Figure 8 loop from Pahrump, NV, to Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park, CA.
I have appreciated and, indeed, used reports filed by Versys riders at this site. Bear with me and feel free to offer constructive criticism. Read that "Please, no bitchin'."
I'll title this effort: "Flat & Straight, High Points, Lowest Point and Memorable Meanderings in the Middle"
Distance: 260 miles.
Duration: 6 hours.
Park entry fee: $10 allows motorcyclists access to Death Valley National Park for seven days. Stickers can be purchased at kiosks throughout the park or at any of the three visitor centers. American citizens 62 and older can buy a lifetime senior pass, $10, which entitles the bearer to free access to nearly 400 national park sites.
Advice: Carry plenty of water. Death Valley earned its reputation with a desiccatingly dry environment.
Disclaimer: This is not an attempt to point out all the interesting sites in Death Valley National Park. We camped within the park for a week last month and drove our Jeep through Titus Canyon, toured Scottys Castle and made the obligitory stops at Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells, Panamint Springs, Ubehebe Crater, the ghost town of Rhyolite, Harmony Borax Works and Devils Golf Course. But high winds and dust storms obscured scenes normally visible from Dantes Peak. This ride was an opportunity to fill in one of the blanks left from that itinerary.
Got stuck in Pahrump for a week, awaiting parts for the motorhome. Restlessness led to a desire to escape this land of casinos, fireworks superstores and wind-blown grit.
Rode out of Pahrump (elevation 2,697 feet) and headed south on NV-160 toward Las Vegas. Flat & straight for 15 miles.
Turned west on Old Spanish Trail (Tecopa Road), flat & straight for another 8 miles before I got to an actual curve at the Nevada-California state line.
Began wondering whether I should turn around, call it quits and try my luck at a casino or buy into the thrill of fireworks.
But then the ride got more interesting.
In another 7 miles, I approached Emigrant Pass (elevation 2,860 feet) where a sign indicated a hairpin turn.
The switchbacks and elevation changes for the next 11 miles were challenging, scenic and fun. As I crested the pass I had a view of the valley where Tecopa Hot Springs Resort promises "wide-open space, a spectacular view of the night sky, a soak in natural silky hot spring waters at the edge of the wilderness of Death Valley National Park, time away from incessant technology ... quiet with cozy comforts."
Sweeping curves on the descent occupied the next few miles through the South Nopah Range Wilderness until a long straightaway presented a cluster of homes near the entrance to China Ranch Date Farm. As I came to the Tecopa post office, I stopped to ask directions to Shoshone, CA; the clerk assured the more scenic route involved heading north on Tecopa Hot Springs Road, which led through a grassy valley, the resort, a couple of RV parks and a view of the bed of the ancient lake that once covered this valley.
The road T-boned at CA-127, where a sign indicated Shoshone was a mere five miles north. I stopped for fuel (nearly $6 a gallon) at the Shoshone convenience store across the street from the local museum, general store, a cafe named "The Crow Bar" and the oxymoronic Death Valley Health Services.
Continuing another two miles north on CA-127, I turned west onto CA-178 (Jubilee Pass Road) and began a series of lazy, sweeping turns through the steady incline into the Amargosa Range. A strong wind from the north picked up and began buffeting the bike until I reached the sheltering rocky formations of Salsberry Pass (elevation 3,315 feet) and Jubilee Pass (elevation 1,290 feet).
CA-178 becomes Badwater Road near the southern entrance to Death Valley National Park. I began a long, twisting descent to the valley and, over the next hour, rode the valley floor flanked by the Panamint Range to the west and the Black Mountains to the east. Historic sites such as the ruins of Ashford Mill and Mormon Point are clearly marked.
It is was easy to exceed the posted speed limit because the road is scenic and offers a few sweeping turns. A long curve brought me to Badwater Basin (282 feet below sea level) lowest point in North America, . A word of warning: The white line at the edge of the road appears, at times, to have been painted on the desert sand and gravel that form the shoulders; there is little room for your mind or Versys to wander.
A large parking area at Badwater Basin provided pit toilets and a safe place to park while I walked with other tourists on the salt flats. As I returned to the Versys, I noticed a sign, high in the rocks across the road, indicating sea level.
A few miles north of the basin is Artists Drive, a 9-mile, one-way loop through colorful canyons with a few deep dips and easy twists framed by high canyon walls. Another warning: rocks that had fallen from the formations left gravel on the roadway, often just beyond a blind corner or at the crest of a hill. It is worth stopping at Artists Pallet where the formations to the east seem to glow with greens, reds and stark whites.
A few more miles north of Artists Drive, I reached CA-190 (Furnace Creek Wash Road). Across the intersection sits the Inn at Furnace Creek, where one might stop for refreshment and accommodation. Lunch selections range from $13 to $18.
Heading southeast on CA-190, I began climbing from sea level toward Zabriskie Point, most-photographed spot in Death Valley. An easy climb up a paved path provided views of the colorful rock formations that surround this vantage point. Hiking trails emanate from the parking area, should one feel the need to stretch one's legs.
Continuing southeast 24 miles, I turned on to Dantes View Road, a 13-mile ride to the crest of Dantes Peak (elevation 5,475 feet). The road has its bright spots, particularly as you approach the crest, which involves a quarter-mile stretch up a 15-percent grade. The reward was a 110-mile view of the valley; directly below are the salt flats of Badwater Basin. Temperature at the peak was 15 degrees cooler than that on the valley floor and a chilling wind whipped with such intensity that I feared the Versys, if not properly positioned, might be toppled off its stand.
I returned to CA-190 and headed southeast, out of the park toward Death Valley Junction, flat & straight for 18 miles. At that point, I could have headed for Pahrump via State Line Road, which seems to emanate from Amargosa Opera House and Hotel. There is a cafe, but I had neither time nor inclination to stop.
I chose, instead, to continue 27 miles south on CA-127, back to Shoshone, then head for Pahrump on CA-178, which becomes NV-372 at the state line. This 27-mile stretch begins with a curving climb through another pass, then starts its descent into the Pahrump Valley, where it, again, gets flat & straight.
The wind from the north, now unobstructed, was sweeping through Pahrump Valley with such force that I had to ride at what seemed to be a 15-degree angle. The low-fuel warning lamp began flashing and I was grateful to be back in the land of casinos, fireworks superstores and fuel at a mere $3.50 a gallon.
Just a "rambler in my Father's world."