Monday, December 7, 2009

"Our" Motorcycle trip to Death Valley, California

We were in Las Vegas celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary and the flashing neon sign welcoming you to "Fabulous" Las Vegas as you leave the airport is a sure sign that you can find something to entertain you in this glistening and exciting oasis of a city in the middle of the vast Nevada desert. We were headed to the Luxor Hotel and Casino for what would be seven days of good food, exceptional entertainment, the renewal of our wedding vows and to top it off with a motorcycle trip through Death Valley in California. The city, with it's plethora of wedding chapels, is the perfect spot to surprise your honey of 25 years. From Elvis themed chapels, drive-through chapels, “Chapel in the Clouds” and even helicopter rides to the Grand Canyon for vow renewals, you are bound to find something exciting to celebrate the occasion.

We were headed to the Luxor because of my sweetheart’s affection for everything Egyptian and there’s nothing better than to start with an Egyptian themed resort and casino. She was pleasantly surprised the next day and totally unaware when the big white stretched limo pulled up in front of the hotel as we waited outside for what she thought was going to be a simple cab ride to another casino for dinner. We drove through the city, a labyrinth of glowing and flashing neon signed casinos in what to her might have been a white chariot pulled by stallions, to the wedding chapel. We renewed our vows, got the pictures to show the family and friends and then were chauffeured in the limo through the city to the Bellagio casino for a sumptuous dinner at the Circo restaurant, a rustic taste of Tuscany with breathtaking views of the Bellagio fountains.

Later that evening, we saw "O" Cirque du Soleil, an aquatic tapestry of artistry, surrealism and theatrical romance, with world-class acrobats, synchronized swimmers, divers and characters performing in, on, and above water to create a breathtaking experience in a magnificent theatre reminiscent of a European opera house.

The day finally arrived when we would embark on our motorcycle adventure to Death Valley. It was to be my first time on a Harley Davidson motorcycle and I anxiously waited for the moment I would straddle the big Harley and “feel” the big V-Twin rumble. It was a Harley Davidson Heritage, similar in size to my Kawasaki Mean Streak, which was to be my ride for the day. We both suited up and promptly left the city of Las Vegas at 8.30 in the morning for what was to be a glorious riding day into California and through the entire length of Death Valley. We hit State Route 160 West, AKA the “Pahrump Valley Highway” and proceeded to cross Mountain Springs, a small community in southern Nevada located at the pass over the Spring Mountains.

It was late February and the mountains peaks were still covered with snow. We shivered for a while as we crossed the peak of the mountain and then as we descended into the valley took a left on to the Old Spanish Trail Highway on the way to Calvada Springs. I was not prepared for the cold temperatures but as we crossed Tecopa the temperature was on the way up. We stopped to admire the scenery and to stretch the legs. The roads in this part of the country stretch for mile after mile in endless straights offering the perfect place to enjoy a motorcycle. The Heritage was very comfortable and the windshield offered a certain amount of protection from the cold. My better half was totally enjoying the ride and finding the back seat much more comfortable than the one on the Mean Streak.

We arrive in Shoshone, population 52, although small it is notable as a southern gateway to Death Valley and it has the last services available before the Furnace Creek area in the park. The town includes a Post Office, gas station, restaurant, bar and coffee house and lots of Date Palm trees.

It was still early morning and cold, a hot cup of coffee and a snack at the local shop was soon in our hands. We made an acquaintance at the coffee shop, he didn't say much but we had fun taking pictures with him. After admiring the local shops and wondering through the local area we filled up with gas and got on our way leaving behind the still sleepy desert town.

Just a few miles down the road we made a left into Jubilee Pass road leaving the white peaked mountains behind us. The Harley was finally able to stretch its legs and we made good time across the desert until we met up with Bad Water road. We made a right and proceeded north into Death Valley. The early morning sun beautifully accentuating a desert of streaming sand dunes, snow-capped mountains, multicolored rock layers, water-fluted canyons and 3 million acres of wilderness.

Summer high temperatures commonly run above 120 degrees Fahrenheit, I was glad we were doing this trip in late February. Our first major stop was in Badwater Basin, the lowest place in North America and one of the lowest places in the world at 282 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea, between Israel and Jordan being the lowest. We walked on the Salt lake bed and were surprised by the lack of any visible life form other than human. The salt lake extends for miles and miles throughout the valley with the snow-capped Panamint Mountains rising to more than 11,000 feet above the nation's lowest elevation.

The water is definitely "Bad" but the pools of salty water reflect the beauty of the surroundings creating a beautiful landscape. We mounted our steed and noisily left on the way to Furnace Creek, the headquarters of Death Valley National Park. Furnace Creek has the distinction of holding the record for the highest ever recorded temperature in the United States, as well as one of the highest ever reliably recorded worldwide, reaching 134 °F (57 °C) on July 10, 1913. Springs in the Amargosa Range created a natural oasis at Furnace Creek. The Timbisha Indians have lived in the area for centuries and continue to comprise most of the permanent population. The town is full of Date Palm trees providing a contrast to the desolate surroundings.

We headed to the Corkscrew Saloon for a much anticipated meal and drink. The waitress was nice, the food good and the drinks cold. With our bodies replenished, we left town and proceeded north towards Scotty's Castle on the north side of the park. We took some sight seeing detours along the way and finally arrived at our destination late in the afternoon. Hidden in the green oasis of Grapevine Canyon in far northern Death Valley, the Death Valley Ranch, or Scotty's Castle as it is more commonly known, is a window into the life and times of the Roaring 20's and Depression 30's.

Death Valley "Scotty" told everyone that he built his castle in northern Death Valley with money from his "secret" gold mine. That was not quite the truth. A Chicago millionaire and his wife built their "Death Valley Ranch" in the cool of Grapevine Canyon and they let their friend Scotty live there as a guest. "Moonlight anywhere is a delight. But there's no moonlight in the world that can compare with the moonlight in Grapevine Canyon, our desert canyon, where the Castle stands." -quote by Mrs. Bessie Johnson from Death Valley Scotty by Mabel © 1932.

It was late in the afternoon and with the temperature dropping fast, we made our way out of Death Valley over the mountains and back into Nevada, passing Bonnie Claire, a ghost town before meeting up with I95 and turning south towards our next stop for gas in Beatty. By the time we reached Beatty, the darkness of the desert night had engulfed us and the temperature was fast approaching freezing. We bought t-shirts, 2 warm scarfs, warmed up with hot chocolate, donned my protective mask and with a full tank of gas headed south for what would be a 2 and half hours dash back to Las Vegas.

The approach to the city is almost supernatural with all the light shining into the sky and illuminating the surrounding desert. Outdoor lighting displays are everywhere on the Las Vegas Strip and are seen elsewhere in the city as well. As seen from space, the Las Vegas metropolitan area is the brightest city on Earth. Our day ended with 380 beautifully ridden miles across the desert. We returned to the Luxor, had a glass of Champagne to celebrate the ride at the Aurora bar , which features unique lighting effects across the ceiling based off the Aurora Borealis, and then retreated to our Egyptian themed room. Later, as I closed my eyes with my honey next to me, I could still hear the rambling of the big V-Twin of the Harley Davidson Heritage.

More pictures here:


  1. George,
    Nice post on your Vegas and Death Valley trip! Welcome to the Blogoshpere - I'll be visiting often and looking forward to reading more in 2010. Let me know when you get the one-a-day blog going.

    Take care - mike

  2. Just came across your site. Wanted to offer greetings!

  3. I love the picture of the bad water - I didn't see that on my trip!

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. did you do this with a group? we are looking to do the same trip for our 28th wedding anniversary in April. We would ship our bikes from NH to Las Vegas.

    1. Judi, thanks for reading. I assume you talking about the bike ride, we rented a bike and there were supposed to be other people on the tour with us but they cancelled at the last minute. We ended up going with the tour operator and his mechanic, just three bikes. We still had lots of fun, you will have fun. Do you have a blog? are you going to post photos or write about it?

  6. Hello,
    It's the night before I was supposed to leave on my Road King from Sacramento to Death Valley for the first time, riding with four other buddies, but unfortunately we had to cancel at the last minute due to unpredictable weather over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I've been wanting to do this ride for years, but never had the right kind of motorcycle to do it because I always rode sport bikes. In fact I still have one left, a Ducati 999R.

    Since I yearned for more longer treks, I bought the Road King four years ago and did go on one substantial ride to attend an astronomy event near the California/Oregon border. In fact, one of the reasons why I chose this particular time to go, the dates fell on a new moon night, meaning no moon and a great opportunity to take long exposures of the Milky Way being that Death Valley is known for it's dark skies. The first sign our trip was in jeopardy was when we altered our original route, going over the mountains to the north because of freezing temps and rain. Instead, we opted to head south on hgwy 99, cutting over in Bakersfield, Ca and over the southern Sierras. Up north it was basically two roads, I/80 and then 95 south to Beatty where we booked hotel rooms. We were lucky to get them in the first place because as you know winter is tourism time in the valley. The alternative route would have been more scenic with some twisty mountain roads, but it added four hours to our ride and that meant arriving in Beatty at least two hours after sunset. You know from your experience how the temps are at night in the desert, they fall below freezing often, knowing this I was well prepared with heated clothes and thermal inserts. But, what I wasn't prepared for or wanted to do was ride in the rain and that is what was forecast for the first part of our journey. On top of that high winds were expected in the area around Beatty, more than usual with particular warnings for motorcyclists to use caution. Lastly, I started coming down with a damn cold a couple days ago and between the weather, wind and illness, I had to throw in the chips. However, if the others would have gone ahead I told myself I was going to go as well, but that didn't happen and we decided to postpone the trip to sometime in late February or March of 2017.

    It's always an iffy proposition going to Death Valley on a motorcycle, fortunately for you folks you came in from the east and I believe the weather isn't as unpredictable there as it is in the Sierra Nevadas this time of year. In fact today it's been raining here all day long, so the roads weren't going to be that friendly. Obviously, you can't go in the summer months, starting around April, so that leaves you rolling the dice during the winter where it's nice in Death Valley, but iffy elsewhere. You just have to be lucky I guess and it was great to see hit the valley on a beautiful day and I guess you wished you had something warmer to wear getting over the mountains. I got stuck on that ride I mentioned to the Oregon/California border without proper clothing too, I didn't think I would be arriving after dark and it was high up in the mountains so same thing, the temps dropped like a rock. I would have been warm as toast if I had just brought my heated jacket and gloves, rookie long ride mistake, lol. On the Death Valley ride I was bringing everything but the kitchen sink just in case and that included tire patch and tire inflator kits too even though I had new tires installed.

    Anyway, thanks for taking the time and giving us some ideas on where to go once we ever do get down there, man, I don't know if you're still checking in on this blog, it's been 7 years ago. Hope all is well with you and the wife.

    1. Hi John, thanks for visiting and reading. Yes, I still update this blog but this year was a bad year for motorcycle rides. I also had a death in the family. Hope you get to go, it's beautiful out there.