Thursday, April 16, 2015


The Tonopah, Death Valley
and Bridgeport Loop Tour – Stage 3

I’d been to Death Valley decades ago, when I was a kid, but never did I recall seeing the luxuriant display of wildflowers that springtime promised.  Having hustled down US 95 in two days, I was looking forward to a couple of days off the bike to explore the wonder of this national park and check out the foliage.  Friends joined me, arriving in a rented 2015 Chevrolet Impala – all in all a bit more wind resistant than the big GSA.  I would be happy about this.

Entering the park, I stopped for the perfunctory look-where-I-am photo.  A rider on a bike very similar to mine was kind enough to snap my picture, if I’d snap one of him and his eight-year-old son: the youngin’ enjoying a Spring Break adventure far more exciting than any of his classmates.

At a first view of the valley’s panorama, I am reminded of a region west of Sonora, California known as the Red Hills, where scientists had found no evidence of any human habitation prior to we Anglos arriving.  The area in front of me looked far more foreboding.

Dawn, our first morning, came up like thunder over Stovepipe Wells.

On the agenda was a trip to Scotty’s Castle.  The last time I was there, I was forced into mini-socks that were worn over my scuffed and raggedy US Keds.  

I recall my brother and me being scolded for sliding around on the castle’s smooth tile floor in those sock-ettes and looked forward to engaging in this activity again.  However, being 60 years mature and all, and the fact that they didn’t provide us socks this time…

Interior and exterior aspects of the castle are nicely preserved.

A special underground tour explores the clever and creative mechanicals of 1920s era desert construction.   

A diagram of an electrical component had been drawn on a concrete tunnel wall by the engineer serving as an installation instruction for a worker.

Outside, a timeworn Model A truck has found its deserved, final resting place.

A contact at Stovepipe Wells told us that his favorite spot in the park was Ubehebe Crater.  A short jaunt off the road near the castle affords a view that reminds us that volcanism is not exclusive to the high mountains in California.   

A nasty upslope wind peppered us with cinders and loess.  We’d be seeing more of this.

Unlike Tuolumne County’s Red Hills, people did inhabit this area of the Mojave.  The first was a succession of “Native Americans.” I use quotation marks here because even the Indians here had migrated from Asia several thousand years ago.  Our direct ancestors pushed them out when mineral wealth was discovered in the area.  Borax, a residual salt found in dry lakebeds, looked like a business opportunity.   

Successful?  Abandoned borax mines and mills are spotted here and there.

Bad Water has boasts an elevation of minus 282 feet, lowest in all of North America.  With my pals I considered booming out a chorus of I’ve got friends in low places, but like the whole sock thing back at the castle, being 60 years mature and all…

The salt crystals at Bad Water speak to the mineral wealth those early whites found in the area.

Brunch was scheduled at the Furnace Creek Inn, a lovely, albeit a bit chichi, oasis in the midst of this forbidding landscape.  Best eats in the park, however.

A loop through Artists Canyon followed the meal.  The fact that the climate does not support the thick forests of the western slope of the Sierra lays bare the subtle and dramatic colors that lie beneath those forest floors.   

Here we see what to many is unexpected.  Just stand in the parking area and listen everyone who exits his or her vehicle exclaim: “Wow!”

Finally, the reward at the end of the drive to Dante’s Point is a mile-high panorama of Death Valley’s sublime beauty.  Directly below us is Bad Water.  

From our vantage point we can see tinier-than-ant people walking on the salt floor 5,500 feet below.  To the north, a sand storm – we’re in sand storm season, we’ve just been told – through which we’ll shortly be plowing in that ’15 Impala, kicks up more than prodigious amounts of dust.  Glad I’m not bracing 30 mph sandblasting crosswinds on the GSA.

And those fields of wild flowers?  Easter week is supposed to be prime wildflower season.  But only a few yellow this's and a few red that's are spotted in sheltered areas on the road to Dante’s Point.  As it turns out, Death Valley averages about 1.5 to 2.5 inches of precipitation annually.  This year, the area received lower than the low amount, and at the wrong time.  The seeds from who knows how long ago must lay in wait for another year before sprouting and blooming.  It has been a dry spring in these parts.

Still, I wouldn’t mind passing this way again…



The Park Service provides a lot that one might want to know about Death Valley National Park.  Their link?  There are plenty of other web sites that highlight this magical and enchanting corner of California.  Ply your favorite search engine…

Rider Magazine contributor and – although he may not know it – honorary Church of the Open Road member, Clement Salvadori has visited Death Valley many times on motorcycles he’s been asked to review.  Tough gig.  Here’s a link to one of his previous posts: Rider is a great magazine for those of us suffering from two-wheeled wanderlust.  And Clem is a very entertaining writer.  See your local news stand…

© 2015
Church of the Open Road Press

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