A VERY BIG NATIONAL PARK: This weekend kicked off another touring season with an annual trek to Death Valley National Park, and back to the Pacific Ocean.
This trip was only an 800 mile adventure, and, as usual, included a lot of great roads (in and out of the park). It’s also the first motorbike camping I usually do for the year.
This was the earliest I’ve enjoyed the big park, which is the largest National Park in the lower 48 States, at 5,262 square miles. (That’s about the size of the State of Connecticut).
This trip there were not as many motorbikes visible. I’m not sure if that’s a reflection of the economy, inspiring less travel, or simply that it wasn’t quite warm enough yet. Although the main valley floor was very comfortable (in the lower 70 degrees), for any riders going up and down through the mountain ranges (in and outside of the park), there were some chilly points among the snow-covered peaks!
THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
The warmest point in the main valley is the Badwater basin, which is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. However, the Pantamint Mountain Range, which represents the western edge of Death Valley itself, with its Telescope Peak (11,043 feet), is the highest point in the park.
To put that in perspective, the summit of Telescope Peak rises 11,331 feet above the floor of Death Valley in about 15 miles, so it’s a steep crust of the planet.
But let’s not forget that just west of the park is Mt. Whitney (14,505 feet), which is the highest point in the lower 48 states.
The point is that there is a lot of up and down and twisty riding navigating over all the mountain passes that typify this chunk of the continent called the American West.
If this season progresses per norm, very soon, I expect the few paved roads will be teeming with every kind of street bike, and the 600+ miles of dirt roads will be kicking up dust from all manner of dual-purpose bikes. (Only street legal motor vehicles allowed in the park, which rules out pure dirt bikes).
Among the bikes that were present this weekend, the majority were brought in by truck or trailer as evidenced by the lack of gear on the bikes, and by the encampments of RVs with nearby motorcycles.
SCENIC MARTIAN LANDSCAPE
Most of Death Valley National Park is not accessible by road, especially paved roads. Which means that riding along the main asphalt – CA State Route 190 and Route 178 – offers an appearance of infinite desolation in every direction. Surrounding the up and down twisties, strung together with several long straight-aways, are rugged, multi-colored mountains, canyons, desert floors, rocks and sparse vegetation: with rare signs of civilization.
On the one hand it’s like spending a few days in some primal Martian landscape, except that the road itself is in good shape and, unlike most other National Parks, I’ve never found the roads congested.
On the other hand, the few accommodations within the park can be booked solid anytime from fall to spring, even if the roads do not reflect the typical tourist congestion of say, Yellowstone or Yosemite National Parks in the west, or Shenandoah National Park in the east.
TENT CAMPING IN HIGH WINDS
Tent camping on this trip featured some unusually loud, strong and persistent winds in the evening: The desert winds flogged my tent mercilessly.
By the time midnight rolled around, the winds were gone and I walked out to the desert to enjoy the infinite silence.
Even with only half a moon shining, the valley and mountainous region were well illuminated, and the tremendous landscape was as readily enjoyed as during the day, and yet with a unique quiescence than only a nighttime desert may proffer.
ENCHANTING MOTORCYCLE RIDING JEWEL
Death Valley National Park not only is an enchanting place all of its own, it is a remarkably compelling and enjoyable jewel of pleasure for any motorbike riders. Just don’t visit in the summer, lest you be distracted by the driest and hottest heat you’ll encounter anywhere in North America.
By the way, California State Route 190 is deserving of special note since the section within the park, known as Death Valley Scenic Byway, is part of the National Scenic Byway system, which means it’s among the roads that the United States Department of Transportation has recognized as the most ideal for motorcycle riders traveling in the United States (although they word it a little differently).