Google+ Two-Wheeled Tourist: Riding to the Death Valley National Park "Superbloom" (2/29-3/1/16)


Riding to the Death Valley National Park "Superbloom" (2/29-3/1/16)

Hello there, it's the Two-Wheeled Tourist back from a super-long hiatus thanks to life. But I'm back and here with a fun trip that I've been able to pull off amid job layoffs, changes to my personal world, and a super-erratic work schedule. Oh it's been a journey on that end.

With that being said, I needed a long-earned vacation, even if it was going to be short and sweet. And then one day, I was online reading about the media-dubbed "superbloom" occurring at Death Valley National Park, located in the southeastern part of California.

[On a side note, I had traveled with a motorcycle group to Death Valley in 2007 with my previous motorcycle, the Suzuki SV650. Eleanor's ride with me marked her first foray into the park.]

So I had a couple days in which I could push regular duties aside, thanks to a job contract ending and a lull in the workload at my other office. So I set off on Leap Day Monday to ride to the park and stare at the flowers. Thinking this was going to be easy, I decided to follow the Google Maps recommended route, the fastest one, that involved entering from the northern entrance via Panamint Springs. Of course, knowing my history with long solo rides, this was going to be the start of a comedy of errors. Just a small spoiler alert here, most of this story wouldn't have happened if I had taken the grey route highlighted on the map.

But before I get to the comedic part, I did make a quick stop at the Musical Road in Lancaster to play the William Tell Overture at 50MPH since the first part of my ride was straight up CA-14 that connected from I-5.

Eleanor is a Yamaha. Yamaha makes pianos. That makes Eleanor a piano. Yes, a moving piano.
I made it to my first gas stop on CA-178 a little before 9AM, about 180 miles from where I started in Lawndale. Now, gas stations get pretty sparse once you're out near US 395. For the smaller-displacement motorcycles, I'd recommend carrying a fuel can to insure that one doesn't get stranded. My bike's gas tank was stretched a little, and 6.6 gallons is a lot of fuel to burn through on two wheels. I filled up at the Shell in Trona (82264 Trona Rd, Trona, CA 93562) amid the desolate boonies, and I have to say, that particular Shell station does serve up a mean breakfast burrito.

You know that you've hit the ‪boonies‬ of the ‪California‬ ‪desert‬ when (1) the gas station lets you pump before paying, (2) that same station has amazing breakfast burritos, (3) there's a dog named Chona sitting next to the door, and (4) the next gas stop is 80 miles away. On a bright note, it's 2016 and there is 4G cellular service out here.
I continued down CA-178 toward Panamint Springs, having some fun in the twisties before coming to an absolute dead stop in front of a seemingly endless span of loose gravel and giant signs announcing "PAVEMENT ENDS." Darn it, I was 70 miles short of my destination, too! That was my cue to turn around and go back 35 miles to Trona and then continue on CA-178 in the opposite direction. I have no photos of these signs as I was being followed by several cars who wanted to pass me and destroy their undercarriages on the rocks.

This was the road I was on before it opened up a can of loose gravel and nope nope nope.
Here's the deal with highways out in this part of the Southern California desert. It is so sparse that most places have only one road in and out of an area. There are no shortcuts to be had, so backtracking became the theme of the rest of my day. As I was riding, I made a call (when cell service became available again) to one of my friends in Ohio who had been following my GPS-tracked journey about this newly-acquired predicament, and she then proceeded to look up an alternative route to enter the park from the south entrance. The catch was that it was going to add another 230+ miles to the already long journey. Fortunately it was a route I had taken once before but in reverse to exit the park.

In addition, she pulled this information about that broken part of CA-190 I encountered at Panamint Springs. And I will have to admit, I didn't do my share of the research on this one. I mean, how often is it that a CA highway is just left like that, anyway? But here's the Wikipedia for that: Apparently it's been like this forever.

There were several motorcycles riding toward that gravel end as I was turning back as well, ready to find out what I learned the hard way.

Baker! Mad Greek! Almost there.
I made it to the park in the late afternoon with more than enough light to see the flowers near Badwater. So now come the photos!

Getting out of the park, I chose to take State Line Road at the CA-190/CA-127 junction, dropping me into Pahrump and NV-160. Riding south on that road placed me in Enterprise, NV, just south of the Las Vegas Strip and I-15 which I followed to the state line. Yep, I accidentally ended up in the Las Vegas area because I sought the flowers while wandering the earth and didn't want to go back the same way I came. Oops.

I think the best part of the last 112 miles of this ride toward my hotel for the night was that the animal warnings on NV-160 changed several times as I traveled downhill on twisties, from deer to burros (really?!) and then to sheep (double really?!). In retrospect, I wonder what kind of terrain I was really dealing with. Maybe I should try that road during the day to find out.

I don't look a bit frazzled over 500 miles!
A few travel notes...
The best time of year to come here is either fall/late winter/spring. Avoid the summer unless you like to fry things with the earth. The ride was pleasant in the mid 60s and 70s for most of the day and only peaked to 90 in the late afternoon in the park.

Cell phone coverage in that part of the desert, especially in Inyo County, was spotty at best (I have Verizon, other carriers may vary). Desolate sections of desert heading toward and out of Pahrump, NV were inconsistent as well. I couldn't get any signal in Death Valley except from the RV campsite inside the park, and it was just enough to upload a photo or two. I'd definitely recommend a standalone GPS if one is to stay for an extended period of time here. While you're at it, perhaps a SPOT satellite tracking device?

Avoid CA-190 when coming in from CA-178, unless you have an SUV and are a glutton for punishment for 47 miles (honestly I don't even know if you're allowed to be out in that wilderness part). Oh little first-generation Toyota Prius with no ground clearance that forged on that road ahead of me, I admire your fortitude and scoff at your insanity.

At the time of the blog, several sections of Death Valley NP are closed due to flood damage from the El NiƱo storms of early 2016. You can see updates on openings and closures in the park here:

Fortunately, my goal was singular. I satisfied my flower fix, so it was a mission accomplished.

Final mileage for the two day, round-trip journey. I think I'm going to take the car tomorrow.