The Breakfast Club: Death Valley 2021
Thursday-Monday, Oct 7-11 2021
Pictures from Carl and Tom start here
The plan: Thursday - ride over Sonora Pass and spend the first night at Virginia Creek Settlement (south of Bridgeport); next two nights at Stovepipe Wells; Sunday night in Bishop and then ride home on Monday.
Change in plans: Thursday - Sonora Pass was closing at Noon. Take Tioga Pass and stay the night in Bishop instead.
So … off Tom Martin and I went, headed for Tioga with a 5 PM closing in mind. We made it through the pass by about 3:00 PM and stayed in Bishop without any weather issues. Dinner was a three-course meal courtesy of Mammoth Brewing. Walking around Bishop, we found a cool-looking faux-Mack Truck (on an F-350 chassis) in the lot our our planned Sunday night restaurant - Whiskey Creek.
Friday was to be a short ride to Death Valley, so we took it easy and had a leisurely breakfast at Jack’s. Some rain was forecast, but we only saw a few drops - though lots of menacing clouds in the Eastern Sierra. We took our time and stopped at a pleasant rest stop we’d visited years ago with Fred and Irma; another stop at the visitor’s center at the turn south of Lone Pine - very interesting and well worth the time. Another brief stop at Father Crowley Point, then on toward Panamint Springs and Towne Pass … a little windy, but pleasant all the way with temperatures in mid-70’s to low 80’s. We took a few pictures part way up Towne Pass and then stopped at the (nearly) 5,000 foot summit - where my bike (2013 BMW R1200RT) stopped running. We cranked it a few times (nothing), and then let it sit for a few minutes, and it fired right up and ran fine.
I’m guessing it was something to do with the long sustained climb and the computer shutting the bike down when something got beyond normal operating parameters. Same thing happened Sunday morning as we climbed back out of Death Valley, but it was just a stumble and the bike kept running. I’ll get the bike to my mechanic in the next few weeks and see if there are any diagnostic codes which offer a clue what happened. Other than that, both bikes ran fine the entire trip.
Continuing into Death Valley, the ride was beautiful - good road and clear skies all the way down the hill and 18 miles into Stovepipe Wells. This year, we shared a patio room with a u-shaped courtyard and some protection from the wind. Downside - the room was quite small and there was no view. Nonetheless, we had our Kermit chairs and a small portable table, and we took ourselves where the view was best. This includes morning coffee where we took ourselves beyond the fence of the Dune View area and watched the sunrise. The other thing we did Friday night was to walk (carrying our Kermit chairs) to the end of the Stovepipe Wells Airport runway and do a little stargazing. Yep, that’s a picture of Tom hitting the numbers at the far end of the field.
Saturday morning, we went to the newly remodeled Furnace Creek Ranch for breakfast. We were very impressed (as evidenced by the number of pictures we took). After breakfast, Tom and I went for a good day of riding. First to Badwater, where we proudly displayed the SMBC flag and walked out onto the plya for some pictures. Then, continuing along Badwater Road over Jubilee and Salisbury Passes and into Shoshone for lunch at the Crowbar Cafe - best lunch of the trip by my estimation. After lunch, we went on to Death Valley Junction and turned to head back into the park. Later, we met a couple who stayed at the Death Valley Junction motel the night before - we were surprised it is still open. Then, a quick stop at Zabriskie Point for more pictures, after which we took the Beatty Cutoff over Daylight Pass and paid a visit to Rhyolite (ghost town). AND, as long as we were so close, on to Beatty for some reasonably priced gas. The weather (reasonable wind and temps in the 80’s) really cooperated, and it was a beautiful day to ride.
Time always seems to pass much too quickly in Death Valley … it was Sunday morning and time to leave for Bishop … EXCEPT … snow was in the forecast for Monday morning, so we had another weather-related change of plans. The new plan was to take the southern route through Lake Isabella / Kern River Canyon / Bakersfield and stay the night in Kettleman City to allow for a reasonable distance home Monday morning. So, the first leg of the revised plan was to ride to Panamint Springs for breakfast. And we had the parking lot to ourselves because the restaurant was closed. New plan: ride to Olancha and see what we can find … maybe snacks at the one and only gas station. But wait, let’s see what Google suggests … how about the Olancha Cafe?? It’s a little campground just south of town AND it has a small restaurant … with pumpkin pancakes listed on the menu board. I was in heaven! Oh, and their fridge had two bottles of Mammoth Double Nut Brown Ale for our last night on the road.
I’m trying to remember my last Spring DV ride - maybe 7-8 years ago. The road over the hill and down into Bakersfield hasn’t changed much, EXCEPT Lake Isabella is way way down on water. Nonetheless, the Kern River Canyon was beautiful as always. We took a break at one of the day use areas and relaxed near the river.
Once through Bakersfield, it was a grind up to Kettleman City. The Best Western was nice and reasonably priced, but unless you are a fan of chain restaurants, pickings are very slim. Check Yelp; Denny’s is featured near the top. As for breakfast, the motel had some breakfast fixings. Tom had the waffle with the Best Western imprint, and I had pancakes from the pancake machine … push the button and batter squirts onto a conveyer, and out comes a pancake … in theory. The final outcome did produce pancakes, but it took two of the staff to put in a bag of batter and make the machine work.
Monday morning, we took 41 to 33 to 198 to 25 and home. Some difficult crosswinds to get us to 198, but then a familiar and very nice ride to gas in Hollister and home. Many thanks to Tom for hanging with me and resisting the temptation to explore the edges of his tires. It was a great ride.