Dantes View

Death Valley National Park Ride

Nick Zarras | Managing Editor

Living in Nevada, or the Quad-State area (California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona) a bucket list trip item is Death Valley. In the past I had gone part way to Shoshone, California to eat at “The Famous Crowbar Café and Saloon.” It is an old time establishment that has good comfort food.

Crowbar Café and Saloon
Crowbar Café and Saloon

Death Valley National Park is located in both California and Nevada. It is east of the Sierra Nevada range between the arid Great Basin and Mojave deserts. The park has a varied environment of salt flats, sand dunes, badlands, valleys, canyons and mountains. As the largest national park south of Alaska it was proclaimed as an International Biosphere Reserve. The park is only 5% inhabited and 95% wilderness. It is the hottest and driest of all national parks, so travel to Death Valley is best taken in the cooler months. Our departure date proved to be a good one. The projected 86 degree high temperature was at Badwater Basin, which is 282 feet below sea level and is the second lowest point in the Western Hemisphere next to Laguna del Carbon in Argentina.

dvnp_03The area got its name when a group of European-Americans were stranded there in 1849. They were looking for a shorter way to the California Gold fields. One of the members died there. In the late 19th and early 20th century some boom towns developed due to the gold and silver mine growth. The only long term ore was borax, which was shipped from there by twenty-mule teams. When I was growing up Death Valley was featured in books, television, Borax commercials and movies. Tourism accelerated in the 1920’s when Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek saw resorts being developed. On February 11, 1933 Herbert Hoover officially proclaimed Death Valley a National Monument, with a one million acre parcel being designated. Continued construction created transportation avenues, structures and utilities into the 1940s. Congress stopped most mining in 1976 with passing of the Mining in the Parks Act, with only limited permits allowed after 1980. In 1984 the park was expanded to 1.3 million acres and became a national park with the passing of the California Desert Protection Act.

dvnp_04When you travel to Death Valley it is best to travel in groups. The distance depending on the route you take from Las Vegas, NV can range from 320 to 410 miles. The roads are well maintained and the open vistas of deserted countryside breath-taking. But if you break down and don’t bring proper supplies like water and food you can die on that road in deserted less traveled locations. I decided to join in the most recent monthly road trip hosted by BMW Motorcycles of Las Vegas. Curtis Cummings, of “Great Southwest Moto Adventures” (curtis@gsmotoadv.com), has been running tours for the dealership for a while. There is no tour cost for the monthly rides, just show up with your bike and have fun with the group.

I also had a second agenda for STAReview Magazine. We often read in motorcycle magazines about long term test bike wrap ups. I asked manager Mike Hansen if he would loan me one of his used BMW bikes to test how they fare over time. He gave me a 2012 BMW K 1600 GT that had just been turned in, inspected/serviced, with 36,000 miles on it. (A prior BMW K 1600 GT was a road test bike in STAReview Magazine issue 3106.) We had 18 riders show up with every make and model motorcycle possible. Curtis gave an in-depth briefing and made sure everyone had supplies and gas. I carried extra supplies and a medical kit as my normal travel kit. We headed out in 65 degree weather at 10 AM to our first stop, Shoshone, CA. This was a perfect time to go as the temperatures in July have been recorded from 116-137 degrees. The lowest temperature is in January at 15 degrees. Our projected temperature was close to the 82 degree average for the month of March.

The first part of our journey was from the BMW Motorcycle dealership to Shoshone, CA. It took us down NV-160 towards Pahrump, then turn through the Nopha Range Wilderness Area. The distance is 83 miles and takes about 1.5 hours. It is open expansive desert where, as the old time movies said, a person can clear their head and think. The group showed that they were all educated riders, with great spacing and common sense. I felt this would be a fun group to ride with. Another joy was the BMW K 1600 GT. The electric windscreen kept a nice breeze into my helmet without any buffetings. I kept the engine mapping in Rain mode for economy as our pace was within the speed limits. Comfort mode made things comfortable and I occasionally switched to the Sport mode through the twisties. With the Multi-Controller thumb wheel I would select the desired mode then move to the next expected mode, so when I needed it, I just selected it with one move. I went through all the electronics to test if any systems were deficient. All were like they were part of a zero mile motorcycle.

Once we arrived in Shoshone everyone was peeling off inner clothing layers down to a t-shirt, as the temperature was now into the mid-70s. We were parked at the Shoshone Village Office. Next to it was the general store and gas station. Gas was $4.50 a gallon, about a dollar more than in Las Vegas but it was the only game in town. The BMW K 1600 GT’s seven gallon tank digital fuel gauge was showing 200 miles left in the tank so I did not gas up. We all stopped at the general store for chips (salt) and drinks and a few topped off their gas tanks.

From Shoshone we headed out to Badwater, CA. By now the temperature had risen to 86 degrees. The roadway there is very well maintained throughout the park. The trip is 56 miles and 80 minutes. It is an easy ride with wide open expansive runs with occasional
twisties thrown in. To the right are the Black Mountains to the left expansive desert. Badwater is a salt flat at 282 feet below sea level. It is made up of almost pure table salt. Badwater gets 1.9 inches of yearly rainfall but has a 150 inch evaporation rate. This process regenerates the salt flats. Badwater has a nice open tourist parking area with rest facility and tourist walk areas. We relaxed there then went onto our next stop.

From Badwater, CA to Furnace Creek is only 18 miles but we made a few detours along the way. Our first detour was to Artist’s Drive. It rises up on top of an alluvial fan (a fan- or cone-shaped deposit of sediment crossed and built up by streams) fed by a deep canyon cut into the Black Mountains. The one way roadway is something out of a James Bond Middle East chase scene. The rock formations have red, pink and yellow pigment from iron salts, green from mica and purple from manganese. It is a constant set of turns with almost a tunnel like feel. It is a fun ride. I kept the GT in sport and dynamic for the length of Artist’s Drive. In sport mode the K 1600 GT turns more like an 800cc 450 pound sportbike than a 1600cc 703 pound motorcycle.

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Badwater tourist area
Badwater tourist area

dvnp_08From there we headed to Dante’s View. Dante’s View is a must see vantage point sitting 5500 feet above sea level. You can see Badwater Basin and Telescope Peak which is 11,331 feet above sea level. Dante’s Peak is part of the Black Mountains, which with the parallel Panamint Range, is called a graben or depressed block of land bordered by parallel faults. The expansive view is breathtaking. The higher altitude offered a more refreshing cooler temperature. The ride up is a lot of low speed hairpin turns which adds to the fun of the trip. One rider in my group was riding at a slower pace as it had been a long ride. The rider apologized for riding slow. All of us said the same thing. No need to apologize, you were riding your own ride and it was safe.

dvnp_07From Dante’s Peak it was meal time. We headed to Furnace Creek which is in Inyo County, California. The recorded population in 2010 was 24. There is a Visitor Center Museum and campgrounds. The Furnace Creek Inn and Furnace Creek Ranch are there. The Inn is a more elaborate structure for the traveler. The Furnace Creek Golf Course is at 214 feet below sea level. Most lodging is closed for the hot months of the summer except for the golf course which hosts the annual “Heatstroke Open” tournament each June. We went to the Furnace Creek Ranch. It is laid out as an old town horse ranch. They have a buffet and a coffee shop. We hit the coffee shop. The meals were good and portions were sized for a mountain man. The one gas station in town sported a price for high test of $5.00 a gallon.

dvnp_09After swapping stories we gassed up our bikes and headed past the Furnace Creek Inn road, past Dante’s Peak north on highway 190. It is an open roadway with dvnp_10nice long straights and occasional turns through the mountain pass past Greenwater then down into the valley for a long straight run into Death Valley Junction. It was now becoming dvnp_11night and much cooler. The windscreen went up and the heated grips on. I opened up the spacing so I could run my high beams. On the GT the headlight follows you through the curve which was comforting in the upper elevation mountain switchbacks. From there the group split. One group rode up highway 127/S highway 373 to Armargosa Valley then on I-95 to Las Vegas, NV. My group turned right then left continuing on to Pahrump and NV-160 returning to Las Vegas, Nevada. The ride back to Pahrump was mostly straight open highway, then the final miles were on multiple stop sign posted rural streets to the Pahrump main road. Once on NV-160 it was a clear shot back to Vegas. It was a great 320 mile ride. The BMW K 1600 GT was flawless throughout the whole ride. This Sport-Touring/Touring platform constantly reinforces its ability to handle cross-country distances in comfort and style. This stunning used burgundy BMW K 1600 GT reminded me of a car ad advertising used high end cars showing a very lovely seductively dressed female and the title said “you know you are not her first, does that really matter?” Well my test ride on this BMW K 1600 GT convinced me that one should not hesitate to bring her home to meet the family. My thanks to Mike Hansen of BMW Motorcycles of Las Vegas (702-454-6269, www.bmwoflasvegas.com) for use of the BMW K 1600 GT for the “long term” test ride.

(Note: Area data obtained from wikipedia.org)

Ride Safe my friend…Clear skies, clear roads…

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