took turns drafting to ease the ride. At times, we
walked. We wouldn’t get to camp until 11:30 that night. Everyone else was
awakening on Day Two, one couldn’t help but be amazed by the view cast by rays
of the rising sun on the snowy mantle of the Panamints. A land of contrasts,
the previous night’s long pavement ride and short sleep window, I opted for a
lift up Jubilee Pass and Salisbury Pass, to be dropped off on Greenwater Valley
Road. Evan was good company along this 45 mile stretch. The ride started out
sunny, but once again the clouds moved in, and by the time we reached pavement
again at Dante’s View Junction, the temperature had dropped many degrees. We
ran into Doug, Kathleen, Michelle and Sabine as we reached the Furnace Creek
Road. Whoever bought those cans of Coke for Evan and I, THANK YOU. That was by
far the BEST Coke EVER.
We rode on
to the Echo Canyon Road turnoff, and began the ascent up through Echo Canyon.
We were again overtaken by our motorized friends. They offered a ride up to
Camp Two. While it would mean not completing Day Two on bike, it would mean
that we would get to experience the canyon in daylight, and get to camp before
at camp, the drivers decided to head out to Racetrack Playa the following day.
They asked me if I wanted to go with them. It was not an easy decision. I
wanted so badly to finish this ride that I had planned and had looked forward
to for months, but I also “needed” to get out to the solitude of the Racetrack.
Hubs and I had some unfinished business.
started out with a beautiful sunrise high in the Funerals.
John, Eszter and
Evan would press on by bike.
Ilya and I
would head over to the Racetrack and one more night of camping with Doug,
Kathleen, Michelle and Sabine.
Echo Canyon illuminated by a rising sun was altogether new. The canyon
walls framed the morning light on the Panamints beautifully…
…and the Eye of the Needle provided a unique perspective to the west.
On the way out to the Racetrack, we passed by Ubehebe and Little Hebe
Craters. These “maars” are just infants, geologically speaking, just 3,000
years old. White-hot molten rock within the crust coming into contact with the
oversaturated sediment beneath a body of water (a lake, in this case) creates
quite a show, apparently. The oranges, reds and yellows exposed in the walls of
Ubehebe, the largest of 12 nested craters (only two of which are named) stand in
starkly colorful contrast with the moonscape of black cinders ejected during
the volcanic mayhem.
A short hike ascends up the rim of Ubehebe…
…and threads its way around the rim of Little Hebe Crater.
We pressed on toward Racetrack, stopping at Teakettle Junction along
the way. The sign used to be loaded with teakettles from the world over, but
park policy prohibits littering. The act of hanging a teakettle from its
namesake junction sign is in this day and age considered littering, and so the good
folks at DVNP periodically remove accumulated teakettles for disposal. Sad, but
traditions change. And such a blight on the landscape might ruin someone’s
wilderness experience anyway. Here’s what the sign looked like in 1997…
…and here’s what it looks like today.
I liked the old version better, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I'm told.
Suddenly, Racetrack Playa comes into view. The intense whiteness of
Racetrack Playa stands out in stark contrast to the black mountains and blue
sky that contain it.
An outcrop of dark gray quartz monzonite rises abruptly out of
the north end of the playa. Back when Racetrack Playa was a
lake, the “Grandstand” would have been a rocky island
jutting up from the water.
Hubs would have enjoyed this view. Part of him will, always.
We walked out onto the playa’s south end, looking for the moving rocks
that lend the playa its name. Pretty soon, we found them.
They really do move…
…sometimes they cross paths…
…sometimes they change direction…
…sometimes they just cruise off into the distance.
Racetrack is a good place to hit the “reset” button. The place is
primal. It has a singularity. It is special, surreal, alien, and soothing to
the soul. Mine, anyway.
We camped near the Lippencott Mine and Pass, and awoke Tuesday morning
to witness fog rising from Racetrack Playa and curl its way along the mountainsides
towards the pass.
A quick peek into Saline Valley through Lippencott Pass offered up a
stunning view of the Inyo Mountains to the west.
We broke camp for the trip back to Beatty to meet up with John, Eszter
and Evan, stopping for one last glimpse of sunrise on the Racetrack.
over it for me, Hubs, one day I’ll join you out here. I’ll bring your squeaker
Shout out to my husband Mike for driving all over Death Valley after
Christmas setting up water caches, chasing me around snapping pics while I was pre-riding
and goofing off. This wouldn’t have happened without your help, planning and
My totals are nothing to write home about, really, but here they are:
16:57:50 moving time.
The numbers don’t begin to tell the tale.
In memory of Hubs.
You were so loved.
We were lucky to know you.
RIP, Hubs. 2012 – 2014.
PLR – 07MAR2014
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